How to Care for Prayer Plants
Once you master prayer plant care, you'll have a tropical showstopper to add elegance to your home
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Prayer plant care may be easy, but that’s not the biggest draw for gardeners. These plants (also known as marantas) are among the best small plants for adding a dash of color and major elegance to your decor. Almost as beautiful as stained-glass windows, these tropical plants offer bright-green, oval-shaped leaves with colored veins arrayed in a distinctive pattern. While the plants do produce tiny white or purple flowers from time to time, their foliage is the real draw.
During the day, the leaves of these sprawling indoor plants lie flat, but at night, they rise and fold up like praying hands. “The foliage is gorgeous. And it’s cool to watch it change at night,” says Lisa Eldred Steinkopf (aka the Houseplant Guru), a blogger, lecturer and author of Houseplants: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Growing and Caring for Indoor Plants. She points to yet another selling point: “Marantas make great indoor hanging plants.”
Though prayer plant care is fairly easy—they’re low-maintenance indoor plants, after all—they’re a little touchy about humidity and watering. Not to worry! We have you covered with expert tips for those and other aspects of prayer plant care. So hit up your local nursery or buy the plants online, then read on to find out how to care for your tropical beauty.
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|Botanical name||Maranta leuconeura|
|Height||10 to 12 inches|
|Sun exposure||Medium to bright indirect light|
|Soil type||Moist, well-draining|
|Soil pH||Acidic (5.5 to 6)|
|Toxicity||Not toxic to pets|
Where to put a prayer plant
Prayer plants need medium to bright indirect light. “A spot in front of an east window would be perfect,” Steinkopf says. Just keep these plants out of direct sunlight, which may make the leaf colors fade.
Temperatures between 60 and 75 degrees are best, and anything below 55 or above 90 degrees will harm the plant. Since prayer plants are native to rainforest floors, they need a fair amount of humidity. You can increase humidity by using a humidifier in the room, grouping plants together or setting your potted plant on a pebble tray. (To make a pebble tray, simply add a layer of pebbles to a shallow tray, fill water about halfway up the pebbles and place the potted plant on top of it.)
As tempting as it may be to mist your plant to improve humidity, don’t spray water on the leaves. “Never mist them, since the leaves are prone to fungal infections and wet leaves are a risk factor for those conditions,” says Christopher Satch, horticulturist and professor with the New York Botanical Garden. If you have enough light, prayer plants make great bathroom plants.
And don’t worry about hiding them from your pets. These plants aren’t toxic to cats or dogs.
Prayer plant care
If you want to keep your prayer plant alive, you’ll need to focus on more than just indoor plant lighting, temperature and humidity. Pay attention to the plant’s soil, water and fertilization needs.
A standard potting mix works fine for prayer plants, which prefer slightly acidic soil. To ensure well-draining, moisture-retentive soil, check that the mix contains some perlite—small, white balls that both create air pockets and help the soil mix hold on to fluids.
These denizens of Brazilian rainforests need a plant-watering schedule that keeps the soil moist but not soggy. Underwatering is an easy path to a dead plant.
In spring and summer, water your prayer plant thoroughly when the top inch of the soil is dry, usually about once a week. If the plant’s growth has slowed down in the winter, reduce watering to every two to four weeks.
Prayer plants are sensitive to the fluoride in tap water, so yours may ask for a filtered drink. “Distilled water, bottled water, well water and rainwater are better for the plant than what comes out of many people’s faucets,” Steinkopf says. And while you might’ve heard that letting the water stand for a day or so may get rid of chemicals, that only applies to chlorine, not fluoride.
Prayer plant care does not involve a lot of fertilizer. “Use a standard fertilizer at a quarter to half strength every fourth watering,” Steinkopf says. So if you use a liquid fertilizer for indoor plants that needs to be mixed with water, use half as much fertilizer for the recommended amount of water.
Keep in mind that fertilization is seasonal. “Don’t fertilize in winter unless the plant is sending out new growth,” she says.
Types of prayer plants
Prayer plants are eye-catching additions to a home’s decor, but they don’t all look alike. For variety when decorating with these plants, add one (or more!) of each type below.
- Rabbit’s foot prayer plant: Also known as the green prayer plant, this variety has light-green leaves with dark spots that resemble rabbit tracks.
- Red prayer plant: This easy-to-identify plant has deep-green foliage with striking red veins.
- Neon prayer plant: You can identify this type by its bright-green leaves and yellow veins arrayed in a pattern similar to herringbone.
Even with near-perfect prayer plant care, you may encounter some unwanted houseplant pests. “Spider mites, mealybugs and occasionally thrips are the worst pests on maranta,” says Satch.
Spider mites are the most common, and while they’re tiny, their webs are visible on the plant. “If the soil in the pot becomes dry, the plant will become a spider mite magnet,” Steinkopf says. “If you have an infestation, the bottom of the leaves will feel gritty.” The grittiness comes from skin shredded by the mites. You can wipe spider mites off the leaves with a damp cloth.
Mealybugs form fuzzy balls, usually where a leaf and branch meet, and look like white lint. Remove mealybugs with a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol.
“Thrips are little, elongated flying wings that can wreak havoc on a prayer plant’s foliage,” adds Steinkopf. Treat them with insecticidal soap.
How to propagate prayer plants
If you love your prayer plant and want more—without dropping a lot of money at your local nursery—you can create offspring of your plant through propagation. Prayer plant propagation is simple, and there are a few methods to choose from. Considering plants are the new pets, you may want a whole litter of plant babies!
Place a leaf cutting in water
This is by far the easiest way to gain more prayer plants, because you can see the cutting’s progress. To do it, use a sterilized tool to cut a stem an inch or two below a leaf node. A leaf node is the bulge where the stem that contains leaves meets the main stem of the plant (the spot that the roots grow from).
Your cutting may include more than one set of leaves. Put the segment in a jar of room temperature water with the node below water, and place it somewhere with bright, indirect light.
Maintain the level of the water. Within a few weeks to a month, you should have roots long enough (about 2 to 3 inches) to transplant into a pot with soil.
Plant a leaf cutting in soil
It’s easy to propagate the plant using soil. Simply cut a stem a couple inches below a leaf node, just as you’d do when propagating in water. Put the cutting in potting soil, making sure the node is covered. Don’t put any leaves under the soil mix—they’ll rot.
Place the container in bright, indirect sunlight and keep the soil moist. After a few weeks, gently tug on the plant. If you feel resistance, it has developed roots and will continue to grow.
“Marantas are rhizomatous—their stems are underground and grow parallel to the surface,” Steinkopf says. “To propagate, all you have to do is divide a cluster of a few leaves with their underground roots, and now you have more prayer plants.”
It’s easier than it sounds, we promise. First, you’ll need to remove the plant from the pot. Remove soil from around the roots (be gentle!) so you can see how the roots cluster. Use your fingers to divide a cluster of roots, ease the sections apart and then repot each plant.
FAQs about prayer plants
Why are my prayer plant leaves curling?
Curling leaves and brown tips on leaves can have a variety of causes. Most likely, the humidity level is too low for the plant. The leaves may also be reacting to the presence of fluoride in the water, or you may be underwatering the plant.
How can I make a prayer plant bushier?
If you want a fuller plant, cut some stems above a leaf node, which will stimulate new shoots just below the spot where you made the snips. You can do this two or three times a year right before (early spring) and after (fall) the plant leaves its winter dormancy.
Once you’ve mastered prayer plant care, consider how else you might add to your home greenery. Try some air-purifying plants to detoxify your home, or go with medicinal herbs you can use.
- Lisa Eldred Steinkopf, creator of The Houseplant Guru, lecturer and author of Houseplants: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Growing and Caring for Indoor Plants
- Christopher Satch, horticulturist and professor with the New York Botanical Garden
- New York Botanical Garden: “Prayer Plant (Maranta Leuconeura)”