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Prayer Plant Care Guide

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, 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

Table of Contents

So what are prayer plants?

Prayer plants are a type of tropical perennial that are known for their beautiful, colorful leaves. While many plants can be referred to as “prayer plants,” the most common species in the prayer plant family is maranta leuconeura. It is known for its striking green and pink, red and green, and yellow and green leaves.

Maranta leuconeura are native to Brazil, specifically its tropical rainforests. It’s 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 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!

graphic about prayer plant care that includes an overview of this blog post

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 are maranta called prayer plants?

The leaves of maranta prayer plants are generally arranged in a way that makes them appear to fold together like hands in prayer. This is one reason people use the common name “prayer plant” for them.

Maranta plants are also famous for their habit of raising and lowering their leaves rhythmically during the day, which is called “nyctinasty.” Let’s talk more about how they raise and lower their leaves—because it’s pretty rad.

lemon lime prayer plant hanging with other plants outdoors

Why do prayer plants fold up?

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.  

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, 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. 
Maranta leuconeura erythroneura

How much sun 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. They also adapt well in artificial lights conditions.

I recommend avoiding direct sunlight, especially during the hottest part of the day, to prevent leaf burn and loss of leaf color. 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. 

If you’re unsure whether a particular location in your home is bright enough for your prayer plant, it’s a good idea to start by placing it in a spot that gets a little less light than you think it needs. Then gradually move it to brighter spots over time.

Where should I place a prayer plant in my house?

The best place to put a prayer plant is near a north- or east-facing window. These areas typically receive bright but indirect light. I recommend avoiding south- or west-facing windows since they can receive high levels of direct sunlight.

Another good location for a prayer plant is a spot that is near an artificial light source, such as 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.

I had my lemon-lime hanging in the corner of my daughter’s room that is farthest from the window. 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 the 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.

lemon lime prayer plant hanging in a kids room

How often should I water my 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.

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. Keep an eye on the plant and adjust watering schedule according to your environment, the time of year, and the plant’s needs.

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.

watering a maranta in the shower

Can I water my prayer plant with tap water?

It’s generally safe to water your prayer plant with tap water, but it’s important to keep in mind that the mineral content of tap water can vary depending on where you live. If your tap water is hard (high in minerals such as calcium and magnesium), it can build up in the soil of your prayer plant over time.

This can make it difficult for the plant to absorb the nutrients it needs. In addition to that, the chlorine and fluoride in the water can be harmful for your plant. I use tap water for all of my plants where I live, and I haven’t had any issues.

If you do have issues, one solution is to let the water sit for a day or two before you use it to water your plant. This allows some of the chlorine to evaporate. Also, you can use filtered water, distilled water, or rainwater (a favorite of mine when I can snag some!)

Should a prayer plant be watered from the top or bottom?

Prayer plants can 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 string of hearts plant from the bottom in a sink
Watering a string of hearts plant from the bottom in a sink

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 houseplant care routine, including prayer plant care.

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

What is the ideal temperature?

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.

If the temperature gets too high, you may need to water the plant more because the soil will dry out quicker. Monitor the plant for signs of stress in extreme heat and temporarily move them until things cool down if necessary.

Should I mist my prayer plant?

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.

Misting should be done in the morning or early afternoon—this way the leaves have time to dry before night. Avoid leaving water on the leaves for too long. It could encourage mold growth or other fungal issues.

Keep in mind that misting provides a temporary increase in moisture around the plant. Misting can supplement and enhance the overall care for the plant, but it should not be the only method for watering the plant. It also might not be enough to supplement humidity depending on your room’s conditions.

gorgeous prayer plant leaf

Can I put prayer plant in bathroom?

Prayer plants are excellent candidates for bathroom plants! That’s because they benefit from extra humidity, and hot baths and showers can help increase ambient humidity levels in a bathroom.

Keep in mind that the prayer plant does need some light to survive. Whether it’s a small window or some sort of artificial lighting setup doesn’t really matter. But don’t throw it in a bathroom with no windows and all the lights on!

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. 

gorgeous prayer plant leaf

How do I make my prayer plant fuller?

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. 

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. 

screenshot of instagram account
prayer plant cutting

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

propagating prayer plant cutting in water
roots on a prayer plant cutting from water propagation
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

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.

lemon-lime prayer plant cutting

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.

gorgeous prayer plant leaf

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 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. 

gorgeous prayer plant leaf

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 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. 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.

7. 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. 

full prayer plant

8. Are coffee grounds good for prayer plants?

Coffee grounds can be beneficial for prayer plants because they are a good source of nitrogen, one of the essential nutrients that plants need to grow. Nitrogen is necessary for the formation of chlorophyll, which is important for the plant’s ability to produce energy through photosynthesis.

Additionally, coffee grounds also contains small amount of other micronutrients like potassium, phosphorus and magnesium. However, it’s important to use coffee grounds in moderation. They can also make the soil too acidic for the plant.

One way to use coffee grounds is to mix them with other organic materials such as compost to create a well-balanced soil for your prayer plant. You can also mix coffee grounds with water to make a weak coffee mixture that you use to water your plant.

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collage that says the ultimate guide to prayer plant care including photos of the plant
Brittany Goldwyn
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