By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
Peacock houseplants (Calathea makoyana) are often found as part of indoor collections, though some gardeners say they’re difficult to grow. Taking care of Calathea peacock and creating conditions in which it will flourish is not difficult when following these simple tips. For information on how to grow a peacock plant, continue reading.
How to Grow a Peacock Plant
High humidity at a level of 60 percent or more is needed for the best performance of the Calathea peacock plant. Many varieties of peacock houseplants offer a range of attractive foliage. No matter the cultivar of peacock houseplants you’re growing, providing humidity is the key to optimum performance.
Providing humidity for peacock plant care
Providing humidity for the Calathea peacock plant is as simple as placing bowls of water around the plant. Group peacock houseplants with other humidity-loving plants and the transpiration will offer humidity. A pebble tray located indoors on which plants sit is a good way to provide humidity as well. Frequent misting offers some humidity, but not enough to provide 60 percent in a dry, heated room.
Taking care of Calathea peacock can include frequent, lukewarm showers. Use a spray attachment near a sink or actually put them in the shower with other plants that need high humidity. Fashion a humidity tent to use at night, or cover with a cake cover. A humidifier is a good investment when growing peacock houseplants too.
Additional tips for peacock plant care
Start with a healthy plant when learning how to grow a peacock plant. Resist the small nursery plant with browning leaf margins or poor leaf color, as it likely cannot be nursed into a full recovery. Place this plant in a low to moderate light environment.
Peacock plant care includes keeping the soil consistently moist. The foliage of the Calathea peacock plant can be damaged by fluoride in water. Collect rainwater for watering peacock houseplants, or use bottled, distilled water without fluoride.
Use high nitrogen fertilizer when feeding Calathea peacock plant to avoid pale leaves or brown spots on the leaves. These can also occur when using too much fertilizer high in phosphorus. Leach the soil periodically to remove salts left from fertilization.
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How to Prune a Calathea
Calathea encompasses a range of popular tropical houseplants including the striking zebra plant, rattlesnake plant and peacock plant. These ornamental foliage plants create the illusion of tropical paradise when grouped together. All prefer moist, well-drained soil and partial to full shade. When potted, these plants can be grown outside for the summer in warm climates, such as Sunset Climate Zones 14 and above — but most prefer to be moved inside in late fall.
One of the things that I enjoy about many of the plants from the tropics are not the flowers, although they are an added feature, it’s the foliage.
That was one of the things that got me hooked on plants, was the amazing array of textures, colors, and shapes of the plants.
Let’s face it, many of the plants used indoors offer many different shades of green.
That’s why plantscapers are excited about many of the new Aglaonemas which have hit the market. It adds a whole range of new looks to their landscape pallet.
I’ve always marveled at one group of plants though and that’s Calatheas.
Through the process of plant tissue culture or cloning many new varieties have been introduced in recent years.
Many plants just do not receive enough light to flower indoors. For the Calathea that’s not a problem, their leaves do all the talking. Calatheas have long been very popular in Europe because of the plant’s colorful foliage assets.
Here are a few particulars on Calatheas…
- Calatheas do not like heat, they like the same temperatures most people prefer… 65 – 85 degrees. Generally they like the soil to be moist. This means watering the soil well and allowing the plant to drain off the excess water.
- Plants allowed to sit in water or kept too wet develop root rot very easily.
- Fluoride toxicity, as we’ve made reference to so many times in our plant tips, can be a problem with Calatheas. It will show up as tip burn mostly on the older leaves.
- You might also be tempted to think that all that bright foliage requires regular feeding. Stay away from it as that will just increase the salt level in the soil, which can cause burn to roots and show up on leaves.
- They come in a wide range of size from small plants used in dish gardens to 6 foot landscape plants. I’ve seen very recently a simple 6 inch Calathea used as center piece in a restaurant adding a very unusual look to the table.
Calathea ‘Burle Marx’
‘Burle Marx’ is a small plant growing to about 15″ in height. It is sometimes referred to as the Ctenanthe ‘Burle Marx.’
Botanists say that it belongs to the Maranta family and it is not to a type of Calathea. But whatever name it carries, this plant is surely known for its wonderful foliage. Its pale green leaves have dark green markings that radiate out of the mid-vein.
Many shops show Burle Marx growing in dish gardens, terrariums, or in hanging baskets.
Gardeners and growers make the most out of the compact growth habit of Burle Marx and its wonderful foliage by growing it indoors. It does well as a ground cover or as a container plant in shady patio and in shady areas of few tropical backyard. This beauty is definitely a wonderful houseplant.
So where can you get them? Contact your favorite local garden center or nursery and ask about Calatheas. If they don’t carry them have them contact their indoor plant supplier, they’ll be able to find them.
How to Care for Indoor Foliage Plants
To get rid of insects on your houseplants, spray with horticultural oil to smother the pests.
Indoor foliage plants come in many shapes and sizes, and are generally easy to care for. They brighten up any room or décor. There’s a seemingly endless variety of indoor foliage plants, so you’re sure to find one that fits into your lifestyle and home decorating needs.
Provide your indoor foliage plants with an appropriately-sized container. Don’t repot indoor foliage plants too often. They don’t need to be repotted until there are more roots than soil in the pot. If you notice roots in the top 2 inches of the soil, it’s time to repot. When choosing a new pot for your plant, choose one that is only 1 to 2 inches larger than the one in which the plant is currently growing.
- Indoor foliage plants come in many shapes and sizes, and are generally easy to care for.
- There’s a seemingly endless variety of indoor foliage plants, so you’re sure to find one that fits into your lifestyle and home decorating needs.
Use only indoor potting soil for growing indoor foliage plants. Do not dig up and use soil from your garden. It will compact in the pot and smother the plant’s roots.
Provide indoor foliage plants with bright, indirect light. Most indoor plants are native to the tropical jungles and grow in the dappled shade of trees. They don’t require intense direct sunlight to grow and thrive.
Water your indoor foliage plants regularly. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch on the surface, but don’t let it completely dry out.
- Use only indoor potting soil for growing indoor foliage plants.
- It will compact in the pot and smother the plant’s roots.
Mist your plants occasionally. Use a plastic spray bottle and spray them several times a week, especially in winter. The extra humidity will help them stay healthy and happy.
Fertilize your plants regularly. When your indoor foliage plants are in active growth, fertilize every other week with a water-soluble fertilizer specially formulated for house plants. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the mixture's strength and quantity. When the days grow shorter in late fall, stop feeding the plants until late February or early March, then resume regularly-scheduled feedings.
How to Care for a Calathea Plant
When it comes to decorative plants, Calathea is an easy-going species. Though the plants require higher humidity than some other species, modern technology makes small, efficient, and cheap humidifiers a possibility. There are many varieties of this genus, but most grow under similar conditions.
The Calathea lancifolia, or rattlesnake plant, is considered the easiest to care for in its genus. The most difficult of these plants to look after is Calathea leitzii (white fusion), which requires more humidity and regular watering. For those who want darker leaves, Calathea ornata (pin-stripe) has beautiful deep green foliage.
Choosing the Right Soil
The best soil for Calathea plants is a well-draining potting mix. If you’re wondering what ingredients make a good potting mix, we recommend two parts peat moss or coir and one part perlite. Keep the soil moist, but try not to soak it. We’ll take a closer look at this in the watering section.
Choosing the wrong soil can have negative effects. If the plant’s growing medium doesn’t drain water fast enough, the soil may become too wet and cause root rot. If it drains too fast, the soil will dry out quickly and damage the plant.
Finding the Right Pot
Calathea plants need well-draining soil. “Well-draining” refers to the speed with which water passes through the soil. Since Calatheas need soil that won’t trap too much water, ensure all that extra liquid has a place to go.
Purchase a pot that has drainage holes and consider using a pebble tray to collect the runoff. Pebble trays are just what they sound like: a dish full of small rocks that a pot sits in. The spacing between the pebbles allows the plant’s container to sit on top of them while still letting water through.
We recommend a terra cotta pot because it is breathable. The material wicks away moisture, keeping the soil at the perfect moisture level without getting too wet or dry. Choose a pot that is big enough for an equal amount of soil and roots. If roots are poking out of the drainage holes, try going up a size.
Water your Calathea plant every one to two weeks. Let the soil dry between watering, though this is only necessary for the top of half of the soil. Stick your finger into the soil, and if it isn’t moist until halfway down the pot, water the plant.
The amount of light your Calathea receives affects how much water it needs. Plants kept in low light won’t need water as often as those kept in bright sunlight.
If you want to take the best care of your calathea, the type of water you give your plant is worth considering. Try to avoid using tap water from your bathroom or kitchen. This water can contain minerals that are beneficial to humans but harmful to plants, potentially resulting in fungal infections. Give your Calathea plant bottled or distilled water.
Feeding Your Calathea
Calathea plants are hungry, and they require regular fertilizer feeding. Fertilizers provide additional nutrients that potting soil either doesn’t contain or gets used by the plant. We advise giving your plant fertilizer every month, though this is most important during growth periods.
A half-strength houseplant fertilizer is suitable for Calathea plants. Choose a balanced fertilizer that features an equal amount of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. These three nutrients are essential for healthy leaf development and speedy growth.
Placement and Lighting
Calatheas enjoy bright, indirect light. Whether you’re growing this plant inside or outdoors, make sure it stays out of direct sunlight. Too much direct sunlight can cause its leaves to burn and lose their beautiful color. These tropical plants are used to environments with plenty of shade and sparse light.
Certain Calathea varieties may require different amounts of light. Fortunately, there’s an easy trick to estimate how much light your plant needs: the darker the leaf, the darker the room should be.
Humidity and Temperature
Calathea plants thrive at temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the temperature above 60 degrees, as anything lower may stunt the plant’s growth. Tropical Calatheas can bloom flowers in their native habitats, but indoor plants rarely do.
When it comes to the proper humidity level for these plants, a good rule of thumb is the more moisture, the better. An indoor plant of this genus typically enjoys levels around 60%, though try not to let the humidity dip below 50%.
Pruning a Calathea Plant
Pruning is one of the best ways to take care of your plant’s leaves and overall health. Snip leaves off your plant if they become brown or yellow. This helps the plant distribute its nutrients as efficiently as possible and also enhances its appearance!
Calathea Ornata Humidity
Like many tropical plants, this plant prefers a spot with plenty of humidity. While misting the leaves of the plant twice a week with room temperature water can help maintain adequate moisture levels, you might also consider placing this plant in a room that is naturally more humid. For best results, place your calathea ornata in the kitchen or bathroom, where it will have plenty of access to humid conditions without requiring you to keep track of it.
If this is not an option, you can also place a humidifier near the plant. A humidifier will help draw moisture to your plant and keep it there, even if you have a heat register or other drying source nearby. Another option is to place the plant on a tray covered with a layer of pebbles. Add water to the pebbles periodically, which will maintain humidity around the plant’s roots without causing them to rot. While you can back off on the watering a bit during the colder months, you must be vigilant about providing enough humidity to combat the overly dry air.
Calathea have a reputation as greenhouse plants, and it's easy to see why. They're highly sensitive to chilly temperatures and grow best when kept in the warm, humid environment greenhouses often provide. The good news: You don't have to call a greenhouse or glass atrium home in order to care for one of these tropical beauties. As long as you take care to mimic the balmy temps, moisture-packed air, and shady environment calathea love, they can thrive in nearly any household.
While it may seem counterintuitive for a plant that is considered tropical, calathea plants actually prefer filtered, indirect light or shade. They're used to growing beneath a canopy of trees on the jungle floor and are therefore adapted to brief dapples of sunlight instead of constant harsh rays. In fact, it's best to keep your calathea plants out of direct sunlight, as too much light can burn the leaves and cause their vibrant patterns to fade. You may also notice the leaves of your calathea move throughout the day, often folding upwards at night and opening wider in the morning. These movements are known as nyctinasty and are thought to follow the sun's movement in the sky in an attempt to maximize light absorbancy in the wild.
Moisture is of utmost importance to a calathea plant, so opt for a soil blend that retains water well. A peaty potting mixture that is lightweight and airy works best, as does any specialty mix geared towards African violets. Be sure to plant your calathea in a pot with drainage holes at its base although it likes moist soil, it is still susceptible to root rot if it becomes waterlogged. Additionally, calathea plants prefer slightly acidic soil, thriving best in an environment with a pH of around 6.5.
The calathea is one thirsty plant and does best when watered regularly in order to maintain a consistently moist (but not soggy) soil. Depending on your home environment, this could mean watering your calathea plant every few days, once a week or once every other week—the most important rule of thumb is to never let the soil dry out. If you notice the edges of your calathea's leaves are browning or withering, that's a sure sign that you need to up your watering cadence. Calathea are also surprisingly picky when it comes to the type of water they receive and are known to be sensitive to several minerals typically found in most tap waters, which can cause their leaves to yellow. To avoid this, water your calathea with filtered water, rainwater, or allow your tap water to sit out overnight so that any chlorine or fluoride present can evaporate.
Temperature and Humidity
Balmy temperatures are your best bet when it comes to keeping your calathea happy. Choose a spot in your home that's consistently toasty—calathea thrive when kept at temperatures ranging from 70 degrees Fahrenheit to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, but can tolerate a drop down to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (but no lower). Keep your calathea away from any cold drafts and up the surrounding humidity as much as you can, either by selecting a spot in your home that's naturally more humid (like a bathroom or kitchen) or by placing a humidifier nearby. Terrariums are also a great option given their naturally humid conditions—you'll just need to find one large enough to host calathea's sprawling leaves.
For the best results (and a luscious, full plant), treat your calathea once a month with a liquid fertilizer at half-strength throughout the spring, summer, and fall, tapering off in the winter months when it naturally grows less.