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How to Grow and Care for Calathea Orbifolia

With its eye-catching striped leaves, the calathea orbifolia (prayer plant) makes a stunning indoor plant – if you can provide its finicky humidity and care needs.

Calathea-Orbifolia-1-1024x1024 How to Grow and Care for Calathea Orbifolia

With their stunning striped leaves and incredible patterns, calathea plants are some of the most eye-catching houseplants around. But the calathea orbifolia takes it one step further – its huge, oval-shaped leaves actually move and fold up at night!

Also known as the prayer plant, calathea orbifolia’s leaves lay flat during the day to soak up sunlight. But in the evening, they curl up vertically, as if folding their “hands” in prayer. This fascinating habit gives the plant a completely different look from morning to night.

Beyond its unique foliage movements, the calathea orbifolia dazzles with its intricate feather-like patterns of alternating light and dark green markings. The lush, velvety leaves can reach up to 2 feet long when mature, creating an incredible tropical display.

While incredibly striking, these plants are notoriously fussy when it comes to their ideal growing conditions. Providing the proper levels of light, humidity, water and temperature is crucial for keeping the calathea orbifolia thriving and its leaves looking their best.

If you’re up for the challenge, this dramatic foliage plant makes an unforgettable statement in any home or office! Here are all the tips you need to successfully grow and care for the calathea orbifolia.

Light Requirements

In their native Brazilian rainforest habitat, calathea orbifolia grow under the dappled shade of the upper canopy. Replicating these bright, filtered light conditions is important for the plant’s overall health and vibrant leaf patterns.

Too much direct sun will scorch the leaves and cause them to lose their gorgeous striped markings. But too little light results in smaller, less vibrantly colored foliage and leggy growth as the plant stretches toward the light.

The ideal spot for a calathea orbifolia is in bright, indirect light a few feet back from an east or north-facing window. Sheer curtains can help diffuse harsh rays if positioned in front of southern or western exposures.

Signs that your plant is getting too much light includes:

  • Faded, washed out leaf colors
  • Yellow or bleached patches on the leaves
  • Drooping or curling leaves
  • Leaves developing crispy, burnt edges

On the flip side, indicators that there’s not enough light are:

  • Smaller than normal leaves
  • Very dark, muted leaf patterns
  • Leggy growth with sparse foliage
  • Plant leaning toward the light source

While bright light brings out the calathea’s boldest leaf colors and patterns, be sure it’s always indirect. A few hours of direct sun is too intense and stressful for these delicate tropicals.

Humidity Needs

Perhaps the trickiest part of growing a calathea orbifolia is meeting its high humidity requirements. These plants thrive in very moist, humid air around 60% relative humidity or higher.

Low humidity is one of the biggest culprits behind dried, crispy brown leaf tips and edges on calatheas. Their thin tropical leaves are quick to show signs of lack of moisture in the air.

If your home’s air feels dry from heating or cooling systems, you’ll need to take steps to boost humidity levels around your calathea. Here are some options:

  • Use a cool mist humidifier and position it near the plant.
  • Set the plant pot on a leak-proof tray filled with pebbles and water, creating a humid microclimate as the water evaporates.
  • Group plants together so they can raise humidity levels for each other.
  • Mist the leaves regularly with room temperature water, avoiding sunburn hours.

Ensure the plant is not in the direct path of any heating vents, drafts or dry airflow from windows or fans. Even placing the pot on a non-porous surface like wood can quickly dry out the leaves.

With their high humidity needs, calatheas often do best when grown in bathrooms or terrariums – but good air circulation is still important. Stagnant, overly wet conditions promote diseases like powdery mildew or leaf spot.

Consistent monitoring and quick action is required any time you notice browning leaf tips or edges. This is commonly one of the first signs your calathea orbifolia needs more humidity in its environment.

Watering Needs

Like their humidity requirements, calathea orbifolia plants are fairly fussy when it comes to their soil moisture levels. They need consistently moist soil that never fully dries out, but not to the point of being waterlogged or saturated.

The best advice is to allow the top 2-3 inches of soil to partially dry out before watering again thoroughly. Then, evenly soak the entire potting mix until excess moisture begins draining from the bottom of the container.

Signs of overwatering include yellow leaves, soft stems, root rot and potting mix that stays wet and soggy for days. These wet conditions invite fungal diseases and can quickly kill a calathea plant.

On the other hand, underwatering results in crispy brown leaf edges, curling leaves and sluggish growth as the plant struggles to uptake moisture and nutrients. Leaves may appear limp and deflated before dropping off.

To prevent issues, always check the soil moisture level first before watering. If the top inch or two feels dry to the touch, it’s time for a deep drink. Avoid letting the soil dry out completely, as the plant’s thin leaves are extremely sensitive to drought.

It’s also a good idea to use room temperature water rather than straight from the cold tap. Calatheas are very sensitive to cool soil temperatures, which can invite root rot or leaf spotting diseases. Let any chilled water sit out overnight before applying.

Finally, the quality of your water also matters for calathea plants. They much prefer rainwater or distilled sources if possible. Hard municipal water can buildup excess salts in the soil, damaging sensitive roots over time. Apply water directly to the soil rather than over the leaves.

Providing consistent moisture without overwatering takes some practice. But once you strike the right balance, your calathea will reward you with non-stop growth and beautifully patterned leaves!

Temperature Requirements

Like most tropicals, the calathea orbifolia thrives in warm temperatures between 65-85°F year round. They cannot tolerate cold drafts or exposure to temps below 60°F for extended periods.

The ideal range is 70-80°F during the day and a slight 5-10 degree drop at night to mimic their rainforest environment. But avoid major fluctuations in temperature from heating vents, windows or appliances.

Signs that temperatures are too cold include slowed or stunted growth, yellowing leaves and leaf drop. The plant may even go semi-dormant when exposed to chilly conditions below 60°F.

If night temperatures start dipping below 55°F, it’s best to move your calathea to a warmer spot until the weather stabilizes. Short periods of cooler temps are okay, but extended cold exposure is very stressful.

High temperatures above 90°F can also create issues like leaf scorching, drooping or increased pest problems. Hot drafts from forced air vents or reflected sunlight through windows is something to watch for.

Always avoid placing your calathea orbifolia in a room where temps fluctuate widely or too close to windows, vents or appliances that give off hot or cold bursts of air. These tropicals need consistently warm, stable conditions within their preferred range.

While sometimes challenging, providing your calathea with the proper temperature, humidity and soil moisture conditions is key to keeping its lush, vibrant foliage looking its best. With the right care, these plants reward you with unbeatable showy leaf patterns!

Potting Mix Needs

Avoid using heavy garden soils or moisture-retentive mixes that stay consistently wet. These promote root rot issues that can quickly kill off a calathea orbifolia.

In addition to well-draining soil, calatheas appreciate a slightly acidic to neutral pH between 5.5-6.5. Over time, salts and minerals can build up in the potting mix, leading to issues like crispy brown leaf tips, wilting or stunted growth.

To prevent this, it’s a good idea to repot your calathea orbifolia every 1-2 years in late winter or early spring before the plant breaks dormancy. Refresh the potting mix at the same time to replenish nutrients and improve drainage.

Choose a container with ample drainage holes in the bottom and slightly larger than the previous pot, as calatheas appreciate being somewhat root-bound. An extra inch or two of diameter is plenty.

When repotting, start by gently removing as much of the old potting mix as possible from the rootball while avoiding root damage. Shift the plant into its new container and backfill around the rootmass with fresh potting mix, gently tamping it down.

Water thoroughly after transplanting and provide slightly increased humidity until new growth emerges, indicating the plant has settled into its new home. Ensure the soil never fully dries out during this transition.

Fertilizing Needs

Calatheas are moderate to heavy feeders during their active growth period from spring through fall. A regular fertilizing routine helps promote lush foliage, rich leaf patterns and prolific growth.

Use a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength every 2-4 weeks during the warmer months. Or you can apply a slow-release fertilizer at the start of the growing season for a more hands-off approach.

Always water first before feeding to prevent root burn from overly concentrated salts. And be sure to flush out the soil every few months by letting water drain freely through the potting mix.

Fertilizers containing higher nitrogen promote leafy growth, while those higher in phosphorus encourage better flowering for the tiny calathea blooms. But N-P-K ratios around 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 provide a good all-purpose feed.

Just be sure to cut back to just monthly feedings in winter when growth slows down. Too many nutrients during dormancy can lead to fertilizer burn or salt injury on the leaves.

Signs your calathea orbifolia needs more fertilizer include:

  • Smaller than normal leaf size
  • Stunted growth and fewer new leaves
  • Yellowing leaves
  • Faded or washed-out leaf patterns

With good soil, proper watering and regular feeding, these gorgeous tropical plants reward you with their oversized, vibrant leaves arranged in pleated patterns like elaborate feather dusters.

Providing the appropriate calathea care does take some work, but the results are hard to beat when it comes to eye-catching houseplants!

Pruning and Propagation

Unlike many tropicals, calathea orbifolia doesn’t require much pruning to control its size or shape. The plant naturally sheds its older bottom leaves as new ones emerge from the top of each stem.

Simply remove any dried, crispy or yellow leaves as they occur by gently pulling the stem away from the base. Use a clean, sharp pruner if needed to detach the leaf entirely.

You may occasionally get taller plants producing bare lower stems as the leaves at the base drop off over time. If desired, cut back these leggy stems to just above the soil line to prompt a flush of new, compact growth.

Calatheas can be safely pruned anytime from late spring through summer during active growth periods. But avoid major trimming in fall or winter as the plant heads into its dormancy phase.

In addition to leaf pruning, calathea orbifolia can also be propagated to start new plants through division in spring. Simply unpot the mother plant, gently tease apart the root mass into two or more equal sections, and pot up into their own containers.

Make sure each division has at least 2-3 healthy stems attached to a portion of the root system before replanting in fresh potting mix. Water thoroughly after dividing and provide slightly increased warmth and humidity to stimulate new growth.

While slightly tricky to care for, the calathea orbifolia’s stunning leaf patterns and incredible foliage make it well worth the effort to grow indoors. There’s truly no other houseplant quite like it!

With some attentiveness to factors like humidity, water, light and temperature, you can enjoy the bold, tropical beauty of this fascinating prayer plant for many years to come.

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