Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
Houseplants are usually grown for their foliage which can be unusually colored or shaped. Some houseplants have unusual habits like the prayer plant.
What are Prayer Plants?
Prayer plants (Maranta leuconeura) are low growing Brazilian jungle plants that are only hardy in zones 11 and 12. Outside of its growing zones the plants are normally grown as houseplants. They make good houseplants because they need filtered sunlight rather than direct sunlight. Our homes are too dark for sun-loving plants, so plants that prefer shade, semi-shade or filtered light do best.
Prayer plants are grown for their lovely foliage. The leaves are 6 inches long and display different colors depending on the variety. Most are green with spots that vary in color including light green, gray or brown. The undersides of the leaves are either light green or dark red. The most spectacularly colored variety has tricolor leaves of green with yellow spots and red veins.
The plants do not flower when grown indoors. Outdoors, the flowers are tiny, white and barely noticeable.
How to Grow a Prayer Plant
The secret to successfully growing a prayer plant is to mimic the conditions of its native jungle home. Give it indirect light, warmth and lots of humidity.
Outdoors, the plants can grow to 12 inches high. Indoors, it rarely gets taller than 8 inches. Keep your plant away from drafts and sunny windows. I like to grow plants that prefer low light in a north facing window. You will know if your plant is getting too much light if the leaves are scorched or fading. Move it away from the window and it should snap right back.
A normal indoor temperature range of 60⁰F to 80⁰F is fine for these plants. During the winter it is critical to keep your plant away from doors and windows that let in cold air. These are tropical plants. They need to be kept warm.
Our homes are much too dry for plants that need the high humidity of a jungle habitat. You will need to provide extra humidity for your plant. You can do this by:
- Place a bowl of water next to your plants. As the water evaporates from the bowl, it creates humidity around the plant.
- Create a humidity tray. A humidity tray is a low sided container filled with gravel and water. The plant is placed on top of the gravel. As the water evaporates from the gravel, it creates a humid environment around the plant.
- Mist your plant regularly. You can add humidity directly to the air by using a mister every day. Be sure to use warm water or room temperature water so that you don’t chill your plant.
Prayer plants do not being dry or overly wet. If the leaves on your plant are turning yellow and falling off, you are either over-watering or under-watering your plant. Adjust your watering schedule accordingly. If you have a saucer under the pot, be sure to empty it. Prayer plants do not like to sit in water.
You should fertilize your plant every two weeks during the growing season from spring until fall. Use a balanced 10-10-10 water soluble fertilizer formulated for houseplants. During the winter when the plants are not growing, fertilize once a month.
How to Re-Pot a Prayer Plant
Prayer plants grow slowly so they don’t need to be repotted very often. You will only need to repot when your plant becomes pot bound. It’s easy to tell if it is pot bound. You will see roots growing out of the drainage hole in the bottom. In some cases, you may also see roots near the surface of the soil. Wait until spring to repot your plant.
Gently remove the plant from its old pot. Do not pull on the plant. You can either tap the bottom of the pot to loosen the root ball or simply roll the pot on a flat surface. I usually roll. Tapping never seems to work for me. Once the plant and its root ball have been removed, gently shake the soil from the roots.
You don’t want to repot into a much larger pot. You should instead repot into a container that is only 1 to 2 inches wider than the old container. Fill it with soil. Make a hole in the middle and place the root ball in the hole. Finish filling the pot with soil and water thoroughly.
How to Divide a Prayer Plant
The easiest way to propagate a prayer plant is through division because they grow from rhizomes. The best time to divide a prayer plant is when you are repotting it in the spring. After you have removed the plant and shaken the soil from the root ball, you can pry apart the rhizomes and re-pot the divisions. Make sure that each division has at least one rhizome and lots of roots. Water thoroughly. You should start to see new growth within a few weeks.
How to Propagate a Prayer Plant Using Stem Cuttings
Prayer plants can be propagated through stem cuttings. Make a cutting on a stem below a leaf node. The leaf node is the swelling on the stem where the leaf is attached. You want to make your cutting here to ensure that your cutting has vigorously growing leaves. Dip the cut end of the stem in rooting hormone and then gently press it into potting soil. Keep the soil moist. You should start to see new growth in a few weeks. This indicates that new roots are growing because plants can't grow leaves if they don't have roots.
Questions & Answers
Question: Which plants can be started in water?
Answer: One of the first things I learned as a Master Gardener was to never start cuttings in water. The reason is that roots that grow in water are very weak because they have nothing to push against. When you try to transplant cuttings that have been rooted in water into the soil, the roots break, and the plant either dies or stops growing because it needs to regrow its roots. Cuttings should always be started in the soil so that the roots are strong from pushing through the soil. They are less likely to break when you are transplanting. You will end up with a much healthier plant.
Question: Does a prayer plant like to be in direct sunlight?
Answer: No, prayer-plants need filtered light. They are jungle plants that grow along the floor of the jungle where it is very shady. Very little light reaches them.
© 2019 Caren White