Calathea are known to be fussy plants making them more suited to growers and houseplant owners with a little big of experience.
The biggest issue that makes Calathea care is watering. Therefore, it is important to avoid too much water.
Similarly, it is very important to use the right potting mix to avoid waterlogging.
What is the best soil for Calathea? The ideal soil mix for Calathea is loose, well-draining and provides good aeration.
A simple Calathea potting mix recipe you can use combines 50% potting soi, 20% orchid bark, 20% charcoal and 10% perlite.
This provides sufficient moisture while draining any excess to avoid overwatering and waterlogging.
Why Is Soil Quality Important for Calatheas?
It is very important to use the right soil mix for Calathea plants because they are susceptible to both overwatering and underwatering.
One of the things that make Calatheas fussy is that their sensitivity to watering issues. As such, this is the most challenging part.
The right king of potting soil is very important for your Peacock plant because it is very closely related to watering. If you use soil that either retains too much moisture or drainage too quickly, it will negate your how you water the plant.
Therefore, you can tweak and optimize your watering schedule. But your efforts will go for naught because the soil will either hold too much of the moisture or drain it out very quickly.
In both cases, this leads to problems with your Calathea.
Therefore, the right kind of soil for Calathea plays a huge role in regulating how much moisture the plant’s roots eventually receive.
If your potting mix drains too quickly, it can dry out between waterings. This will cause your plant to be underwatered or even put it at risk of dehydration.
When this happens, it makes your Calathea leaves turn brown and crispy. They can also curl or wilt. Similarly, the plant will get stressed making it more vulnerable to pests and diseases.
On the other hand, a soil mix that drains slowly or holds on to too much moisture ends up wet and soggy. This puts your plant at risk of waterlogging.
When this happens, the tiny air pocket in the soil that allow oxygen to reach the roots get blocked by the liquid, leaving your Calathea’s roots to suffocate.
Not only does the excess moisture make the environment conducive to pests and diseases it also puts your plant at risk of root rot.
Therefore, a balance between the two scenarios is what you’re looking for.
This kind of potting mix will allow the plant to stay hydrated without the risk of waterlogging.
Signs You’re Using the Wrong Soil Mix for Calathea
Now that you know the significance of picking the right kind of soil mix for your Calathea, it is important to be able to identify issues with the soil in case it happens.
I’ve had a few instances with new plants I’ve brought home that did not have the ideal soil for that specific plant.
This happens because nurseries operate in mass production. To save money and effort, many use the same potting mix for most if not all their plants.
So, it is a good idea to always monitor any new plant you get to see if the soil that’s been used works well with that plant. If not repot it and change the soil.
Here are the most important signs to look out for.
The Soil is Wet or Soggy and Does Not Dry Out
Calathea need soil that is well-draining. Otherwise, this puts the plant’s roots at risk of overwatering and waterlogging.
Thus, the soil needs to be able to dry out within a week. If it stays wet or damp there’s a good possibility that the soil is too heavy and it retains too much moisture for the plant.
Calathea Leaves are Curling and Drooping
Curling and drooping leaves in a Calathea indicate lack of water.
Its leaves will curl when it gets dehydrated to try and reduce the amount of water it loses from transpiration. Thus, it is a sign that the plant is trying to conserve as much moisture as it can because it is not getting enough water.
On the other hand, a droopy or wilting Calathea is likewise a sign that it is not getting enough water. That’s water pressure helps keep the plant upright. And lack of it causes wilting and drooping.
The Plant has Brown or Yellow Leaves
Both yellow and brown leaves are signs that there is a water issue.
Leaves can turn yellow or brown with both too much and too little water. Although most of the time, yellow leaves are associated with overwatering, while brown, crispy leaf tips and margins mean the plant needs more water.
The Soil has Compacted or is Dense
Compact, dense soil is likewise bad because it prevents water and air form easily penetrating the soil to get to the roots.
This kind of soil also causes poor drainage, leading to waterlogged soil.
And easy way to tell is to stick your finger into the soil. If the soil is hard and it feels like the particles are stuck to one another, this will likely cause problems for the plant in the future.
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The Soil has a Bad or Funky Smell
Soil should not have a foul odor or bad smell coming from it.
When it does, it is always a cause for concern. That’s because it can be a number of things. And from my experience, none of them has been good (at least I have not encountered one yet!).
One possibility if root rot. Rotten roots smell bad. Another is that there is some kind of bacteria that’s grown in the soil.
If the soil smells like ammonia, it is a sign that there is poor drainage or lack of air. And the smell is due to anaerobic decomposition.
In all of these cases, change the soil. If there are pathogens in the soil, make sure to disinfect the pot as well as there could be remnants left there which will pass on to the next plant that you put in that pot.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Soil for Calathea
So what is the best soil for Calathea.
Simply put, Calathea plants need loose, well-draining soil that allows the plant’s roots to breathe. Ideally, it is slightly acidic which will allow the plant to absorb minerals and nutrients better.
In many cases, an all-purpose potting mix will work although always monitor the plant to see if it needs extra drainage. If you notice the soil is holding more water than the plant needs, improve drainage.
Another reason why I’ve listed all the features here is so that you can create your own DIY potting mix for your Calathea. Once you know what the plant needs, you can use the right ingredients.
Well-draining soil is the first thing I like to look for when choosing soil for my Calathea plants.
It is worth noting that well-draining does not mean that the soil will quickly or immediately drain all the water you pour onto it.
Instead, it will hold some water but ensure that excess water is quickly drained.
This way, the roots get the hydration they need but avoid getting waterlogged or sit in water for extended periods of time.
The simplest way to improve soil drainage is to add perlite, pumice or vermiculite.
Aeration refers to the ability of oxygen to get through the soil to the plant’s roots.
In order for your Calathea’s roots to stay healthy, they need a balance of water and oxygen. Without one or the other, the roots will struggle and eventually sustain damage.
This is why too much or too little water is bad for the plant.
Soil with good aeration means that it is loose, and it is porous enough to allow air to get through.
On the other hand poorly aerated soil will deprive the plant’s roots from getting enough oxygen. When this happens, the rate of photosynthesis is negatively affected which will slow overall growth.
Adding coarse or chunky ingredients like bark, charcoal, perlite or gravel will improve aeration.
In addition to drainage, the soil has to retain some moisture. Otherwise, your calathea will eventually get dehydrated.
However, the key with Calathea plant is that the soil should not retain too much moisture. While this kind of soil may work for more water-loving plants, it can be very damaging to Calatheas since they are prone to overwatering.
Therefore, the goal here is to get sufficient moisture retention without overdoing it.
You can use mulch, shredded leaves or dried pine needles to improve moisture retention.
Soil pH Level
Calathea thrive when soil pH is kept around 6.5. Staying between the 6.1 to 6.5 range seems to a be good level from my experience.
But you want to avoid soil that is too acidic to too alkaline.
Both will cause some nutrient deficiencies and excess minerals. That’s because the plant will either absorb too much or too little of certain minerals when the soil pH is too high or too low.
You can do a soil pH test to check this. Just pick up a home test kit and follow the instructions.
If you find that the soil is too acidic (pH much lower than 6.5) add agriculture limestone to push up the soil pH.
If the test shows soil pH is too high (alkaline), add sulfur to bring it down.
To achieve optimal growth, the best soil for Calathea is rich and contains organic matter. This means it supplies the plant with the nutrients it needs to grow faster.
While the plant will do okay without the nutrients, it will grow slower and won’t produce as many leaves. The leaves will usually be smaller as well.
If you need add nutrients to the soil, you can incorporate a layer of compost or worm castings to the surface of the soil.
Although it most cases, growers will just use fertilizer.
How to Make Your Own DIY Soil Mix for Calathea
One of the best things about potting soil is that you can create your own blend.
I won’t lie, it takes some time to learn the different ingredients and how much you need to use. But once you understand the basics and experiment a little, you’ll be able to make your own DIY potting mix for any plant you have.
The only thing you need is to know the plant’s requirements and customize the soil from there.
As such, you’ll see many different DIY potting soil mix combinations for Calathea.
However, what they all have in common is that they are well-draining and have good aeration. Here are some Calathea soil mix blends that work very well you can make at home.
Option 1: Potting Soil, Orchid Bark, Charcoal and Perlite
- 50%potting soil
- 20% orchid bark
- 20% charcoal
- 10% perlite
This is my go-to potting mix for my Calatheas.
It uses regular potting soil while the other ingredients are there for drainage and to make the soil chunky.
Option 2: Coco Coir, Potting Soil and Perlite
- 50% coco husk
- 30% potting soil
- 20% perlite and horticultural charcoal
If you have some coconut coir (or husks), you can use this potting mix instead.
Option 3: Coco Coir, Orchid Bark and Perlite
- 25% Orchid bark
- 25% Coconut Coir
- 25% Perlite
- 10% Worm Castings
- 5% Activated Charcoal
This is another Calathea soil mix that uses coco coir. The bark, perlite and charcoal help with drainage and aeration, while the worm castings provide nutrients.
Coco coir is a good option because it is eco-friendly compared to peat moss.
Option 4: Regular Houseplant Potting Mix with Perlite
- 50% Perlite
- 50% Potting Soil
- 60% potting mix
- 40% perlite
These soil mixes are the simplest to make. Thus, they are perfect of minimalists because you only need 2 ingredients.
You can adjust the levels of potting mix and perlite depending on how much moisture the plant needs.
For more drainage, increase perlite. To make it hold more water, increase potting soil.
Option 5: Peat and Perlite
- 50% peat or coco coir
- 40% perlite
- 10% compost
This is another simple potting mix recipe. You can choose between peat and coconut coir depending on how eco-friendly you are.
Perlite provides drainage while compost provides nutrients.
Can You Use Commercial/Store-Bought Soil Mix for Your Calathea
Yes. But you have to choose the right kind of soil mix.
That’s because there are many different kinds of potting soils available commercially. However, each of them is best suited for certain plants.
That’s because different plants have different soil requirements.
If you prefer to go with commercial potting soil, you can use African Violet mix.
African violet mix
African Violet potting mix is readily available in stores and nurseries. It is a special potting mix which means the blend has been created for that specific plant.
You’ll also see other kinds of potting mixes like this including orchid mixes and those for cacti and succulents.
For Calathea plants, an African violet mix. That’s because African Violets have very similar watering needs to Calathea.
The advantage here is that you get the soil in a pre-mixed package. Therefore, you just open the bag and start using it.
There’s no need find or make the soil recipe, go out and get each of the ingredients and mix them to the required proportions.
Factors Which May Affect Your Choice in Soil Mix
One of the most important things about plants and soil is that each one is specific to your environment.
That’s because your home, where you live and how you care for the plant are different from other people. This means that it is important to be able to adjust how you care for your plant based on different conditions.
Climate plays an important role because it varies depending on where you live.
If you live in warmer climates, the soil will dry faster because there is more sunlight and the higher temperature.
Similarly, tropical regions have sunshine all year round. Therefore, overwatering is usually less of an issue. Instead, you don’t want the soil to dry out too quickly.
This is why growers in tropical countries will water their plants every 1 to 3 days throughout the year.
If you find that your soil is drying out too quickly, you can change the composition of the ingredients to increase the percentage of potting soil, peat or coconut coir.
Alternatively, you can keep the potting mix as is and just add mulch or sphagnum moss as top dressing.
If you live in colder climates, the opposite will be true.
Soil takes much longer to dry in cold conditions. As such, overwatering and poor drainage is bigger concerns. Additionally, the plant’s growth usually slows down during the winter due to the cold.
Thus, it does not use up as much water compared to the warmer months.
So, to prevent the risk of overwatering, it is important to ensure good drainage. You can increase the amount of perlite or reduce the amount of pest or coconut coir to do this.
Another aspect of climate to consider is humidity.
Humidity is related to soil because of moisture. Although, humidity is more concerned with air moisture.
However, humidity is important as it affects how much water plants lose through their leaves.
High humidity reduces your plant’s rate of transpiration. As such, it does not lose as much moisture. On other hand, low humidity increases the rate of transpiration which means the plant loses more water from its leaves.
As such, the play may need more or less water depending on what the humidity level is inside your home. This will affect your choice of potting soil, its ingredients and composition.
How You Water
How much you water depends on a lot of factors. I know some growers who have a heavier hand while others tend to water much less.
Additionally, some of them are busy with work so they’re more likely to miss watering sessions or forget them. Otherwise, are very religious such that they can sometimes water too often.
The thing is, only you can gauge how much you water and how often you water.
Therefore, if you find that you like to water more often, you’ll be better off with a better draining soil mix.
On the other hand, if you happen o miss watering sessions here and there, something that retains a bit more water could be more idea.