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How to Propagate and Care for a Calathea Plant

Your friend has the most beautiful variegated calathea plant and has offered to separate it the next time she repotted it, and give you part of it. But you have no idea how to care for it or how to make it grow. What are you going to do with it?

How do you propagate a calathea plant? The best time to start a new calathea plant is when you are repotting your current plant. Separate the new plant at the roots and place it in soil—water as usual, and place in a warm and humid place to help it grow properly.

If you’ve ever wondered how to make a calathea plant grow and thrive from a part of the mother plant or seeds, keep reading.

Photo by Dinkum, licensed under CC-Zero

Propagation Methods

Now that you know how to care for your calathea plant and are ready to replant, let’s take a look at how to start new plants. Most plants can be started from roots and stems, either in water or soil. The following methods will help you have success growing your new calathea plant.

Root Through Soil

Roots can quickly be started through the soil, as you have everything you need for growth. (Water is not recommended, as it doesn’t have the correct nutrients to support it.) Simply divide the roots gently from each other and take the root and stem away from the mother plant. Follow the steps below for the best procedure:

  1. The day before you plan on replanting and dividing the plant, prepare the fresh soil. Place the soil in the planter you plan on using and water it well. Water the plant as well, so it stays moist when separating later. Make sure the new pots have suitable drainage holes. Put sand or small pebbles at the bottom of the pan to allow for proper drainage.
  2. On the day of replanting, carefully turn the pot to the side and gently pull the plant out. Brush the excess dirt off the roots so you can see where the roots begin and end, which will make it easier to separate.
  3. Gently separate the roots and stems from each other, but don’t force it. You should be able to pull them apart naturally.
  4. Place the new plant in the prepared pot. They should be filled with fortified potting soil and appropriate drainage materials. Then refresh the soil for the mother plant and place it back in the original pot.
  5. Water thoroughly, but don’t soak it. The soil should feel like a wet sponge that’s been wrung out.

Once you’ve done this, place your plants in a humid environment with indirect sunlight.

Stem Through Water or Soil

Starting a plant from a stem can quickly be done indoors during the winter through any medium such as soil or water, then transplanted to a pot in the spring. But it is not recommended for the calathea plant, as it needs a root as well to take hold and grow properly.

From Cuttings

Growing a full calathea plant from cuttings is pretty much impossible, as it needs a root, stem, and leaf to grow correctly. It is not recommended to try this method with calathea plants. However, follow the instructions for growing a plant from a cutting found anywhere online if you want to try. 

From Seeds

Calathea seeds are not entirely recommended to start from home. However, if you buy your seeds from a reputable company online, you can successfully grow a plant from seeds. 

Start with a seed starting kit or small trays. Egg cartons can also work well for this. Fill each little spot with a seed starting soil (or a combination of peat moss, dirt, and sand) about halfway up. Moisten the soil and place seeds roughly ¼ (.05 cm) to ½ (1 cm) an inch deep. 

Then cover the seeds with plastic until they sprout. Keep the tray in a warm spot, and in indirect sunlight for best results. 

Once the seedlings get to about one ¼ inch (3 cm) high, they are carefully replanted into individual pots, careful not to disturb the delicate roots. Follow the care tips to help your plant grow healthy.

Caring for Your New Calathea Plant

Once you’ve started your new plant, it will need extra special care until the roots mature and take hold. Just like with mature calathea plants, new plants also need a tropical-like environment to thrive in. After replanting your new plants, be sure to keep them moist and out of direct sunlight. The following advice will help you get the most from your new plants.

Soil Conditions

Warm, moist soil is best, especially when your plants are young. Keep the soil loose to allow for root growth. A nice, light soil can be created by combining peat moss or perlite with household potting soil. You will need to add a drainage element, so the roots don’t sit in the water. 

Warmth and Light

Avoid any chilly drafts, especially during the first few weeks after planting, as this will cause the leaves to wilt. If this happens, simply move the plant to a warmer location. 

As with mature plants, your new plants need to stay out of direct sunlight to avoid getting burned or dried out. Keep the humidity levels at around 50%, and ambient temperature above 60℉ (15℃).

Watering Tips

When watering your new plants, remember only to add enough to make the soil moist without being soaked. Water them at least every other day, depending on the humidity level in your house. While some people recommend letting the plants dry out before watering again, others recommend not doing this, as calathea plants thrive on moisture.

The signs that they need watering include leaves not opening during the day, dry leaves, and roots showing. Don’t let your new plants get this dry, as it could cause your plant to die. Also, if your house is not very humid and you don’t have a humidifier, it’s perfectly acceptable to spray a fine mist of water with a spray bottle on the leaves themselves, as they will absorb any moisture they can.

One more thing: these plants can be sensitive to chemicals in your water, so be sure to use filtered or distilled water only.

Ideal Conditions for Calathea Plants

Calathea plants are known for their beauty, with their variegated leaves, bright colors, and the ability to grow large in the right conditions. But they are known as being the “drama queen” of the plant world for a perfect reason: they need just the right conditions for growth or will die. These are tropical plants from the Amazon rainforest and thrive in those conditions. 

If you don’t have experience with this plant, pay very close attention to increase your success in keeping your plant alive. These ideal conditions may not be as easy to attain as you may think.

Humid Tropical Environment

Calathea plants need a warm, humid environment to thrive. One unique feature of the plant is that the leaves curl up at night to conserve moisture.

While you don’t need to create a greenhouse in your home, you may need to re-think a few factors. 

  • Place a humidifier near your plants, which will mimic the conditions of the jungle. You will want to run it in the winter when conditions are dry, but you need to check the humidity levels during the rest of the seasons. The summer is notoriously humid in many areas, but if your area is dry, as in the desert, then run the humidifier all year round if you need to.
  • Try placing the pot on a pebble tray, so that when you water the plant, it drains into the dish. The water will then evaporate and create the humidity needed for the plant to thrive.
  • Aside from regular watering, mist the leaves to keep them moist. The humid jungle conditions naturally place water on the leaves, so mimic this with a spray bottle.

Think about the temperature as well. Most home thermostats are usually set around 70℉ (21℃), but in the rainforest, the average daytime temperature is around 77℉ (25℃). While you may not be physically comfortable at the jungle temperatures, try to at least keep your plants in an area where it doesn’t go below 65℉ (18℃) at any time–day or night. 

Moist, but Not Soggy

As with the humidity factor, your calathea plant prefers plenty of moisture, but not sogginess. Drainage is critical because if the roots sit in water for too long, they could rot and the plant will die. However, if you catch the root rot in time, you might be able to save the plant. Drain the excess water, let the soil dry out, then water until the soil feels moist. 

Try putting pebbles in the bottom of your planter before planting your calathea. Doing this will allow for better drainage, and the roots will not sit in water for a long time. Also, find a suitable planter with drainage holes to put on top of a pebble tray. When you water the plant, the water will moisten the soil, with the excess draining out, keeping your roots moist but not soggy.

Indirect Sunlight

Direct sunlight will burn your plant and fade their colors, so putting your plants in a bright room, but away from direct sun, is a wise idea. Direct light also dries out the leaves, which can lead to brown spots and crispy stems. 

A sheer curtain in a bright room will work to imitate the jungle where these plants come from. As they usually grow under trees to hold and distribute water, they are used to shady conditions. Recreating these conditions will help your plant thrive.

Fertilizers

Like all plants, your calathea plant needs regular feeding. A good houseplant fertilizer used at half strength should be good. Use it once every two weeks during the growing season. Don’t use it at all in the winter, because the plant doesn’t grow or flower naturally during that time. 

These plants don’t need a lot of fertilizing, so don’t overdo it. Otherwise, you could halt its growth and burn the leaves. Overfertilization also leads to a salt buildup on the top of the soil, which doesn’t allow the plant to get the needed water. Plants will also become weak and vulnerable to pests and diseases.

Know When to Repot

You don’t want to cut off or separate any new plants until you re-pot your existing plant. The reason for this is that when you divide a baby plant from the mother plant, you need to do it at the root level for the best results. But when should you re-pot your calathea plant? 

Repotting your plant too soon may cause it undue stress, especially if it is too young or not healthy. Follow these cues before you re-pot your plant to get the best results. 

Large Plants

Like goldfish, calathea plants will grow according to the size of the planter it’s in. If your plant is outgrowing its current pot and you want it to grow bigger, it is time to re-pot. If you want it to stay about the same size, you’ll want to separate the plant into sections to plant into different planters. 

Another thing to look for when you want to replant is a natural division in the root ball. You never want to forcibly separate the roots, as that could unnecessarily upset and distress the plant. If there are natural divisions, then it is ready to replant and divide. 

Shabby Looking Plants

Typically, you won’t need to prune these plants, as they keep themselves looking great. Sometimes, however, the calathea will develop too many leaves at the bottom or will have brown spots on the leaves which need to be removed. 

However, if your plant is getting out of control and looks pretty shabby, it may be time to replant and prune your plant. 

Health of Plant

A neglected calathea plant is an unhealthy plant. So if you try to replant a sick plant, it will not survive the process. The plant needs to be free of brown or yellow spots and has strong stems, leaves, and roots before replanting. Follow the above tips to bring a neglected plant back to life. Once you do that, you can replant and divide the plant at the roots. 

The only time you should replant a sick plant is when that’s the only option to save the plant. 

Early Spring

The best time to replant a calathea plant is in the early spring before it starts its new growing season. Even if the plant is kept indoors, waiting until spring is a natural time to avoid any replanting stress that it otherwise would have later in the season. When replanted in early spring, it will recover more quickly.

Problems of New Plants and How to Fix

Now that you’ve learned how to care for your new plants, you may think it will be smooth sailing with them, right? Well, not exactly. If you don’t care for your new plants properly, you may have more problems than you did with the mother plant. Here are some common issues you may encounter and simple solutions you can use to fix them.

Brown Edges on Your Leaves

Brown edges on your leaves may be a sign that the plant’s moisture level has been inconsistent. The best way to take care of that is always to ensure that the soil feels moist, but not wet, and not let it dry out. You can also mist the leaves to help keep them from drying out.

Direct sunlight can also dry out the plants, so moving the plant to a partially shady spot should help take care of this problem.

Divided Offspring Doesn’t Grow

If your new plant doesn’t grow properly, it could be that it wasn’t divided from the mother plant roots correctly. Each division must contain a root, stem, and leaf, or it will not grow right. The best way to fix this is to start over.

Curling Leaves

Humidity levels are critical, as this article has stressed already. If your new plant leaves are curling, try putting your pot on a pebble tray and put some water in the dish. As the water evaporates, it should help uncurl the leaves and keep the soil moist.

Final Thoughts

Calathea plants are temperamental at best and should be given the care it needs to get the best results. While they are not the best plants when you’re starting out caring for houseplants, they do provide that beauty and elegance to your home. 

You can choose from many varieties to enhance your home’s decor, such as the colored, variegated varieties or those with leopard spots. The best part about these beautiful plants is that they are not toxic to pets, so they are safe to have in your home. With how beautiful they are, why would you not want them?