Calathea Rufibarba Care – Growing Velvet Calathea Indoors & Outdoors

Calathea Rufibarba

Calathea Rufibarba is also known as the Furry Feather Calathea, Velvet Calathea, Fuzzy Feather Calathea and Goeppertia rufibarba. So, when you see any of these names on plant labels, they’re referring to the same plant.

Many of its nicknames including the Fuzzy Feather Calathea, Furry Feather Calathea and Velvet Calathea come from the fact that its leaves have a velvety, furry feel to them.

This along with their long, narrow and jagged edges make the Calathea Rufibarba unique and beautiful to look at.

Some people also confuse the Calathea rufibarba  with the Calathea lancifolia because they look similar. However, they are two distinct and different houseplants although under the same genus.

The plant is native to Brazil therefore it enjoys consistently moderate to warm weather all year round.

Calathea Rufibarba Plant Care

Light Requirements

The Calathea Rufibarba is often misunderstood as a low light plant. And many people will tell you that.

But from experience I don’t find that to be true.

Sure, the plant will tolerate (and do okay in low light). However, it thrives in bright, indirect light. As such, if you want your Calathea Rufibarba to grow faster, produce more vibrant green leaves, keep it in at least moderate lighting.

Just as importantly, avoid very harsh light or direct sun especially during noon to mid-afternoon and during the summertime.

It can tolerate and even appreciate morning sun (before 10:30 a.m.). Thus, an east facing window is a great place to put the plant.

I think part of the reason why people believe that the Calathea Rufibarba is a low light plant is because it is found in the rainforest understory. As such, it gets a good amount of shade from the larger trees and plants.

However, keep in mind that indoor lighting is very different from outdoor lighting. The walls and ceilings of your home significantly reduce the amount of light that gets into your home.

This works the same with temperature as well.

As such, indoors, the Calathea Rufibarba thrives in bright, indirect light. Outdoors, it does best in partial shade or bright shade.

If you keep it in these conditions, you’ll see the leaves produce a more saturated color and the better likelihood of blooms as well.

 

Temperature

Temperatures is another thing to consider when choosing the right spot to put your Calathea Rufibarba. It thrives in temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Although it can easily tolerate warmer weather.

However, you want to be more careful with the cold as it does not like conditions under 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

If kept in this environment, its growth will slow down. And the lower the temperature gets, the higher the likelihood of stunted growth.

Its leaves will also sustain cold injury once things get too cold or it is left in the cold for prolonged periods of time.

The good news is that the plant is well-suited for indoor care because its ideal temperature is the same as what we humans are most comfortable with. This makes it easy to care for in this regard.

Outdoors, the Calathea Rufibarba enjoys USDA Hardiness Zones 10 through12 because it features the perfect weather for the plant. That is, there is no snow or frost even in winter. Instead, you get sunshine all year round.

These are the southern coastal regions including California, Florida, Texas and Louisiana.

In colder regions, you can still take the plant outside when the weather warms up in spring and summer. But make sure to take it back indoors before temperatures drop below 60 degrees.

 

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Humidity

Moisture is where the Calathea Rufibarba is finicky. Thus, you want to pay special attention to the plant when it comes to humidity and watering, at least initially.

Once you get a hang of what it likes, the growing and caring the for the plant is quite easy.

When it comes the humidity, the Calathea Rufibarba enjoys 50% humidity and higher.

This can make it a bit tricky to care for depending on which part of the country you live in. In most cases, it should not be too much of an issue except for maybe the summer and winters. Both seasons are notorious for dry air.

But if you live in a drier area, you’ll need to supplement the moisture in the air. You can do so by:

  • Placing it in the bathroom, kitchen or somewhere with higher humidity. This can be close to a body or water like a pond or fountain.
  • Mist the plant. How often you spray it will depend on how low humidity gets in your home. The drier the air, the more often you’ll need to mist.
  • Invest in a humidifier. This can be a small or large unit depending on how many plants you have and which ones need extra help with air moisture. The larger the square footage capacity of the humidifier the more expensive it gets.
  • Use a pebble tray. This is a more passive method in that you can set it and forget it. The only time you need to do anything is when the water runs out (just fill it again. Make sure to keep the pot above the liquid by using rocks or any kind of platform.

A couple of pro tips:

  • I like to keep a digital hygrometer near my plants to make it easy to monitor the humidity around them. This lets me know what levels certain species have trouble with. Therefore, next time I can pre-empt it by taking the necessary steps ahead of time.
  • You can wait and watch how your plant behaves. As long as its leaves, leaf tips or edges don’t get brown, crispy or dry, it means that plant is okay with the humidity. So, allow it to adapt on its own first then act based on what happens.

calathea rufibarba

source: wikimedia commons

 

How Often to Water Calathea Rufibarba

Besides humidity, the other aspect to be careful with is watering.

That’s because the plant is fussy about this as well.

In general, the Calathea Rufibarba enjoys moist soil. However, it is sensitive to overwatering. Similarly, it does not appreciate getting dehydrated. Therefore, you want to find the balance.

This means avoid watering too often but also don’t allow the plant to completely dry out.

The simplest way is to always check or feel the soil before adding more water.

Basically, your sweet spot is anywhere from:

  • The top 2 inches of soil is completely dry
  • The soil is 50% dry (halfway down)

Anytime you’re in between this range, it is the “safe zone” meaning you can add moisture without the risk of overwatering.

I also like this zone because it gives you a good amount of leeway before the soil is completely dry. This way, if you somehow forget or life gets in the way, you don’t have to stress even if you’re off by a few days.

You can use your finger to test the soil, lift the pot or dip a wooden stick into the soil to see how much moisture the soil has.

The two things to look out for are:

  • Yellow leaves, wilting and drooping – these are signs of overwatering.
  • Brown, dry leaves – this is a sign of underwatering.

The other thing to consider is the Calathea Rufibarba’s sensitivity to minerals and chemicals in water. This makes tap water iffy in many cases.

I say that because many municipalities add chemicals to tap water. And if they add lots of it, specifically chlorine and fluoride, it can give the plant some problems.

This is why distilled water or rainwater is often recommended. If you don’t get a lot of rain where you live, you can collect tap water and leave it at room temperature overnight.

This will allow the chemicals to evaporate by morning, making it safe to use on the plant.

 

Calathea Rufibarba Potting Soil

Because soil is intricately related to how much water the plant gets, it becomes crucial to use the right potting mix for your Calathea Rufibarba.

The kind of soil you use will determine whether it retains a lot of the water you pour into it or drains it.

Since the Calathea Rufibarba is sensitive to too much water, the best soil for the plant needs to have good drainage.

This ensures that the soil will quickly drain any excess moisture so that the roots of the plant don’t end up sitting or drowning in water. When this happens, it increases the risk of root rot.

As such, avoid dense, water-retentive soils. While this works well for some houseplants, it will eventually cause problems (and can even kill) your Calathea Rufibarba over time.

Instead, go with something that is lightweight, chunky and well-draining.

If you prefer using a commercial mix, you can pick up a bag of African Violet mix. This will work well for the plant.

I prefer to make my own mix. And there are many ways to go about this. It also saves you money in the long run because buying the ingredients is cheaper.

A simple combination you can use is:

  • 60% regular houseplant mix
  • 40% perlite

You can also go with:

  • 50% regular potting mix
  • 50% orchid bark

If you don’t mind using more ingredients:

  • 50% peat (or coco coi)
  • 40% perlite
  • 10% compost

The key is that the soil needs to retain enough moisture to keep the roots hydrated. But is able to drain all the excess water so that roots don’t end up standing in water.

 

Fertilizer

The Calathea Rufibarba needs to be fertilized in order to grow optimally. Since it is a foliage plant, you want to make sure you’re giving it enough nitrogen. This s the “N” or the first digit in the N-P-K raio.

This will help the plant grow more leaves with good size and color.

You can use a balanced houseplant fertilizer or general-purpose mix. Feed the plant once every month to every 2 weeks depending on how it responds. Dilute the plant food by 50% each time.

This prevents overconcentration. Similarly, make sure the soil is moist before adding fertilizer.

Just as importantly, avoid overfertilizing the plant.

The plant only needs to be fed during spring and summer. It does not need fertilizer in the winter.

 

Flowers / Blooms

While the Calathea Rufibarba is primarily a foliage plant, it also produces stunning yellow flowers. These are lovely to look at because their colors are a stark contrast to the darker green shade of its foliage.

Thus, the blooms pop out and are strikingly pretty.

The Calathea Rufibarba’s blooms tend to come out on the bottom side of the plant under the leaves.

That said, the flowers don’t often bloom indoors.

 

Pruning

The Calathea Rufibarba is a slow grower. Ant it won’t grow too big , reaching about 2 feet tall or so (not much more than that).

It produces long, narrow leaves that grow upwards and bend outwards. This makes it a lovely plant to look at.

It also means that overtime, the plant will get taller and also spread out wider. As such, you may need to prune it to keep its growth and width in check.

However, note that the bushier the plant gets, the lovelier it looks. Therefore, I like to allow it to get fuller.

That said, how often you prune will depend on the look you’re going for.

  • If you want the plant to look taller and slimmer, then trim off any leaves that extend too far out to the sides.
  • If you want it to stay short and bushy, prune the top and allow it to puff up and get denser.

Both are great looks and it really depends on how much space you have and what kind of look you prefer.

Also remove any dead, damaged, yellow or brown leaves. This will allow the plant to focus all its energies on the healthy leaves.

 

How to Propagate Calathea Rufibarba

One important thing to keep in mind is that the Calathea Rufibarba cannot be propagated via stem or leaf cuttings.

Instead, the most efficient way to propagate the plant is through division. This also means that you’re somewhat limited by how many new plants you can grow from the parent plant.

Also, it limits how often you can propagate is.

In any case, the biggest advantage with propagating via division is that you don’t need to wait for the new plants to germinate or root. Instead, you get a semi-grown plant immediately.

  • Start by carefully taking the plant out of the pot.
  • You’ll need a large enough plant since division entails splitting up the parent plant into smaller sections, each becoming a smaller plant. Therefore, its size limits how many smaller plants you can get and how often you can divide it.
  • Once the plant is out of the pot, check the roots. Remove extra soil if you need to. Ideally all the roots are healthy.
  • Next, decide which sections you want to separate. Each section will become a new plant. So, they’ll all need at least some roots, stems and leaves. The roots being the most important.
  • Once you’ve decides, sperate the soil making sure you keep the roots that correspond with the stems for each section. You can use a sterile knife or your hands.
  • After separating the sections, prepare new pots and fill them with potting soil until about 40% of the way. Each section will need its own pot and soil.
  • You can have 2 sections or more than that depending on how big the plant is and how many much you want to propagate.
  • Place each new plant into their own respective pot and fill the remaining space with soil.
  • Water the soil to keep them all moist.

 

How to Repot or Transplant Calathea Rufibarba

Repot your Calathea Rufibarba once every two years. Like pruning, it is fairly low maintenance when it comes to repotting.

Ideally, try to time when you repot along with when you want to propagate the plant. This way, you don’t need to keep unpotting it.

In general, the plant does not appreciate this.

This way, you can easily propagate the plant when you repot.

If you divide it, then you don’t need to move it to a larger container since you’ll end up smaller plants. However, if you don’t need to propagate the plant, choose a container that is one size larger (2 inches wide).

This will give the plant enough space to keep growing.

The best time to repot is spring to early summer.

 

Is It Toxic/Poisonous to Humans, Cats & Dogs

The Calathea Rufibarba is non-toxic to cats and dogs. It is also safe to keep around kids. This makes it easier to decide where to place the plant without having to worry about poison risk to pets or kids.

Still, since the plant is not meant to be consumed, try to avoid this from happening as it can still cause unpleasant side effects.

 

Problems & Troubleshooting

Pests

The Calathea Rufibarba is not prone to pests. But if unhealthy or it does not get all the requirements it needs, it becomes susceptible to them.

Of the different houseplant pests, spider mites and mealybugs are the common to attach the plant.

These are easy to get rid of when there’s only a few of them. So, try to get them early.

You can just wipe them off with a damp cloth or spray them off in the sink, shower or using a garden hose.

Another option would be to use neem oil. However, make sure that it is diluted enough otherwise, it can damage the leaves as well.

 

Diseases

Root rot is the biggest problem you want to avoid. It is dangerous because the roots rot below the soil. Therefore, you don’t notice it happening until the symptoms reach the stems and leaves.

By then, some damage has occurred to the roots.

Thus, the best way to battle root rot is to prevent it from happening. This means being wary or overwatering and waterlogged soil.