Calathea consists of more than 300 varieties includes Calathea Ornata. New hybrids and cultivated species also have peculiar looks on their leaves. For this reason, many tropical houseplant collectors consider this plant as a perfect addition to their room or garden.
First, let’s find the meaning of the plant name. Calathea is a Greek word meaning “basket”. It relates to the leaf feature of the plant that opens and closes. Then, Ornata comes from Latin language and it refers to the bizarre looks of the plant.
As a native plant of South America specifically in the Amazon rainforests in Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, as well as southern Columbia, this plant stays comfortable in a warm and humid environment. When looking for Calathea ornata it may be harder because of their various nicknames such as Pinstripe, Peacock Plant, or Prayer Plant. Hence, ask the person in charge in local nursery or plant store so that you don’t get the wrong plant.
What Makes It Famous?
When looking for an evergreen perennial plant, Calathea ornata is one of a MUST HAVE plant to bring at home. It has deep green glossy leaves with pink or crimson stripes. Depend on the condition, sometimes people who grow this plant indoor would have leaves with violet or reddish hue underside. When the plant is getting old, the pink streaks may turn white and the violet undersides become green.
One of the interesting characteristic of this plant is the foliage that constantly opens (day) and closes (night). The change in lighting triggers this natural reaction. As a result, you may often hear the rustle sound from the plant.
There is no need to wait for its distinctive flowers which don’t bloom often particularly indoor. The color and pattern of the foliage itself could create “a painted flower” as it also show different sides throughout the seasons.
A mature Calathea ornata could reach 60 cm tall and wide, although other Calathea species in the wild could grow 9 feet (almost 3 meters) commonly. That’s why you can easily fit this plant on porch, patio, or your windowsill. The sturdy stalks support the beautiful leaves. This plant is also pretty “neat” since it grows upright in one direction meaning it won’t block others.
After you get your own Calathea ornata, isolate the plant from the rest to check for potential pest and disease. You don’t know what happens before it arrives at your home. Find a secluded spot where bright indirect light shines while inspecting the plant for 1-2 weeks.
At this time your plant might look a bit sick since it is still adapting to a new place. Even if it looks fine anyway, do this as a prevention.
One of the difficulties in growing tropical plant is the bright indirect light requirement. Should they like a lot of sunshine like what they get in the jungle? In the field or their natural habitat, Calathea ornata lives under the shadow of tress. These trees basically filter the strong sunlight above, so that the plant receives partial sunlight.
If you persist to leave it alone under the direct midday sun, you will scorch fade the color of the leaves. In contrast, lack of light will make the plant suffer from stunted growth, pale and drooping leaves as the result of vitamin D insufficiency. Nonetheless, this plant could still handle a low light condition better than other varieties of Calathea species.
Thus, if you decide to plant it outdoor, make sure you create a shade of shelter from the direct sunlight. It can be by placing them in patio with a partial roof. A spot under large trees on the garden would also perfect for this plant.
When planting it indoor, you can put your plant near east-facing window. Nevertheless, the sunshine direction depend on your house location. Bright light from big window is better because if the light is too strong, use sheer curtain or partial blind. If it still not enough, place your plant further from the window.
Tips. If you want to adjust the light in detail, try using light intensity meter. To provide better light in dim light condition, use artificial grow light.
You must consider the USDA hardiness zone before deciding to grow the plant indoor or outdoor. This plant could grow really well in zone 10 and 10 outdoor. In this setting, your plant could get the best light and rainwater it craves as in its original habitat.
Outside that zone, cultivating this plant indoor is better. Furthermore, you can have more control on the plant size and growing condition when it is inside. After your plant has adjusted itself in a new home, it will gear up to present a better version of evergreen. The location contributes a lot to the plant care and maintenance including light, temperature, humidity, and watering.
Air temperature Calathea ornata loves is 18 to 29°C. A minimum temperature the plant can hold is 16 °C. Any source of fluctuated temperature such as AC, heating vent, and open window/door should be far away from the plant.
If you happen to find unusual change on your plant, move it to a place with more stable temperature. Sometimes, you cannot change where you live, but try your best to keep the right temperature.
Watering is essential to keep the soil moisture. It also helps distributing the nutrients and creating amino acids because photosynthesis alone is not enough.
In a dry or less water condition, the plant cells couldn’t keep with the growth of leaves and stems normally. Consequently, Calathea ornata eventually wilts and shrinks in size.
On the other hand, overwatering would increase the risk of root rot. The excess water blocks the air for breathing and soak the root for an extended period.
Find the right time for watering
- Finger testing. Try to check the soil using your finger once or twice a week. If your finger is dry, it means your plant needs water and vice versa. The top soil must be dry before watering to avoid mold and fungus issue.
- Moisture meters. Although this device useful, it is better to touch the soil again for sure.
- Lifting the pot. The problem with this method is the difference between dry and moist soil is not clear. Additionally, it might be harder if you have more than one Calathea.
The standard for watering this plant is once a week. As season changes, the soil might dry faster or slower. In summer the plant needs more water, but less water in winter (usually only watering once a month). Since each plant will show different reactions depend on various factors (light, temperature, humidity, etc.), making a watering schedule might not be suitable for this plant lifestyle.
This plant won’t accept water with chemical substances such as fluoride. This substance causes crispy leaf edge, yellow leaves, dead spot, and brown tips. Rainwater, distilled water, and soft water in room temperature are the safe options. About rainwater, you can use it if your living area is not heavily polluted. Cold water is not recommended.
Dealing with tap water. Tap water needs to go through de-chlorination process before you can give it to Calathea. You only need to stand the water for 24 hours to reduce the chemical content inside. However, there is a possibility that this method won’t completely get rid of the chemical.
Note. Wait for the excess water to flow out the drainage hole. Empty the saucer 5-10 minutes after you do the watering.
Read also : How To Care For Calathea Warscewiczii
Keeping The (High) Humidity
Aside from keeping the moisture, water is also important for creating a humid environment. Try using humidity level measuring device to make sure you have provided the right one. Since creating a whole humid area is impractical, you should focus on increasing humidity specifically for your plant. Achieving the 50-60% humidity at minimum is relatively easy with the following methods.
- Humidifier and pebble tray. Both of these method works really well in keeping the high humidity level. For the best result, also pay attention to the air circulation. In case of pebble tray, remember to refill the water when it is empty. During winter, the air tends to be drier. Therefore, humidifier is an easier and more consistent option than pebble tray.
- Move the plant into humid area. Sometimes, a humid air would make people feel uncomfortable. And it becomes more complicated when the room itself is dry in general. Thus, bathroom or kitchen are available to provide high humidity. Just make sure that the lighting and temperature support these areas.
- Adding more plants. Plants naturally produce humidity. If you group other tropical plants, they would get benefit from each other humidity.
Not so effective
- Misting using lukewarm water for 2 times a week. Morning is the right time for misting as it lets the water to dry faster. It could prevent overwatering and insect attack too. STILL, overdoing it would lead to fungal diseases. Moreover, it only has a tiny contribution in increasing the air humidity.
The soil for Calathea must be able to retain much water, so that the soil is moist longer. It will also reduce your burden from having to water it more often. To be specific, the soil must not be too porous or too compact. The plant needs to breathe and heavy soil will suffocate the plant.
Many experts say that adding peat moss is a great deal for the plant. It has two functions: allow the airflow and store enough water. Moreover, organic matter such as compost, African violet, bark, etc. are a good addition for the mix.
You can replace or mix them to complement each other. For example, you can mix peat with coarse sand and coco coir. Others also prefer to use pumice rather than perlite because it doesn’t float on the surface.
This plant also loves a slightly acidic pH of 5.5 to 6.5, so you will need pH meter. Still confused? Try to ask what is available on your local store because some have prepared potting mix that will suit specific plants.
Tips. It is quite helpful to make holes on the soil to promote better aeration. Simply poke the soil surface using wooden stick to ease the air, moisture, and water distribution.
Feeding The Plant
Calathea ornata needs fertilizer once a month in the growing season especially when you spot a new growth. Depend on the growth pace of your plant, you can increase the frequency as needed. You must STOP feeding the plant in cold months as the plant grows slowly. If the soil still has plenty nutrients, which is usually the case after first planting, repotting, or propagation, pending the feeding for a while.
Fertilizer type and feeding method
We recommend you to use all-purpose houseplant fertilizer as a starter. Dilute the fertilizer at half strength or follow the detailed instruction on the package before applying it to the plant.
Occasionally, there people who prefer using slow-release fertilizer product. However, for some tropical plants, it might be hard to adjust the amount. Here, the solution is to add compost on the organic fertilizer.
The suggestion is to replace the peat with compost (10%). Another method is by watering the compost and leave it for several days to create a compost tea. After a couple of days, strain the liquid then dilute it in half. Next, you can add it to the soil. This is safer than using the store product and you don’t have to feed them too often.
It is wrong to think that giving more fertilizers will boost the plant growth and health. Instead, your beloved greenery will have unpleasant leaf color and thin stems. It won’t be able to produce lush leaves as you wish.
Adding fertilizer in winter is also total disaster. The mineral salt would accumulate in the soil because of the slow growth and less watering. Consequently, scorching leaf, dry leaf and stalk, brown tips, and root burn might occur since the mineral salt content stays longer in the soil. You will also notice white powdery things on the surface indicating the mineral salt.
A way to solve this problem is by slowly watering the soil with lukewarm water or distilled water. The water will flush the excess salts. You can do this several times and remember to ensure there is no water pool in the soil and pot.
Once you see the roots popping out of the drainage hole or emerge on the soil surface, repotting time has come. You can repot the plant after Calathea reach maturity. It usually takes 1-2 years before you could repot the plant.
In addition, there are other reason that will force you to repot the plant. If your plant is sick (due to pest, fungus, or bacteria) repotting is a must to treat them faster. Delay your repotting process during cold season even if the roots have outgrown and then wait till spring to start repotting.
When repotting, you must provide the same soil quality and care like what you did before. Before resuming to the routine care, the plant prefer to stay alone first to recover from the shock.
One size bigger pot
The unspoken rule is to use 1-2 inches larger (but not more) pot than the old pot. Smaller pot will hamper the root growth while oversize pot would cause overwatering.
Plastic or ceramic pot (with drainage holes of course) is suitable for this plant. Avoid using pot that absorb too much moisture like clay pot. When choosing the material you may have to take into account the soil quality and watering. If you can maintain the moist soil, all is good.
A number or drainage holes absolutely support the soil and watering process. If your pot doesn’t have drainage holes, make your own by drilling. Still, if you can’t make or don’t want to do it, ALWAYS discard the excess water after watering. You need to tilt the pot sideways to let the water drain. It is simple, but having drainage holes is crucial.
Due to its nature, stem cutting is not the right method for propagating Calathea ornata. The option left is through rhizome/root division.
- Lift the parent plant from the pot and start inspecting the roots.
- When you untangle the roots, please do it carefully so that plant feel less pain.
- During this time, remove the unhealthy root that might be exist.
- Each root for propagation must have one leaf at minimum.
- Plant each clump in the fresh potting soil.
- Cover the plant and the pot using plastic bag.
- Take away the plastic bag after you spot new growth.
Note. Don’t overwater because the small only require less water compare to the mature plant.
Watering is also the right time to inspect your plant health and condition. Check thoroughly all the plant part, especially the undersides. Besides improper care, pest might come unexpectedly from outside the house.
Aphid and spider mites have become the enemy for many tropical plants. They suck the plant sap, making the plants weak. Spider mites like to attack a dry plant. On the other hand, aphid can spread really fast by crawling and flying. In no time other plants might become the next victim. In a weak condition, this plant will have a hard time to fight the pest.
- Quarantine your plant when you are sure for pest infestation.
- Shower the plant in running water and wash the surface and underside of foliage.
- Use cotton balls after soaking them in alcohol to clean the leaves. Alcohol can kill the pest.
- Spray the plant with the mixture option below:
- Insecticidal soap + water
- Two teaspoons of neem oil + one teaspoon dish soap + water
- Water + dishwashing detergent
- One cup of rubbing alcohol + a few drops of dish soap + 32oz of water
Note. Always dilute the ingredient with water to not damage the foliage.
- Spray the plant thoroughly and regularly until the pest is completely gone.
Basically, smooth airflow and consistent moisture will evade the plant disease related to bacterial and fungal infection. Both bacteria and fungus grow well in a wet condition, which in severe cases will kill the plant.
- Pink stripe become white or fade
Cause: prolonged exposure to bright direct sunlight
- Yellow leaf and curling leaves
Cause: over and under watering, pest, too much sunlight
- Brown leaves
Cause: strong direct light, lack of humidity
- Drooping, wilting, and curling leaves
Cause: lack of water that also dry the soil, low humidity
Note. You need to differentiate whether the curling leaves is the natural phenomenon or the sign of help from your Calathea ornata. If this condition occurs outside the normal day and night curling or if the leaves are not new growth, you should be worry. Insufficient water may be the culprit.
Yellowing, wilting and stunned growth (early stage), mushy and dark root (severe stage).
- Take the plant from the container.
- Wash the root with running water to remove the dirt and remaining soil.
- Remove the sick root.
- Replant the health root (white and sturdy) in fresh soil.
- If the roots have many leaves, cut the leave to ease the burden from supporting more leaves while recovering.
Tips. Sterile the old pot to stop the disease from spreading or move it into a new pot.
Thankfully, this plant doesn’t contain harmful substance. Therefore, it is quite safe for human and animal. However, you should give more attention to your pets.
Your active pest might accidentally ingest them while other pets might be more sensitive toward certain houseplant. Ask your veterinarian to find more information about it. To avoid the risk, please put the plant far away from active pets.
Wipe the leaves using clean damp towel or cloth soak in lukewarm water to remove the dust. A free-dust plant could have a better photosynthesis process, increase the moisture absorption, and highlight the shining effect on the leaf surface.
Prune the dead and dying leaves (brown and yellowing leaves) using shears or your fingers. It would help maintaining the size, growth pattern, and health of plant.
Benefit Of Growing Calathea Ornata
Many researches and studies have proved that having houseplant at home would provide abundant benefit.
- Adding visual attention to your dull room. Its stunning leaves will left an impression whenever people glance at them.
- Purify the air by improving air quality. Not only releasing oxygen, this plant also removing toxic volatile organic compound (VOC) from the air.
- Improve your health and happiness. In detail, it could help reducing stress and anxiety level, tiredness, improving sleeping quality, lowering heart rate and blood pressure, preventing various illness (coughs, colds, dry skin, fatigue, and sore throats), as well as helping to focus and concentrate.