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Calathea plant in a white plant pot sitting on a wooden table
The dazzling variety of coloured and patterned foliage of calatheas will brighten up shady areas of the garden and inject life into indoor spaces. These plants have a reputation for being a little fussy, but once you understand their needs, they’re easy to grow.


What you need to know about calathea

Name: calathea, peacock plant, prayer plant, zebra plant, Calathea spp., Goeppertia spp.

Height: 30-60cm, but a few varieties can grow up to 1m.

Plant type: evergreen perennial.

Climate: prefers a warm, frost-free climate outdoors, but easily adaptable to indoor conditions.

Soil: well-draining soil when grown outdoors; premium quality potting mix for indoors.

Position: partly shaded under trees outdoors, or bright, indirect light indoors. Will also grow in medium light.

Flowering and fruiting: yellow, purple or cream flowers may appear on plants grown outdoors in warm climates. Flowers are not typically seen indoors.

Feeding: liquid feed regularly during the warmer months; reduce frequency in winter. Alternatively, use a controlled release fertiliser at the beginning of spring and autumn.

Watering: allow the top of the potting mix to dry out between each watering.

Appearance and characteristics

Calathea is a tropical evergreen perennial with beautifully coloured and patterned leaves. It’s native to tropical and subtropical rainforests of South and Central America, where it grows naturally in the dappled light of large trees. Most grow into compact leafy perennials 30-60cm tall with smooth, glossy leaves that may be spotted, striped, mottled or streaked with shades of green, pink, white or purple. Some varieties have rich burgundy undersides, too.

It is part of the Marantaceae or prayer plant family, so the leaves often fold up at night and open again the next day.

 Set of calathea leaves forming a beautiful pattern.

Uses for calathea

Use calathea as a tropical accent planting outdoors in warm, frost-free climates. It looks superb when planted en masse. Indoors, use it to brighten rooms, especially in a mixed plant display with other contrasting foliage colours and textures.

How to grow calathea

Calathea thrives outdoors in warm, frost-free climates. Give it a spot under a tree or in other lightly shaded areas of the garden.

Indoors, calathea is adaptable to most conditions. It thrives in a warm, well-lit spot out of direct sunlight, but keep it away from draughts or cold air. Leaf edges may dry and brown if the ambient humidity is too low – this isn't detrimental to the plant's health, but can look unsightly. Increase humidity by grouping plants close together or sitting pot plants on a saucer filled with pebbles and water.

Caring for calathea

While calatheas originate from tropical environments, they’re adaptable to growing in most home environments. However, there are certain species and cultivars (like calathea ‘white fusion’) that require medium to high humidity; these species will need to be grouped with other plants or placed on a saucer filled with pebbles and water to help increase the surrounding humidity. They are also ideal for terrariums or glasshouses.

Repot every one to two years to refresh the mix and allow it room to grow.

How often should you water and feed calathea

For best results, water calatheas when the top 2.5-5cm of potting mix feels dry. To check, simply insert your finger into the top of the mix. Alternatively, invest in a moisture meter. The leaves will roll up into a tube if it is left to dry out completely between watering – don’t allow this to happen continually as it puts unnecessary stress on the plant.

To feed, use a controlled release fertiliser at the start of spring and autumn. Alternatively, use a liquid fertiliser specific for indoor plants throughout the growing season.

How and when to prune calathea

Remove dying or browning leaves and stems as required. Otherwise, there is no need to prune.

Diseases and pests that affect calathea

Sap-sucking pests like mites, mealybug and scale can attack calathea. Mites are most common, and they cause the foliage to become silvery or lightly bronzed. Treat with a suitable insecticide, ensuring you spray thoroughly in a well-ventilated area.

How to propagate calathea

Calathea can be propagated via root division. This is best done when repotting large and mature plants. Use a clean, sharp knife or secateurs to divide the plant, ensuring the attached rootball is sufficient to support the above-ground stems and leaves. Pot up using a quality potting mix and water well.

If you like this, try...

Syngonium (Syngonium spp.): a climbing or trailing plant with beautifully patterned foliage.

Peace lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii): a flowering indoor plant with gorgeous white blooms and lush green leaves.

Fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata): a tree with large, leathery leaves – the perfect statement piece.

Now you’ve got the knowledge at your fingertips...

Why not invest in a couple more exotic plants? Start browsing our range.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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