Calathea Orbifolia Plant Care – Growing Prayer Plant

The calathea orbifolia is now officially named as the Goeppertia orbifolia. It is one of the larger species among the calatheas, growing up to 3.5 feet tall with a breadth of about a foot wide. But, it isn’t its stature that makes people love this beautiful yet hard to find plant.

The orbifolia is known for its stunning, oversized oval shaped dark green leaves that are lined with silver stripes. Once you see them, they’ll instantly catch your attention.

And, while it does grow flowers, they aren’t as attractive as its foliage. So, most people grow the plant for its leaves.

As with most houseplants, this calathea species is tropical in nature, originating from the floors of Bolivian forests. Thus, as you’ll see below, it is very specific about its living conditions.

So, as amazing is its appearance is, this is a somewhat fussy plant that needs proper care to grow optimally. The good news is, once you know what to give it, caring becomes a lot easier.

Calathea Orbifolia Plant Care

Calathea Orbifolia Light

The calathea orbifolia needs medium to bright sunlight that’s either filtered or indirect. However, you want to keep it away from direct sunlight which can damage its leaves and cause them to get pale.

That said, you need to give it good lighting (without putting it in the direct path of the sun’s rays) for its leaves to look their best. This is because in its natural environment, its fairly small size keeps it under the shade of larger trees in the forest. This protects it from direct sunlight but allows it to receive good amounts of light.

The plant can likewise tolerate some low light. Although you may want to be careful with dark or areas that are too dim. Keeping your plant here is cause its growth to slow and make its beautiful foliage lighter than it normally should be.

As such, you’ll want to find that balance. And, the best way to do so is to experiment with different locations and observe how your plant reacts.

Thus, the best place places to keep your calathea orbifolia are either:

  • East facing window. This is a great spot because it gets a lot of sunlight that is fairly gentle.
  • North facing window. This provides lower light compared to the other sides if you live in the Northern Hemisphere like here in the U.S. or in Canada. While most houseplants will struggle here, your calathea orbifolia will be perfectly happy.

 

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Calathea Orbifolia Temperature

Because it is a tropical plant (native of Bolivia), your calathea orbifolia wil favor moderate to slightly warm, humid conditions. As such, it will easily adapt to most home and indoor conditions, which have similar temperature and humidity levels.

This is one reason why you’ll often see it as a houseplant. The only exceptions are in USDA zones 9b to 11 which get enough tropical conditions all year round. If you happen to live in these zones, you’ll be able to grow it outside without worrying about the cold weather damaging your plant.

Otherwise it is best to keep it as a container plant. This allows you to move it outdoors when the weather gets warm and bring it back inside once fall and winter arrive.

As far as specifics, the calathea orbifolia’s ideal temperature ranges from 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. As with its light requirements, it likes moderation. As such, it doesn’t appreciate temperatures that are way above 75 degrees.

Similarly, going below 60 degrees will begin to make the plant unhappy. When left in cooler conditions for longer periods of time, you’ll start to notice its leave being to curl. Chills, drafts and cold nights are all no-no’s as they can damage your plant.

 

Humidity

However, humidity is a different story. Here, it prefers high humidity in order for its leaves to look their best. You want to keep relative humidity at 50% or higher, which may or may not be easy at home depending on where you live.

The easiest way you can monitor humidity indoors is to get a hygrometer. This is a cheap device that will measure humidity just like thermometers measure temperature. This way, when you notice humidity start to drop, you can quickly take action.

Here are a few simple ways to increase humidity around the plant.

  • Put it in the bathroom or kitchen. This is by far the easiest. But, you need to be careful. Showers and kitchens are naturally humid because of the water that evaporates (from showering and cooking), so the plant will be happy there. But, you need to make sure there is enough light these spots which can be tricky sometimes. Otherwise, if there’s lack of light your plant will grow slowly and its leaves will lose their vibrancy.
  • Group your plants together. Grouping plants together is another natural, and hands-free method of increasing humidity around your plants. This happens because plants transpire much like people perspire. The moisture then evaporates into the air, which increases humidity. The one thing you want to make sure here is that there is enough air circulation. So, you want to keep them somewhere air is moving. And, leave enough space between plants so there’s no overcrowding. This allows air to move through the plants. Air is key as plants need air. Plus, it helps dry moisture from the leaves which prevents fungal disease (which can be a problem due to the humidity).
  • Set the plant on a pebble tray. This is another hands-free method that doesn’t cost a thing. All you need is a dish, some water to fill the dish and a few rocks. Then, set your plant over the rocks so it sits above the water. You don’t want the water to wet your pot or soil. As the water in the dish evaporate, it increases moisture in the air.
  • This is often what many beginner houseplant owners do. And, it is very effective. However, it is very time consuming since you need to mist everyday, a few times a week or sometimes a few times a day. Plus, you may be busy or forget some days.
  • This is the most precise way simply because you can set the machine like an a/c to adjust to the weather and turn on/off when needed. Doing so keeps humidity at a very stable level. But, it costs the most of all the methods, there’s ongoing costs also and if something happens, you need to repair it.

calathea orbifolia

source: wikimedia commons

 

Calathea Orbifolia Watering

Water is one of the most important things to watch out for when caring for your calathea orbifolia. That’s because it is the one thing that can quickly make your plant’s health deteriorate. And, in some cases, this can be very difficult to recover from.

To start, the orbifolia is a rhizome. Thus, it is prone to root rot, which is something you never want your plants to experience. And, the main reason root rot happens is too much watering and allowing the plant to sit in water for long periods of time.

So what’s the problem?

The problem with the calathea orbifolia is that is likes damp soil. But, you don’t want the soil to get soggy. As such, there’s a fine line between the two.

While too much water will cause root rot, weaken the stem and have negative effects on its leaves, too little water will make your orbifolia move less. Above, I mentioned how the plant is also referred to as a “prayer plant” because of how it folds up at different times of the day. When it doesn’t get enough water, you’ll see it doing this much less.

If it stays dehydrated, you’ll soon see its leaves deteriorate without warning. Whereas other plants will warn you with wilting leaves. Your orbifolia won’t.

As such, the best way to keep the plant happy waterwise is to always check before watering. You can do so by sticking your index finger’s top 2 knuckles into the soil (go down 2 inches in depth). If the soil is almost dry or just barely moist, it is time to water. You don’t want to let it dry out as you would other houseplants.

When you water, make sure to do so thoroughly. That is to slowly pour on the soil until you start to see the bottom of the pot start to drip, then stop. Just as importantly, take the time to spend the next 10 to 15 minutes to allow excess moisture from watering to drain.

This step is crucial as it will prevent overwatering and the risk of root rot.

Similarly, using a plastic container instead of a terra cotta one works well. The former is not porous. So, it won’t allow water seep out like the latter. This will help keep the soil moist.

Last but not least, be aware that your calathea orbifolia is sensitive to chemicals in water. This includes chlorine, which is common in tap water. So, it is not a good idea to use tap water unless you’re sure there’s very little chemicals in your municipality’s tap.

The best option here is to use rainwater, which is fresh, natural and has no chemicals. You can likewise use distilled or purified/filtered water. Unfortunately, both get costly over time. So, another free way is to use tap water but to let it sit for 24 hours in room temperature. This will allow the chemicals to evaporate.

As you can see, the calathea orbifolia is quite picky with water. Thus, it is very important to monitor it. A quick way to tell if there’s a water problem is to look at its leaves. Too much or too little water will make its foliage turn yellow.

 

Soil

From the water section above, you can already guess that this plant likes moist and well-draining soil. This is key in order to prevent too much water retention or becoming too dry.

As such, the best potting mix combines the two features. And, you can get that by using peat or coir mixed with perlite. Ideally, you want soil that’s rich in organic matter as well.

Using peat or coco coir will allow the soil to retain enough moisture for the plant to use without overdoing it. On the other hand, perlite speeds up drainage. You can likewise use pumice in place of perlite.

 

Fertilizing Calathea Orbifolia

Fertilizer is another key element to optimum growth for your calathea orbifolia. It either supplements soil that isn’t rich enough. Or, completely takes the place of soil that doesn’t have a lot of organic matter.

Either way, you want to feed your plant enough nutrients to support its growth.

This means giving it a balanced liquid fertilizer once a month diluted to half or even quarter strength during its growing season (spring and fall). Once winter arrives, stop until the next spring comes around.

As with water, you do not want to overfeed it. Too much will lead to fertilizer burn which will damage your roots. Additionally, the orbifolia’s roots are sensitive. So, you want to use organic fertilizer instead of synthetic.

Another way to keep your plant safe from too much buildup of fertilizer salts it flush it a few times a year. This involves slowly pouring water until the soil is moist. Then allow it to drain. As the water drains, it takes with it the excess salts and minerals left behind. Thus, flushing them out.

 

Pruning Calathea Orbifolia

Calathea orbifolias have stems with single leaves. This means you don’t need to prune it.

However, you will want to trim leaves that are old, diseased, yellowing or damaged. This keeps your plant healthy and looking good.

When doing so, cut near the main stem. Always make sure to sterilize cutting tools (using rubbing alcohol) before using them. This eliminates the risk of transferring bacteria to the plants.

 

Calathea Orbifolia Propagation

As beautiful as the alathea orbifolia is, it is unfortunate that you don’t see a lot of the plant. One of the biggest reasons for this is because it is hard to propagate it. While the process isn’t necessarily much more difficult, the success rate is much lower than many houseplant.

As such, while seeds and stem cuttings are viable ways to propagate the plant, people often resort to rhizome division which has a much better success rate compared to the two.

Because the plant does not like being moved or bothered from its spot, it is best to propagate it when you repot your plant. That way, you do two things at once. This reduces the amount of trauma it experiences.

Here’s how to propagate calathea orbifolia through division.

  • Take the pot out of the plant.
  • Pick a section that you want to separate and grow on its own. Make sure there is at least one stem and a few roots coming out from the section.
  • Using a sterilized knife, carefully cut that section from the rhizome.
  • Add new potting soil to each of the containers – one for the parent plant and another for the new plant.
  • Place each of the plants in their respective containers.
  • Water thoroughly.
  • Then put them in warm, humid areas where they get enough light.

 

Transplanting & Repotting Calathea Orbifolia

The plant does not liked to be moved. This means it does best when you find a good spot it and then just leave it be. The more you move it, the more stressed it gets.

As you would guess, this behavior means it doesn’t like being repotted as well. This is why you may see your plant droop after being repotted. This is the result of the shock it experiences from being moved and repotted.

When this happens, the best thing it to neglect it. Outside of giving it enough light, water and feeding, you don’t want to do anything extra like disrupt the soil, prune or do anything else. By giving it time to recover alongside the necessary requirements like moisture, humidity, etc. it will get back into its normal form.

As such, you want to do this only when it gets rootbound (which takes years). That’s because as the pot gets too tight for it, you’ll see its roots start curling around themselves. As they root system keeps growing, the soil gets more packed as well which makes water a problem.

As a result, leaving it as such, will slow down growth.

Repotting your calathea orbifolia is fairly straightforward.

  • You do want to get ready with a new container and fresh potting soil before hand.
  • When you have these ready, take out the plant from its current container. The longer it has been in a pot, the more compact the soil and more rootbound it is, the harder it will be to get it out.
  • Patience is key. Make sure to gently get it out of the container and not jar or bang it. This will increase the amount of shock it experiences.
  • Add potting soil to the new container. You can get a pot that’s 2 to 4 inches wider. For a mature orbifolia, an 8 or 10 inch pot will work well.
  • Insert the plant into the new pot.
  • Fill the extra space with soil and pat it down lightly.
  • Water thoroughly.

 

Toxicity

The plant is safe for both kids and animals. They are not toxic like other houseplants. This makes them a good choice if you want something beautiful that won’t cause a problem for kids and pets.

However, like all non-food and non-cooked items, eating them can still cause stomach issues. Plus, they can harbor dirt, soil and pests.

 

Pests and Diseases

Pests are an issue for plants with large leaves because they like to feast on them. When it comes to your calathea orbifolia, the most common pests include mealybugs, whiteflies, thrips and aphids.

Among them, thrips are the most bothersome because they suck the life out of foliage. So, you’ll see your plant’s leaves have yellow and brown patches which are signs of this pest’s work.

Because your calathea orbifolia likes moist soil and humid conditions, it can be susceptible to diseases. That’s because problems like leaf spot, powdery mildew and fungus are all caused by moisture issues.

The worst of these problems is root rot, which, as its name implies, destroys the roots of your plant. Thus, it damages its support structure and your plant’s ability to absorb water and nutrients. When this happens, it increases the risk of plant death. So, prevention is key.

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