Cɑlɑthea: care guide & pɾopɑgation

Known by their botanical names Calathea, bean plants originate from the tropical regions of Central and South America. With the right care, these tropical plants will add an exotic and elegant touch to any space. Read on to find out everything you need to know about growing them!

A calathea unfolds
The bean plant has captivating leaves that are lusciously green and rich in contrast [Photo: Firn/ Shutterstock.com]

The bean plant’s lush, green leaves are covered in dramatic patterns. It is a richly aesthetic plant that makes a great addition to any space. However, when introducing calathea into your home, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Calathea: origin and properties

The bean plant (Calathea) originates from the swampy forests of the Central and South American tropics and belongs to the Marantaceae family of flowering tropical evergreens. In the tropics, calathea blooms with pointed, orange flowers throughout January and February. Outside the tropics, however, they rarely bloom. But don’t be afraid! With a little care, calathea can make a great houseplant wherever you live.

While the plant is young, its leaves are particularly vibrant. They are luscious green and covered in intense patterns. These patterns tend to be white, but fade with age as the leaves take on a more uniform green. But there is variation. Some leaves have purple undersides that do not fade, some are elongated and pointed, while others are still ovate and rounded.

Oddly enough, during the day a bean plant’s leaves will lie flat and open. At night, however, they tend to curl up, as if in prayer, hence the plant’s nickname. By folding and unfolding its leaves, the bean plant regulates its photosynthesis. What’s more, bean plants are not one-size-fits-all: Calathea orbifoliafor example, can grow up to 1 m high, while Calathea lancifolia ‘Insigne’ is normally only 60 cm tall!

A bunch of caltheas show signs of pink on their leaves
The undersides of the leaves of some bean plant species are purple [Photo: TOXIC CAT/ Shutterstock.com]

How to plant calathea

Calathea is very sensitive to its environment. As a rule of thumb, the bean plant will perform best in its natural habitat: the tropics, so it’s best to mimic those conditions as best you can.

The optimal place for calathea

Bean plants grow naturally on shady rainforest floors. As such, a semi-shaded or brightly lit area is ideal. Avoid direct sunlight, as too much can cause the leaves to dry and “burn”. In addition, the bean plant requires moisture. If it sits in too dry a room, brown necrosis can occur, where pieces of dead plant tissue form on the edges or tips of its leaves.

Above all else, bean plants are tropical. They have temperatures between 20 and 24°C during the summer and 18°C ​​in the winter, when they are dormant. Do not expose your bean plant to cold drafts, and make sure to keep it above 15°C.

What type of soil is suitable for calathea?

High-quality loose potting soil made specifically for potted plants is perfect for calathea. Our Plantura organic compost for all purposes, for example, has an ideal pH value and is rich in nutrients, which encourages healthy plant development.

But remember: the soil must be loose as bean plants are sensitive to water disease. To ensure that the soil is loose and drains well, you can use a substrate mixture consisting of about 30% expanded clay and 70% potting soil. You can also add a layer of expanded clay to the bottom of your pot so that excess water can drain off.

Tip: As a jungle plant, calathea thrives in acidic soil. To make your soil more acidic, add small amounts of needle litter, rock meal or bark compost to it.

How to plant calathea: a step-by-step guide

Because the bean plant grows flat and wide roots, it will appreciate a flat and wide pot. In addition, by having such a large surface, the pot will allow the water to evaporate faster, which in turn moistens the plant. And make sure your pot has big holes in the bottom so the water can drain out.

Once you have the right pot, place your prayer plant in it, cover the plant with soil, pat it down and water. When replanting, avoid adding too much soil – no more than what the calathea had in its old pot. Too much soil can lead to waterlogging.

A singular calathea leaf curls closed
Calathea leaves can be upright or roll up at night [Photo: mokjc/ Shutterstock.com]

How to care for calathea

Bean plants can be demanding, but with the right care they will thrive. For example, it is a good idea to wipe the leaves with a damp cloth to remove dust and promote photosynthesis. But do it with care: damaged leaves will not grow back.

Calathea watering

For the bean plant, watering is vital. If dehydrated long enough, the calathea’s leaves will become limp and curl up during the day. From April to October, water your plant once or twice a week with rainwater or mineral water. Tap water can contain high levels of lime, which changes the soil’s pH. During winter dormancy – November to March – water it less.

In addition to watering its roots, which should be done with care to avoid root rot, regularly spray your bean plant’s leaves. This will help recreate a tropical climate and prevent the leaf tips from drying out.

How to fertilize calathea

The bean plant does not need much fertilization, and certainly not in winter. However, it is a good idea to add liquid fertilizer to the soil every three to four weeks between April and October. Ideally, fertilize the plant while you water it. The nutrients reach the root system much faster and more evenly. Spring Plantura liquid potting food has added microorganisms to support root growth: a perfect choice!

How to Prune a Bean Plant

Calathea plants do not need pruning but remove dry and damaged leaves. And when you do, be sure to check for any infestations.

Overview: common mistakes when caring for bean plants

  • Overwatering: withered leaves; can lead to root rot and fungal infection.
  • Dehydration: leaves curl up (note: bean plant leaves are erect or curl up at night – this is normal and should not be confused with lack of water).
  • Not enough light: leaf patterns fade and the plant does not grow.
  • Too much light: the plant is in direct sunlight and the leaves show brown damage (“burns”).
  • Too cold: the plant barely grows; new leaves do not form, and the leaves turn yellow.
  • The humidity is too low: the tips and edges of the plant’s leaves are brown.
A collection of calathea leaves showing different patterns
The leaves of different bean plant species differ in shape, color, pattern and size [Photo: Dewin ID/ Shutterstock.com]

Potting calathea

Your bean plant should not be replanted for two years, and only when the pot is too small. But be careful: if the new pot is too big, there will be areas of soil that the roots cannot reach. These areas become too wet and root rot can occur.

The best time to replant calathea is in the spring, before its growth period begins. Once the plant has been removed from its old pot and the old soil has been carefully brushed away, examine its roots. If any areas of the root system are brown or rotten, cut them off to prevent the damage from spreading.

Overwintering the calathea plant

With proper care, calathea has no problems with winter. Brightly lit rooms kept at around 18°C ​​are ideal. A study, a guest room or a brightly lit staircase works just fine. Just make sure the room doesn’t drop below 15°C or experience any major temperature changes.

During winter rest, you should not have to fertilize your bean plant, but check the soil regularly with your finger. If the soil is dry, water it lightly so that the plant’s roots do not dry out. In April, when the bean plant enters its growth phase, you can move it back to its summer location and start fertilizing it.

How to Propagate a Bean Plant

To propagate your calathea, you must cut offshoots from the mother plant. The best time to do this is spring when the plants are replanted. Remove the mother plant from its pot and brush away the old soil. Divide the bulbous roots in such a way that the new plant has two to seven leaves; it needs enough roots. Fill two pots with a good soil mixture, plant the calathea and press firmly. Our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost is ideal for the young plant. After transplanting, water the plants generously and place them in a bright, warm room.

A group of bean plants sprouted in different pots
With a little care, the bean plant can be divided to allow propagation [Photo: S1001/ Shutterstock.com]

Bean plant seeds can also be grown, although this is tricky and requires a certain type of soil. Our Plantura Organic Herb & Seeding Compost works well. Simply cover the calathea seeds with about 2mm of potting soil, water generously and place the pot in a miniature greenhouse or zip-lock bag on the windowsill to mimic the humidity of tropical climates. It is a good idea to air your greenhouse from time to time to prevent mold.

Is the bean plant poisonous?

Bean plants are not poisonous. In fact, their leaves are used in areas of Brazil and Columbia as food containers. The stems are also used to weave baskets, which is why the bean plant is also known as the “basket plant” in some countries. However, pets may experience negative side effects if they eat the plant’s leaves, such as vomiting. Otherwise you should be fine!

Common diseases and Calathea pests

If your bean plant is too dry, it may be attacked by spider mites (Tetranychidae). To prevent this, regularly spray your plant with water; spider mites cannot survive high levels of humidity. Scale insects (Coccoidae) are also a threat, so regularly check the underside of your plant’s leaves. In the bean plant’s tropical homeland, larvae of the owl butterfly (Caligo eurilochus) are problematic, but outside the tropics this should not be a problem.

The bean plant can become infected with fungal disease. Fungal outbreaks often occur if the roots remain wet for too long. But this should still be avoided, because water disease leads to root rot, which weakens and damages the plant. As we said, just make sure the bean plant’s soil drains well and stick to a careful watering schedule.

Sounds good? Here we have compiled a list of the most beautiful Calathea species and varieties for your home.

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