Calathea orbifolia is one of the large varieties of Calathea and a native of South America. Its evergreen leaves have drawn many to grow this unique plant. Alas, those who live in non-tropical area might feel daunted by the project of growing this plant at home. Despite its extra demand, you will find that this perennial plants is worth your love.
About Calathea Orbifolia
Calathea is a perfect choice to bring the jungle and exotic vibe in your living place. It might be harder to differentiate this plant with other species such as Alocasia and Marantha for the first time. Even the botanical name of Calathea orbifolia now has changed to Goeppertia orbifolia.
Basically it is safer to go with Calathea orbifolia name when looking or buying this plant. If you say Prayer Plant, people might make mistake by referring you to Ctenanthe or Stromanthe. Why? It is because their foliage opens and curls at daily basis.
Growth and Feature
At indoor setting, the growth rate of Calathea orbifolia is moderate. Commonly, this plant can grow almost 1 meter tall (3 ft) and spread 60 cm wide (2 ft) like a fan. The leaf itself mostly get bigger up to 30 cm wide (1 ft). Accordingly, prepare enough space for its growth.
It consists of broad silvery-green oval-shaped leaves plus striking colored veins. The veins of streaks resembles a candy cane. They have silver or light green hue while the undersides are in pale green. Each leaf grows in thick stalks without small branches.
In the growing season, this plant might produce flowers. They are some small white flowers with star like-shape petals. Doesn’t sound interesting, right? After all, people like this plant because of the magnificent foliage. In addition, the flowers rarely bloom especially indoor.
It is natural process where the plant leaves fold upright at night and unfold during the day. That is why Calathea got “Prayer Plant” nickname. Occasionally, you might hear weird sound from the plant. Don’t panic since it comes from the plant’s fold and unfold movement. If this habit occurs in unusual time, you have to check for possible issue related to the plant health.
As a popular houseplant, Calathea orbifolia has adapted very well inside a house. Light is essential for photosynthesis that keeps the plant staying evergreen. They might be a tropical plant, but they cannot stand direct sunshine. A perfect condition should be medium indirect light.
Achieving ideal light
- Shaded outdoor area. This plant could get the sunlight during the day for free here. However, the most dangerous time would be at the midday. The bright and hot sunshine above the head would easily scorch the leaves. Tree shade or patio would protect the plant instead of empty open lawn alone. In short, you try to mimic the environment where the plant lives in the wild.
- A room with good light. North or west facing window is quite ideal because the direct sunlight is not likely to hit the plant. If you only have room with strong sunlight, there are 2 things you can do. First, put a sheer curtain or partial blind to w window as a light filter. Second, push the plant back a bit far from the window.
Toleration to light intensity
A strong exposure of full direct sunlight is unacceptable for Calathea orbifolia. Under this condition, you could witness faded and translucent color, brown tips, and crispy leaves. In 1-2 days some leaves might die because they are dehydrated.
Unexpectedly, this plant could stand in a low light condition, but the light must be indirect. Although it would survive, the effects still there. It is inevitable that the leaves turn pale, leaf patterns fade, and stems get floppy. In another words, the whole plant looks limp. And since this plant still needs light, a completely dark condition is bad too.
Light option for indoor setting
Using lamp could do the magic if you don’t have window with ample lighting. Indoor lamp (relatively bright), ceiling lamp, or affordable low watt bulb are able to support the lighting. When you see the plants keep producing new leaves and have strong color, it means you did a good job.
Read also : How To Care For Calathea Warscewiczii
Try to keep a constant temperature around 18°C-24°C. If the temperature goes down further, 15°C is the plant limit. Temperature also closely related to humidity and we’re going to discuss that later after this.
Sign of unbalanced temperature
Curling leaves and brown edges are the common sign for high temperature. It may occur when you leave your plant outside in the hot summer days for too long. Although this plant prefers a higher temperature, when the outside temperature falls please bring the plant inside.
On the other hand, cold temperature would cause drooping leaves as well as brown tips and curled leaf. The plant also shows slow growth and it may enter dormancy. When the damage has come into the cell, the plant starts to lose its strength.
Beware of sudden temperature change
Generally this greenery is fine with the common temperature we live at home. However, it is harder to protect this plant from temperature fluctuation. Calathea never hesitates to show discomfort even with the slightest chill. Discoloration and leaf loss are the common impact of this condition.
There are some places and equipment that would heavily affect the ideal temperature.
- Kitchen. This place indeed provides high humidity, but the oven produces heat that will stress the plant.
- Open balcony/window. Keeping the plant near these areas is not a smart choice as there is no barrier that blocks the direct sunlight. Moreover, the cold draft can easily hit your plant.
- Air conditioner. Some people might set up the coldest temperature in AC without considering the effect on Calathea. It can be more dangerous if the cold airflow blows directly at the plant direction.
- Ceiling fans. It might not be as harsh as AC, but the direct air from the fans would makes your Calathea uncomfortable.
- Other heating systems (heating vent, fireplace, and radiators). If your try to raise the temperature during winter, putting the plant near these systems is not the right answer.
Interesting fact. Young plant can do quite well in a very hot and humid area. In contrast, the mature plant tends to be pricklier to heat. As long as you keep the temperature within the mentioned range, your plant is going to be fine.
Now, let’s talk about humidity level. Calathea orbifolia needs a minimum 50% humidity level to keep thriving. This plant would try to survive in dry air somehow, but their look is not going to be pretty.
To check the daily humidity, invest in hygrometer. It is not expensive and will be a great assistant in gardening. The key point to raise the humidity is to focus on the specific area. As you know, human will not be okay living in a very high humidity area.
In some parts of the world, the average household humidity is under 50%. To tackle this issue, you must try some methods that help raising the humidity. Then, choose one that work best for you and your plant.
Gathering tropical plants in one area
Grouping plants in garden or shaded patio would ensure the constant transpiration among them. Don’t put them too tight with each other since it could disturb air circulation and create an easy access for insect transport. You can also do this indoor, but there are things to consider such as room size.
Putting the plant in a naturally humid room
Bathroom is the top choice that is able to provide high humidity. Kitchen and laundry room are the next in line. Again, make sure that these places have enough light from window or lamp. Here, strong cold/heat sources should be far away. This method is low maintenance and you don’t spend a penny on it, just a little bit of energy.
Tips. Laundry room doesn’t come often in Calathea orbifolia care guide. In fact, while you hang your wet clothes inside, the humidity could increase (5-10% higher) for several hours.
Turn on the humidifier
This is the ultimate option if, first you live in a dry region. Second, if you want to control humidity in just one click. Third, if growing it outside is impossible. It can cover many plants at once in a specific area in the house despite the bad condition outside. The humidifier features will ensure your plant stays in a constant humidity level.
Fill the tray with water until it cover half of the pebbles. Then, put the tray beneath the plant pot. The water that evaporate will boost higher humidity straight to the plant. Remember to refill the water when it is empty. The downside is it could be hard chore if you have too many houseplants.
It has similar concept with pebble tray. Instead of tray, you fill the water inside the shell and position the hollow side above.
Note. Cold temperature creates dry air and you will see that the plant leaves become crisp.
Proper soil mixture is crucial since the plant like to stay in moist soil but hate living in standing water.
Along with stunted growth, wrong soil makes the leaves gradually lose the color and vibrancy. In a worst case, root rot develops and end the life of your beloved plant.
Important soil trait
- Able to retain enough water/keep soil moist.
- Could drain the excess water/have good drainage.
- Contain organic matter. Besides providing nutrient, organic matter could support the soil moisture.
- Have pH level of 6.5.
Recommended potting mix
- peat/coir and perlite/pumice (2:1)
- potting soil, perlite, and orchid bark (2:1:1)
- potting soil, peat, and perlite (1:1:1)
When making personal potting mix, it is better to find out more about the materials to use. For instance, coco coir and peat could maintain the soil moisture and let the plant breathe better. Vermiculate tends to hold more moisture and compost provide good nutrient.
Watering has several functions including moisten the soil, flush the excess salt mineral, and carry the nutrients. A good soil will be useless if you cannot water the plant properly.
The first rule for watering is ONLY watering when the top inches (1-2) of soil dry. Watering the plant when the soil is completely dry is wrong. Second, always let the excess water drain to prevent soggy soil.
- Check the top soil moisture using finger. When it is dry and no soil attached, it means the plant is ready for watering. For more accuracy, use moisture meter.
- Use a free-chemical water in room temperature. Start from the bottom and continue thoroughly water the other parts gently. If you only have tap water, de-chlorinate the water by leaving it in a jar overnight.
- Wait until the excess water come out through the drainage holes. If you use saucer, always throw the excess water so that the pot won’t sit in a water pool. When you follow this steps, you can lower the risk of root rot, pest attack, and fungal disease.
Note. Other sign when the plant is thirsty are the leaves stop its natural folding and unfolding habit and a decrease in the leaf amount.
Logically, during warm season like summer and spring, you might have to water the plant more than once a week. The hot temperature will naturally speed up the evaporation process, making the soil dry faster.
In winter, the air could be drier and you might want to add more water. However, rather than pouring more water often, you must reduce the frequency into once or twice per month.
Experts also suggest that you should rely more on increasing the humidity using the methods listed above. During this period, Calathea wouldn’t grow faster. As a result, the water will be useless and stand longer in the soil. It is dangerous because the root could be too damp and end up dying.
- Overwatering. This problem may occur due to much watering and poor drainage (from the pot and soil). Don’t follow the watering schedule because it is likely to increase overwatering risk. Once again, ONLY water the plant based on the finger test result and soil moisture level.
- Under watering. As a non-drought resistant plant, Calathea orbifolia is still able to hold in less water condition. Yet, the leaf could have unpleasant form and color.
- Bad water quality. Calathea in general is prone to chemical substance that usually comes from tap water or heavily polluted rainwater. Fluoride and chlorine that often found in this kind of water may cause leaf discoloration. Although DE chlorination may be able to solve this issue, it is safer to use distilled or purified water.
Read also : Calathea Ornata: Tips You Should Know
Since Calathea orbifolia is a light feeder, you don’t have to feed them often. Nonetheless, this plant appreciates constant feeding especially in the growing season every month. Even though others say to feed the plant in cold season less frequently, sometimes it is best NOT to give any fertilizer. The cold temperature slow down the growth pace. Therefore, the fertilizer is unused and could hurt Calathea.
For balanced liquid fertilizer, dilute it at ¼ strength or according to the label recommendation. When applying dry fertilizer, spare a few inches area from the plant base to be safe.
The plant also prefers to get water first so that the roots could absorb the fertilizer better. This method also help in preventing fertilizer accumulation in the soil.
What you should NOT do
- Avoid using low grade fertilizer. This type of fertilizer is usually stronger and could burn the leaves and root. Always pick organic, liquid, and balanced houseplant fertilizer. Additionally, it must contains low potassium, high nitrogen, plus NPK ratio of 3-1-2. By doing so, the plant will be healthy and have big and beautiful leaves.
- Don’t over feeding. When over feeding occurs, discoloration appears on the leaves and white colored substances cover the soil surface. Beginners often make this mistake. They add fertilizer when the plant recently get fresh moist soil that already contains enough nutrients. This white things is a wasted salt that have built up in the soil for too long.
Note. It is not easy to solve the fertilizing problems, but you can do something about it. After you’ve found the exact cause, flush the soil with lukewarm water to clean it from chemical substance. Next, try to save the healthy part of plant and get rid of the sick ones.
Take a look for slower growth, outgrown roots, or disease before repotting. Aside from these reasons, there is no obligation to repot the plant frequently. Some houseplants are even able to stay in the same containers for years and they are happy about it. People regularly do this every one or two years in the spring or summer.
Basic requirement for repotting
- A good new pot. The pot must be a slightly larger (one size up), made of moderate porous material (e.g. plastic pot), and has drainage holes.
- Fresh, organic rich soil. The soil also must be able to keep the necessary moisture and can drain excess water well.
- Treat the plant carefully and gently. When taking the plant out from its old pot until transfer it in new container, try to reduce the impact of transplant shock as much as possible.
- Give the plant moderate amount of water to keep it healthy while it recovers. Don’t worry with wilting leaves because they will get better over time in its usual humid, warm, and shaded spot.
You can only propagate Calathea orbifolia after it matures and produce clumps. The propagation process is almost the same as repotting. The difference is you divide the plant rather than only relocate it in a larger pot.
- Lift the mother plant from its pot and clean it from the soil.
- After you find the rhizome, cut the sections of tuber using sterile knife. Each plant would have different number of tuber, so you might get less or more.
- Each tuber must have leaf, stem, and roots.
- Replant each tuber in required soil. Only apply fertilizer at least 3 months after this process.
- To keep them warm and moist, cover them with transparent plastic.
- You can remove the plastic after the tuber produces new growth.
- Then, you can water them as usual because the plants have recovered and established well.
Among the care guide, pruning is one of the easiest thing to do. Thanks God, this plant consists of single leaf stem. It means you don’t have to trim a numerous branches unlike. Pruning won’t affect the plant health and it would improve the plant appearance.
Simply trim the yellow, brown, and dead leaves near the main stem using disinfected shears. Try not to prune them when the cold season approach.
Dust could clog the leaf pore and will make the leaf less shiny. Misting should be done in the morning using free-chemical water. In fact, the purpose of misting is to clean, enhance moisture and light absorption. It actually does not give big contribution to increase the air humidity. And if you mist too often and leave the wet foliage for a long time, the plant would starts to protest.
A more effective method is wiping the plant cautiously with damp cloth or towel. Soak the cloth in room temperature water and wipe the leaves on both sides.
Careless maintenance and nature involvement can weaken the plant health. Henceforth, Calathea is more vulnerable to pest infestation and disease.
- Leaf discoloration
- Stunted growth
- Weak stems
- Foul smell from soil
- Soft and dark root (root rot)
Note. Regarding pest attack, you might find other specific signs such as white web (spider mite), bruised undersides (trips), etc.
Eradicate the pest
- Isolate the plant.
- Identify the pest.
- Remove the infected parts.
- Change the soil completely if necessary.
- Use spray of neem oil, horticultural liquid, or insecticidal soap (after diluted it with water) to kill the insects and their eggs.
- Repeat the action until all pest are gone.
- Bring the pest natural enemy such as lady bug.
Treat the sick plant
- Quarantine plant to stop the other plants from getting infected.
- Inspect the plant condition specifically the roots. If all roots are mushy and brown, you won’t be able to save the plant. Try apply on one leaf first to see the effect.
- Cut the infected leaf and stem and then leave the white and strong root (if any).
- Transfer the plant in good pot and soil and put them in a warm, humid place with stable temperature. Don’t watering or fertilizing the plant for a while but keep a high humidity and control the moisture level.
- Watering regularly in moderate amount.
- Keep the plant away from any extreme condition booth cold and heat source. Give more attention when the plant experience drought, dormancy, and soggy soil.
- Shower the plant in running water once in a while.
- Always follow the guide or instruction properly, e.g. in potting soil, fertilizer and insecticide products.
- Try to balance any care (not less or too much). However, less is a bit better.
Note. Regular inspection will prevent the plant from facing the worst situation.