You may know this specimen as a prayer plant, which is also the common name of its relative Maranta leuconeura. Other popular names include the zebra plant or peacock plant. But I prefer to use Calathea, the genus name, to refer to these colorful houseplants.
There are dozens of different Calathea species, many of which contain several unique cultivars as well. If you have a particularly rare cultivar on your hands — or if you just want to expand your collection — propagating your Calathea could be an exciting idea.
In this article, I’ll teach you how to propagate Calathea using root or slip division and how to ensure your new plants grow healthy and strong.
Propagating Calathea By Division
You shouldn’t propagate just any Calathea. Propagating only healthy, mature specimens will ensure the best results for both new and parent plants.
Once your Calathea is healthy enough and mature enough for propagation, it’s time to set up your workstation and get to work. Here are the basic steps to follow in order to properly divide Calathea slips:
1. Remove From Pot
Gently grasp the base of your prayer plant and loosen the roots from the container. Don’t be afraid to take your time during this process to prevent damage to the root ball.
Watering your prayer plant a day or so before division will make it much easier to free it from its container.
Brush away excess soil until you can clearly see the root system. Check for damage or signs of root rot. If the roots appear healthy, you can proceed with propagating.
2. Deciding Where To Divide
You may be able to divide your Calathea’s root system without brushing away too much soil. However, doing so will make it easier to see where the plant naturally sections off.
Remove slips from the outer edges of the root system to minimize damage to the original plant.
It’s up to you how many slips to take at one time. While you can technically divide the entire Calathea up into smaller sections, I recommend leaving the original plant as intact as possible. Remember that it will quickly fill back out and be ready for another round of propagation.
3. Separate The Plant Into Slips
Once you’ve located the best sections to divide, grasp the plant at its base and gently pull apart each slip from the original plant. If you encounter much resistance, I recommend using a set of clean, sharp shears to cut the root ball. This will do less damage overall than ripping the roots apart.
Note that each slip must include healthy roots and some foliage. As a general rule, larger slips will have an easier time recovering from division and will fill out more quickly.
4. Transplant Slips To New Pots
Prayer plants grow best in wide, shallow containers. I recommend planting smaller slips in 4-inch pots. Larger slips may fit better in 6-inch pots. All containers should have ample drainage holes.
Fill your new containers with well-draining soil. Dig a hole in the middle slightly larger than your prayer plant slip’s root ball. Place the slip in the soil and cover the roots. Water in the slip to remove large air bubbles and settle the soil around the root system.
You should ideally prepare your workspace — including new containers — before dividing your prayer plant. If the slips will be exposed to the air for any amount of time, I recommend wrapping the roots in damp paper towels.
5. Return The Original Plant To Its Pot
Don’t forget to care for the original prayer plant after the division is complete. This is a great time to refresh the soil and ensure the container has adequate drainage for the future. Remember to keep the root system moist if you’re unable to immediately report the parent plant.
Propagation can be an effective way to manage your prayer plant’s size and prevent it from outgrowing its original container. I like to take slips whenever the parent plant would be eligible for repotting to a larger container.
Propagating Calathea From Stem or Leaf Cutting
Can you propagate Calathea from a leaf?
While many common houseplants can be propagated from a single leaf and node, Calathea usually isn’t one of them. Instead, the best way to propagate Calathea at home is by dividing the plant at the roots.
Can you propagate a Calathea stem in water?
Placing a stem cutting in a glass of water is a clever way to propagate many houseplants. Unfortunately, Calathea doesn’t root well in water and results tend to be disappointing at best. For the best results, Calathea should be propagated via root division.
Best Time To Propagate Calathea
Nearly all houseplants respond best when propagated early in the growing season — i.e., spring to early summer. Taking cuttings or making divisions at this time gives the plant ample opportunity to put on new growth before winter dormancy sets in.
I strongly recommend propagating prayer plants via division in the early spring. Aim to divide your prayer plant just as it starts to exit dormancy and show signs of increased growth.
If you prefer to propagate with stem cuttings, any time during the growing season is appropriate. Again, however, you’ll likely see more growth overall in the first year if you propagate as early in the season as possible.
Seasonal growth is not the only factor to consider when dividing a prayer plant. For the best results, I recommend timing your propagation efforts alongside repotting. Both tasks require removing your prayer plant from its home. Knocking out both projects at one time will save the parent plant lots of undue stress.
In a similar vein, you may want to coordinate propagation via cuttings with your prayer plant’s routine pruning. Simply set aside any viable trimmings to be propagated as normal.
Caring For Calathea After Propagation
Prayer plants are not particularly difficult to care for. But I also don’t consider them to be beginner-friendly.
This houseplant is a bit of a Goldilocks when it comes to environmental factors like water and sunlight. Slightly too much or too little of one of these elements could send a prayer plant into a downward spiral. If you can find that perfect balance, however, caring for this species is incredibly rewarding.
Although prayer plants don’t need any special care following propagation, I find that meeting their needs during this time is even more important than usual. It takes time for slips or cuttings to build up strength, so new plants may be more susceptible to stress and disease than the parent plant.
Prayer plants grow best with about 6 hours of moderate light per day, making them well-suited to life indoors. A good rule of thumb is to place your prayer plant in a room that is brightly lit during the day but does not receive direct rays of the sun.
In my area, an east- or west-facing window is ideal for this houseplant. You can also keep a prayer plant in a south-facing window as long as the sun is partially blocked — e.g., by shade trees planted outdoors or a sheer window shade.
I always warn home gardeners about how much sunlight modern windows can block. It’s best to relocate prayer plants and other low-light species further into the room before opening any particularly sunny windows. You should be cautious about moving these plants to an outdoor porch or patio during the warmer months for the same reason.
While excess sun exposure is a common problem in prayer plants, too little light is also a concern. Most consumer growth lamps are the perfect strength for prayer plants growing in dim light. Keep in mind that you may need to leave the grow light on for more than 6 hours per day for optimal growth.
Temperature & Humidity
Calathea plants require warmth and humidity to truly thrive. For this reason, many growers see the best results by keeping Calathea slips in an indoor greenhouse or terrarium setup.
Temperatures between 70 and 85°F are ideal. You should never let your Calathea’s environment drop below 60°F. Keep propagated Calathea away from cold windows and AC units.
Calathea prefers humidity levels above 50%. Shae Koo from Apartment Therapy tells us that “Calathea prefer a humidity level of 50 percent or more, with more sensitive varieties requiring higher humidity levels around 60 percent.” You might discover that newly propagated plants require higher ambient humidity than established plants because their root systems aren’t able to compensate for a lack of moisture in the air. I strongly recommend setting up a pebble tray or humidifier before your Calathea plants show signs of dehydration.
Soil is one thing that prayer plants aren’t particularly picky about. The only requirement is that the soil must drain well. Prayer plants are susceptible to root rot, and poor-draining soil will increase the risk of such issues significantly.
I recommend using your usual houseplant potting mix for propagated slips. You can also make your own soil from scratch. Here’s a simple recipe for prayer plant soil I’ve shared in the past:
- 2 parts peat moss
- 1 part loamy potting soil
- 1 part perlite or coarse sand
Prayer plant stem cuttings can be propagated in a cup of water, a high-retention medium like peat moss, or in regular potting soil. Transplant cuttings to a container filled with well-draining potting soil when the roots reach 1 inch long.
Prayer plants are infamously fickle about their watering schedules. Even the most diligent grower may struggle to meet the needs of this houseplant without either over- or underwatering.
To maintain a consistently moist environment, water your prayer plant when the top layer of soil becomes dry to the touch. Never let the soil completely dry out, as prayer plants cannot survive even brief periods of drought.
Keep a close eye on propagated slips planted in smaller containers. It’s natural for such containers to dry out quickly. Depending on the growing conditions in your home, new prayer plant divisions may need daily watering at first.
I’ve heard it advised to water prayer plants at room temperature or slightly warm water for the best results. While I haven’t personally experimented with this strategy, it definitely makes sense that these heat-loving plants would prefer warm over cold water.
Prayer plants need routine feeding for optimal growth. You can fertilize using an all-purpose houseplant formula with a balanced N-P-K ratio. Dilute your chosen fertilizer to half-strength with clean water to prevent root burn.
Feed prayer plants as often as every 2 weeks during the growing season. Fertilizer should be applied monthly (or less) from late fall to early spring when growth naturally slows.
Common Problems After Propagating
In a perfect world, all propagated plants would grow to be healthy and strong. Unfortunately, young slip divisions and stem cuttings can fall victim to pests, diseases, and other problems.
Starting with a healthy parent plant is a crucial step toward successful propagation. If your new propagation does show signs of stress or illness, swift diagnosis and treatment is the best strategy for recovery.
Here are some of the most common issues seen in prayer plants after propagating and how to fix them:
Pests and Diseases
Common houseplant pests like spider mites and aphids can infest prayer plants. Check parent plants for signs of infestation before taking divisions for propagation. Pests that are present when propagating can easily spread to new plants.
Diseases can spread during propagation when cuts are made in plant stems or root systems. The odds of infection go up dramatically when using dirty tools that have come into contact with other (potentially infected) plants. This is why it’s so important to use sanitized shears on all houseplants.
There are 2 diseases likely to affect prayer plants grown indoors:
Helminthosporium Leaf Spot — This is a fungal disease that affects countless plants, including common turfgrass. The most prominent symptom is yellow or tan spots on the leaves.
In prayer plants, this disease is often caused by water from overhead or persistently soggy soil. Frequent misting can also encourage infection of the leaves.
You can apply a copper fungicide to infected plants. A fungicide can also be used as a preventative measure on vulnerable plants. I recommend this precaution if you’ve found signs of Helminthosporium Leaf Spots on other plants in your care.
Cucumber Mosaic Virus — Despite the name this disease affects an incredible number of plants, including many houseplants. It may be transmitted from plants growing outdoors on tools, materials, or even bare hands.
This disease causes stunted and distorted leaves. It also creates a yellow-lined pattern on plant foliage.
According to Pennsylvania State University, there is no treatment for the cucumber mosaic virus and all infected plants must be destroyed. Never propagate from plants showing potential symptoms of this virus.
Newly propagated prayer plants are susceptible to issues like over- or underwatering and malnutrition which can cause yellow leaves or curling leaves.
Yellow prayer plant leaves are frequently caused by moisture issues. Re-evaluate your watering schedule — remember that newly propagated slips may need more frequent watering than the original plant — and double-check soil drainage. If new prayer plants are drying out too quickly, improve moisture retention by adding organic matter to the soil and increasing ambient humidity.
If yellow leaves emerge a few weeks after propagation, I suspect that a nutritional deficiency is to blame. Your new prayer plant has likely absorbed all of the available nutrients in the original potting soil. Begin applying a balanced houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength every 2 weeks.
Yellow leaves may also occur as part of transplant shock following propagation. Keeping slips moist and minimizing the amount of time the roots are exposed to air will ease these symptoms.
Leaves With Brown Edges
Prayer plants that develop brown leaf margins may be suffering from fertilizer burn or excess sun exposure. Air that is too dry can exacerbate these symptoms.
Prayer plant leaves sometimes turn brown when exposed to chemicals in tap water. However, this can be ruled out if you’ve previously used tap water (from the same source) on prayer plants without issues.
Flush excess fertilizer salts from the soil using clean water. This can also remedy chemical buildup from using unfiltered tap water. I recommend using distilled bottled water for the best results.
FAQ How To Propagate Prayer Plants
Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.