How Much Light Do Calathea Plants Need?

In this guide, we’re going to take you through the best light conditions for Calathea plants grown indoors. More commonly known as the rattlesnake plant, Calatheas are relatively easy-to-grow houseplants. While they don’t make very showy flowers, they have more dramatic and colorful foliage than most other plants grown indoors. This means they offer color and beauty all year round, not just when blooming. To get the most dramatic patterns and colors from your favorite Calathea variety, you’ll need to get the light conditions just right.

How Much Light Do Calathea Plants Need? (Essential Tips)

How Much Light do Calatheas Need? – The Essentials

Keep Calatheas in areas that offer indirect, filtered light that is low to medium in intensity. If you choose an artificial plant light, provide about 15 to 20 watts or their equivalent. A Western or Northern exposure window prevents direct sunlight from scalding these delicate leaves.

Why Light is Essential to Healthy Plants

Why Light is Essential to Healthy Plants

Plants rely on light to feed them, albeit in an indirect way. The power of photosynthesis allows Calatheas to create the sugars they need for energy from sunlight alone. 

While the plant also needs nutrients from the soil, and water (plus the occasional light fertilizer) to maintain cell pressure, light is the primary concern for most species. 

Light terminology in relation to plants can sometimes be a little confusing, but these are the primary light conditions to be aware of for reference:  

  • Low light: Completely indirect light or light supplied only by general use indoor fixtures. Slows water evaporation but is recommended for some plants.
  • Filtered light: Blocked by trees, overhanging roof eaves, or other obstructions that prevent direct sunlight from falling on plant leaves. Generally brighter than low light conditions, with at least 25 watts available if direct artificial lighting is used.
  • Mixed-light: Mixed light is bright enough to supply bright light for at least four to six hours a day, but direct sunlight is limited. This amount is typical in windows that don’t have a Southern or Eastern exposure and will work for most plants requiring up to medium light levels.
  • Bright light: Some plants only do well in the brightest light. Direct sunlight through a window is only recommended for some plants that resist sun scalding. In-direct bright light is best for many plants and can be created with a screen film on the glass.

Typical Light Conditions Calatheas Receive in their Native Habitats

Typical Light Conditions Calatheas Receive in their Native Habitats

Calatheas are an under story plant thriving in the roots and accumulated leaves of other trees. There is little natural light reaching this part of South American forests and jungles. 

They thrive in areas that offer a steady supply of indirect light but no direct light at any point. Indirect, filtered light is important to keep the color steady since exposure to much light can lead to faded patterns and colors.

Try to imagine the relative brightness of a jungle during the day while considering how there’s no direct sunlight piercing the canopy. It’s not exactly dark or shaded, but there’s no chance of bright sun hitting the plants in this under story.

Signs Your Calathea is Receiving Too Much Light

Signs Your Calathea is Receiving Too Much Light

Fading, bright green, or even translucent leaves indicate the Calathea is receiving more light than it prefers. It’s disappointing to buy a colorful and brightly patterned Calathea just to see it fading at home. 

Browning along the tips and crispy leaves can also indicate sun scalding from excessive light. Watch out for direct light in particular, which Calathea plants don’t like even in small doses. Direct exposure causes browning, curling, and death of the affected leaves after just a day or two.

Signs Your Calathea isn’t Receiving Enough Light

Calathea can also lose color if it’s put into an area with too little light as well. While they prefer medium levels of indirect and filtered light, they can’t grow in complete darkness either. 

Placing a Calathea too far from a window will result in pale or translucent leaves with little visible color or pattern. The calathea plant may develop a stretched or stunted look, or the stems may become soft, floppy, and droopy. For past prime foliage, consider pruning your Calathea plant to encourage healthy new growth. Also, keep an eye out for common Calathea bugs, pests, and diseases and consider repotting if necessary.

It’s a little tricky to get just enough light for the Calathea to stay colorful, but adjust the light until you see good leaf growth and bright patterns. If the colors fade, try moving the plant in or out of the light until it recovers.

It’s worth noting that recently propagated calathea plants will actually benefit from slightly reduced light exposure initially and should be adapted gradually to brighter locations in the home.

The Best Light Exposure for Calatheas Grown Indoors

The Best Light Exposure for Calatheas Grown Indoors

Since Calatheas are an under story plant that naturally receives relatively little direct light, they are fairly well adapted to the indirect light found in most homes. 

Placing a Calathea close to a set of relatively bright indoor lamps or ceiling lights can usually provide the right amount of filtered light. If a window is preferred, try a Western or Northern exposure since it’s unlikely to experience much direct light at any point. 

Eastern and Southern windows can only be used if covered with a window treatment that filters the light. 

Rotating the Calathea once every few months will ensure it doesn’t grow in one direction or lose color in some leaves more than others. 

Calatheas need a little less light in the winter, but not to the point where you’d need to move them or change plant light settings between summer and winter.

Calathea Plant Light Requirements FAQs:

Can Calatheas live in low light? 

Calatheas prefer low to medium light conditions, as long as the light is indirect. Too little light will make the colors and patterns fade from the leaves just as much too much light. An inexpensive low-wattage bulb can easily supplement the light needed by this house plant.

Can Calatheas take full sun? 

These plants can never accept the full sun falling on their leaves. Direct sunlight burns the leaves and causes them to curl up and possibly drop off. Even short bursts of exposure to full sun can leave a Calathea faded and damaged.

What kind of light do Calatheas need? 

As a jungle plant that grows under large canopy trees, Calatheas prefer indirect and relatively low light. Many people confuse that for nearly no light conditions, but these plants do need up to medium light levels. Keep the light indirect and avoid full sun.

Will a Calatheas live happily indoors? 

Calatheas are easier to keep indoors than outside in most climates because they need indirect light and high humidity. With routine misting and some adjustments to find just the right spot for their light preferences, a Calathea can easily thrive indoors.

How do you know if your Calathea is getting enough light? 

When this plant is getting just the right light, it’ll readily put out new leaves and show off deep colors and distinct patterns on its leaves. Knowing the exact species you have and what it’s supposed to look like will help you notice when the color or pattern is fading.

Wrapping Up

Calathea is not the easiest house plant to raise indoors. However, getting the indirect light right goes a long way in keeping the plant happy and colorful. Since the patterned leaves of this houseplant are the main attraction, proper light levels are necessary to maintain its appearance. 

Don’t be afraid to give your Calathea a little less light in the winter, which should happen naturally if they’re located near a window. For plants being raised with artificial light, you may want to reduce the timing by an hour or two to keep them from fading.

For more, see our in-depth guide to the uses and benefits of calathea plants.

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