While there are many types of Calathea, they all share common demands for water and need similar handling. In my experience, watering these plants correctly is the most challenging part of their care. In this guide, I’ll share my go-to tips and techniques on when, how, and why to water your Calathea plant.
When to Water Calatheas
Of the many houseplants I own, I find watering Calathea plants to be among the more challenging, as getting the timing just right is tricky.
When misted regularly and kept near a small humidifier, Calathea likely only needs watering once every week to two weeks. In a dry environment, it may need watering every few days.
The plant prefers to dry out slightly to avoid root rot but needs to stay damp below the first two inches of soil or will struggle.
Balancing the need for some drying with regular dampness takes some practice.
How Do You Know When to Water?
Calathea plants do need to dry out slightly between watering cycles. Touching the top two inches of soil with your fingers, wait until they’re beginning to dry out but aren’t stiff or fluffy yet.
Don’t wait until the calathea plant wilts, droops, or starts losing color, or it may take weeks to recover.
How to Check When to Water
The finger test will tell you when the top two inches are drying but not wholly bone dry. This is my personal technique and, by far, the most straightforward method.
Moisture meters can work well, but you’ll still have to determine what measurements correspond to the plant’s needs based on touching the soil.
Weight testing the plant is less effective since Calathea stays damp enough not to change weight much when drying.
Calatheas are usually watered at least once a week. If misted and kept near a humidifier, it may only need watering every 7 to 14 days.
Keeping your home warmer and lower in humidity will lead to more watering for your Calathea. Placing the plant near a heating or air conditioning vent will also create these drying conditions.
Due to the drying effects, fast-draining soil isn’t always the best choice for these plants. For more, see our guide to the best soil mix for Calathea plants.
Calatheas go dormant in the winter and need more water in the summer. I always reduce watering to as little as once a month over the winter, based on the soil’s drying rate.
How to Water Calatheas
How you water a Calathea and what you use for the process matters as much as how often you do it.
The Fundamental Importance of Good Drainage
Since Calathea plants like to stay somewhat damp, they need good drainage so the roots don’t rot due to standing water.
Their roots grow into leaf litter, and loose bark dropped by mature jungle trees in the natural environment. This material drains well, so mimic that texture in the potting mix for good results. Organic material is needed to act like a sponge and hold water.
Inappropriate drainage can lead to poor plant health, which in turn may attract common Calthea plant pests and diseases.
What Type of Water is Best?
Calatheas are very sensitive to fluoride, in particular. It’s well-noted in commercial cultivation guides that these plants need filtered or distilled water to prevent dead spots on the leaves.
If you notice dead spots, switch the water you’re using. Letting tap water stand can reduce fluoride, but Calatheas are too sensitive for that trick. Rainwater can work well.
Bottom watering is better for a Calathea, but it does take some patience. Top-down watering can work, but you’ll need to apply enough water that it will likely overflow any saucers.
If top-down watering is the only option, pour the water in around the base of the stems and keep splashes off the foliage. Soak the entire soil by moving around the pot evenly.
Bottom watering is as simple as placing the pot in a bucket or container that’s bigger than it. Fill the container with water until it reaches 3/4ths of the pot’s height. Let the plant soak until the top of the soil is damp, then drain in a sink or tub until it stops dripping.
How Much Water to Add
Smaller Calatheas in 3 to 4-inch pots likely only need 8 ounces to saturate their soil.
Large plants nearly the maximum size of 2 feet in height will likely need closer to a quart or more to satisfy them fully.
What to Do with Runoff Water
If the plant is in a saucer or tray, pour off the runoff after watering. Calatheas are very sensitive to sitting in excess water.
Signs You Might be Overwatering
Keep an eye out for these common signs that you might be overwatering your Calathea plants:
- Yellowing leaves
- Fading colors and patterns
- Translucent and soft leaves
- Drooping stems
- Discolored roots.
Signs You Might be Underwatering
Conversely, here are some common signs to keep an eye on that indicate you might be underwatering your Calathea plants:
- Curled, crispy leaves
- Brown tips
- Yellowing leaf margins
- Loss of color and brightness
- Drooping and wilting.
Watering Calatheas FAQs:
Should you consider misting calatheas?
Calathea benefits from misting on a daily or every-other-day basis. Use a basic mister and use distilled or rainwater if possible to avoid brown spots on the leaves.
Will calatheas benefit from sitting on a humidity tray?
Humidity trays can add humidity to the air, but Calathea prefers more than these devices release. A small desktop-sized humidifier for an hour or two a day is a better technique for maintaining color.
What are the main things to keep an eye on in-between watering cycles?
Watch out for the plant losing vibrancy and color first. Fading and patterns disappearing into a green background indicate that the Calathea isn’t getting the right water.
What are the most common signs a Calathea plant needs watering?
Color loss and dry soil is the first sign, but Calathea also tends to droop, develop brown edges, and yellow over time.
What is the best way to water Calatheas?
Bottom-up watering works best for these moisture-loving plants.
How much water do Calatheas need?
Each Calathea should be watered until water runs easily from the bottom of the pot, then allowed to drain.
Is it ok to get water on Calathea plant leaves?
While these plants enjoy misting, they don’t like water splashed on their leaves when watering.
What do I do if I over-water my Calathea?
If the plant can’t dry out just by skipping a few watering cycles, try repotting it with a better draining mix.
Can I water my Calathea with tap water?
Avoid tap water to keep fluoride from damaging the plant.
Calathea plants enjoy a humid environment but don’t want the soil always to stay damp. Balance humidity and the watering cycle to ensure the plant gets enough water without drowning in its own soil.