Have you ever kept a house plant that moved when your back was turned? If you’re searching for something with real personality, look no further than a prayer plant.
The standard green prayer plant has been popular for decades but, as our taste in house plants gets more exotic, more and more varieties have become available to indoor gardeners. Also known as Maranta, this plant has a reputation for being high maintenance, but this isn’t fair.
Read on for all the information you’ll ever need about prayer plant care. With a little bit of homework, you’ll be able to give your new plant the best possible start.
The prayer plant’s name comes from the way their flat, oval-shaped leaves open up in the sun and close again at dusk, coming together like praying hands. This response to light (known as nyctinasty) is not unique to Maranta – think of the mimosa tree or Oxalis Triangularis. However, added to their fussiness, the moving leaves do give the impression that they have a mind of their own.
Some growers hear their Maranta’s leaves rustle open as they’re having their morning cup of coffee. If that’s not a romantic idea for a house plant enthusiast, I don’t know what is.
Keeping your Maranta happy is a commitment. You’ll need to pay closer attention to its water, light, and humidity than you do with the rest of your collection. But, if you get things right before you bring your new baby home, you should be able to avoid most of the major pitfalls.
If you keep it happy, it’s a long-lived plant that could be with you for 30 years.
The first rule of prayer plants is to check the soil every day. Most house plants tolerate, if not prefer, the top inch or two of soil drying out between waterings. Not the Maranta.
The top of the soil should never be soggy or waterlogged, but it should always feel damp to the touch. The most important chore in terms of Maranta care is to water it regularly in small doses.
It’s best to fill your watering can in advance and leave it sitting overnight. Then, water in the morning. The chlorine in the water, which can damage the plant, will evaporate and the water will come to room temperature, which is much less stressful for the roots.
It’s also best to water in the morning so that the leaves have a chance to dry. If they close when they’re still damp, the risk of fungal infection increases.
These plants are so particular about water because they have very shallow, delicate roots. Listen to your plant all year round and you have a much higher chance of success.
Wild prayer plants live on the floor of the rainforest but, unlike other plants from this habitat, they’re only ok with low light. Unfortunately, direct sunlight is also a problem as it will bleach the color from their leaves and cause the leaf tips to fry. It’s another area where you have to get the conditions just right.
A good tip is to place this plant near a south or east-facing window but to put a thin curtain up to filter the light.
There is some good news because this plant will usually tell you what it needs. If it’s too dark, the leaves won’t open in the daytime and, if it’s too bright, the colors will fade. Though it’s persnickety, it’s a pretty good communicator in comparison with other plants.
Many tropical house plants will tolerate the average humidity of a home, even if they would secretly prefer you to mist them. Not the prayer plant. If you want to grow Maranta as an indoor plant, high humidity is not optional.
To increase the humidity, especially in winter, you should first look to eliminate the things that steal moisture from the air. Make sure your Maranta isn’t close to any drafty windows, air vents or heaters. Then, consider investing in a humidifier.
If a humidifier isn’t an option, there are still steps you can take to create a humid microclimate for your plant. You can place your prayer plant alongside other leafy green plants, and they’ll maintain a more constant level of humidity as they respire together. Alternatively, fill a tray with small pebbles, keep the tray topped up with water and put the Maranta’s pot on top of the stones.
The goal here is not to sit the bottom of the plant in the water tray. This would inevitably kill your Maranta. Instead, the water from the tray will evaporate up and around the leaves of your plant, increasing the humidity to a level at which it can thrive.
Plant Food and Soil
Prayer plants like to be fed, but they also don’t like abrupt changes to their environment. The best way to avoid damaging the roots and leaves with fertilizer is to dilute a liquid feed to half the recommended strength and feed the plant every 2 weeks from spring until fall.
This plant likes acidic conditions and can stand a soil with a pH of up to 5.5. Many people swear by pouring the dregs of their black tea into the soil. The acidic tannins in the tea help to keep the pH at the right level for the Maranta.
As for soil, a well-draining, peaty potting mix will serve this plant just fine. You could also mix in 20 – 25% sand or Perlite to increase the drainage.
Additional Prayer Plant Care Instructions
We’ve already covered the basics of watering, placing, and feeding your plant. If you can follow all of this advice, you have a good chance of succeeding. However, if you want your plant to be as happy as possible, read on for some more care tips.
Maranta likes to be repotted every year, although we cannot stress enough how careful you have to be while moving the plant. The roots are very easy to damage and the plant will not recover well, but the benefits of new soil outweigh the risks.
New soil removes any problems that can arise from the minerals in tap water building up in the soil. Maranta also likes air circulation, both above ground among the leaves and below ground between the roots. Annual repotting will ensure that the soil never becomes too compact for the air to penetrate it.
Although the plant lives for decades, the leaves themselves don’t have the longest lifespan and can easily show wear and tear. Luckily, a Maranta can be pruned up to 3 times a year with no ill effects, so you can keep it looking its best.
As well as old or damaged leaves, you can trim any leggy growth to keep your plant in an attractive, bushy shape. Make sure you use clean, sharp shears when you’re pruning.
Because the leaves of a prayer plant are quite delicate, they are vulnerable to a range of common house plant pests. Spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids can be a problem.
You should check your plant for the first signs of pests – residue on the leaves, brown spots or curling leaves – every time you water it. This way, you’ll have time to treat the problem before the damage becomes irreversible.
The good news is that spider mites dislike humidity, and if your prayer plant is getting enough, they’re likely to be less of a problem. Mealybugs can be more stubborn, but washing the leaves or spraying them with neem oil are good options before you resort to a chemical pesticide. Just be careful not to let any soapy water drip down to the soil, as this will damage the roots and leave your plant open to fungal infections.
Don’t snack on your house plants. It should go without saying. However, if a pet or a young family member does get part of your Maranta in their mouth, only the plant will be damaged.
Maranta is one of the few house plants that is recognized as non-toxic to humans, cats and dogs.
There are over 40 different varieties of prayer plant. They’re differentiated by the color patterns on their leaves. Some even have colorations that get bolder as the plant matures.
The green bi-color variety is the most common. It’s also known as rabbit’s trail or rabbit’s foot because the irregular emerald patches on the leaves resemble an animal track. But, if you’ve already mastered this plant or are looking for something more colorful, it has many cousins you can try.
Erythroneura is also known as the herringbone or red prayer plant. This variety has a ladder of bright green in the center of a darker green leaf. The veins are a striking red.
Kim is a variety quite similar to the classic prayer plant, but the spots are a deeper purple color. Under the right conditions, it also has white streaks on the leaves.
Marisela has the reputation of being the hardiest prayer plant, and its leaves are also some of the most graphic. It has bright green leaves with light green, almost white veins in a regular pattern.
Keeping leafy plants together increases the humidity and keeps every Maranta happier. Not that we’re trying to enable you, but isn’t that a good excuse to track down more than one variety?
Where can I buy a prayer plant?
You might get lucky and spot a prayer plant in a store but, as we’ve learned, they’re difficult to keep happy if the conditions are not ideal. Most large stores can’t provide the right light, warmth or humidity to keep Marantas healthy, and you might end up with an unhappy plant.
It’s best to look for a specialist grower online. You’ll get to choose between different varieties to find one you love. Make sure whoever you choose can ship your delicate plant quickly and in proper packaging.
How often should I water it?
We cannot answer this for you. Because Maranta hates to dry out at all, its watering schedule is going to be dependant on the size of the pot, the temperature of your room, and the weather outside. It’s up to you to check your plant and adjust its watering based on the time of year.
This also means you need someone to look in on your plant every few days if you go on holiday.
How can I revive it?
Prayer plants can suffer from wilting and curled leaves for many different reasons. They’re not very forgiving, but if you notice the problem quickly, you may be able to revive your plant.
If the leaves turn yellow, water or feed it less. If they don’t open, give it more sun. If they fade, give it less.
If adjusting your watering routine or moving the plant doesn’t help, you can try switching to watering with distilled water. Chemicals in tap water can make the plant unhappy, especially if it’s due to be repotted.
When your plant is looking healthier, you’ll have to prune away any damaged leaves. If nothing seems to be working, consider taking a cutting so you can grow a new plant from scratch if the mature plant doesn’t pull through.
Will it flower?
Yes, prayer plants do produce flowers. They’re small in size and white and purple in color. Some people call them ‘insignificant’ but we quite like how they stand out against the leaves.
If your plant is happy, it could flower at any point in the growing season.
What’s the best pot?
You should always choose a plastic pot for your prayer plant because terracotta will encourage the soil to dry out too fast. Make sure that it has plenty of drainage holes so the plant is less likely to stand in water.
The pot should also be as shallow as possible to match the shallow root system of the plant. It can be tricky to find a shallow pot which isn’t made of earthenware, but be persistent in your search. A deep pot makes it far easier to overwater and drown your delicate plant.
How do I propagate it?
Marantas grow quite well from cuttings. You can either place them straight into an extra well-draining soil or start them off in water first. If you do place the cutting directly in the soil, it’s worth covering the pot with plastic wrap to keep the humidity in.
If you’re lucky, you can also propagate a dying prayer plant from broken leaves. In this case, dipping the cutting in a rooting hormone first will give you the best chance of success.
Prayer plants are work but, if you’re reading this, you’re probably curious and in need of a challenge.
Remember this: although there’s a lot that can go wrong with a Maranta, they’re also good at letting you know what the problem is. There are lots of delicate plants out there that will die without warning, but this isn’t one of them.
These plants are a trendy addition to your collection that are only going to get more popular in the coming years. It’s time to get on board. There’s no other plant with quite as much personality, and it’s really rewarding to get to know.