Prayer Plant Care: Growing Maranta Leuconeura

Prayer plants are truly captivating houseplants that are sure to add a touch of elegance to any indoor space. These plants have leaves with a unique structure similar to rubber plants, but their striking coloration sets them apart. While caring for prayer plants may require a bit more attention compared to other common houseplants like pothos or philodendron, it is not a difficult task. By understanding the needs of your prayer plant and considering its natural habitat, you can provide the right conditions for it to thrive. In this article, we will explore the world of prayer plants, discussing various varieties, propagation techniques, and essential care tips that will enable you to grow your own stunning prayer plants at home!

Quick Care Guide

Kerchoveana prayer plant
This prayer plant, Maranta leuconeura var. kerchoveana, is all green. Source: Jungle Garden

  • Common Name
  • Scientific Name
  • Family
  • Height & Spread
  • Light
  • Soil
  • Water
  • Pests & Diseases

All About Prayer Plants

The prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura) is a slow-growing evergreen perennial that belongs to the arrowroot (Marantaceae) family. Native to the tropical rainforests of Brazil, South America, prayer plants earned their common name due to their fascinating habit of folding their leaves upward at night, resembling hands clasped in prayer. These plants boast ovular leaves with prominent veins of various colors. The central vein typically differs in color from the branching veins, and the foliage has a waxy texture with a matte grey-green underside. The leaves alternate in an elliptical pattern on sturdy, rubbery stems, contributing to the plant’s bushy appearance.

During the peak growing season, prayer plants produce small white to purple blooms in pairs on a single inflorescence. The flowers have a distinctive structure that can be likened to a combination of a pansy and a half flower. After the flowers die, a single seed develops. The roots of prayer plants are thick and branch out beneath the plant. It’s worth noting that prayer plants are occasionally confused with Calathea orbifolia, another species with a similar common name. Prayer plants are non-toxic, making them safe for households with children and pets. Moreover, these plants are excellent air purifiers, removing a significant amount of CO2 from the surrounding environment.

Prayer Plant Varieties

Marenta leuconeura Fascinator
M. leuconeura ‘Fascinator’. Source: blumenbiene

While discussing prayer plant varieties, it’s important to note that the varieties mentioned here are not limited to the Maranta genus. There are approximately 40 to 50 different types of prayer plants available today, but we will focus on the most common ones:

  • Red prayer plant, Red maranta: This classic variety features lush deep green leaves adorned with bright red veins. Cream-colored splotches surround the central vein.
  • Maranta leuconeura var. leuconeura, ‘Black Prayer Plant’: With grey to olive green leaves, a silvery midvein, silver branching veins, and a red center that surrounds the midvein, this variety blooms white flowers.
  • Maranta leuconeura ‘Kim’: The leaves of this prayer plant display varying shades of green, with purple spots and a cream-white streak for added flair.
  • Maranta leuconeura ‘Marisela’: This variety has lighter green leaves with markings that are an even lighter green, almost cream-green in color.
  • Maranta leuconeura var. erythroneura, ‘Herringbone Plant’, ‘Lemon Lime Prayer Plant’, ‘Lemon Lime Maranta’: These varieties showcase alternating colors of deep green and light green leaves with lighter veins.
  • Ctenanthe burle-marxii, ‘Fishbone Prayer Plant’: Although not technically a maranta, this variety closely resembles prayer plants. It features bright, almost white veins that run along the length of its oval leaves.
  • Stromanthe sanguinea, ‘Tri-Colored Prayer Plant’: Distinctive for its long, starkly streaked leaves, this variety exhibits cream, pink, and varying shades of green. The leaves have a very waxy texture.
Further reading:  Knitted Plant Hanger: A Creative and Relaxing Home Project

Prayer Plant Care

Maranta leuconeura flower
The prayer plant flower isn’t as showy as the foliage. Source: blumenbiene

Now that we have explored the different prayer plant varieties, let’s delve into the basic care required for maranta species. By adhering to these guidelines, you can ensure that your prayer plant thrives whether it is grown in a container or a hanging basket.

Sun and Temperature

Prayer plants prefer bright indirect light and are sensitive to direct sunlight, which can scorch their leaves and potentially cause harm. Ensure that your plant receives 6 to 8 hours of bright, indirect light during the day. While prayer plants can tolerate low light conditions, it is crucial to ensure good air circulation. Place your prayer plant near a well-lit window or in a spot with indirect sunlight in your garden. Although they can tolerate low light, providing sufficient light allows for optimal growth. Prayer plants are hardy in USDA zones 10b to 11, thriving in temperatures ranging from 60°F to 85°F. Avoid subjecting them to temperatures below 60°F, as this can be fatal. During colder periods, it is best to keep them indoors.

Water and Humidity

Prayer plants prefer consistently moist soil and do not tolerate dry conditions well. In brighter light, you will need to water your prayer plant more frequently. Allow the soil to slightly dry out between watering sessions to avoid overwatering. Use room temperature water when watering your prayer plant. During the winter dormancy period, reduce watering as the plant’s growth slows. Prayer plants are known to prefer filtered or distilled water, and they require high humidity levels of 50% to 60%. To maintain adequate humidity, you can place a humidifier nearby or lightly mist your plant with distilled water daily. However, be cautious not to leave your plant in standing water, as it can promote disease. Additionally, ensure that the pot has proper drainage holes to prevent waterlogging, which can also lead to unfavorable conditions for your prayer plant.

Soil

Maranta leuconeura Kerchoveana
M. leuconeura var. kerchoveana close up. Source: blumenbiene

Prayer plants thrive in well-draining soil. A general-purpose houseplant potting soil is suitable, but if it doesn’t drain well, you can enhance its drainage properties by adding perlite or coarse sand to the mixture. Alternatively, you can prepare your own soil mix for prayer plants by combining 1 part perlite or coarse sand, 1 to 2 parts sphagnum peat moss or coconut coir, 1 part garden soil, and a pinch of lime dust. The coarse ingredients, along with the peat moss and coir, help retain moisture while preventing waterlogging. To further improve drainage, place rocks or gravel at the bottom of your pot and ensure that the pot has adequate drainage holes. Avoid using poor-quality soils, as they can negatively impact the health of your prayer plants. The optimal pH range for prayer plants is 5.5 to 6.0.

Fertilizing Maranta leuconeura

During the growing season (spring through fall), prayer plants should be fertilized every two weeks using a high-quality water-soluble fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 10-15-10. In winter, reduce or completely halt fertilization as the conditions are not conducive to growth. Excessive fertilizer during this period can create a breeding ground for diseases.

Further reading:  "Norfolk's Breathtaking Blooms: A Dr. Seuss-Like Phenomenon"

Pruning Prayer Plants

Pruning your prayer plant can promote bushier growth. Using sterilized garden scissors, trim the stems just above a leaf node. By doing so, you encourage new shoots to develop directly below the cut area, resulting in a more compact and fuller appearance. It is recommended to prune your prayer plant 2 to 3 times per year during the fall and early spring before the growth season begins. Additionally, remove any diseased parts as soon as they appear to prevent the spread of infection.

Repotting

Prayer plants do not require frequent repotting, but when they become root-bound, their growth may slow down. When repotting, select a container that is 1 to 2 inches wider than the current pot. Gently remove your prayer plant from its current container and place it in the new pot with some additional soil mix. Water thoroughly, and your prayer plant will adapt easily to its new home.

Prayer Plant Propagation

Prayer plant propagation is a simple and enjoyable process. While it is possible to propagate prayer plants from seeds, it is not as reliable or commonly practiced. Stem cuttings are a preferred method of propagation. Take stem cuttings just below a leaf node and dip them in rooting hormone. Place the cuttings in water under low light conditions, changing the water every few days. Once the cuttings develop new roots, transfer them to shallow pots filled with soil. Keep the soil moist, and when new growth emerges, you know your propagation has been successful.

Slips, which are separated sections of healthy plants with their own root systems, can also be used for prayer plant propagation. Gently remove the healthy plants from their pot and carefully separate the stems, making sure each stem has its own set of roots. Plant these slips in fresh soil and keep them in a humid environment. Within a few weeks, you will have new tropical plants ready to be placed in hanging baskets or containers.

Troubleshooting

Maranta leuconeura var erythroneura
Maranta leuconeura var. erythroneura. Source: Scott Zona

While prayer plants are generally resilient, a few pests and diseases can occasionally affect them. It is crucial to be aware of these issues and take appropriate action if they arise. Here are some common problems you may encounter:

Growing Problems

If your prayer plants exhibit brown leaf tips or brown leaves, it may indicate excessive exposure to sunlight. Ensure that your plants are not placed in an area where they receive too much sun. Wilting or yellow leaves can be a sign of nutrient deficiency, so it’s essential to provide adequate fertilization. Prayer plant problems are often related to humidity or soil moisture issues. If your plant’s leaves develop soggy brown tips, it could indicate poor drainage in your container. In this case, consider using a container with better drainage or repotting the plant in a suitable container.

Pests

Common pests that can affect prayer plants include spider mites, aphids, and thrips. These pests feed on the plant’s sap, resulting in lesions and nutrient deficiencies. If you notice webs or curled leaves, it is likely due to the presence of spider mites. To address these pests, use neem oil to eliminate the infestation. Fungus gnats can also be a problem, especially indoors. While the adult form of fungus gnats does not harm prayer plants, their larvae can damage the roots. Diluting neem oil in water and watering your plants with it once a week can effectively eliminate eggs and larvae. Mealybugs are tiny cotton ball-like insects that also feed on plant sap. You can manually remove them with a q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol and mist your plant with insecticidal soap to prevent further infestation.

Further reading:  Tips for Dealing with White Bugs on Hibiscus Plants

Diseases

Leaf spot is a fungal disease that can occur in excessively wet conditions. Water-soaked lesions on the leaves indicate the presence of this disease. If your prayer plant exhibits leaf spot, isolate it from other plants to prevent the spread of the fungus. Neem oil can help control the infection. Reduce watering and misting to prevent further spread. Another disease that can affect prayer plants is root rot, caused by fungi that thrive in wet and temperate conditions. If you notice mushy stems and leaves, it is a sign of rot. Reduce watering and misting, remove any damaged parts, and consider starting afresh with a new plant if the problem persists.

Frequently Asked Questions

Prayer plant Fascinator
Prayer plant, ‘Fascinator’. Source: Drew Avery

Here are some commonly asked questions regarding prayer plant care:

Q: What is special about prayer plant?
A: Prayer plants exhibit a unique behavior where their leaves rise in the evening and lower in the morning, mimicking the act of prayer.

Q: How do you take care of a praying plant?
A: This entire article explores prayer plant care in detail, providing all the necessary guidance for successfully nurturing these plants.

Q: Is prayer plant suitable for indoor use?
A: Yes, prayer plants thrive indoors in most USDA zones.

Q: Where should I place my prayer plant?
A: Place your prayer plant in an area with indirect yet bright light.

Q: How long do prayer plants live?
A: With proper care, prayer plants can live for up to 30 years.

Q: How often should I water my prayer plant?
A: Water your prayer plant approximately once a week during the growing season and once every 2 to 3 weeks during dormancy.

Q: Can I keep my prayer plant outdoors?
A: You can keep your prayer plant outdoors if the temperatures remain between 60°F and 85°F.

Q: Do prayer plants improve air quality?
A: Yes, prayer plants absorb CO2 from the air, contributing to cleaner indoor environments.

Q: How can I maintain sufficient humidity for my prayer plant?
A: To increase humidity, you can mist your prayer plant with water daily or place a container of water nearby to facilitate evaporation.

Q: Why are my prayer plant leaves curling during the daytime?
A: Curling leaves during the daytime indicate suboptimal conditions. Reduce light exposure throughout the day and ensure the soil retains an appropriate level of moisture.

Q: I’m having issues with my prayer plant soil. What should I do?
A: Prayer plants prefer well-draining soil, so consider adding gravel, perlite, or coarse sand to improve drainage. Avoid overwatering and ensure your container has adequate drainage holes.

By following these care instructions and troubleshooting tips, you can enjoy the beauty and serenity that prayer plants bring to your home. Remember to observe your plants closely and make adjustments based on their specific needs. With a little attention and care, your prayer plants will flourish and become a remarkable addition to your indoor greenery. For more information, visit the Ames Farm Center.