A colourful perennial the Prayer Plant is known for its distinctive patterned leaves that are splashed with patches of red, green or cream. These colours become more vibrant as the plant ages. Happy on a table or in a hanging basket this South American native is a striking plant.
The Maranta or Prayer Plant is grown for its striking foliage.
The unusual name comes from the plants habit of folding it’s leaves into an upright position at night, as if it is praying. In the morning, as light hits the leaves they unfold again, sometimes making a pleasing rustling noise as they do so.
The flower of the Prayer Plant is a small, white tubular bloom which sits at the end of a long stem. If you are looking specifically for a flowering house plant be aware that the Prayer Plant rarely flowers indoors. To its devotees however this does not matter, the flower is an afterthought. The main feature of the Prayer Plant is it’s striking foliage.
In the right conditions the plant produces vibrant foliage.
It is also a surprisingly easy plant to care for. This makes it an ideal plant for nervous gardeners or people who have never cared for a plant before but are looking for a place to start. If you aren’t sure that caring for plants is for you, remember even a houseplant can be beneficial to your mental and physical well being as well as adding a colourful spark to your home. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what your experience level or gardening ability is, if you follow the advice in this easy to understand guide you will soon have a stunning Prayer Plant flourishing in your home.
Different Types of Prayer Plant
The Prayer Plant, or Maranta Leuconeura, is part of the Marantaceae family which originates primarily in South America. A large family, a close relative of the Maranta Leuconeura is the Maranta Arundinacea, otherwise known as Arrowroot. This is commonly grown as a perennial herb used in both cooking and herbal medicine.
There are many different species of Prayer Plant available. It is this depth of variety that makes the Prayer Plant such an attractive addition to your home, either sitting in a pot on a windowsill or draping attractively from a hanging basket. It also means that there is an option for every colour scheme and living arrangement, so it is worth taking your time to look at some of the different varieties before investing in your plant.
While there are far too many options for us to discuss them all, we will look at some of the more common and interesting varieties. Hopefully this will give you some ideas if you don’t know where to start.
Maranta Leuconeura is the most common type of Prayer Plant.
While there may be many varieties of plant the basic care instructions, which I will outline later in the article, remain largely the same. If you are concerned, any particular information for your specific Prayer Plant will be written on the label that comes with it so don’t discard this.
The most common type of Maranta Leuconeura has wide oval shaped leaves. These are dark green with white or light green stripes which run along the spine of the leaf. The veins which line the underside of the leaf are a distinctive shade of red.
The leaf of the Maranta Tricolor boasts a red and yellow herringbone pattern.
The variety “Kim” is known for it’s purple spots and cream white leaves. The “Erythroneura” variety has dark green leaves with yellow markings and red herringbone patterned veins. This patternation has led to it becoming known as either the “herringbone plant” or “Tricolor”. Finally, the “Massangeana” Prayer Plant is similarly aesthetically pleasing with its black green leaves and silvery veins.
|Prayer Plant, Rabbit Tracks
|Central and South America, West Indies
|Soil must be kept moist.
|Bright, indirect sunlight.
|30-45 cm/ 12-18 inches
|30-90 cm/ 12-36 inches
|By cuttings or division
How To Care For Your Prayer Plant.
Prayer Plants can tolerate low light conditions but they do best in bright, indirect sunlight. They like well drained soil and to be kept moist but not too wet. Also the higher the humidity levels the better. While this may all sound very complicated it really isn’t.
Once you know what to do you will be able to give your plants what they need to thrive. To make it as easy as possible we will now look at the various aspects and elements that can affect your Prayer Plant and discuss how to create the best possible environment for it.
Don’t put your Prayer Plant in direct sunlight. This can scorch the leaves and, in extreme circumstances, even kill the plant. While they prefer bright, indirect sunlight these plants can tolerate slightly darker spots. Ideally they are best placed in rooms on the eastern or the northern side of the house, as these rooms generally receive less light.
You will know if your plant is not getting enough light because the leaves will curl up during the day, or not fully open after closing at night. Too little light will also cause the plant to become leggy. This means that the stems will grow long and spindly as they strive to reach the light.
The most obvious sign that your plant is getting too much light is that the leaves will start to turn brown or burn.
If your Prayer Plant is getting the correct amount of light it will boast rich, green stems and colorful leaves.
Placing your plant in the right conditions will encourage vivid colours to develop.
Prayer Plants like to be in soil that is evenly moist. This means that they don’t like it too soggy or if the soil is allowed to completely dry out. If the soil is too dry or too wet the leaves of the plant may turn yellow and fall from the plant.
This may seem like a difficult balance to achieve so if you are unsure when to water, wait until the top 1/2 inch of soil is dry before giving it a good watering. If you want something more scientific, a soil moisture gauge or plant watering gauge can help in determining when to water.
How much water a plant requires depends on a great many things, and just because it is thirsty one week doesn’t mean that it will require that much water again next week. If you are unsure how much water to give your plant simply water it until the water begins to drip from the bottom of the pot. This is a reliable indication that the soil is moist.
Don’t allow the plant to sit in water for a prolonged period. This can make the soil overly damp and lead to root rot amongst other problems.
When you water the plant use water that is at room temperature as opposed to cold water. This is because cold water can cool your plant’s roots causing it stress and resulting in it dropping its leaves.
You should also aim to water your Prayer Plant in the morning. This means that any water which you accidentally splash onto the leaves will be able to dry during the day. Wet leaves and cooler nighttime temperatures are a perfect combination for the emergence of leaf spot.
During the winter months when the plant enters its dormant phase and ceases to grow it will require less water.
Despite being tropical plants, Prayer Plants will do fine at household temperatures. Anywhere between 65-80°F/ 18-27°C will be fine.
If your Prayer Plant is too warm then it will produce fewer leaves and spindly stems. If it is too cold growth will slow. Colder temperatures can also damage the leaves of the plant, causing them to turn brown or shrivel.
If you are worried about the temperature dropping you can always place your plant in a small terrarium or cloche. An added bonus of this is that placing the plant in a cloche or terrarium will help you maintain humidity levels.
As we have already noted Prayer Plants originated in tropical climates, therefore the higher the humidity levels the better.
The levels of humidity in our homes can become too low for a Prayer Plant. Keeping a high level of humidity can be an especially difficult task during the winter months as our centrally heated homes can become very dry. An indoor humidity monitor or air quality monitor will help you to monitor the humidity levels around your plant.
If you don’t want to run a humidifier then place your plant on a tray of pebbles and water, just be careful not to put the pot directly into the water. Alternatively placing the plant in a terrarium, cloche or mini indoor greenhouse can help to keep humidity levels high and regular.
Terrariums are just one way to increase humidity and drama to your plant
Also, it may sound obvious but, keep your plant away from anywhere where it will be exposed to extreme temperature fluctuations or drafts. Basically don’t put your Prayer Plant near any heaters, vents or doorways.
During the spring and summer months you should feed your Prayer Plants every two weeks. A standard, good quality houseplant feed will be fine and they are easily available. If you have the choice use an organic fertilizer because chemical ones can sometimes harm the plant. Organic products are increasingly available and affordable.
To make feeding easier use a water soluble feed. This means that you will only need to dilute it with water (usually to 50% strength, but check the instructions first) and then water it into the soil. You will need to feed your plant fortnightly during the spring and summer.
A good quality, general purpose potting soil will be fine, just make sure that it drains well. Adding perlite or coarse sand to the mixture will help to improve drainage while spreading vermiculite along the top of the soil will help the plant retain moisture. Placing rocks or gravel at the bottom of the plant pot, and obviously making sure that it has a drainage hole, will also help with drainage.
You will not need to repot your Prayer Plant very often however some people like to repot them every year. If you notice that your plant has unexpectedly stopped growing, or slowed dramatically, this is a sign that it has become pot bound- too big for it’s pot. When this happens it is time to repot. The ideal time for repotting is early in the spring just as the plant starts to grow again.
You may also want to repot your Prayer Plant soon after purchasing it.
Repotting plants is a vital part of keeping them healthy.
Repotting is a relatively simple process. First select a clean pot that is either a similar size or slightly larger, no more than 1” or 2”, than the current pot.
As Prayer Plants are shallow rooted plants they do well in shallow pots. You may encounter problems if the plant is placed in a deep pot because too much soil below the roots, particularly if it remains soggy for a long period, will encourage root rot to develop.
Also make sure that the pot you select has drainage holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain from the soil. If your chosen pot has no holes it is an easy enough task to put a few in.
Remove the plant from it’s old pot. If the roots are tightly bound together, in a “root ball”, gently tease them free. You don’t have to release them all just allow for some movement so that they are not all densely packed together.
This is also a great opportunity to make divisions if you want to. We will discuss divisions and propagation later in the article.
Next put some fresh potting mix or all purpose compost into the new pot. You should aim to put enough in there so that the top of the plants roots sit just below the lip of the new pot when it is placed inside.
Position your Prayer Plant in the centre of the pot add more compost or potting mix. While you want to fill the pot try not to pack in so much that it becomes compacted. Also try to leave some space between the compost and the top of the pot to allow for watering and growth. After you have planted your plant water in well and return it to its usual spot.
If you want to learn more about repotting houseplants this is a useful article.
Pruning your Prayer Plant will encourage new and more vigorous growth. If you have never pruned a plant before and are nervous about starting then this is a helpful guide. However there is really nothing to worry about. If you cut too much off it will grow back, eventually.
A small clippers or garden scissors will help to keep your Prayer Plant in shape.
Use a pair of garden scissors or pruning shears to prune the plant. Just make sure that they are clean before you begin so as not to spread any diseases or pests.
Simply clip the stems right above the leaf nodes. This will encourage the plant to send out shoots directly below the cut point. This allows for a bushier plant.
Care During the Winter Months
As with much of the natural world Winter is when the Prayer Plant enters it’s dormant period. Growth will slow or cease, this may seem worrying but it is perfectly natural. Reduce watering during this period and stop feeding. Humidity levels should be maintained.
As spring begins the plant will awaken from it’s dormancy and you will begin to notice signs of growth. This is the sign that you should resume feeding.
Keeping the Plant Clean
The leaves of the Prayer Plant, and any other plant, should be kept dust free. Gently wipe the leaves with a soft dry cloth occasionally.
Propagation and Divisions
While all plants have a natural life span by propagation and division you will be able to produce a long line of healthy Prayer Plants that you can enjoy for many years or give as gifts to your friends and family.
Propagation is easily done from stem cuttings. While I will now explain how to take successful cuttings the RHS has a good in depth guide to propagation here.
The ideal time to take cuttings is in early spring when you repot your Prayer Plant. This is also the ideal time to do “division”. We will look at how to do that in a moment.
Despite spring being the ideal time successful cuttings can be taken at any time from spring into early summer.
Take a cutting that is a good few inches long and has a couple of leaves. Ideally you should make the cutting just below the nodes closest to the bottom of the stem.
Place the cutting in a small pot with moist fresh potting soil. Some people like to dip the cut end into a rooting hormone before planting but this is not necessary.
After potting place the cuttings in a propagator to help retain moisture levels. This will help to minimise shock and is worth a try if you have struggled to take successful cuttings in the past. If you don’t want to invest in a propagator a homemade version is just as good and can be made from a plastic food container like these. Just make sure that there are air holes to allow for adequate ventilation.
Put the pot in a warm and bright area. Keep the soil moist and mist the cuttings occasionally so that the soil doesn’t dry out and that the humidity levels are maintained. You should see new shoots in a month to six weeks.
An alternative method sees the cutting dipped in rooting hormone and then placed in a clear, water filled vase. A clear vase will allow you to watch the roots grow. When they are about an inch long plant your cutting in some fresh soil. If you opt for this method be sure to change the water every day. You will also need to be careful when you transplant the cutting to soil because the plant may go into shock.
You can use either of these methods to propagate any piece of Prayer Plant that accidentally breaks off.
The easiest way to create a new Prayer Plant is by the method known as divisions. This is best done early in spring when you are repotting the plant.
Remove the Prayer Plant from the pot. Shake loose any earth that is clinging to the roots. Carefully divide the plant and its roots into two or more sections. The number of divisions you make will depend on the size of the plant.
Making divisions is an easy way to create more plants and help pot bound plants thrive.
Once you have made the division remove any excess soil and dead growth. Cutting the plants back at this point, before you repot it, will help to reduce shock. When this is done replant your plant divisions in a fresh pot. This should be done as quickly as possible, before the roots are able to dry out.
If you want to read more about making divisions the RHS has a good guide which can be found here.
Common Prayer Plant Problems And How To Solve Them.
While Prayer Plants are easy to care for there are a couple of potential issues and problems you need to be aware of. We will now look at some of the most common problems and how best to solve or avoid them.
Like many houseplants the Prayer Plant can suffer from infestations of spider mites, mealybugs and aphids. The easiest way to prevent infestations is to maintain the humidity and moisture levels of the plant. While small changes are okay huge fluctuations in humidity or moisture levels can lead to problems. So keep you levels high and you should be fine.
Spider mites are more common during the winter months. Your first warning that they are present will be cobwebs appearing on or beneath the leafs. Maintaining humidity will deter these pests.
A white sticky substance on the stem is a reliable sign that the plant is infested with mealybugs. A general purpose pesticide or a bit of washing up liquid mixed with warm water and sprayed onto the plant will cure this. This method will also help to rid your plant of aphids.
Inspect your plants on a regular basis. Make sure that it is clean and pest free. This goes for all your houseplants not just the Prayer Plants. Regular inspections helps to prevent problems spreading throughout all your plants.
The leaves of the Prayer Plant will naturally change shape and appearance throughout the day depending on what light it is exposed to, and where the light is coming from. However if the shaping doesn’t look natural or if the leaves start to turn brown it may be a sign that you have a problem.
Usually brown leaves are a sign that the plant is getting too much light. If the light levels seem fine the plant may be sensitive to the chlorine in the water. If you don’t want to go to the expense of using bottled water to hydrate your houseplant let the tap water sit for a day or so before watering your plant. Alternatively water with filtered water.
Water soaked spots on you leaves are a sign that the plant has contracted helminthosporium leaf spot. Basically you are over watering the plant and the leaves are too wet. While this is an easy fix if you ignore the signs it can ruin your plant completely. Applying neem oil to the leaves is a natural, chemical free way to help negate the effects of an outbreak.
Watering in the morning allows the leaves, if they become wet, the chance to dry out before the temperature drops. Wet leaves and cooler nighttime temperatures can make a fertile breeding ground for leaf spot. If your plant develops brown or black spots on its leaves, snip the damaged leaves off at the base and throw them away.
If the colours of the leaves are not as deep or as rich as you would like move the plant to a shadier spot. Too much light can bleach or fade the colour of your Prayer Plant.
If you notice that the plant is growing on one side more than the others this is a sign that is is possible not happy or getting enough light in its current position. Before finding a new place for it try turning the plant every few days so that all sides get an even amount of light.
Alternatively, if you can’t provide your plant with enough natural light, then try placing a regular light or lamp, or a special light lamp, near it. This will allow the shadier parts of the part to soak up artificial light.
Given the right conditions your Prayer Plant will produce striking colours.
And that is pretty much all you will ever need to know about growing and caring for Prayer Plants. With regular watering, in a light and humid position this plant will provide a dramatic addition to your home as well as benefiting your mental wellbeing.