The Ultimate Guide for Your Calathea Houseplant

The Ultimate Guide for Your Calathea Houseplant

Calathea spp.

Native to the Americas

Calathea is a tropical plant family that has many different species but what is most known and most common to the calathea family is its foliage. The leaves are wide, oblong, and boldly patterned; some appear to have braids, stripes, or the appearance of watercolor brush strokes. The various species are often referred to by nicknames (peacock, zebra, rattlesnake, pinstripe, etc) because of their leaf patterns. Many species, but not all, will have a deep purple color on the underside of the leaf while the top of the leaf displays the pattern. This pop of deep purple adds to the overall visual aesthetic of the plant.

Another common feature of calathea species is that they like to move throughout the day. Do not be alarmed if one day the leaves are oriented in a completely different direction than the previous day. At night the leaves will orient themselves to point upwards while during the day they will drop down and spread out. Since they do like to move a lot, make sure to leave plenty of room between plants.

Calathea are known to be a bit fussy about their care requirements. Generally, if you have never owned houseplants, calathea are not a good ‘starter plant’ because of their fussiness. However, if you are ready to provide dedicated care, here’s how to best manage them to be rewarded with their bold foliage.


Bright, indirect light. Some species can tolerate medium light but they will be happiest in bright light. Calathea should not be exposed to any direct light. They should not be placed directly in front of a window as direct light will cause leaf burn and cause the leaf patterns to fade. Hanging a sheer curtain is a good option as it will shield the plant from direct light and will still provide enough indirect light to keep it happy. Some species have larger leaves than others and will collect dust so they need to be dusted from time to time. This will help the plant absorb light and photosynthesize efficiently. Dusting is also a great time to look for any pests that may be on the plant.


The soil should be moist at all times but not saturated or soggy. Underwatering can present itself in many ways. It may cause the tips or edges of the leaves to become brown. It can also cause the leaves to curl inward at the edges. While the brown tips/edges will not disappear with a watering, the leaves will uncurl and return to normal within a short period of time. Since the leaves like to move throughout the day, do not assume drooping leaves means it is underwatered. On the other hand, overwatering will cause root rot. A pot with a drainage hole is best to avoid standing water. Like underwatering, overwatering can also cause the leaves to turn brown so it is best to check the soil before doing anything to determine what it needs. Do not use tap water when watering; distilled/purified water should be used for all calathea species. Calathea do not tolerate the harshness of tap water and this will often result in the leaves having an overall brown hue which mutes the plant’s vibrant colors (brown where there should be white). The plant can fully recover from inconsistent watering but it is slow to forgive so do not expect immediate results.


High humidity is an absolute must with calathea. Without humidity, the plant will die. Misting the plant provides a temporary increase in humidity but not enough for the plant to thrive. Providing consistent humidity can be accomplished in two ways: a pebble tray and/or a humidifier. A humidity level above 60% is ideal. You can also bring your calathea plants into the bathroom with you whenever you shower as they will love the extra blast of humidity the shower provides. Similar to underwatering, insufficient humidity will cause the leaves to become brown and crispy at the edges and also curl inward. Determining if you have a watering issue or a humidity issue can be difficult but a humidity reader (under $10) is a great tool if you are unsure if you are providing enough humidity.


Calathea are a tropical species and should be kept in a space above 60°F. They also do not like drastic decreases in temperature. If the temperature drops (ie at night-time) it shouldn’t drop more than 10°F. You also need to keep the plant away from hot and cold drafts including heat and A/C vents. Not only will the vents change the temperature but they can also impact the humidity levels.


Fertilize monthly in the growing season (spring through fall). T oxicity:

Non-toxic to pets