DecorativeHouseplants

How To Grow Prayer Plants?

prayer plant

With its multicolor leaves, the prayer plant, Maranta leuconeura, is one of the most decorative houseplants. Primarily known for its red veins and yellow spots on deep green leaves, it is just one of the many varieties. An attractive characteristic, which gives the plant its commonly known name, is the fact that the leaves, otherwise flat, fold up during the night – resembling praying hands.

Prayer Plant Varieties

The prayer plant belongs to Maranta genus, which includes a few dozen low-growing plants native to Brazil. There are around 40–50 species of prayer plants, which differ by their leaf markings.

Three of the most commonly available varieties are:

  • Maranta leuconeura erythrophylla (also known as herringbone plant) is by far the most popular variety and features dark green leaves with yellow splotches and bold red veins.
  • Maranta leuconeura massangeana features white leaf veins and silvery blotches along the midrib of a darker leaf.
  • Maranta leuconeura kerchoveana (also known as Rabbit’s Tracks) has two rows of darker splotches on plain green leaves.
Maranta leuconeura kerchoveana flowering
Maranta leuconeura kerchoveana flowering Source: Maja Dumat

Prayer Plant as a Houseplant

Prayer plant is a fit for a patient gardener, as it is a slow-grower with quite specific needs. If kept successfully growing over the long term, the prayer plant can live up to 30 years and reach up to a foot in height. Let’s take a look at the needs of this stunning plant.

Climate

The first thing to remember is that all prayer plants are native to tropical rainforests. This indicates the conditions they need to thrive: aim for greenhouse-like conditions with warm and gentle airflow and plenty of moisture and fertilizer. 

Typical household temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 27 degrees Celsius) are optimal for prayer plants to grow. However, household humidity is likely too low for them.

As prayer plants thrive best in a humid environment, a small humidifier nearby helps imitate its native conditions. Alternatively, you can place the plant atop a tray filled with water and small stones. Frequent misting of the leaves with water can also help maintain humidity.

prayer plant 'red'
Prayer Plant ‘red’ Source: NC State Extension Gardener

Water

Watering a prayer plant needs to echo their tropical native conditions as well. Prayer plants like to be kept evenly moist, as they are sensitive to drought and will not survive long unwatered. It is also essential to use water that is at room temperature or slightly warmer, both for watering and misting the leaves. 

Using filtered, distilled or rainwater can also benefit the prayer plant’s growth, as tap water may lead to several complications due to salts, limestone, chlorine and other substances.

During their growing season, you should never let the soil dry out completely, and water as soon as the top layer becomes dry. During winter, your prayer plant goes dormant and needs less water.

Soil & Fertilizer

Prayer plants prefer a soil more on the acidic side, with a pH of 6.0., but can prosper in various soils and traditional potting mixes. More importantly, pay attention to the drainage, as the roots do not like soggy soil. The potting mix should be coarse, and the container with proper drainage holes. 

To improve drainage even more, you can add gravel or small rocks to the bottom of the pot. Yearly repotting also prevents the soil from turning hard. The best fit for a prayer plant is a shallow pot due to its shallow root system.

Prayer plant likes to be well-fed. Similarly to watering, fertilizing your plant depends on the season. Fertilizing every two weeks is optimal from early spring to autumn, whereas once a month suffices in winter. Use a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength.

Maranta leuconeura var. leuconeura 'Fascinator'
Maranta leuconeura var. leuconeura ‘Fascinator’ Source: Leonora

Light

A low-growing prayer plant is used to receiving rather indirect sunlight in its native environment. Therefore, they are tolerant to lower light areas, and exposure to too much sun may even cause brown spots on the leaves. On the other hand, without enough light, the leaves of your plant may stay closed or not open all the way in the morning. 

A moderately bright area with indirect sunlight is optimal for a prayer plant. Don’t forget to provide your plant with enough light also during winter dormancy, as it is essential for maintaining growth.

Propagating

Prayer plant propagation is relatively simple. The most common and easiest way is to divide the plant into several smaller ones while repotting. 

Shake the soil off the roots and work them apart gently, dividing the plant into smaller bits. To survive, the new plant should have a good mass of roots and several stems. Plant each in a separate shallow pot. Remember that keeping the younglings warm and moist for the first weeks is essential for new growth.

Pruning

Correct and safe pruning makes your plant develop a fuller and bushy appearance. Pruning should be done with a sterilized pair of sharp shears or garden scissors. Cut back older leaves by clipping the stems right above a leaf node. Your prayer plant will grow fresh shoots directly below the cut area, making for a thicker appearance.

Common Problems

Prayer plant problems are more often than not related to either soil moisture or dry air. Symptoms to keep an eye out for are:

Leaves Turning Yellow or Dropping

This can indicate either insufficient water or overwatering. Poorly drained, soggy soil can lead to root rot or fungal problems like leaf spot. Leaves can also drop because of prolonged cold and/or dry air.

How To Fix?

Adjust the watering schedule. Repot the overwatered plant to a container with bigger drainage holes. Keep the plant with fungal disease separated from your other plants until healed. Plants in cold spaces with dry air need to be moved to a warmer spot and provided higher air humidity.

Leaves Turning Brown or Brown Leaf Tips

This may hint at a few different problems. Browning might indicate too much fertilizer, which is burning the plant’s roots or be a sign of too direct sunlight. However, if the brown leaf tips are soft and soggy, it is likely due to overwatering.

How To Fix?

Adjust the fertilizing and watering schedule. Repot the overwatered plant to a container with bigger drainage holes. Plant in direct sunlight needs to be moved to a lower-light area.

Very Slow or Stunted Growth

This is usually caused by using too little or unsuitable fertilizer. Make sure to use high-quality water-soluble fertilizer with an NPK (proportion of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) of 10-15-10. Adjust the fertilizing schedule by the season.

Pests

Prayer plants can be prone to various houseplant pests. When in doubt, it is wise to keep infected plants separate from your other plants to prevent spreading. The most common symptoms to look out for are:

Prayer Plant Leaves Curling or White Webs on the Plant

This can be caused by spider mites, aphids, and thrips, who suck the sap from prayer plants. Use neem oil to get rid of these pests.

Sudden Wilting, Leaves Turning Yellow

This can be due to fungus gnats’ larvae eating the plant’s roots. Dilute neem oil in water and water your plant with it once a week.

White Cottony Egg Masses on the Plant with Leaves Falling

This is a sign of an infestation of mealybugs, which suck plant sap. Pop the bugs off with a q-tip soaked in rubbing alcohol, and mist your plant with insecticidal soap.

Final Thoughts

As sufficiently tropical conditions can be hard to imitate at home, keeping a prayer plant thriving can be challenging. It is all the more rewarding to succeed, though, as their striking coloration brings life to any space. Prayer plants are non-toxic to cats and dogs, which makes them perfect indoor plants for the home.

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