How to Care for Your Prayer Plant

Updated 08/15/19

Dorling Kindersley: Rob Streeter/Getty Images

 

With their colorful, patterned leaves and low-light tolerance, prayer plants are a popular plant among home gardeners—but they can be a little tougher to keep happy than your average houseplant. But with a few pointers and conscientious care, your prayer plant will grow strong and beautify your space. 

The name “prayer plant” is actually a common name for the Marantaceae family of plants, which includes both calatheas and maranta species. While these plants are not identical, their care is similar; exceptions are noted throughout this guide. 

Due to the way their foliage moves, we commonly refer to calatheas and marantas as prayer plants: During the day, the leaves of your prayer plant will point straight out from the stems, and at night, they fold up and point skyward like a pair of hands in prayer. They’re also a great tropical plant that won’t get too large; maranta specimens top out at 12 inches or so in size, while calatheas don’t tend to grow taller than two and a half feet or so.

Before shopping for your prayer plant, it’s important to know which varieties to look for, especially if it’s your first time caring for one.

Certain cultivars, like the red prayer plant (M. leuconeura massangeana) is a favorite variety thanks to the stained glass-like appearance of its patterned leaves. A great first prayer plant is Maranta leuconeura var. erythroneura, or herringbone plant, whose oval-shaped leaves feature fishbone-shaped red ribs against a background of pale and dark green. 

There are several common species of calatheas available, like rattlesnake plant (Calathea lancifolia), which has long, bladelike green leaves with an alternating pattern of feather-shaped, dark green markings. Another is peacock plant, or Calathea makoyana, also known as ‘Cathedral Windows’ due the look of its leaves. Zebra plant (Calathea zebrina) has elongated oval leaves with alternating light and dark green markings similar to a zebra’s stripes. 

Best Growing Conditions for Your Prayer Plant

Since they originate in the tropical climates of Central and South America, prayer plants demand jungle-like conditions to thrive indoors.

Calatheas and marantas require warm temperatures, good, even soil moisture and humidity, and indirect light. Set yours in a space where nighttime temperatures at night don’t drop lower than 65 degrees or so, and avoid spaces that may experience drastic fluctuations in temperature. Prayer plants can grow well in bright indirect or even low light, but direct sunlight will cause the colorful patterns on their leaves to fade. 

Since they need an environment with high humidity to stay happy, calatheas make great plants for your bathroom. However, it is possible to grow them in spaces with drier conditions using a humidifying tray. 

Set your plant on a shallow tray of pebbles. The pebbles in the tray keep your plant elevated above the water so the roots and soil don’t get soggy, while the water will evaporate and humidify the air around your plant’s leaves. Be sure to check and add water to the humidifying tray frequently, especially in warmer weather—but never allow the plant to sit in excess water.

If your prayer plant is happy, it may send up small spikes topped with tiny, pale purple flowers. 

How to Care for Your Calathea Plant

Ensure that these humidity-loving specimens have evenly moist soil, especially during the warmer months, but don’t let it get soggy. You can pot them in a fast-draining all-purpose potting soil with a little extra compost added; a soil mix formulated for African violets can work well, too. 

While prayer plants love moisture, both under- and overwatering will cause issues for your prayer plant. Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy, and don’t allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings. 

After it’s had about three months to adjust to its location in your space, feed your calathea or maranta with a half-strength fertilizer every two weeks during spring and summer. Cut back on both watering and feeding in fall and winter—during this time of year, your calathea needs no fertilizer at all, and you only need to water it after the soil has had a chance to dry out a little. 

To help with humidity, you can also mist your plant with a spray bottle of water periodically.

In the winter, when the air tends to be drier, you may want to consider running a humidifier to keep your moisture-loving plants happy. Prayer plants also like being grouped with other plants, which can help hold moisture, so consider displaying yours with several like-minded specimens. 

You may see brown tips on your prayer plant leaves—these occur when the air is too dry. You’ll know if your plant isn’t getting enough water if you notice that the lower leaves are yellow and curled up and upper leaves develop spots. If you notice dust accumulating on your prayer plant’s leaves, be sure to wash it off under gentle running water. Take care to snip off any dried or withered leaves as soon as you see them. 

How to Propagate Your Prayer Plant

The easiest way to propagate calathea and maranta plants is by division. In fact, these houseplants tend to do better when they’re divided and repotted each year in early spring before the plant’s growth period begins. However, only marantas can be propagated by stem cuttings.

bare root calathea medallion
The Sill Calathea Medallion $20
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How to Propagate Your Prayer Plant by Division

Step 1: Prepare an appropriately sized pot with fresh soil. Using one hand to hold the stems and protect the leaves, gently tip the pot and remove the plant. 

Step 2: Use your hands to gently loosen the soil around the roots of the mother plant. Carefully pull the roots apart a bit to see where there’s a good clump of stems that aren’t too connected to the mother plant. Gently pull or cut any connected roots between the two clumps. 

Step 3: Repot your new plant into the new container with fresh soil. Repot the mother plant into an appropriately sized pot with fresh soil as well. 

Step 4: Water and cover your new plant with a clear plastic bag (a gallon zip-top bag works well for this) to help hold in humidity until you see new growth. During this time, keep your plant in a lower-light spot than usual while it adjusts to its new pot. 

bare root calathea rattlesnake plant
The Sill Calathea Rattlesnake $12
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How to Propagate Your Prayer Plant by Stem Cuttings (Marantas Only)

Step 1: Using a clean, sharp blade, cut a healthy stem from your maranta just below one of the leaf nodes—on a younger, smaller plant, this will be close to the soil line. 

Step 2: Apply rooting hormone to the cut end of the stem. 

Step 3: Place the stem into either a glass of water or a container of moist all-purpose potting mix. You can also use a blend of equal parts peat moss, compost, and perlite or vermiculite to make a light rooting medium.

Step 4: Keep the soil moist, tenting the cuttings with a clear plastic bag to hold in humidity as you watch for new growth. If rooting your maranta in water, look for new roots to form. When they’re roughly an inch long, you can replant the cutting in potting soil. 

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