Learn about how to care for the stunning maranta leuconeura, aka the prayer plant. Prayer plant care is relatively easy, and these plants come in a variety of colors, patterns, and sizes. Also learn how easy it is to propagate!
All about prayer plant care
Have you ever had a plant that you just…don’t get the hype for? I recently saw someone in a plant group I’m in talking about how they just “don’t get” hayi shingle plants. I personally love my hayi plant, but I get the sentiment. I have never been big into prayer plants.
But that changed when I found a giant lemon-lime maranta at Lowe’s for only about $16. It was one of the most gorgeous hanging baskets I had ever seen. I realized that I was a lemon-lime maranta gal. I’m still not terribly into the most common variety of prayer plant you’ll likely find in stores—the one with reddish-pink veins—but I will admit that they are growing on me.
Prayer plant origins
Maranta leuconeura are native to Brazil, specifically its tropical rainforests. Its a stunning tropical plant that has a both trailing and clumping growth pattern. This makes the plant look super full and lush, which is totally what drew me to the lemon-lime I found.
Maranta itself is a genus of about 40–50 plants including the prayer plant, or the maranta leuconeura. While prayer plants are often confused with calatheas, they are each a different genus. However, calathea and maranta are both part of the Marantaceae family, so they are closely related, which explains a lot of the visual similarities! 🙂
What does a prayer plant look like?
No matter the variety of prayer plant, the leaves are oval-shaped with gorgeous veining in them. The veining sometimes resembles a herringbone pattern. In fact, some varieties apparently have the nickname “herringbone plant.” Prayer plants are also often referred to as “peacock plants” because of their markings and colors.
Prayer plants can generally grow about a foot high and a foot wide. They produce small white flowers. Like many houseplants, flowering indoors is rare. However, I was shocked to find my prayer planter flowering right after I brought it home! Pretty cool, but the real show-stopper on this plant is its leaves.
Why do prayer plants close at night?
Let’s talk more about its leaves. The prayer plant gets its name because the plant’s leaves rise and fall over a 24-hour light cycle. This is due to the presence of what is called a “pulvinus” in the plant’s stem. A pulvinus is a joint in the area of the stem right below where the leaf meets the stem.
This type of joint is also common in certain types of beans; for example, certain legume leaves that close at night. For the prayer plant, the presence of a pulvinus leads the plant’s leaves to fold downward during the day. At night when there is less light, the “joint” area straightens out, raising the leaves. Why does this happen, though?
Well, plants need rest just like we do, and they respond to circadian clocks as well. The prayer plant is just a little showier about it. From what i can tell, the pulvinus grows and shrinks based on the circadian clock, leading to the leaf movement. The movement can also help with rainwater regulation.
Personally I think my plant looks the prettiest in the morning right when it “wakes up.” Sometimes it looks a little sad by the end of a long day. You can read more about the pulvinus here if you’re interested.
Maranta leuconeura varieties
There are quite a few different prayer plant varieties that you can find, but I’ll cover a few of the most common ones. According to the almighty Wikipedia, there are only two naturally occurring varieties—Maranta leuconeura kerchoveana and Maranta leuconeura erythroneura. The rest are varieties created by us, the people.
- Maranta leuconeura erythroneura, aka the one people call the “red prayer plant” or “herringbone plant.” This is the one I’d say I see most often at nurseries and big box plant stores. It has the red veins on its leaves and a really nice contrast in its variegation.
- Maranta leuconeura kerchoveana, otherwise known as “rabbit’s foot” or “green prayer plant,” is the variety with large spots/blotches on its leaves. In my experience seeing these out and about, the contrast in its variegation is not as striking. Don’t @ me. 🙂
- Maranta leuconeura massangeana, aka the “black prayer plant,” has black velvety-looking undertones. Honestly, I could get onboard with this one based on pics. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it. Or if I did, it wasn’t as vibrant as some of the pics online.
- Maranta leuconeura lemon-lime. This is what I have. I absolutely love the striking contrast of the deep green and bright yellow. The leaves have a nice velvet-texture, and the veining is gorgeous. I have seen other plants that look like mine labeled with other things online, but I’ll stick with what it was labeled when I got it—lemon-lime.
How much sun does a prayer plant need?
It enjoys bright indirect light. Direct sun will burn the leaves, so avoid super sunny windows or areas outdoors that aren’t covered. I have my lemon-lime hanging in the corner of Ramona’s room that is farthest from the window.
However, the room gets amazing late-morning and afternoon sun, so the room stays bright. It has been happy. For the summer, I’ll be taking it outdoors and hanging it on the DIY hanging plant rod I mounting on our covered patio.
If you don’t have bright indirect light in your home, it will probably do fine with slightly lower light levels. Monitor it and see how it does. You could always add a grow light if it doesn’t seem to be getting enough light.
How often should you water prayer plant?
Prayer plants do not like to dry out completely between watering sessions. They will droop and look really sad. They aren’t drought-tolerant and will die if you deprive them of water for too long.
Water your prayer plant when the top inch or so or soil becomes dry. Keep in mind that in the fall and winter, this will be less often. Stick your finger in to check (very unscientific, but I don’t use a moisture meter). In the spring and summer, this might mean every week depending on your conditions.
To water my plant indoors, I set it in the shower and give it a good soak. This has the added benefit of cleaning the leaves as well. I’ll let all of the excess water drain out of the drainage hole, gently shake the excess water off of the leaves, and hang it to finish drying in the shower.
Outdoors, I simply let mother nature do her thing with rain. Even though it hangs on a covered patio, rain does get down through the deck slats. Maryland humidity helps keep things moist, too. If it hasn’t rained, I just give it a good soak with the hose.
Prayer plant care and soil needs
However, like almost all houseplants, prayer don’t like to be too wet. Finding the balance between not enough and too much water can feel overwhelming, but it isn’t! As long as you have the right soil, you don’t have to think too much about it. Soil is an often overlooked part of houseplant care routine, including prayer plant care.
Prayer plants generally do well in a run-of-the-mill indoor houseplant soil that comes with perlite and peat added in. However, for plants that like to remain moist but not wet, I always like added in a few handfuls of straight-up peat moss.
When should I repot my prayer plant?
Repotting is a good time to refresh your soil, but when should you repot a prayer plant? They are relatively slow growers in my experience. I did repot mine as soon as I got it, but I only did it to switch up the soil and give it a nutrient refresh. I put it right back into the hanging basket it came in.
I will target every few years to repot my prayer plant. However, monitor its growth. I am hoping that being outside this summer jumpstarts its growth, so that might mean I’ll need to repot next year. We’ll see! If its growth slows dramatically, I will check to see if it is rootbound.
Prayer plant root systems are also pretty shallow, so don’t pick a pot that is too deep. Keep in mind that the more extra soil you have, the better than change that it will retain too much moisture.
What is the ideal temperature and humidity for a prayer plant?
Prayer plants do very well in all normal household temperatures. Below 60 degrees F, your plant will probably throw a bit of a fit. In my experience, it can handle a few cold snaps, but it isn’t smart to keep it in an environment where it is regularly below 60 degrees F.
Since they come from tropical areas, prayer plants do enjoy a lot of humidity. I am not worried about my prayer plant outdoors in a humid Maryland summer. I am, however, worried about it in my dry as hell townhouse.
I haaaate humidifiers. I have yet to meet one that isn’t a pain to use. However, I have my prayer plant hanging in my daughter’s room because she’s the one who uses a humidifier the most, so I figure it will benefit from that. Otherwise, you can mist the leaves with a spray bottle.
How do you cut dead leaves off a prayer plant?
Let them run their course as much as you can stand it. Then just take a pair of clean scissors or a knife and snip the leaf off right above a node. Your plant will not grow from that point in the future. Instead, it will sprout a new growth point below the cut.
How do I make my prayer plant bushy?
Trimming leaves like this has the added bonus of making your plant bushier and full! When you cut a stem, the plant shoots out new growth. The growth will typically grow off to the side a bit instead of straight up or out, increasing the plant’s bushy appearance.
Full plants or bust! (Someone just said that to me the other day, and I felt it on a deep level.) I love trimming my houseplants because it helps to encourage new, healthy growth and increases the plant’s fullness.
Propagating prayer plants
Prayer plants can be propagated a few different ways: through division or through cuttings. Division isn’t propagating so much as it’s dividing an existing plant. When doing so, simple pull pieces of the plant apart, ensure you bring some of the roots with each section.
Don’t worry if you nip off some of the roots while you are separating them. The plant will rebound. Pot each new plant up separately and keep the well-draining peaty soil moist as the plant established itself.
Rooting maranta cuttings
To propagate a prayer plant through a cutting, take a cutting from an existing plant. Make sure to cut on the stem just below a node. This is where the new roots will emerge. You can dip the cutting in rooting hormone in you have it, but it isn’t necessary.
To root the cutting, you can put it node-down in a sphagnum moss and perlite mixture; keep the mixture damp and the humidity high while the plant roots. You can also root prayer plant cuttings in water or LECA. (See my post about rooting plants in LECA if you’re interested in learning more.)
Whichever method you choose, when the plant develops roots, you can plant it in a well-draining peaty soil. Keep it moist while the plant establishes itself, and keep it warm. The more humidity, the better!
Should I let my prayer plant flower?
Why not? I like to let my plants do their thing. Flowering indoors is rare for my houseplants, so I get excited whenever I see it. If you don’t want your prayer plant flowering, though, you can simply trim the flower stalks off. That’s what I did after mine flowered and they died off. It hasn’t flowered again.
Keep in mind that the plant will direct some energy to the flowering process, though, so if you’d prefer it devote al;l of its energy to new leaf growth, flowers might not be the way to go. Speaking only from personal experience, though—it didn’t hurt at all and was kind of cool to watch.
Prayer plant care and pest issues
Unlike some other houseplants, maranta aren’t super problematic with pests. Mealybugs and spider mites, as well as fungus gnats, can be problematic. YOu might have mealies if you notice cotton-looking bugs on your plant. Or a clear, sappy residue.
If you notice tiny bugs crawling on your plant and webbing, it’s almost certainly spider mites. They can take over a plant FAST, so if you see them, treat ASAP. Check out my post on spider mites and how to treat them.
As far as fungus gnats go, they are annoying but are generally not going to hurt a plant. INstead, you should be more concerned about what is causing the fungus gnats, because the underlying cause can hurt a plant.
It’s probably over watering as a result of using a soil that is too dense and doesn’t durian well enough. Check out my post on what causes fungus gnats and how to get rid of them for more.
Other prayer plant FAQs and issues
There are a few other things I researched while writing this post. I’ll include them below as FAQs! Let me know if you have any more questions.
1. Leaves looking fried, developing discoloration, or fading
If your prayer plant’s leaves develop discoloration or fading–or if they just generally look fried–it’s possible that you are giving the plant too much direct light. The leaves burn in direct light.
2. Why are the edges of my prayer plant turning brown?
There are a few reasons why the edges of your prayer plant’s leaves could be turning brown. Generally it probably means that you aren’t watering it enough. Remember not to let the soil dry out completely.
Use a well-draining indoor plant soil with some extra peat moss mixed in. The peat moss will help the plant retain moisture without waterlogging the roots.
A lack of humidity could also be the culprit. If your watering routine is fine, try upping the humidity levels. While prayer plants generally do well in normal household humidity levels, they thrive in humid environments. Try adding a humidifier or hanging the plant in a bathroom with a window.
3. Why are my prayer plant leaves turning yellow?
This could be because of a number of things, but chances are it is because of overwatering. Remember the mantra: moist, not wet. Use a good peaty well-draining soil and water your plant when the top inch of soil dries out.
Make sure your pot has drainage, too. With frequent watering, you don’t want to let too much water build up in the base of the pot. Allowing it to flow freely from the bottom of the pot prevents the roots from getting waterlogged.
Also keep in mind that sometimes leaves just yellow and die off. If it’s only one or two or isolated to one stem and the rest of the plant seems healthy, I wouldn’t worry too much.
4. Why is my prayer plant curling?
If your plant’s leaves are curling, it’s probably thirsty or cold. Remember: keep the soil moist but not wet, and keep it warm and humid–or as humid as possible indoors!
5. Are maranta toxic to pets?
No, prayer plants are not toxic to animals. However, they aren’t meant for consumption by humans or animals, so it’s best to keep them up and out of reach. Especially if you have a curious kitty or kid like I do.
6. Do I need to fertilize a prayer plant?
A regular houseplant fertilizer is fine. Follow the directions on the container. However, I don’t really use fertilizer. Instead, I like to repot with fresh soil every spring. The soil has nutrients in it.
I also like to add in high-quality worm castings that I buy in bulk from a local nursery. These are incredibly nutrient-dense and I just mix in some with the soil. For already-potted plants, I sprinkle some on top of the soil and carefully mix into the top layer with a fork.