Calatheas are enjoying booming popularity among houseplant lovers, and few of them are as spectacular as the Calathea orbifolia.
With its vivid, bright green leaves, lashed with silvery stripes, and slightly curly edges, it’s a unique plant that can take center stage in any home.
Growing your own at home isn’t easy, but with this care guide, you’ll have all the information you need to be sure your Calathea orbifolia is a success!
What Is a Calathea Orbifolia?
Calathea orbifolia is a species of prayer plant native to the tropical forests of Bolivia. It is a popular indoor plant due to its showy foliage, and also the fact that it is non-toxic to pets. Recently reclassified under the name of Goeppertia orbifolia, it is still commonly sold in garden centers and plant shops as part of the Calathea genus.
This plant is an absolute show-stopper, easily growing as tall and wide as 3 feet (90 cm), with round leaves that are typically 12 inches (30 cm) wide. In fact, it is the round shape of the leaves that gives Calathea orbifolia its name, from the Latin word ‘orbis,’ which means ‘circular.’
Like all prayer-plants, Calathea orbifolia has the habit of moving its leaves in an up and down, prayer-like movement. The leaves usually lift during the night, then fold back to their usual position during the day.
How to Care for Calathea Orbifolia
Let’s start by facing the harsh reality: Calathea orbifolia is not beginner-friendly. Even if you compare it to other Calatheas, it is a very high maintenance plant, and it can be unforgiving if it’s not provided with the right growing conditions.
If this is the first Calathea you’re adding to your collection, you may find that it’s a bit of a challenge, but growing it into a healthy, thriving plant will be infinitely rewarding.
Here’s what you need to know.
– Light Requirements
In its natural habitat, Calathea orbifolia grows on the floor of tropical forests, underneath large trees. As a result, it’s used to receiving dappled sunlight, and in some cases, even partial shade. When growing it as an indoor plant, try to pick a room that mimics these natural conditions.
Place your Calathea in a spot where it receives bright, indirect light. The wide leaves can scorch very easily, so avoid placing the plant in direct sun. This plant can tolerate some shade, but keeping it in a dark spot will lead to leaf discoloration, stunted growth, and other problems.
A room with eastern exposure is perfect for this Calathea. If your room gets a lot of sun throughout the day, make sure to place it closer to the wall, or at least 2 feet (60 cm) away from the windows.
– Temperature Requirements
The ideal temperature range for Calathea orbifolia is between 65 °F and 77 °F (18 °C to 25 °C). If your home is humid enough, it can tolerate temperatures a bit higher than that. However, avoid exposing it to temperatures below 55 °F (13 °C) for extended periods, as this can cause permanent damage to the plant.
We also recommend that you keep your Calathea orbifolia away from any drafts and sudden changes in temperature. Avoid placing it next to a radiator, heating vent, doors, and windows that are in constant use, or under an air conditioning unit.
– Water Requirements
Calathea orbifolia is a tropical plant, so make sure that the soil is always kept moist, but not soaked. The best way to water it is to give it a deep, even soak. Allow the pot to drain for several minutes, and make sure that you don’t leave any excess water sitting in the pot tray.
Getting your watering schedule right can be a bit tricky, especially for beginners. On one hand, Calatheas love moisture, but they’re very susceptible to root rot. So if your soil is compacted and doesn’t drain well, the roots will sit in water and develop fungal problems.
Another thing worth keeping in mind is that Calatheas are very sensitive to chemicals in the water. If you live somewhere with hard tap water, using it for your plants will result in yellowing leaves and browned edges. Letting tap water sit in an open container overnight will allow chemicals such as chlorine to evaporate. However, it won’t remove minerals or chemicals, such as fluoride.
We recommend using filtered water, or even rainwater for your Calathea orbifolia. Or, if you want to make sure that your water is free of any chemicals and minerals, distilled water is your best choice. We also encourage you to use distilled water for misting and wiping the leaves.
– Humidity Requirements
All prayer-plants thrive on high humidity, but Calathea orbifolia is even more demanding.
The ideal humidity level for this plant is between 60% and 70%, which is much higher than the average in most homes. You can grow it in a room with a humidity level of around 45% but bear in mind that it will struggle.
Here are a few ways you can improve the humidity around your Calathea orbifolia:
- Use a humidifier: this is by far the most efficient way to improve humidity, especially if your Calathea is the only plant in the room. A humidifier will give you more control over the air moisture level in the room, and also provide the plant with constant humidity.
- Use a pebble tray: place your plant pot on top of a wide tray filled with pebbles, then add water, making sure that the tops of the pebbles are not submerged. As the water evaporates, it will boost the humidity around your Calathea.
- Group plants together: indoor plants that grow next to each other tend to create their own ‘microclimate’. As the plants breathe and sweat, they will help maintain the moisture levels more than if they were growing separately. Try grouping your orbifolia with other Calathea varieties; most of them grow together in the wild, and as a result, have the same growing requirements.
- Keep your Calathea in the bathroom: if your bathroom has a window, then it will make a perfect room for your orbifolia plant. In general, bathrooms are the most humid rooms in any home and provide a growing environment that’s close to what Calatheas are used to in the wild.
- Misting: regularly misting your Calathea can also be used to increase humidity. However, this is a short-term solution. To keep the humidity levels high enough, you would need to mist your plant several times a day. So if your Calathea is sitting in a room that’s very dry (with humidity levels below 40%), using a humidifier is a far better alternative.
– Fertilizer Requirements
Calathea orbifolia is not a heavy feeder. You can apply a liquid, nitrogen-based fertilizer once a month, throughout the growing season in spring and summer. Use a diluted solution for this plant, as salt build-ups from too much fertilizer can damage the leaves.
– Best Soil for Calathea Orbifolia
Calathea orbifolia soil should be well-draining, but should also retain moisture. A peaty substrate is suitable, but you can also use the universal, houseplant potting mixes available in most garden centers.
Drainage and moisture retention are essential, which is why your soil should also incorporate perlite. We recommend combining 2 parts potting mix with 1 part perlite for best results. You can also incorporate some orchid bark in the mix, which will give the soil a slight acidity, as well as help with drainage.
You can also use cactus soil for your Calathea, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Although it improves drainage and aeration, cactus soil does not retain moisture, which is essential for Calatheas. It’s also poor in nutrients, which your Calathea will need during the growing season. So if you’re planning to use cactus soil, never use it on its own, but combine it with a universal potting mix, as well as some perlite.
– When to Repot Your Calathea Orbifolia
The best time to repot your Calathea orbifolia is in spring and summer, during the plant’s growing season.
Before you get started, there are two essential details to take note of:
- Calathea orbifolia does not like being repotted;
- It also doesn’t like pots that are too big.
In general, you should only repot your Calathea when it’s root-bound. Lift the pot, and if you notice small roots coming out through the drainage holes, that’s a sign that it’s time to transplant it.
Let’s take a look at our step-by-step guide to repotting your Calathea orbifolia:
- Water your plant the day before you plan to repot it. Moist soil makes it easier to take the plant out of the pot, as well as reduce the chances of transplant shock.
- Pick a pot that’s only 1 size larger than the previous one. Using a container that’s too large will cause the soil to retain too much water, which can lead to root rot.
- Mix your potting soil in advance. This way, your Calathea won’t have to spend too much time out of the pot, while you prepare the substrate.
- Gently squeeze the pot to loosen up the soil, then lift the root ball from the container.
- Take a moment to check the roots and make sure they’re healthy. Black, brown, or soft roots are a sign of rot and should be trimmed.
- Fill the new container with a potting mix, making a cavity in the middle for the root ball. You can even use the old pot to make a mold in which to place the plant. Don’t press the soil too much, to avoid compacting it.
- Put the root ball inside the pot, and add more soil around the edges and at the top if needed.
- Give your Calathea a light watering.
You may notice that your plant is a bit unhappy after it’s been repotted. In some cases, it might even stop producing new growth for several months after it’s been moved to a new container. This is normal, and the plant should perk up after a few days, and start producing new leaves after a couple of months.
The Best Pot for Calathea Orbifolia
Picking the right container for your Calathea orbifolia is essential. Look for a pot that helps retain soil moisture, and make sure that it has drainage holes at the bottom.
Plastic is a great material for Calatheas, but you can also use glazed ceramic pots. Avoid terracotta pots though, as they wick moisture from the soil, causing it to dry too quickly.
– Pruning and Maintenance
Calatheas very rarely require pruning. Given the fact that they don’t have branches, pruning will not give them a bushy look. You might need to trim old leaves from the bottom of the plant once they start yellowing, but that’s about it. Simply cut the leaf stem as close as you can to the base, and make sure to sterilize your tools before and after each cut.
The wide leaves of the Calathea orbifolia can gather quite a bit of dust. We recommend wiping them with a damp cloth once a week. This will preserve their glossy look of the foliage, as well as improve humidity around the plant. Try using distilled or filtered water for cleaning the leaves, as hard tap water will leave white, lime deposit stains on them.
Does Calathea Orbifolia Flower?
Yes! Calathea orbifolia is a flowering plant, producing small, white blooms which last for a few days. However, this plant will rarely flower when grown indoors. You might see flowers on mature plants that are several years old.
But if you don’t notice any blooming, don’t take it as a sign that your orbifolia is struggling. These plants are grown for the ornamental value of their leaves, not their flowers.
Calathea Orbifolia Propagation
It’s also worth mentioning that Calathea orbifolia can’t be propagated through cuttings. The reason for this is the fact that the leaves are growing straight from the rhizome, without any nodes. No leaf nodes mean no cuttings that you can use for propagation, as you would for other houseplants.
– When Is the Best Time To Propagate Calathea Orbifolia?
Calathea orbifolia is very sensitive to having its roots disturbed. If you can, try to propagate it at the same time you’re transplanting it. Avoid repotting and then propagating the same plant the same year, as it might not recover from the shock.
Also, try to propagate your Calathea in spring, so that it has the rest of the growing season to recover.
Propagating your Calathea orbifolia may sound like a daunting task, but it’s quite simple when you get down to it.
Let’s take a look:
- Gently remove the mother plant from the pot, and remove some of the soil to expose the rhizome.
- Using a sharp, sterilized blade, cut a section of the rhizome that also has some leaves and roots attached.
- Plant the rhizome in a container with well-draining, moist soil.
- To help the new plant establish and to minimize shock, you can also wrap it in a clean plastic sheet. This will help maintain humidity, as well as a constant temperature.
- The new plant may take a month or so before it becomes established. Keep the container in bright, indirect light, and make sure that the soil is moist, but not soaked.
Common Pests and Problems
Let’s take a look at the pests and problems your Calathea orbifolia is likely to encounter, and how to deal with them.
1. Low Humidity
The most common problem all Calatheas encounter is low humidity. This usually results in dry, crispy leaf edges, spots, yellowing, and curling leaves. In general, the humidity levels in your home should be around 70% if you’re growing Calathea orbifolia.
The plant’s wide leaves absorb a lot of moisture from the air, and in most cases, the only way to meet that humidity requirement is by using a humidifier.
Calatheas love moist soil, so it’s very easy to make the mistake of overwatering them. The usual sign of a plant that’s been watered too much is that your Calathea orbifolia leaves are beginning to turn yellow and are starting to droop. Overwatering will also result in root rot, which can spell death for your orbifolia. Make sure to use a well-draining soil mix, and avoid leaving water in the pot tray.
3. Under Watering
If you notice that the leaves on your Calathea orbifolia are turning brown at the edges or starting to curl, that’s a sign of a thirsty plant. In some cases, the leaves will also stop their iconic ‘praying’ movement if the plant is not receiving enough water. Give your Calathea a good soak, and make sure that the water is distributed evenly around the soil.
4. Hard Water
Calathea orbifolia is very sensitive to chemicals in tap water. These can cause several problems for the plant, from yellowing leaves to brown edges. Ideally, you should use distilled water for this plant, but filtered and even rainwater will also work.
5. Spider Mites
All Calathea plants are notorious spider mite magnets. These small, white arachnids will form colonies underneath the leaves, using a web cover to shelter themselves while they suck the sap from the plant. Detecting them early is crucial, as they can easily spread to other plants in your home, and can be very difficult to get rid of.
Make a habit of checking the underside of your Calathea leaves every time you water them. If you notice white dots and webbing, isolate the plant immediately, to prevent contagion. Use a solution of 4 parts distilled water and 1 part isopropyl alcohol, and wipe the underside of the leaves. Repeat this treatment once every 4 to 7 days for at least a month, until all signs of spider mites are gone.
6. Fungus Gnats
Fungus gnats are small flying insects that look similar to fruit flies. They are a common pest in moist soils, so there’s a good chance that you’ll find them on your Calathea. The adult house flies don’t actually hurt the plant, but the larvae living in the soil can damage the roots, especially in large numbers. In such cases, the leaves will start to turn yellow and drop, and the plant will stop producing any new growth.
To get rid of fungus gnats, target the adults and larvae separately. For the adult gnats, use sticky yellow paper traps. You can also mix cider vinegar and a few drops of liquid soap in a cup, then place it next to the pot to attract the flying gnats.
For the larvae, you can use mosquito bits or spray the soil with a neem oil solution. Covering the top of the soil with a thin layer of diatomaceous earth will also get rid of both larvae and adults.
Calathea orbifolia might be tricky to grow, but the results are well worth the effort if you get it right! Stick to this guide, and you’re definitely on the right track!
Let’s cover the basics:
- High humid levels are important for a successful Calathea orbifolia, and you’ll likely need to boost the humidity around your plant to help it along.
- Calathea orbifolia loves water, but it’s important to avoid overdoing it. Too much water can lead to root rot and other issues.
- A well-draining soil mix is ideal, preventing root rot, and ensuring your Calathea orbifolia remains healthy and happy.
So, if you’re up for the challenge, try growing Calathea orbifolia yourself and enjoy its show-stopping leaves!
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