When it was new...
it was happy and energetic
New leaves were amazing and frequent
Annnnd then it started

Calathea Ornata

20 Mar 2020

Make sure you have the right environment for this plant before you buy it.

This is the most temperamental plant in my collection. There's no doubt that it's increadibly beautiful and very rewarding when it's thriving, but getting that balance is really hard work.

What most websites say about this plant:

  • "It's an easy plant" (no, it isn't!)
  • "Requires high humidity" (okay sure - but how?)
  • "Bright indirect light" (err on either side and your plant will suffer!)
  • "Keep soil moist" (constantly monitor this one...)

For the first 6 months (summer to autumn) my plant was happy on my bedside table right next to a north-facing window. I placed stones in its drainage tray and filled that frequently with water. My habit of keeping a glass of H2O by my bed at night = perfect for a quick top-up.

However, during the winter it started to decline...

First the edges of the leaves became crispy. Then the crispiness spread further into the leaves.

And the plant generally didn't look very happy. There were probably several factors that played a part:

  1. I was watering with hard tap water (275 mg/l CaCO3, which is classified as 'Very Hard' - for real).
  2. Having the window open during autumn would have made this princess of a plant too cold.
  3. I may have gotten a bit lazy with humidity.

Floorplan of my flat
The floorplan of my flat

What I learned (irl)

Light

I purchased a growlight for general winter use. I didn't get one of the little ones, I bought a fat 300W full spectrum growlight. I placed the calathea about 60-70cm and off-centre (the light is most intence directly beneah the light) from the growlight for a few months to see if I could rejuvenate it. The light was on approx. 10 hours a day.

Humidity

My growlight set up was in my bathroom, so there's plenty humidity each morning (or whenever we showered). In addition I kept a spray bottle next to it and each time I went into the bathroom I gave it a little hello spritz.

Water & Fertiliser

I live in a (very) hard water area. I originally gave my plant tap water believing that it'd be fine (90% of my indoor plants don't seem to be affected). I changed to distilled water, which seems extravagant but I can't get much rainwater from my teeeny balcony (though when I can I use this instead).

I stuck with my seaweed fertiliser and mixed a little into a large tupperware containing the distilled water. Then I placed the plant into this bath so it could drink from the bottom of the pot up.

This is the biggest change I've made during the cold seasons, as I had a lot of cases of top soil growing mould... While the mould isn't usually a problem itself, I could avoid it by bottom-watering and also prevent any fungus gnat larva from taking up residence in the damp top soil.

Pruning

Every few weeks I'd cut off one or two of the badly burnt older leaves. I figured that this would give the plant more energy to grow new leaves, and if I spaced the pruning sessions out then any shock the plant would experience from losing some limbs would be minimised.

Results

THREE new gorgeous leaves and a general sense of happiness from the plant (I'm over the moon).

Three new furled leaf shoots on my Calathea ornata

Articles on caring for this plant which are honest and helpful

The bump

Ashley Hosmer

Our House Plants