Guide to Calathea plant care

With utterly striking foliage, Calathea plants make intriguing indoor plants for any home in the UK. Also commonly referred to as the peacock plant or rattlesnake plant, there is an assortment of Calathea species for you to choose from.

Calathea plant

But growing exotic and interesting plants in the UK isn’t without challenges. From the Rose Painted to the Zebra plant, each variety has its own set of needs that must be met for healthy, happy plant growth.

This guide to the Calathea plant will take you through everything you need to know about growing it in your home.

Quick facts: Calathea plants

The Prayer Plant adds visual interest to indoor spaces. With leaves ranging from dark green to lush purple, Calathea really puts on a show when it is maintained with proper care!

Like many plants that grow natively on the tropical rainforest floor, they like to have that humid environment in your home too – plenty of water, warmth, and bright yet indirect light. Of course, there’s only so much we can do in the UK to replicate that, so indoor Calathea tend to have an average growing speed during their growing season and reach a maximum size of 1 metre.

calathea leopardina

Most Calathea varieties are non-toxic, so they may excellent new plants for homes with curious pets and children.

Varieties of rattlesnake plants you may want to explore include:

  • Calathea roseopicta, better known as Rose Painted Calathea, has gorgeous purple-pink foliage that shows off yellow shades from June to September.
  • Calathea makoyana, has striking striped pale green leaves with dark green detail (like stained glass) that have earnt it the name Cathedral Windows Plant.
  • Calathea ornata, also known as the Calathea Pinstripe, is a customer favourite at Gardeners Dream with dark pin-striped foliage with eye-catching purple undersides.
  • Calathea lancifolia, also found under Goeppertia lancifolia and Calathea insignis, is a classic rattlesnake plant with that distinctive snake pattern over its lush tropical leaves.

Ideal conditions for Prayer plants

For healthy new growth, peacock plants need the perfect conditions. While Calathea is not considered an easy grower or a low-maintenance plant, you can grow Calathea with relative ease if you recreate the right conditions.

Don’t forget that Calathea’s natural growing period is in the summer, so don’t panic if your Calathea won’t grow in the winter months. You will also need to adjust humidity, watering and feeding in the winter too.

Potting soil

Calathea plants enjoy moist soil, so don’t let the soil dry out. Ideally, you should use slightly acidic or neutral soil that’s rich in organic matter. A lightweight, peat-rich mix will be perfect.

Planting your Calathea in a pot with a drainage hole is also very important, so water can drain through rather than water-logging the roots.

You can also place it in a tray filled with plant pot gravel. This pebble tray acts as a good drainage system and also recreates some of the humidity that Calathea craves. Along with misting (see the water below), it allows the plant to stay moist without making the soil too soggy. Otherwise, it’s a recipe for root rot and fungus gnats!

Bright/indirect light

Grow Calathea in indirect sunlight. Avoid both very low light and direct sun. In the rainforests of South America, Calathea grows in either dappled or bright light that filters through the canopy above – they’re never exposed to direct sunlight.

calathea stromanthe

Likewise, the days are long and always bright in the rainforest. Lower light conditions are not good for Calathea, so don’t abandon this plant in a shadowy corner.

Typically, good indirect light in your home will be coming through south-facing windows. The bathroom or kitchen is also preferable, as these rooms tend to have the higher temperatures and humidity that Calathea needs.

Warm temperatures

Calathea can only be grown as indoor plants in the UK, with a mild or high average room temperature. For precise Calathea care, keep the temperature between 18°C and 23°C. If temperatures drop below 15°C for significant periods, your Calathea will really suffer.

Keep in mind that the Zebra plant enjoys moisture, so placing it near a radiator to stay warm is a bad idea. The last thing you want to do is dry out the soil. Maintaining a warm yet humid environment is preferable.

Water and misting

You should water Calathea plants regularly, keeping the soil moist. After watering, let any excess water filter out and remove it – if the soil becomes too wet, the roots will suffer.

When watering Prayer Plants, we recommend using filtered water. You can buy bottled water for this, or use a filter system for rainwater or tap water. Never use tap water directly, as Calathea can be quite sensitive to some of the chemicals in our tap water that makes it safe for drinking. Filtered or distilled water is the way forward.

Calathea also likes the high humidity levels that come with a rainforest environment. If your home has dry air, you can achieve higher humidity by keeping a humidifier nearby your plants. Alternatively, you can create higher humidity levels by using a mist spray bottle. Just give your plant a misting every now and then to coat the leaves and stems in a fine spray.

Your plant will thank you with healthy growth and vibrant, large leaves.

Prayer plant problems

Calathea plants are susceptible to a number of pests and problems in the UK. As cathedral plants enjoy warm temperatures, a high humidity level, and moist soil, they are particularly prone to problems with the root system, like gnats, fungus, and rot.

calathea leaf

When you receive your new plant, it may take a little while to adjust to your home. Once it has settled in, keep an eye out for the following problems.

Water and sunlight problems

First, watch out for these signs of over-watering. Too much water can lead to root rot and pests that are very tough to get rid of.

  • Yellowing leaves,
  • Droopy wilted leaves that don’t hold up,
  • Black colouring around the base of the stem.

Calathea’s leaves change as their conditions do, so they’re the best way to spot a problem. If you have too little water or not enough humidity, the leaves may curl inwards or upwards as they dry out.

If you have brown or yellow circles on your leaves, this can be caused by droplets of water – this often happens with tap water which is why we recommend opting for filtered instead! Remove the affected leaves to prevent spreading the problem.

Once you’ve got the right watering schedule (remembering to reduce it in winter), you can focus on the right light. Avoid direct sunlight, as, like the Boston Fern, this plant will get dark brown edges on the leaves when there’s too much light. Likewise, if the colours start to fade, this is a sign that Calathea wants a shadier spot.

When your Calathea plant has the optimum water, humidity and light, the leaves should be thick, vibrant and glossy. Rather than dropping down, Calathea leaves are relatively firm and the larger leaves shouldn’t curl back inwards.

Pest problems

The Calathea plant may be attacked by a variety of pests:

  • Fungus gnats: the larvae thrive in moist warm soil and damage the roots. Adults emerge from the soil and fly around the plant. Yellow sticky strips placed near the plant will trap the adults and stop the life cycle from continuing. You can also forgo watering and misting for a while to dry the soil a little.
  • Spider mites: known as spider mites for the white webbing they leave on stems and leaves, these tiny red mites are not good for your plant. Use a dish soap and water solution to literally wash them off the leaves, and remember to use distilled/filtered water.

Sometimes the Calathea will tell you that there is a pest problem before the insects are visible. Keep an eye out for yellow, thinning leaves that aren’t fixed by adjusting the watering schedule.

Discover tropical plants at Gardeners Dream

From Prayer Plants to outdoor plants, we have a wide range of amazing plant varieties at Gardeners Dream! Explore our low light collection to discover other plants that will sit beside your Calathea, and don’t forget that there’s free UK delivery on all orders.

Calathea medalion

We also have the tools you need to keep your Calathea moving and growing in the right direction, from pots and gardening tools to fertiliser that you can use at a half-strength or less.

Explore more articles at Gardeners Dream to learn about our wide collection of indoor plants.


How often should you water Calathea?

Water your Calathea regularly to keep the soil moist using distilled water. This may be done once or twice a week. Let any excess water drain away after watering.

Where should I place my Calathea?

Calathea plants love bright indirect light. Many people successfully grow Calathea in the bathroom or kitchen, as these bright areas tend to have good humidity as well, which Calathea plants enjoy.

Does Calathea need sunlight?

Calathea plants need light (except on their roots, of course) so place them in a bright spot. If there is too much low light, the plant will not grow. If there is direct sunlight on the plant, it may get sunburned!

Is Calathea a good indoor plant?

Yes! Calathea care is relatively simple. With regular misting for humidity and the right location, taking care of your Calathea plant is rarely a chore. Calathea makoyana, for example, only needs repotting once every two years.

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