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Prayer Plant Care Guide

Learn how to care for the stunning prayer plant, aka maranta leuconeura!

All about prayer plant care, aka maranta leuconeura!

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 they are growing on me.

large bushy prayer plant

Prayer plant care overview

  • Prayer plants (maranta leuconeura) are tropical perennials with colorful leaves native to Brazil’s rainforests.
  • They exhibit a unique behavior called nyctinasty, where leaves fold and unfold in response to the light cycle, resembling hands in prayer.
  • Prefers medium to bright indirect light.
  • Let the top inch or so of soil dry out before watering again.
  • Plant in a well-draining houseplant soil mix.
  • Does well in 60-90 degrees Fahrenheit; not cold or frost hardy.
  • Propagate through division or stem cuttings.
  • Non-toxic but not meant to be ingested; keep away from kids and pets.
graphic about prayer plant care that includes an overview of this blog post

Prayer plant background

Prayer plants are known for their striking colorful leaves. While many plants can be referred to as “prayer plants,” the most common species in the prayer plant family is maranta leuconeura. Maranta leuconeura are native to Brazil and can have both a 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. While prayer plants are often confused with calatheas, they are each in 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!

No matter the variety of prayer plant, the leaves are oval-shaped with gorgeous veining that can resemble a herringbone pattern. 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 wide, and they produce small white flowers.

lemon lime prayer plant hanging with other plants outdoors

Why do prayer plants fold up?

Maranta plants are famous for their habit of raising and lowering their leaves rhythmically, which is called “nyctinasty.” 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. You can read more about the pulvinus here if you’re interested.  

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.”

close up shot of the prayer plant's pulvinus

Maranta leuconeura varieties

There are quite a few different prayer plant varieties that you can find, so 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.
  • Maranta leuconeura massangeana, aka the “black prayer plant,” has black velvety-looking undertones. I’ve never seen this variety in person.
  • Maranta leuconeura ‘lemon-lime’ 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.
Maranta leuconeura erythroneura

How much light does a prayer plant need?

Prayer plants prefer medium to bright indirect light. They will tolerate some direct sun if it is weaker morning sun or dappled, but be careful—it can quickly burn the leaves. In my experience, the best place to put a prayer plant is near a north- or east-facing window. These areas typically receive indirect light.

I recommend avoiding placing it too close to a south- or west-facing window since they can receive high levels of direct sunlight. I had my lemon-lime hanging in the corner of my daughter’s room that is farthest from the window (see photo below). However, the room is south- and west-facing, so it gets amazing late-morning and afternoon sun. This is fine because I don’t have it close to the windows, and it has been happy.

For one summer, I decided to take the plant outdoors and hang it on the DIY hanging plant rod I mounted on our covered patio. This location gets bright shade all day and some dappled direct sunlight through the deck slats above. It did wonderfully.

They also adapt well to artificial lighting, so another good location for a prayer plant is a spot that is near a desk lamp with a fluorescent bulb. This type of light can be enough for the plant. You can also consider adding a grow light to dark rooms and keeping it on for 10-12 hours a day.

lemon lime prayer plant hanging in a kids room
Prayer plant hanging in my daughter’s room

How much water does it need?

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.

Prayer plants do not like to dry out completely between watering sessions. They aren’t drought-tolerant and will die if you deprive them of water for too long. But it’s important to let the soil dry out at least some between watering. And not to leave the pot in water for extended periods of time to prevent root rot.

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.

When I had it on my covered patio, I simply let mother nature do her thing. Rain does get down through the deck slats, and Maryland humidity helps keep things moist. If it hasn’t rained, I just gave it a good soak with the hose.

Bottom watering

Prayer plants can also benefit from being watered from the bottom. This method is known as bottom watering, and it can help to keep the soil in your prayer plant moist and prevent over watering. It’s not a technique I use–I like watering my plants from the top—but you certainly can bottom water!

When you bottom water, you should place the pot in a tray or saucer filled with water. The water should be about an inch deep. Wait about 10-15 minutes and then remove the pot from the tray. This method of watering will allow the plant to take in only the water it needs.

watering a maranta in the shower
After watering in the shower

What is the best soil?

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 a solid houseplant care routine.

Prayer plants generally do well in a run-of-the-mill indoor houseplant soil that comes with things like perlite and coco coir or fine moss added in. However, for plants that like to remain moist but not wet, I always like adding in a few handfuls of coco coir. It helps with lightweight moisture retention.

prayer plant at a nursery

Temperature & humidity needs

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 don’t make a habit of it. If the temperature gets too high, you may need to water the plant more because the soil will dry out quicker. Monitor for signs of stress in extreme heat.

Prayer plants do enjoy a lot of humidity. That’s one reason I have taken mine out for the spring and summer—it gets so humid here in Maryland. But indoors, I haaaate humidifiers. I have yet to meet one that isn’t a pain to use.

Prayer plants are also excellent candidates for bathrooms with at least some light, either from a window or an artificial light. That’s because they benefit from extra humidity, and hot baths and showers can help increase ambient humidity levels in a bathroom.

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. But keep in mind that misting provides only a very temporary increase in moisture. A humidifier is really the way to go.

gorgeous prayer plant leaf

Pruning & repotting

Trimming leaves 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. 

Repotting is a good time to refresh your soil, but when should you repot a prayer plant? They are relatively slow growers. 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 target every few years to repot my prayer plant and plants with similar growth rates. 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. 

gorgeous prayer plant leaf

What is the lifespan and size of a prayer plant?

When grown indoors as a houseplant, prayer plants can live for several years. In the wild, its life span might be shorter due to the competition for resources and the presence of natural predators.

It’s a slow-growing plant that typically grows to be about 12 to 18 inches tall with a spread of about 12 inches wide. When grown in the wild, the size can vary depending on the environment conditions, typically reaching about 2 to 3 feet tall and wide.

It’s important to note that houseplants have a different growth rate and size than plants that are grown in their natural environment. The size of a houseplant will also depend on the size of the pot and how often the plant is repotted.

lemon lime prayer plant hanging with other plants outdoors

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 soil moist as the plant established itself. 

How to propagate prayer plants

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 article 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 soil. Keep it moist while the plant establishes itself, and keep it warm. The more humidity, the better!  

prayer plant cutting
propagating prayer plant cutting in water
roots on a prayer plant cutting from water propagation
rooting a prayer plant cutting in LECA
roots grown on a prayer plant cutting in LECA

Other prayer plant issues

There are a few other things I researched while writing this article. I’ll include them below as FAQs! Let me know if you have any more questions. 

1. Toxicity

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.

2. Edges of leaves are turning are 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 coco coir or fine moss mixed in. This will help the plant retain moisture without water-logging 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. 

full prayer plant

3. 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 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. 

prayer plant leaf turning yellow and dying

4. 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 article 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. Check out my article on what causes fungus gnats and how to get rid of them for more.

In conclusion…

The maranta leuconeura, or prayer plant, is an eye-catching addition to any houseplant collection. Its unique leaf behavior coupled with its vibrant colors and patterns truly make it stand out. The key to thriving prayer plants lies in mimicking their natural tropical environment: sufficient indirect light, consistent moisture, and high humidity.

Whether you’re a seasoned plant owner or a newcomer, I’d love to hear about your experiences with this plant. Have you tried growing a prayer plant? Share your experiences and tips in the comments below! Happy planting.

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prayer plant with text that says caring for maranta leuconeura "prayer plants"

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