Maranta (Prayer Plant) Care
Maranta is a fairly small genus comprising of only a few dozen plants mostly native to Brazil. They are commonly called prayer plants due to the plant’s ability to move their leaves. During the day, the leaves lay flat, absorbing the sun’s rays. At night, the leaves will fold up similar to that of praying hands. The leaves across this genus, while all similar in shape, are distinguished and interesting as far as their coloration goes. Maranta leuconeura is perhaps the most common species within the houseplant trade, but still comes in many different colors. Maranta ‘Lemon Lime’ has dark green leaves patterned with lighter green around the edge of the leaf, with even lighter thin veins that almost look neon or like a highlighter with the contrast. A more common variety of this species has red or pink veining instead of the bright green. The decorative leaves compared with the plant’s non-toxic nature has made this a popular houseplant.
These plants do the best when placed in an area with bright, indirect light. In the wild, these plants grow in moist or swampy tropical forests. Only growing a couple feet tall at most, these are an understory plant and require some shielding from sunlight. Outdoors, this means a shady area like a covered porch, somewhere that gets dappled sun, or any area with 4-5 hours or less of direct sun. Inside, that means somewhere nice and bright. Our homes are a lot dimmer than many of us realize when compared to the outdoor lighting conditions. Putting these plants in an area with too much sun will potentially cause sunburn. Sunburn presents as large swaths of brown on the leaves that will not heal once there. If the plant isn’t given enough light, the spaces between the leaves will lengthen and the colors may dull, though these plants are tolerant of lower light. Perfect light will have beautiful, vibrant leaves. If you suspect an area has too dim of light, adding a grow light will be beneficial. Be sure to follow the directions on the packaging, as each grow light is different and some need to have more distance between the light and the plant to avoid the same type of burns caused by the sun, keeping the light on a dimmer setting will also help mitigate the risks associated with strong lighting.
Keep their native environment in mind when watering your prayer plant. They should not be allowed to completely dry out, and the soil should be kept moist. Though, soggy soils can still cause root rot. Water when the top of the soil just begins to dry. The leaves will curl on themselves when the plant is too dry and ready for water. When you water, be it from the top or the bottom, the entirety of the soil should be saturated. To do this, if watering from the top, continue to add water until excess drains from the holes. Allow to drip dry and discard the excess. If watering from the bottom, place the pot in a tray that has enough water to saturate the entirety of the soil. This may mean you need to come back and add water halfway through the watering process. Allow the plant to soak until the top of the soil is moist. This could take anywhere from minutes to hours depending on the size of the pot. Don’t water your plant before checking the soil first. It is important to remember that plants don’t act on a schedule, so it may not always need water every week on the same day, for example. Watering without checking the soil is the most common way plants get root rot. The second most common way is by using small amounts of water more often- that is overwatering. Overwatering is the frequency, not the quantity of water.
Maranta grow in areas where the soil is high in organic matter. This is the “dirt” portion of potting soil. Typical potting soil you get from many garden centers will work perfectly for these plants without amendments. Be sure to fertilize regularly following the directions on the bottle. Different forms of fertilizer require different application methods and frequency. For example, slow release fertilizer is typically good for up to 6 months, while some liquid fertilizers are best effective when used with every watering. There are times when these plants bloom. There is a rumor that the blooms mean the plants are stressed and are on a downswing, but the truth is the opposite! Flowers mean the plant is doing well and has enough nutrients and energy to reproduce. The flowers aren’t showy and can be removed, as the plant will direct energy towards the flowers and away from the foliage.
Maranta are pretty disease resistant plants, as with many common houseplants. Though, this doesn’t mean they can’t or don’t have problems occasionally. Here are the most common problems prayer plants may encounter.
Browning Leaf Tips
Browning leaf tips are a common sign of low humidity you may have seen in other houseplants. Prayer plants will typically do well with most room humidity levels, but some houses are drier than others. Moving the plant to a room with higher humidity levels such as the bathroom or the kitchen or obtaining a humidifier will resolve this issue. The brown sections of the leaves are dead and will not recover. Leaving the brown portions will not cause further harm to the plant, though if you prefer, you can cut them off. If you choose this option, be sure to leave some of the brown on. If you cut into the healthy portion of the leaf, it will still scar over with a brown sliver. Open wounds give opportunities for infections to enter the plant that will be significantly harder to treat.
Mealybugs are a white, sap-sucking insect that produces the honeydew mentioned above. They often hide on the underside of leaves and in tight crevices of new growth. They are easily treated with pesticides, an alcohol mixture, or beneficial insects. For more information on how to identify and treat mealybugs, check out the blog post titled Mealybugs and How to Deal with Them.
Spider mites are tiny, spin webs, and feed on the sap of many houseplants. Often, you will find their webs or see the damage they cause before you see the spider mites themselves. Washing the leaves and increasing humidity will help to decrease and eliminate the population. Insecticidal soap and systemic pesticides may also be needed if the infestation is severe. For more information about treatment and identification, please reference the article titled Spider Mites and How to Deal With Them.
Overall, prayer plants are a fun and rewarding plant to keep in the home. The way they move is unique and the colors of their foliage will bring a highlight to any room! Homes with pets can rest easy with this non-toxic, pet safe plant. As always, if you have any questions about your plants or are worried about them in any way, send me a photo as well as how you have been taking care of it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be able to help.