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How To Care For A Dramatic & Colorful Prayer Plant At Home

Alex Shea
mbg Contributor By Alex Shea
mbg Contributor
Alex Shea is a freelance sex and relationships writer based in Texas. She studied Life Sciences at San Jacinto College and has a journalism certificate from the University of Michigan.
This Houseplant Has A Dramatic Look & Doesn't Need Much Light
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Prayer plants may be one of the most fun houseplants you ever add to your growing collection. Aside from being incredibly animated, these plants have picturesque markings that make them easy to spot in a crowd. Whether you're new to this plant-parent thing or a seasoned pro, read on for everything you need to know about taking care of this intriguing houseplant.

What is a prayer plant?

Prayer plants are flowering plants from the Maranta genus of the family Marantaceae, native to tropical forests in South and Central America.

As for why they're called "prayer plants," Mandi Gubler, a master gardener and founder of Happy Happy Houseplant, explains that "At night, their leaves fold in on each other and it looks like hands that are praying."

It's more of a descriptive name than a scientific term, and Gubler adds that Calatheas (which also belong to the family Marantaceae) move in a similar way and are often referred to as prayer plants, too. However, Maranta is what's known as "the true prayer plant," Gubler says.

Hailing from a tropical climate, Maranta prayer plants love warmth and humidity, but with the right care, they can thrive just about anywhere. With proper care, your Maranta can grow up to 12 inches tall and 18 inches wide.

You'll have a good chance of finding one in a nursery near you, but if you do have any trouble, try an online nursery or peek around Etsy.

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Quick overview:

  • Sunlight needs: Medium, indirect light
  • When to water: When the soil feels dry to the touch, usually every one to two weeks
  • Pros: Unique color and leaf pattern
  • Cons: Choosy about light and humidity
  • Where to put them: Near a north-facing window
  • Pet-friendly? Nontoxic to dogs and cats, according to the ASPCA
  • Size: Can grow up to 12 inches tall and 18 inches wide

Types of prayer plants.

Some of the most popular types of prayer plants you're likely to find when you go shopping include:

  • Red Prayer Plant (Maranta leuconeura ‘erythroneura’): Arguably the most colorful of prayer plants, these have "super beautiful Fuchsia pinstripes on the top of the leaves and the underside is this really great bright purple," says Gubler.
  • Lemon Lime Prayer Plant (Maranta leuconeura 'marisela'): Lemon Lime Prayer Plants have the same visible veins as the Red Prayer Plant but in a lighter green/white color. 
  • Green Prayer Plant (Maranta leuconeura): Green Prayer Plants, also known as the rabbit's foot plant, have noticeably smaller veins and deeper green spots on top of their leaves than other varieties.

Planting & growing a prayer plant.

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Prayer plants typically do better as indoor plants because of how temperamental they are about sunlight. They tend to do best when they're placed a few inches away from windows—particularly ones that get soft, north-facing light. "Prayer plants also do really well on shelves because they don't need really intense light the way other plants do," Gubler tells mbg. 

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Caring for the plant.

Once your prayer plant is set up in your home, here are some top tips for keeping it looking colorful and vibrant.

Water:

"Be sure to keep the soil moist but not soaking wet," says Ashlie Thomas, organic farmer and founder of The Mocha Gardener on Instagram. You don't need to oversaturate your plant. Ever. Just water it every one to two weeks or "when the top third of the planter depth is dried out," says Gubler.

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Soil:

Your average soil with a neutral pH will do. "You don't need anything that's going to intensely drain or retain moisture," says Gubler. She suggests a very basic potting soil.

Sunlight:

Your prayer plant will not do well in direct sun. "The more sun you provide, the more unstable they become," says Thomas. Save the prime-time windowsill spaces for your sun-loving plants, and put these in a spot that gets indirect light.

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Temperature:

Since they hail from tropical regions, prayer plants enjoy humid conditions. "Grouping plants together is a great way to slightly increase humidity," explains Gubler. You can also place your plant near a humidifier or in a steamy bathroom to keep them moist.

Food:

"The prayer plant requires a balanced general-purpose plant fertilizer," Thomas tells mbg. "Something with a 3:2:1 N:P:K ratio," adds Gubler. (N:P:K stands for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium—in that order!) She uses her Happy Happy Houseplant plant food, but there are many other fertilizer options out there for purchase, or you could also go the DIY route

There's some discrepancy from our experts around how frequently to feed your prayer plant, from every time you water to every two to four weeks depending on the season. So it may be best to create a feeding schedule that works for your lifestyle (and memory).

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Common problems & how to fix them.

Even if you have the greenest thumb in the world, sometimes problems are bound to come up with your houseplants. Here are some of the most common issues to look out for with a prayer plant:

  • Yellowing leaves: The leaves of your prayer plant are probably burnt. Leaves can turn yellow because of too much sun or fertilizer. To remedy this, Thomas recommends "pruning the damaged or wilted leaves with clean and sterilized pruners" and reassessing your plant's light and food setup.
  • Soggy soil and decaying leaves: If your Maranta is getting too much water, it could develop root rot. You need to cut off the decaying roots and repot the plant in new soil, says Thomas. Making sure your plant's pot has drainage holes where water can escape will also help prevent root rot.
  • Leaf spots: If you spot any yellow spots with tannish halos on your plant's leaves, it could have a fungal disease, Thomas explains. She recommends cutting off any infected leaves and always emptying water out of your plant's saucer to prevent unwelcome germs.

How to propagate.

Yes, you can propagate your prayer plant! Gubler says that the easiest way to do so is with water propagation. Here's how it's done:

1. Cut below the nodes.

"There are spots on the vine by the leaves where there are nodes," says Gubler. "Cut in on the section between two leaves, the inner node." You only need one node to propagate your prayer plant.

2. Put it in water.

Go ahead and put your newly cut node into a cup of "room temperature water with a quarter-strength plant food," Gubler explains.

3. Change the water.

This is an important step in water propagation. "There will be little bits of tissue on the plant that will die off," says Gubler. Not changing the water can put your cutting at risk of infection. She suggests changing it every two to three days until you see roots start to form.

This part could take months. And that's OK! "As long as it's green and the water stays clean and clear, it will be fine," Gubler tells mbg.

4. Transfer it to a pot.

Once you start to see tiny white roots, go ahead and transfer your cutting to a pot with balanced potting soil. "Make sure that you keep it really saturated [with water] as the roots grow and get used to that environment," says Gubler. Voilà—that's how you can water propagate your prayer plant.

Tips to keep in mind.

  • Prayer plants love humidity, but that doesn't mean you should mist them until the cows come home. "Misting doesn't actually increase the humidity," says Gubler, so you're better off investing in a humidifier or grouping your plants together.
  • "Be careful of light, humidity, and fertilizer," Thomas tells mbg. "Once you have consistency with each of those, you'll get a thriving prayer plant."
  • "Because their leaves are velvety, when the leaves get dusty, you can't just wipe them off," Gubler tells mbg. So she suggests rinsing the leaves off and making sure you shake them off so water doesn't sit on them.

The bottom line.

The prayer plant is a wildly animated houseplant that loves humid environments but is a little sensitive about light. It's a little fussier to take care of than, say, a ZZ plant, but gosh, when it thrives, it thrives.

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