Wanting to introduce a Calathea Rattlesnake genus into your houseplant collection? Unlike its other siblings, Rattlesnake has a quite stable temper. It can be a little bit challenging to a complete beginner. Yet, if you already have some experiences with indoor plant, caring this plant will be relatively easy.
The recent botanical name of Calathea Rattlesnake is Goeppertia insignis. People usually use rattlesnake plant, prayer plant, or Calathea lancifolia (former name) when referring this plant.
Rattlesnake is a native plant of South America. In rainforest, this plant enjoys partial sunlight and humid condition. You can grow them outdoor in USDA zone 10, 11, and 12. Depend on where you live, it is safer to grow them indoor.
Size and Growth
A mature size of this Calathea ranges from 9–20 inches tall and 9–18 inches wide. In the wild, the height could reach 30 inches (76 cm) tall. As an indoor houseplant, you can get 45-50 cm tall Calathea. The foliage might grow to 18 inches long. Basically, they have moderate rate growth in indoor setting.
Leaves and Flowers
Many Calathea plants have oval-shaped leaves. In contrast, Calathea Rattlesnake (Lancifolia) appears with long wavy spear-like shape foliage. Shades of green pattern on top and purple-red mix undersides also make the plant more eye-catching.
In an ideal condition, yellow flowers might bloom in late spring. The flowers come in a conical spikes form around 2-4 inches in size. The probability of having these flowers is rather low.
Since people grow this plant for its stunning leaves, you don’t have to wait for the flowers.
Calathea Rattlesnake vs Prayer Plant
Prayer plant here specifically refers with Maranta plant even though they come from the same Marantaceae family. The leaf folding-unfolding habit that both have, even make people more confused.
Maranta plants will fold their leaves at night, but the leaves could dangle from the pot. On the other hand, Calathea foliage steadily folds upright as the stems grow upright too. During the day, the leave will normally back to its original shape (unfolding).
Initially, this is a natural process where plants try to handle their water and light resource.
Although bright indirect light is the norm, this greenery still appreciates medium to low light condition. Scorching and fading leaves may occur when the plant gets hot direct sunlight. On the other side, extremely dark condition would delay the plant growth and make it looks weak.
Since “indirect” is the key, try any means to filter the direct light. Great location determine how much lighting your plant get daily.
- Tall tree. In the nature Calatheas live under tree canopy. Therefore, put them under the trees in your garden. The trees act as a shade and a protector from wind/draft.
- Shaded patio. Most patios have built-in partial shade above, a perfect filter from direct sunlight.
- Well lit room. If strong sunlight streams through any window you have, direct sheer curtain or drapes could block the excess light. Move the plant a bit far from the window if necessary. Grow light could help the plant where there is no sufficient light available, particularly sunlight.
- Humid area. Bathroom could be an alternative as they also provide high humidity. However, the light provided might be less than the plant needs. You have to make sure there are overhead window or ample indoor lighting for example.
In that case you may choose greenhouse or terrarium. Both are practically a miniature version of nature.
When it comes to indoor setting ideally, Calathea rattlesnake (lancifolia) prefers 8-10 hours of bright indirect sunlight. Morning sun is the best time to get the most of indirect sunlight. Midday is the worst time as the sun intensity can burn the leaves. Hence, it is better if your window could provide enough sunlight throughout the day.
There are various opinion about what is the best facing window to put Calathea. Since everyone condition (and the plant) is different, we recommend a small experiment.
See how the sunlight passes through in a day. Next, examine the plant reaction. Try every means to keep the bright indirect light (e.g., light curtain). Remember that this plant could be suffer from shock if you move it around often.
Calathea rattlesnake plants thrive best in a temperature around 15°-23°C. Brown and wilted leaves are the initial signs of too low temperature.
Furthermore, this plant in sensitive to temperature fluctuation. The household temperature could be dangerous due to the use of home appliances and the influence of human lifestyle. Any source of extreme heat and cold should be far from the plant.
What to avoid: air conditioner, fans, oven, heater, fireplace, radiator, and vent. Open window or door as well as poor ventilation could let the cold draft and strong sunlight hit the plants. As a result, your plant could either freeze, dried, or burnt.
Once the temperature hits below 10°C (or under 15°C to be safe), you must bring the outdoor plant inside. As a precaution, having it indoor is safer. Moreover, moving the plant in and out won’t be good for its health.
Calathea rattlesnake soil must be constantly moist, but not soggy or too damp. Watering and pot quality also have an important role in supporting the soil.
Finding a balanced potting mix ratio could be tricky. One would mix peat moss and perlite in 2:1 ratio. Others might choose perlite and peat moss in equal amount of 50%. Another recommended materials include worm compost soil, cactus soil, and orchid bark.
A must soil property
- Well-drained. The drainage pace should be right in the middle. If the soil is too loose, no water left for the plant. For example, peat moss works well in facilitating good drainage while keeping the soil moist.
- Retain enough moisture. A heavy or clayey soil affects the plant drastically. Consequently, the plant could stay in standing water for a long time. This soil type also blocks the air circulation. To solve this problem, you could add orchid bark or perlite.
- Organic rich. This is crucial for young plants in particular. While still adjusting to the new environment, organic rich soil would have been supplied them with nutrients. Therefore, applying fertilizer in this period will cause overfeeding.
- Slightly acidic pH. To be precise the pH level should be in the range of 5.5 to 7.
Read also : How To Care For Calathea Warscewiczii
A quality pot for Calathea rattlesnake (lancifolia) should have moderate size, drainage holes, and well-drained.
A medium size pot allows the plant to grow and expand. When it is too small, you might have to repot often. On the other hand, giant size container holds too much water (overwatering).
Drainage holes is crucial to maintain soil moisture. If the potting mix is already perfect, poor drainage will ruin everything. Here is what you MUST do if you ended up buying pot without drainage holes.
- Add drainage holes. In this case, drill the pot bottom to create the holes. Some pot materials are sturdier than you think. If you cannot do it, ask someone for help.
- Double potting. Many newbies may choose decorative planter with no drainage holes. While it makes your plant even prettier, the impact is worse. Double potting trick could save your plant from this trouble.
Prepare an affordable plastic container with drainage holes. Then, put it inside a decorative pot. Now, when watering you should remove the inner pot (plastic pot) and wait the excess water flows out. Leave the pot in tub, sink, or shower for several hours. Finally, return it inside the decorative planter.
This task is beneficial to refresh the current soil as well as maintain the plant size and growth. As a moderate grower, Rattlesnake plants could stay in the same pot for 1-2 years. Repotting also takes place in that range of time.
Note. This plant hates any disruption, so repotting too often is intolerable.
Reason for repotting
- The roots grow outside the pot area. Compacted soil may occur as the roots push for expansion.
- You want to propagate your plant too.
- The growing season starts.
- Your plant is sick.
- Use a slightly larger pot 1-2 inches at most.
- The best time for repotting is in the early spring.
- Always treat the plant gently and carefully.
- Put the plant back to its original spot.
- Keep the ideal humidity level.
Quantity and frequency
No matter what, ONLY give MODERATE or MINIMUM amount of water. After that, please focus on the watering frequency. Deep watering may lead to overwatering. Instead, give the plant a bit of water constantly. The regular frequency is once a week, but it might change depending on various factors.
In summer, water dries faster and the plant grows actively. Therefore, you must check the top soil condition frequency to prevent dehydration.
In cold months, reduce the watering frequency. In this period, the plant will stay dormant. So, excessive watering is useless.
Time to water
Moisture testing will ensure the plant is ready for repotting. The top layer of soil must dry before every watering.
Finger testing will show these signs: wet finger/compact soil means NO watering, while dry finger and loose soil means YES. A “cleaner” method is by using moisture meter. When the device reads 4, water the plant.
Both methods are far better than sticking to watering schedule. Once the top soil has dried (or medium dry soil), pour water slowly and thoroughly on the soil surface.
Checking the excess water
You must become meticulous when checking the excess water. STOP watering when the water starts dripping slowly from the pot bottom. NEVER let the excess water streams too fast while you are watering.
If you see much water left (usually on the saucer), throw the water. DON’T pour the water back to the plant and soil.
Note. To improve aeration, create some holes in the soil using a wooden chopstick. Aerated soil ease the air and water circulation to all the plant parts.
- Under watering. The signs are: wilting and curling leaves. Besides lack of water, heating or cooling vent also contribute to this problem.
- Overwatering. The sign is yellow leaves at the early stage. If left unattended, the roots may rot because they sit in a very damp soil.
- Poor draining. This could cause both under watering and overwatering. The usual suspects are bad soil and wrong pot. When the soil dry too long, the foliage turns yellow and even brown. Although adjusting the watering frequency could help, you might need to replace the soil and pot.
- Free-chemical. To protest over water chemical substances, the plant will show brown leaf tips. Distilled water, well water, collected rainwater, and reclaimed water would satisfy the plant.
Tap water, soft water, or hard water may contain harmful bromine, chlorine, or fluoride contents. Don’t worry if they are the only water source you have.
You can easily leave the water in open container for one night. This is a de-chlorination process that lets the chemical contents evaporate before any use.
- Water temperature. ONLY use room temperature water for Calatheas. These plants are comfortable with the tropical rainforest condition. Thus, they hate cold water in particular. It might shock the plant too.
Calathea rattlesnakes (lancifolia) are favoring high humidity like in their motherland. Average households are usually humid enough for this plant. The problem is: your lifestyle, room condition, and house appliances you have tend to create drier air.
Ways to increase humidity level
- Put pebble tray under the potted plant, but don’t let the roots touch the water
This works under evaporation concept. The water in the pebble tray would drain and then create moisture. It is effective for one or two plants.
- Regular misting
Mist the plant lightly using distilled water or rainwater. Daily misting could be necessary if your house gets dry easily. Some advice to do this frequently in the morning, early afternoon, and during winter.
Well, misting actually has a drawback. It only makes small difference in the humidity level. Still, it is beneficial to dismiss some pests e.g., spider mites.
- Investing on humidifier
This is absolutely a great choice for any enthusiastic tropical houseplant collector. It would cover larger room and more plants. Just be prepared to pay the electricity bill.
- Creating plant cluster
Transpiration is a natural phenomenon when plants release water vapor their foliage. More leaves and larger leaves means more moisture produce. In short, each provide humidity to other plants.
- Leave it in steamy bathroom
While in the bathroom, you could shower the plant to clean and raise the humidity. Kill two birds in one stone.
Note. Some bathrooms could be dark, so ensure the plant get bright to medium indirect light here.
Read also : Calathea Orbifolia : How to Successfully Grow
Several months after you get the rattlesnake plant, it would require new nutrient supply. At this time, the plant has used most of the nutrients in the soil.
To support the plant growth and foliage health, feeding the plant once a month is common. This is especially important during the growing season around April to August. Fertilizer is not quite necessary in winter.
A basic fertilizer that others often recommend is balanced liquid fertilizer. The thumb rule is to diluted it at half (1/2) strength. Apply fertilizer after watering. Moist soil would ease the fertilizer absorption.
Organic or gentle fertilizer is a safer option than the chemical ones. Plants owners also recommend using general houseplant fertilizer with iron inside. In addition to the beneficial ingredients inside, it helps a lot when you often forget.
Due to a busy schedule you may accidentally feed the plant too much or too less. This action won’t hurt the plant badly if using organic fertilizer. In reverse, wrong dosage of chemical fertilizer could endanger the plant life.
In severe cases, the built up mineral in the soil suffocate the plant. Furthermore, when it affects the roots, then, goodbye.
ALWAYS follow the label instruction properly to avoid overfeeding and under feeding.
The area where you live also affect the fertilization routine. If your plant constantly grows new spurt, feeding it all year around is not a problem. It also means that your plant won’t enter dormancy or experience delayed growth.
Maintaining Calathea rattlesnake means encourage better growth and keep the plant healthy and tidy.
Good things about pruning Calathea rattlesnake are:
- it rarely has flowers,
- leaves only fall off when they lack of moisture,
- it doesn’t have small branch, and
- it doesn’t grow very tall and very big.
In conclusion, you just have to remove the dying and dead leaves. Sterile the shears first before pruning them. Make a clean cut to reduce plant stress.
Too much dust on the foliage will hamper the photosynthesis process. It also makes the plant looks dull. Aside from dust and debris, cleaning would help eliminate the pest and add moisture.
Note. Don’t use leaf shine product since it might lead to browning of foliage tips.
- Clean the plant carefully using damp clean cloth/towel. Use free chemical water in room temperature like when you watering the plant.
- Take the plant under shower. Inside, run the water from bathroom shower over this greenery. Another option is to bring the plant inside under the rain.
Division or separation is a proved method for propagating Calathea. You probably find people who suggest doing leaf cutting or seed method. We can’t guarantee the result though. Therefore, the choice is yours.
It is not a difficult task. You can get mini Rattlesnake plants while maintaining their size as you want.
Proper propagating steps
- Water the plant before starting propagation.
- Prepare a plastic pot or other material which is able to retain enough moisture. Of course, the pit must have drainage holes.
- Fill the 1/3 of the new pit with fresh, organic rich, well-drained potting mix.
- Meanwhile, tip the pot on one side and try to take out the mother plant carefully.
- Pick the root ball using small clean knife. Or squeeze the pot a little bit if you grow it in elastic plastic container.
- Remove the remaining soil for better access and prune the dying or damaged parts.
- Untangle the root ball to divide them. You may cut them if you find it difficult. Please do this gently as not to damage the root.
- Replant each divided root ball in the pot and add more soil. Use some of the mother plant soil helps reducing the plant stress.
- Water the new plants well.
Note. Propagation is only for MATURE, healthy, and well-established plant. Cover the plant with plastic bag to keep higher humidity is optional.
Calathea rattlesnake indeed has attractive foliage, but pest is not huge fan of them in particular. However, it is still common to find aphid, spider mite, and mealybug in Calathea. Some are attracted to dry plant, humid condition, or thick leaves.
When you notice any pest existence in your plant, follow the tips below.
- Separate the plant from other greeneries.
- Prune the heavily affected parts of the plant if necessary.
- Spray, wipe, or wash the plant with mild insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, or neem oil mixture.
Note. For tropical plant, commercial insecticide and homemade soap spray is NOT the best recommendation.
Most of the time, watering is the primary cause of plant illness. Low humidity and moisture also play a part in plant health maintenance.
It is not hard to find out this problem. They will tell you right away through their stems and foliage.
- Leaf discoloration and pattern fading
Improper lighting is likely the one causing these symptoms. Excessive direct sunshine creates ugly green spots on the leaf. Being under too little light makes the plant losing its pattern gradually.
- Brown leaf edges
Low humidity level and dry air turn the leaf edges into brown. The leaves might curl too. Therefore, raise the humidity level with the effective methods. Put the plant away from cold and heating vent.
- Weak stem
The stems are going to be limp once you overwatering them in low temperature. It often occurs in winter or cold room inside the house. Sudden attack of draft from outdoor will weaken the plant too.
- Root rot
Before you check the root, the stem might start to rot first. This is the consequence when you let the root sit in water for extended period. You must save the plant quickly by replant the remaining healthy part of Calathea Rattlesnake.