The Calathea Medallion (Calathea veitchiana) is a favorite of house plant enthusiasts. Their leaves fold up slightly in the evening, as if in prayer – causing them to be mistaken for Prayer Plants at times. They are “low-light” tropical plants that can brighten up a gloomy corner.
The brilliant green patterns on top of the medallion shaped leaves, along with the deep burgundy underneath which is revealed during the evening “prayer”. This makes the Calathea Medallion one of the prettiest plants that can be housed inside.
However, taking care of Calathea Medallions requires more skill and perseverance than some other indoor varieties. For starters, they need to be placed away from direct sunlight and kept in well-draining and moderately moist soil. They should be moderately fertilized during the growing and repotted not more often than once a year if you want them to grow and spread out.
The main issue with them is creating the right environment. Calathea are from Brazil. They are the definition of greenhouse plants – conditions that would be uncomfortably warm for an area inhabited by the average person. They also need high humidity.
Where to Plant Them? Indoor and Outdoor
Calathea Medallions can be grown outdoors in US Hardiness Zones 8 and up, especially 9 through 11. This includes the Southern parts of states such as Florida, Louisiana, Texas and California, among others.
The weather for growing Calathea Medallions must be warm and humid given its natural habitat are the rainforest climate in South America.
The Calathea Medallion prefers a temperature ranging from 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (above room temperature, in other words). They are finicky. Prolonged exposure to temperatures below 55 degrees, cold drafts or dryness can all harm the plants. They will show certain signs – as described below – right away.
Calathea Medallions are moderately-sized tubers – they typically grow to heights of between 1 to 2 feet. This, along with the requirement for hot and humid conditions, make them good indoor plants provided you can care for them.
Calathea Medallions can flower outside, but do not do so indoors. However, the vivid colors of its leaves will brighten up an indoor display.
Best Location in the Garden
Given the climate requirements, Calathea Medallions can be kept outside continuously only in warm, tropical climates, such as Zones 9 and above.
They grow at the foots of forest trees in nature, which indicates that they should be kept in the shade or areas of diffused sunlight. Strong, direct sunlight will cause the leaves to lose their color and variegation.
The soil where Calathea grow should be porous and self-draining. Over watering and soggy soil need to be avoided. Also, they need to be fed light amounts of granular fertilizers once every 3-4 months if they stay exposed to the elements outside. Mulch could help to keep the plant bases warm but watch out for slug infestations.
Where to Place Calathea Medallions inside the House
Calathea Medallion plants need to receive ambient, diffused or indirect sunlight for as long as possible throughout the day.
Placing them close to an east or south facing window, out of the reach of direct sunlight or perhaps behind a curtain, could be ideal.
Direct sunlight should be avoided, otherwise the plants will develop sunburn spots and lose coloration and variegation.
Medallions require warmth and humidity to survive, which makes them great candidates for the kitchen or bathroom.
They can be finicky and do not enjoy temperature fluctuations. As such, they should be kept away from direct blasts from air-conditioning, unsealed window or areas with cold drafts.
Calatheas are quick to show the effect of discomfort. Many such signs are described below and should be watched out for.
Moving Plants In and Out
Outdoor gardeners face a small dilemma. On the one hand, temperatures falling below 55 degrees will cause harm to Calathea Medallion plants. On the other hand, Medallions do not like being moved.
As a result, if grown outside in cold weather, you may decide to keep the plant as warm as possible without moving them indoors.
If you must, repot the Medallion in an adequately large pot using a mix of the soil from the plant bed outside but be aware that the ideal time for potting is at the beginning, as opposed to the end, of the growing season.
Ideal Soil for Calathea Medallion
Like most house plants, Calathea Medallions prefer porous, nutrient-rich and well-draining soil. Nutrients such as moist perlite, peat or vermiculite can be added to the potting soil.
If the soil is compacted prior to when you buy the plant, loosen it up. The right blend may be a mix of potting soil, perlite and peat moss, which would hold enough moisture but drain as needed.
Coco coir, charcoal or orchid bark could also be mixed in. Avoid soils with too much compost or bark mixed in, though, since they tend to invite fungus gnats.
An African Violet mix of good quality may be used as a readymade potting medium which is fertile, can hold moisture and drains well.
Type of Pot to Choose and How to Plant Calathea Medallions
When indoors, Calathea Medallion plants can be placed in clay, ceramic or plastic pots. It is preferable to employ pots with drainage holes. A row of pebbles placed at the bottom of the pot will also improve airflow along with drainage.
It is important to monitor the amount of water that goes into pots without drainage holes to avoid the plants sitting in soggy soil.
Use of Fertilizers
Fertilizer use should be moderate with Calathea Medallions. Any all-purpose, foliage preserving fertilizer commonly used on houseplants will work well.
For optimum use, and to avoid overfertilization, dilute the fertilizer to ¼ of its normal strength before use.
Fertilizer use roughly once a month during growing season – which lasts from spring to the end of summer – is good practice. Fertilization should be slowed down or stopped during the winter.
Care must be taken not to overfertilize, which could cause excess mineral build-up in the soil and harm the plant – they could become leggy, develop root burn and/or ultimately die.
On the other hand, slow growth, small plant size and/or closed/droopy leaves could show the need to increase fertilizer use.
Occasional Flushing May Be Necessary for Plant Health
To maintain a healthy plant, the soil should be flushed occasionally. Take the plant to a bathtub or sink and run water through the soil for a few minutes till the soil is flushed out.
After that, let the plant dry out before putting it back into its medium bright environment. After flushing, you must wait for the soil to dry adequately. Fresh fertilizer may be introduced after a few weeks.
Watering Calathea Medallion Plants
Calathea Medallions must be watered regularly without completely soaking the soil. No indoor plant wants to sit in soggy soil for an extended period of time – the Calathea Medallion is no exception. Prolonged exposure to soggy soil can cause root rot or other problems.
Calathea Medallions prefer aerated soil that drains well but must be kept moist without being soggy – an analogy of a wrung-out sponge is mentioned at times.
The tricky part involves exercising your judgement as to how often the Calathea must be watered, since it depends on the environment (warmth, humidity) where the plants are kept.
Calathea Medallions grow in forests, at the foot of trees in the wild – so they are used to being moist at all times.
Depending on the circumstances, the plants may need to be watered anywhere from daily to weekly and the soil should be checked for dryness at and just below the surface.
Soil sitting in ceramic or terracotta containers tends to dry out faster than soil placed in glazed clay or plastic containers.
Also, plant growth will slow during the winter, which means it needs less moisture. Watering needs to be tempered or stepped up based on these factors.
Finally, every individual plant may need to be watered differently. Check the appearance of the leaves, where it is situated, the atmosphere around and the soil conditions before watering.
How to Maintain Humidity for Calathea Medallions
As explained above, Calathea Medallions prefer to be in warm and humid conditions. Dry conditions affect the plants greatly, causing brown tips and crunchy stems.
Assuming that the Calathea is not literally grown in a greenhouse, they must be kept adequately moist.
Besides regular watering, there are a number of other measures that can be taken, including but not limited to:
- Misting at least once a week is a great way to care for these plants.
- During the winter, a humidifier may be the way to go – it should set to 50% humidity.
- Raising the bottom of the pots off the tray – perhaps with the help of pebbles – will also help maintain the moisture, help airflow and prevent root rot.
- Placing inside the bathroom or kitchen area may prove to be an ideal habitat for the same reasons.
Calathea Medallions do benefit from repotting once in a while. The benefits include providing the plant more room to grow and changing the soil to address mineral build-ups or fungus.
Having said that, Calatheas do not like being disturbed and should not be repotted more than once a year. A Medallion will frequently stay in the same pot for two years.
The best time to repot is just before the growing season. The process involves a few steps if using a new pot:
- Choose a new container that is at least 2” bigger in diameter than the existing pot and fill it with potting soil up to a third of its volume.
- Take the whole plant out, gently.
- Wash its roots out thoroughly to remove all soil. Check for signs of diseases (e.g., root rot) and decay – trim out parts as necessary.
- Place the plant in the new pot, at the same level as in the original pot, then fill in more loose, porous potting mixture.
- Water thoroughly and place in a bright spot. Continue watching for a few days to make sure the plant remains healthy.
It is also possible to repot in the original pot, which means that you do not want the plant to spread in size. In that case, take the plant out and trim the roots by a third – so the remaining roots have enough room to spread out. Wash the pot out with soapy water, dry, and fill with new soil and potting mixture as above.
Tips for Propagation
Calathea Medallions require some preparation and finesse in order to propagate, they do not like to be disturbed. Using seeds or cuttings is not recommended, but rather by dividing the roots (rhizomes) of a full-grown plant.
The following steps should be employed with homegrown Calathea:
- Choose a fully grown and healthy plant – avoid ones that are immature or struggling.
- Turn the pot over and take out both the mother plant and the rhizome or the root system.
- Gently unscramble the individual stems and roots.
- Isolate a whole stem system with leaves and roots attached. Cut it out with a sharp, sterilized knife.
- Replant the newly cut out portion in a fresh planter with the same potting soil mixture as in the mother plant – this will make it most comfortable for the new plant.
- Soak the soil thoroughly, then make sure to drain out the water.
- Place the newly planted specimen in a dark place, away from strong light, in a slightly cooler location than for an adult plant. Keep the humidity high, use stones under the plant and possibly a plastic freezer bag to slow down evaporation. Mist as needed.
In a few weeks, new leaves should begin to sprout, indicating that the new Calathea Medallion is now stabilized and ready to assume its place besides your other plant(s).
Toxicity – No Danger from Calathea Medallion Plants
Calathea Medallions are safe for humans and animals. Housepets love cuddling up to them.
Signs of Trouble and What to Watch Out for
There are some natural signs that your Calathea Medallion may be experiencing some problems. These could include:
- Brown leaves or brown tips – Brown tips or browning of the whole leaf are signs of poor health and/or nutrition, as is explained in further detail under the FAQs below.
- Leaves permanently folded, edges curling or plant drooping – This condition is caused by the plant drying out from inadequate moisture.
- Leaves losing color or variegation – Variegations are produced by Calathea when they receive sufficient quantities of bright light. If the leaves stay consistently green or pale in color, without the customary green and white variegation, the plant needs to be moved to a brighter location within the house.
- Tip or edge burn on the leaves, with yellowish hue at the edge – This could be due to excess sunlight, but the more probable cause is excess chloride or fluorine from tap water. The remedy is discussed under the FAQs section below.
Pest and Plant Disease Management
One of the reasons the plants are especially prone to pests, and must be examined regularly, is the requirement of keeping them in warm and humid conditions and potentially misting regularly. Check the underside and stems of the plants for signs of infestations.
Calathea Medallions have a number of natural pests. They are especially vulnerable to spider mites, which will cause the leaves to lose brightness and assume a washed-out brown look, diluting the normally crisp, variegated contrast.
Calathea are also not immune to other pests, such as aphids, mealybugs, thrips, whiteflies and scale insects.
Fungus gnats could also be a source of problems if they are present below the surface of the soil in which the plant is potted. If such a manifestation occurs, stop watering the plant till the top 1 to 2 inches of soil dry out.
While home remedies such as alcohol or dishwashing soap may be effective on the pests, they can cause leaf burns.
Choose among different remedies available on the market, including horticultural oils, pyrethrins, neem oil such as this one on Amazon, organic and low-toxic insecticidal oils and sprays.
Using these in the right proportions per directions from manufacturers is key to maintain plant health.
Some other natural remedies may be available for outdoor Calathea Medallions. For example, an aphid infestation outdoors can be effectively controlled by introducing ladybugs into the area where the plant beds are placed.
A Common Calathea Medallion Disease
Many common Medallion diseases may arise from fungal infestations due to moisture and watering. Signs of white mold could signify such damage. In such a case, scrape off the mold and avoid watering further till the top layer of the soil has dried off and the fungus dies down.
Other Maintenance Tips
A number of other cares should be exercised while growing the Calathea Medallion plant indoors, including the following:
- Never let the temperature drop below 55 degrees for a significant length of time. The plant will die.
- Do not leave the plant standing in an area with cold drafts.
- While the plant needs sufficiently bright light to be in full, variegated bloom – direct sunlight must be avoided. Also, a period of darkness is necessary for plant health. Ideally, half a day of sunlight and the other half being darkness is the ideal solution.
- Medallion plants do not require regular pruning, but you must watch out for browning leaves, yellowed parts or visible sources of rot/disease. If so, use sterilized tools such as a sharp knife, scissors or shears to get rid of the parts.
- Check the underside of leaves and stems for pest infestations from time to time.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Owners of Calathea Medallions often ask variations of the following questions. Answers and solutions are provided below.
Why are Calathea Medallion sometimes called Prayer Plants?
The tendency for their leaves to fold up slightly in the evenings give rise to the confusion.
Real Prayer Plants are a species called Maranta leuconeura. They are close cousins of the Calathea Medallion, but distinctly different – their leaves fold upright from the stem during the evening, mimicking the hands of a supplicant in prayer.
Calathea Medallion leaves do curl up slightly, but a pronounced folding of the edge towards the central vein would indicate something wrong with the environment of the plant. The common theme is that in both cases, the plants fold their leaves in order to conserve moisture.
Why are my plant leaves turning yellow?
This is most often caused by overwatering – if so, stop watering further till the top layer of the soil dries out.
However, yellowing could also occur due to underwatering or other plant discomfort (such as the plant standing in an uncomfortably cold draft or a pest infestation).
My plant shows tip and edge burns with yellow hues at the edges. What do I do?
As discussed above, this condition may be caused due to excess chlorine or fluoride in tap water that you are using on the plant. You can take multiple steps to correct it.
First, draw the water to be used ahead of time and let it sit overnight – this way, the harmful chemicals will tend to evaporate.
Next, take care to weed off decaying leaves and/or use shears or prunes to lop off pieces that do not look healthy. You can also use a damp cloth to clean the leaves occasionally.
My Medallion plant shows brown spots. What should I do?
Brown spots are usually caused by pest infestations or overly dry air, which is a cause of severe discomfort as described above.
If dryness is a problem, mist the plant appropriately. Check for pest infestations and treat with organic sprays as described.
My Medallion plant shows brown edges. What should I do?
Brown edges are caused by the type of humidity and moisture your plant is being subjected to.
It is likely drying out, a condition caused by inadequate humidity, cold drafts and/or chemicals from tap water. Drying can be corrected by watering/misting.
You can also move the plant to a comfortable spot if necessary. Finally, as described above, let the tap water stand overnight before watering or misting with it.
Why are the leaves of my Medallion plant turning brown? What should I do?
Leaves turning brown altogether could be the sign of a thrip infection. Check for the tiny black insects crawling beneath the leaf or stem. If you spot them, use an organic pesticide to check.
How often should I fertilize?
The Calathea Medallion needs to be fertilized once every four weeks over spring to late summer.
Fertilization should either be stopped or slowed down during the winter months.
Fertilization should also be stopped for a few weeks whenever the plant has been flushed out.
I may have too much fertilizer by mistake. What do I do?
Some symptoms of overfertilization are mentioned above. If you think you have overfertilized, there are a couple of simple remedies.
Flushing the soil out under running water should work. In an extreme case, repot the plant.
My Medallion plant is drooping and losing leaves. What should I do?
Signs like drooping, browning and curled up leaves which are beginning to drop off are a clear sign that your plant is in severe distress. If there are no new leaves or growth, it will confirm the diagnosis.
You must act fast. Check for pest infestations, regularize the watering schedule and move the plant to a warm location with sufficient light.
If the soil feels wet, soggy or moldy, it may not be sufficient to scrape the top layer off. Repotting the plant may be the only way to save your plant.