Nobody wants to see their Calatheas transform from glossy and radiant to sad and drooping. Known for their bright, captivating foliage and temperamental natures, calathea need a delicate touch to keep them at their best. But with a bit of knowledge and patience, you’ll soon have yours radiant and lush.
Calathea leaves drooping due to watering stress like overwatering or underwatering. Besides, there are some other causes like low humidity, lack of light, repotting shock, temperature stress that can be responsible for this issue. While drooping leaves can be distressing and thankfully easy to treat. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of correcting watering or light levels that don’t suit the plant.
Let’s take a look at some common causes of droopy calathea leaves, and how to fix them.
Causes of Calathea Drooping
Calathea is also known as Prayer Plants, thanks to their gentle, constant motion. Known as nictinasty, a calathea’s leaves change position as the day progresses.
In the morning the leaves descend and rise again in the evening. Like many indoor plants, calathea come from rainforests, and their daily dance is a response to changing light levels in their tropical homelands.
Before you take any drastic steps, observe the leaves at a few different points throughout the day. Does the droop correct itself each night? If that’s the case, it’s simply the natural cycle of this charismatic plant.
A thirsty plant is a limp plant, no matter what the species. I know I feel wilted when I need a cool glass of water, and a plant is no different. Pop a finger into the soil, to perhaps three inches. If things feel totally dry, you have a problem.
How to Fix
Give your wilting beauty a nice soak with a distilled or filtered water. After that, remember to keep them topped up by using a calendar app. Just set a reminder in and you’ll never forget again.
Calathea doesn’t need huge amounts of water, so water at least once every other week. Plants in strong light will want a little more, so I recommend once a week for these ones.
Overwatering Damages the Root System
The key to keeping a healthy calathea is mastering the art of watering. They are notoriously fussy plants and are very particular about their water levels. Soil should be moist, but not wet.
Soggy soil encourages a host of problems. Calathea has delicate, shallow roots that are vulnerable to rot. Standing water in their saucer or tray is a dead giveaway that you’ve been too enthusiastic with the watering can. Their soil should be no more than moist.
How To Fix
Let your calathea dry out a bit. Empty any saucers or trays and keep them dry. Once your plant is no longer sodden you can re-commence watering. Once every other week is enough, up to once a week in the spring and summer.
Small amounts of filtered or distilled water are best, with no flow through.
Calathea loves good drainage. Your pot should have drainage holes and a free-flowing medium. If this isn’t the case it’s probably worth re-potting.
An organic mix blended with peat moss and perlite is ideal. This will allow free drainage while retaining the right amount of moisture for your calathea to thrive.
Over-watering is the most likely cause of your drooping leaves, but thankfully it’s very easy to correct by simply doing less!
Lack of Nutrition
Calathea isn’t the hungriest plant, but it does benefit from fertilizer during the growing season. Drooping leaves can indicate a lack of the key minerals a plant needs to build sturdy leaves.
How to Fix
A balanced all-purpose balanced fertilizer is ideal, such as a 10:10:10 ratio of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium mix. A careful application avoiding leaves and stems roughly once a month during the summer and spring. Water your calathea first to make sure it can access the nutrition.
Don’t be heavy-handed, as too much fertilizer can cause its own problems. You’ll know you have the balance right with lush foliage and perhaps even flowers.
Consider the temperature of your calathea’s environment. These are tropical plants, and I can’t stress enough that these dainty darlings need a cozy home to flourish.
How To Fix
Aim for a stable temperature of 65-75ºF (18-24ºC). While they can tolerate a few degrees cooler, you won’t see much growth.
Stable is the watchword. Even if the room is warm, drafts will stress your plant. Blasts of hot air will dry it out, and cold ones will damage the foliage. Check the temperature, and make sure your calathea is sitting in an area free of drafts.
Calathea is notoriously fussy about humidity levels. Their distinctive glossy leaves draw moisture in from their surroundings, and they will dry out much faster if your humidity is too low.
Climate-controlled environments often lack that precious atmospheric moisture that calathea needs to thrive. Dry air pushes the plant into survival mode and can kill it altogether if not remedied.
Calathea like 60% humidity or above. While it may not be comfortable or practical to bring your whole building up to that level of humidity, you can create a local area of comfort for your plant.
How To Fix
Short term you can just mist your plant with clean, distilled water. This should bring the local humidity up for two or three hours, enough to correct mild drooping.
But longer-term solutions are a must. A humidity tray or electric humidifier placed near the plant will give it that all-important tropical atmosphere.
It’s also a great idea to group your tropical plants together. Every plant releases some amount of moisture from its leaves, and when you group them together they help regulate the humidity in the air. Not only that, but a mixture of tropicals makes a spectacular feature in any home.
Re-potting any plant puts it into a stress state, and calathea is no different. Roots do not tolerate exposure to air for long periods without sustaining damage, and changes in soil consistency and pH can shock the plant.
Additionally, a crisp new pot is often the inspiration to put your plant in a more prominent place, resulting in a change in light level, humidity, and temperature.
How To Fix
When re-potting, it helps to view it as a sort of surgery. Treat the patient delicately, swiftly and with consideration of their needs.
In this case, your calathea needs the same sort of soil, with similar pH and levels of fertility. New pots must be well-draining, just like the old.
Make sure your re-potted calathea is returned to its original position in your home wherever possible. If the new pot won’t fit, try and find somewhere as close as possible to the original levels of light and humidity.
Poor Quality Water
A common cause of problems in all houseplants is poor quality water. It’s tempting to use tap water, but most tap water is chock full of dissolved mineral salts. Salty soil damaged the roots and prevents your calathea from using the water at all.
How To Fix
Flush your calathea with distilled or filtered water to remove what salts you can. If you can see salts on the surface you may benefit from repotting entirely.
Once you’ve cleared as much salt from the soil as possible, stick to distilled or filtered water and resist the temptation to take the easy route of watering from the tap. Rainwater is ideal plant water, so collect it when you can.
“Low light” is not the same as “no light”. All plants need some or they starve to death. Their entire biology is focused on turning the light of the sun into sugars through the process of photosynthesis. Cut off their light, and you cut off their food.
The best calathea light level is as close to an open rainforest floor as possible – bright but filtered, indirect light.
How to Fix
Relocate your plant to a place with brighter light. Avoid direct sunlight, as this can burn the leaves. Bright but filtered light is ideal.
That said, it’s important to be careful when correcting your light level. Move your plant in stages to allow it to adjust, with a day or two in ever brighter locations until you have reached a brighter setting. You can use an artificial light source if your apartment does not have access to natural light.
I’ve often reflected on the use of calathea leaves in South America to wrap food and gifts. It’s an indication that the leaves are free of natural defensive poisons common to tropical plants. It makes them vulnerable to pests.
Your drooping leaves may be the result of an infestation. Aphids, spider mites, and scale bugs pierce the stems of your plant with a sharp proboscis, sucking out the fluid and causing the leaves to sag.
How To Fix
Before you do anything, move the infected plant well away from the rest of your greenery. Parasite infections spread quite easily, and it’s always easier to treat one plant rather than all of them!
Take a good look at your plant, especially in the crevices and folds of the leaves and stems. Some pests can be quite tricky to spot. Spider mites and thrips are small, scale bugs that hide under a nest of sugar, and aphids cluster away from the light.
If your calathea pest infestation is mild, it can be most efficient to prune away the infected area. Be sure to destroy the afflicted cuttings – don’t put them in your compost!
Some insects, like aphids or scale bugs, can be removed by hand or a little rubbing alcohol on a cotton tip. Others, like spider mites or thrips, can be sprayed off with water.
Next, apply an insecticidal soap liberally to kill off any nasty creepy crawlies you may have missed. It may be necessary to treat your plant repeatedly as eggs are often surprisingly resistant to treatment.
For more severe infestations dispose of the plant, pot, and all. Sad though it may be, a small sacrifice is worth it to prevent your entire indoor jungle from succumbing to infestation.
The same hot, moist conditions that calathea need to thrive are also unfortunately perfect to incubate disease.
The precision watering required of calathea leaves them vulnerable to fungal diseases, and stem and root rot are often a problem with these beautiful but delicate plants. If examination of the roots shows black, mushy areas, that likely rots the cause of your sad droopy leaves.
How to Fix
Treating calathea root rot is twofold – a new pot and less water. Plants with root rot will need to be repotted with more free-flowing mix into a container with good drainage holes. Wash the roots carefully in free-flowing water to clear away the dead roots.
It’s also a good idea to prune back the leaves. Without a strong root system, they will likely die off anyway. Removing them will give your plant a chance to regrow its roots without tending to the demands of its leaves.
Like many things, prevention is always better than cure. Never leave your calathea sitting in standing water, and be careful not to over-water. Make sure your space is well ventilated – it’s not just good for your plants, but for you, too.
When a plant grows too large for its pot, its roots begin to interlock with themselves. This tangled mass can’t access water or nutrition in the soil, and the plant begins to suffer.
This is how to spot root-bound calathea plants – Place two fingers around the base of the plant. Gently flip the pot and pull the plant from the pot.
If the entire mass of the plant easily moves from the pot in a solid lump, it’s time to re-pot. Roots inching above the pot rim or out through the drainage holes are also clues.
How to Fix
Calathea generally requires a new home every two years or so, and it’s best to re-pot them in the spring. However, a truly root-bound calathea plant needs rescue immediately.
Choose a pot an inch or two wider than the old one. While its tempting to give a root-bound plant a much larger pot to spread into, root binding makes it hard for the plant to spread its roots and the new soil is likely to become stagnant, the perfect home for more root rot.
This is a great opportunity to ensure your fussy plant gets the drainage they need. A potting mix with plenty of peat moss and perlite is best. Make sure the new pot has at least two good flowing draining holes – for calathea, the more the merrier.
No matter how efficiently you re-pot, it will take a while for your calathea to bounce back, so be patient.
Excess Application of Fertilizer
Fertilizer is powerful stuff, and it’s easy to make mistakes in its application. Too much fertilizer can burn your plant, damaging the roots, or feed the bacteria and fungus that cause disease.
In addition to droopy leaves, over-fertilization will cause yellowing of the lower leaves, browning in the tips and edges of the leaves, and in extreme cases visible buildup on the soil of the plant.
How to Fix
Your best cure for over-fertilization is to flush the plant, effectively washing the excess fertilizer from the soil.
- First, remove any visible fertilizer buildup that may be visible on the surface of the soil.
- Next, deeply water the plant until water flows freely from the draining holes, allowing all the water to flow out of the pot. Do this two or three times.
- Finally, trim away any yellowed or damaged leaves.
Refrain from fertilizing for at least a month, and as this process also deeply waters your plant it’s a good idea to lay off the watering too until the soil has had a chance to dry out.
Only fertilize during the spring and summer months, as the plant puts out new growth. Be sure to water beforehand to allow the mix to reach the roots of the plant.