Why Are Calathea Considered Difficult?

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Calathea are well known for their difficult nature, but what exactly is it that makes them difficult to manage?

Basically, they know what they like, and they won’t tolerate anything else.

If you provide them with an environment that suits them, they will thrive. If you don’t, they’ll produce sad, brown, curled leaves, which is the absolute opposite of the aesthetic you’re going for.

They’re intolerant of subpar care too. They can be a good plant for someone that’s looking to get into house plants, but they’re not a good choice for someone looking for a decor piece as opposed to a new hobby UNLESS your home just so happens to suit Calathea.

You know those people that insist Calathea are the easiest plants ever? They’re not lying. They’re not sociopaths. Nor ar they spending hours a day caring for their plants. They just have exactly the right conditions for Calathea to thrive.

Don’t worry if you don’t have those conditions – you can create them if required.

So what is it that makes Calathea difficult to care for?

And before we start, here’s an article on how to save a dying Calathea. You know, just in case.

Mistakes (like over fertilising) manifest on the leaves quickly

Calathea come from climates that have very stable conditions. Light, temperature, and humidity don’t change much at all, so they’re not great at adapting to change. if you’re too late with the watering, you get brown spots on the leaves.

it’s not just underwatering. Any of these practices can show up on the leaves quickly:

  • Overwatering
  • Lack of light
  • Too much light
  • Misting
  • High levels of minerals in the water
  • Lack of humidity
  • Too high humidity
  • Too cold
  • Too hot

They know what they like and they don’t like anything else!

They need high humidity

High humidity is non-negotiable with Calathea. Some, such as Calathea Lancifolia don’t require that high humidity, because they’ve been bred over the years to be slightly more adaptable than other Calathea.

Others, such as Calathea White fusion, look awful if the humidity is low – they turn into one big crispy tip at anything below 65%.

They also do NOT like getting wet. In the wild, they would be mostly shielded from the rain by larger trees. Don’t mist them, it will make them hate you. Misting and humidity are NOT the same.

Also, pebble trays are a non-starter. I tested them. A humidifier is great, or you could try keeping Calathea in a terrarium.

If you have naturally high humidity in your home, you may be one of those people that can keep Calathea with no issues.

They can be fussy about water quality

This even extends to the water in the air, so use filtered water in your humidifier.

Interestingly, there is no one type of water that Calathea prefer. For example, they like the tap water and aquarium water where I live, but hate the rainwater.

They used to hate the tap water at my old house but loved the rainwater.


I get the tap water being different (although IMO it tastes worse) but the RAIN?

Come on guys.

They don’t like to dry out

The rainforest, if you weren’t aware, is a pretty… moist environment. It never dries up (I have a terrible feeling this article isn’t going to age well, climate change-wise) so Calathea have never had to deal with times of drought.

Calathea do have rhizomes so they can be susceptible to rot if they get too wet, but they can don’t like to dry out either.

If you’re a bit of an underwaterer (or just a general neglected), this may be a bit much to keep up with. Aglaonema may be a better option for you.

Pests can be persistent

Spider mites and Calathea are best mates, which is weird because spider mites like hot and dry conditions and Calathea, er, don’t. Yet somehow they find one another.

The best way I’ve found to keep spider mites away is to keep your Calathea dust-free, so wipe the leaves down with a micro-fibre cloth every week or so. Even if it doesn’t remove them entirely it disturbs their home and stops them from establishing a colony.

Pets find them delicious

My rabbit went through a Calathea and a half in one sitting. They’re not toxic so she was totally fine (rabbits are escape artists so we keep them separate from the poisonous plants) but it’s obviously not ideal.

They hate the cold

This can be an issue in the UK in winter.

They hate draughts

See above.

They burn easily in the sun

Calathea are one of the few plants I bother trying to create dappled light for. I basically hide it behind bigger plants, so it’s next to bright light, but is still in shadow. It works pretty well actually, and I find the colours more vibrant than when I keep them in medium light.

They collect a lot of dust

They have large leaves, and they don’t tend to pray as dramatically as, say, Maranta, so they dust stays on them. As I mentioned spider mites love them, and if they’re dusty that creates a drier environment which is more hospitable to the spider mites.

Dust them. Dust them a lot.

Final thoughts

Calathea aren’t particularly time-consuming to take care of.

You don’t have to spend ages dusting them like you do with ZZ plants (but if you leave ZZs to get dusty as heck they really don’t care – at one point i thought mine had mealies, but no, just dust).

They just fit into a very particular niche in the wild and they’re not as adaptable as, say, Monstera, which will have a good go at growing just about anywhere.

Once you’ve cracked their environment, I think they’re pretty simple to care for, and super rewarding. They have gorgeous, unusual, colourful leaves that not many other plants have, and are definitely worth taking the time to get to know.

But also if you want to hurl your Calathea into the sun and become all about Pothos, I totally get that.

Caroline Cocker

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

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