How to Save A Dying Calathea

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Calathea become easier to care for if you accept this simple truth: they will NOT accept a sup par environment.

Other plants prefer higher humidity, prefer filtered water, prefer being regularly dusted.

Calathea demand it. And in a move I actually quite respect, they don’t actually die if they’re not cared for properly, they resolve to look so awful that we get rid of them ourselves.

Honestly, it’s inspired.

So, your Calathea is dying. Rather than reiterate this article, which is profile all about Calathea care, I’m going to give you actionable steps and explain why they should help.

Caring for Calathea isn’t difficult. They require the same amount of care as other plants, they just require a pretty specific environment, and they like that environment to remain stable.

Remember that Calathea live in the rainforest undergrowth. They want:

  • Plenty of contaminant-free water
  • High humidity
  • Warmth
  • Filtered light, but for 16+ hours a day

Don’t let them dry out, get cold, or stick them in a dark corner. This is also not a plant that will thank you for giving them grey water. Save that for your succulents.

Clean the leaves thoroughly

Keeping Calathea leaves clean is important for a few reasons:

It helps them absorb more light

Calathea don’t have that much access to light, so they maximise the amount they can absorb by having big, often round leaves. Those species with smaller leaves tend to have a lot of leaves.

Dust collects on leaves, which does a fairly awesome job of blocking out the light, which…isn’t great, especially if your plant is already in a pretty dark spot.

I’m NOT recommending you can not bother dusting if you have your Calathea in better light, but…also if you’re gonna neglect dusting, put your Calathea in good light.

It helps keep them pest free

Spider mites LOVE Calathea, but they can be kept at bay if you reduce the amount of dust on them.

Spider mites don’t like moist conditions, and dusty leaves will dry out the environment so the spider mites can set up camp.

Dusting them also physically removes the webs so it’s harder for them to get established.

It helps them photosynthesize more effectively

Dust can clog up stomata and stop the necessary gas exchanges from taking place. No gas exchange, no photosynthesis and therefore no growth.

Get in out of the sun

Calathea are often sold as low-light loving plants, but it’s not that they like low light, it’s that they can’t hack bright or hot light. It bleaches the leaves, and makes them look sad. I have Calathea in my terrarium under bright-looking lights, but they’re no one where near as bright as my windows, and they’re aquarium lights rather than actual grow lights.

Too low light can cause issues like slow growth, stunted leaves, and pest issues, so I like to put them in brighter light, but shielded from direct light by another plant. It’s as close as my plant are gonna get to the light they’d naturally get in the wild.

Get the soil hydrated

Calathea like a denser mix than aroids, but if it’s too dense it can compact over time and become hydrophobic. Hydrophobic water won’t absorb water and your Calathea will dry out, regardless of how often you’re watering it.

I like to bottom water my Calathea. I keep them in their nursery pots inside a cachepot and just add water to the cachepot. Check the cachepot after an hour and if the water has gone add a bit more. If there’s some left pour it away.

Calathea are notoriously fussy when it comes to water quality, BUT don’t assume they need the best of the best. My orbifolia is perfectly happy with tap water (though my tap water is top-notch, and obvs it varies) however something like a White Fusion might not be.

Experiment with the different types of water to work out for works best for both of you.

Put it in a terrarium/high-humidity environment

I wrote a whole article on keeping Calathea in a terrarium because it’s by far the easiest way to keep them happy.

Calathea will be a lot easier to deal with if you keep them in high humidity, because you won’t need to worry about them drying out so much. Soil in high humidity environments retains moisture for longer.

It’s the stability of terrariums that Calathea like. We have a fogger that runs three times a day, a heat lamp that comes on when it gets below 18oC/65oF, and the lights turn on and off automatically.

Life-changing for Calathea BUT they get too big too fast. We need a bigger terrarium.

Don’t. Mist. Calathea.

Calathea do NOT like getting wet. They’re prayer plants – they do what they can to stay dry.

We have a velvet touch in the terrarium. It needs cutting back every couple of months, so this is new growth. It grows big and fast because the conditions are great for it


We regularly have to pray down the terrarium because we have a frog in there that needs the moisture (we have fogger for humidity, but he needs liquid water, not vapour). The misting takes a toll on the leaves, as you can see:

calathea velvet touch in terrarium

It is perfectly healthy. It grows like a weed. The plant DOES NOT CARE. But you’ll agree, it’s hardly aesthetically pleasing (there’s also yellow bits because it’s near the lights).

Keep it warm (but not too hot)

Calathea hate both the extreme hot and the extreme cold. They come from the cool parts of a hot place, so they’re not equipped to deal with extremes of temperature.

They tend to struggle in winter, so prioritise warmth over light and humidity. I move mine to my coffee table because it’s the most consistent temperature-wise.

Get rid of any pests

Pests love Calathea because they have big leaves but they’re pretty thin and tasty. They also don’t contain calcium oxalates (bunny owners – keep your rabbits away from Calathea, they are apparently delicious).

Predatory mites are great around Calathea because they won’t disrupt the ecosystem in the soil, but I just spray mine down with castile soap and that usually does the trick.

Calathea respond pretty well to being cut right back to the soil, so you can always take drastic measures if required.

Should you remove brown leaves from Calathea?

I usually advise against removing brown leaves from house plants if there’s any green on them, because the green parts can still photosynthesis.

However, Calathea are spider mite magnets and spider mites like to live in brown leaves, especially in they curl over and create a little den for them to live in.


For no reason other than it’s pointless. The leaf will just go brown around the edges again as the leaf seals itself off. Cutting off the brown parts can open up the leaf to pests (which is why cut leaf edges brown in the first place) so now you have brown leaves AND pests.

Final thoughts

Calathea are actually pretty difficult to kill – they’re just hard to convince to look good. Their roots are pretty sturdy because in the rainforest there are tonnes of things that can damage the leaves. Herbivores will eat them, floods will rip them off or cause them to rot, they could get trodden on etc etc.

Just because your Calathea looks like crap doesn’t mean the roots are unhealthy. If you hate the way it looks, cut the leaves off and start again.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

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