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Prayer plants are plants that belong to the Marantaceae family, which includes, amongst others, the Maranta, Calathea, and Ctenanthe plants. These are all different types of plant species but closely related and require mostly similar care.
These plants are called prayer plants because of the way the leaves open during the day, and, as a response to changes in sunlight, folding up at night like praying hands. A great visualization is this short prayer plant time lapse on youtube.
Prayer plants can be a bit fussy. They do require specific conditions and care. They don’t like to be neglected, so these are not your best choice if you prefer low-maintenance plants.
Types of Prayer Plants
Prayer plants are known for their beautiful and variegated leaves and the way those move in and out of prayer throughout the day.
There are hundreds of various species of prayer plants. Most are native to tropical Central and South America.
From these species, the classic herringbone plant Maranta leuconeura, and the Maranta leuconeura tricolor, with pink stripes, are often found as indoor potted plants.
Calatheas are popular to collect with all the different leaf shapes and patterns.
Calathea ornata, or pinstripe Calathea, has long, narrow dark green leaves striped in hot pink. The Calathea orbifolia is gorgeous with large round striped green leaves.
The Ctenanthe is a strong, but still a bit harder to find plant. Growing in popularity and often called never-never plant.
Ctenanthe oppenheimiana tricolor is a true eye-catcher growing pink and green lance-shaped leaves. The Ctenanthe burle-marxii is a smaller, more compact plant with green striped elliptical leaves.
Lastly, a special mention to the Stromanthe sanguinea Triostar, or Tricolor. This prayer plant has stunning long variegated leaves in green, white and pink. These are often mislabeled and sold as a Calathea.
General Care Tips
Prayer plants are not the easiest plants to grow indoors.
Don’t immediately give up on these wonderful plants though.
With some tips to give the prayer plant what it needs, it is definitely possible to keep them thriving as houseplants.
LOCATION: If you have a bright bathroom, a prayer plants will be very happy there. Since they come from tropical places, they are used to living in high humidity. The steam from the shower will provide your plant with the humidness it loves.
How much Light does a Prayer Plant need?
Almost all prayer plants like low to medium, indirect light.
Low-light mimics the shady conditions of growing beneath the canopies of the tropical places they come from.
Don’t put your plant in complete shade, it does need some light to open its leaves completely during the day.
At the same time, keep it out direct sunlight. If the light is too strong, it can fade and burn the leaves.
MAKE: Protect your plant from too much direct sunlight with a sheer curtain or by making this quick and easy DIY window sun diffuser.
How much Water does a Prayer Plant need?
Having a good watering regime is crucial in keeping your prayer plant happy and healthy.
Prayer plants like their soil to be consistently moist. Be careful, this doesn’t mean soggy. Consistently soggy soil will drown their roots.
You want to water your plant frequently, especially in spring and summer. Check your plants’ soil often to keep it from drying out.
In fall and winter, your prayer plant needs less water when it goes into dormancy. Water when the surface of the soil is dry, but make sure to not let the soil totally dry out.
Use warm, or at least room temperature water. Cold water will shock their roots.
When to Fertilize?
Begin a regular fertilizing schedule in early spring to give your plant some extra energy to grow.
Feed it with half-diluted liquid fertilizer once every two weeks throughout the growing season (March-August).
Don’t fertilize in winter, give your plant some well-deserved rest.
Prayer Plants love High Humidity
Humidity, humidity, humidity.
Prayer plants are tropical plants and thus are used to a very humid environment. If the air around your plant is too dry, the leaf tips can turn brown quickly.
Keeping the humidity high is especially important in winter when the heaters go on and the air indoors is usually drier.
So make sure to keep your plant away from the heater, to not dry out your plant.
Regularly mist the leaves of your plant, put your plant on a humidity tray, or place a humidifier nearby.
HELP YOUR PLANT: Make a humidity tray for your plant. It’s quick and really easy.
Place your plant on top of an upside-down saucer in the middle of a larger deep plate filled with water. The water will evaporate bringing up the humidity around your plant. Just make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the pot.
Similarly easy is a pebble tray to up the humidity. Put the pot on a tray filled with water and pebbles. Again, make sure to keep the pot above the water, not in it.
When to Repot?
Repot your prayer plant at least every two years. By then your plant will appreciate the fresh soil.
If your plant has become root-bound it will grow slower, so if needed, repot it in a planter one size larger.
As with all planter pots, make sure yours has drainage holes on the bottom. If yours doesn’t, use it as an outer cache pot and place a planter with drainage inside it.
Spring is when the plant starts its active growing period, and the best time to repot.
Pruning Prayer Plants
When your plant matures, it is quite normal for an occasional leaf to get damaged or start wilting. Prune these leaves when you notice them. Cut the leaf, with clean, sharp scissors, at the base where it connects to the main stalk.
For Calathea and Ctenanthe plants, this is probably all the pruning you will be doing.
Maranta plants, can also be pruned to improve their shape and encourage more growth.
Choose which leaves you like to remove, and carefully cut right above a leaf node. Your plant will send out new shoots from those nodes.
HELP YOUR PLANT BREATHE: Clean the leaves of your plant occasionally when you notice any dust on them. Use a soft dry cloth to clean them.
How to Propagate and make More Plants
The best and easiest way to propagate prayer plants is by division. And it’s very simple.
To divide your plant into two or more smaller plants, start by removing the soil from the roots. Gently pull sections apart, making sure each part of the plant has a portion of the roots attached.
Place each new plant into their own pots and water sparingly until you see new growth. Then water as normal.
The best time to propagate is in spring or early summer when your plant is energized to grow.
Most Marantas can also be water propagated with stem cuttings. Cut right below a node and place the cuttings in water until roots develop.
Common Prayer Plant Problems
Don’t feel bad if your plant is showing signs of problems. It happens a lot with indoor prayer plants.
Yellowing leaves, brown tips, drooping stems are all visual cues through which your plant is trying to tell you that something is wrong.
Read the signs your plant is giving, and find out how to revive your plant.
Don’t see your prayer plant problem listed? Leave a comment with your question down below, and I will try to answer it asap. Let’s talk
Why are the leaves of my prayer plant not closing?
If your prayer plant isn’t praying at night, it is probably getting too much light. These plants need a noticeable difference in light and dark for the leaves to open and close.
Even if it’s just a night light near your plant, or a street light outside the window, your plant might simply be in too much light to pray.
On the other hand, if your plant isn’t opening its leaves during the day, it is probably not getting enough light.
Move your plant somewhere where it gets either more, or less light.
Why are the leaves on my prayer plant turning yellow?
Most often, yellowing leaves and spots on prayer plants are caused by a water quality issue.
Just like spider plants, prayer plants are sensitive to too much fluoride, salt or chlorine found in tap water.
Better is to use distilled water or let tap water sit overnight before using it. Or treat your plant by giving it rainwater instead.
Another reason why the leaves of your plant might turn yellow, is that it has been overwatered and/or overfertilized.
In this case, you will most likely notice the lower leaves of your plant turning yellow in combination with limp stems.
Why are there yellow or brown spots on the leaves?
Small yellowish spots on the leaves, that spread and eventually turn brown, usually indicate that your prayer plant suffers from leaf spot or helminthosporium.
This is a fungal disease that can occur when plants are continuously over-watered.
Give your plant a break from watering so much, avoid getting the leaves too wet, and treat the disease with an application of 100% pure neem oil.
Why are the leaf tips on my prayer plant turning brown?
If the leaf tips or margins are browning and drying out, it could be that the humidity is too low, or your plant is getting too much direct light.
Leaf tips can also turn brown if your water has too much fluoride, salt or chlorine, or if your plant got too much fertilizer.
DAMAGED LEAVES: You can safely trim off brown tips, or remove any leaves that have turned yellow. These leaves won’t recover.
Why are the leaves curling?
When leaves on your prayer plant are curling in, and maybe the edges are also getting a little crispy, it usually means that it is thirsty. If you haven’t watered your plant in a while, go ahead and water.
Leaves also tend to curl if the humidity is too low or if the plant is getting too much light. Increase humidity and, or move away from the light.
Drooping leaves and limp stems
If your prayer plant is standing somewhere cold, or in a draft, it could respond with drooping leaves and limp stems.
It can also indicate that you have overwatered the plant.
Too much direct sun can make the leaves fade.
Simple solution: move your plant somewhere with less direct light.
Are prayer plants poisonous?
These plants are not toxic, and according to ASPCA, are safe for dogs and cats.
Read more about the risks of toxic plants and your pets and if you should be worried or not.
Where to buy your prayer plant
If you’re like me and enjoy to buy your plants in person, you should be able to find some variations of Maranta and Calathea plants in most plant nurseries and garden centers.
And if you’re looking for a specific type, or maybe a somewhat harder to find Ctenanthe or Stromanthe, there are online plant sellers on Amazon to help you out.