Ross and Rachel. Sam and Diane. J.D. and Elliot. Me and prayer plants. Prayer plants and I have the most on-and-off relationship ever because I cannot resist their gorgeous patterned leaves no matter how much pain they cause me down the line. They get crispy leaves. They can’t handle direct light. They need a boatload of humidity. They attract pests. They can’t even handle California tap water. It’s just pain on pain on pain.
And still, I will not onboard the prayer plant haterade train because as high maintenance as they are, these plants are STUNNERS. I will keep buying them as soon as I see a plant that’s reasonably priced and catches my eye. I’ve lost count of how many prayer plants I’ve sent to botanical heaven, but they were all beautiful while they lasted.
If you’re a newbie plant parent, chances are that you’ve heard about prayer plants being finicky and needy. There’s a kernel of truth to that, of course. They’re not easy-going plants, even for seasoned foliage enthusiasts. Still, there are a few prayer plants that I haven’t killed yet and wanted to share with folks here!
Why are they called prayer plants? And how do you care for them?
First thing’s first. Why are they even called prayer plants? Prayer plants essentially get their name from the fact that their leaves stay flat during the day and fold up at night like praying hands.
Prayer plants include a few genera: calathea, stromanthe, ctenanthe, and maranta are the main ones. These lush tropical beauties are beloved for their moving leaves as well as their gorgeous variegated foliage. Because they tend to have thin leaves that don’t store much water, they need extra watering and humidity to stay lush. A hygrometer is a great investment (a 50 to 60 percent reading is recommended), as is a humidifier or mister. You can also group plants together to increase overall humidity, or leave them on a pebble tray with water.
Prayer plants are also fairly sensitive to salts in tap water, so I use filtered water or leave out tap water to let the chemicals dissipate a bit. Other than that, they appreciate filtered bright light and monthly fertilizing throughout the growing season — don’t overdo the feeding, which can lead to burnt roots and leaves!
Prayer plants that I haven’t killed…yet
Ctenanthe Setosa Grey Star
My mom gifted me a grey star from Trader Joe’s half a year ago, and it’s been going strong ever since. Well, minus my abysmal bout of spider mites, which left discolored marks on my leaves. For about a month, I sprayed this plant down with soapy water every weekend and intermittently left it in my bathroom to give it good steamy humidity.
There’s not much else that I do that’s special for this plant, though. It’s still essentially in the same nursery pot as it was when I first received it. I leave it on my bedroom floor, where it receives bright indirect light three feet away from a northeast window beneath a few taller plants. Occasionally, I’ll give it a squirt of fertilizer, but it appears to be going strong all by itself.
I’ll tell you what, the word calathea alone makes me NAUSEOUS. And what’s even more sickening is how beautiful plants in this particular genus are. I’ve lost an ornata, rufibarba, zebrina, and rattlesnake — they’re probably all glaring down at me from planty heaven now, cursing my luck as we speak. My dry environment and semi-forgetful nature are not compatible with the high demands of this subset of plants, but I have managed to keep one calathea alive and thriving so far (knock on wood fervently, please): calathea orbifolia.
This baby has been pushing out new leaves every week, happily residing in a four-inch plastic planter. Here’s what my care situation looks like:
- Watering: Each Saturday, I water my calathea with filtered water, either from a Brita carafe, our fridge, or bottled spring water. Even then, I leave the water out for a day or two before letting it touch my calathea. The brown tips keep coming, but they’re not drastically unseemly.
- Humidity: When it comes to humidity, I mist my calathea a few times a week with the same water (even though some people don’t really believe in misting, which is fair). I think a humidifier would help hydrate my calathea, but I haven’t crossed that bridge yet.
- Lighting: I have my orbifolia a few feet away from a northeast window. Since I don’t have any trees obstructing my view, the light is actually pretty strong in the morning.
- Soil: I keep this orbifolia in a mixture of potting mix, pumice, and orchid bark. I think adding peat or coir might help with water retention, but the soil hasn’t posed any issues thus far.
- Fertilizing: I use a synthetic liquid fertilizer with every four to six waterings to avoid burning my plant.
I’ve also had a calathea makoyana for four months now! It hasn’t done very much though, so I don’t know if I can file it under alive and thriving. It is simply alive, not losing or browning leaves, but not growing many leaves either.
Miss Stromanthe Triostar is my oldest remaining prayer plant, and she’s a slow grower, but a grower nonetheless. If you want pink princess philodendron colors without the price tag, she’s perfect — I picked her up from my local nursery for under $10.
Other than a few dried up leaves here and there, it’s been powering through my neglect. I water my triostar (still in her original nursery pot) about every week or two with tap water for the most part. I rarely fertilize and leave it about six feet away from my northeastern window, which is probably why it’s not rapidly growing. I actually like her 4-inch size as it is right now because it’s very cute and compact!
Lemon lime maranta
OK, so this is actually a new plant from Hirt’s, but I’d recommend this to inexperienced plant parents who are curious about prayer plants! I had a maranta a while back that was getting leggy but nonetheless growing rapidly — unfortunately, I eventually gave it away at a plant swap. But, mamma mia, here we go again, because I couldn’t resist the colors of this lemon lime.
I have a habit of misting this plant just because water droplets look great against its velvety surface. I don’t water it until the first 1.5 inches feels dry to the touch — sometimes I’ll even downright let it dry out (don’t do that because it’ll crisp). Tap water is OK, but you get less crisping with filtered water. The more light I give it, the less leggy it looks. But all in all, it’s an easy-going plant!
Prayer plants are great for teaching us the importance of patience and grace. They might be incredibly frustrating at times, but they’re not as bad as many people make them out to be. Like relationships, they need a little tender loving care to flourish. That’s perhaps the best lesson that plants can teach us — and this particular variety just so happens to dial up the challenge.