Prayer Plants are undeniably gorgeous, with their unusual colors and patterns on broad oval leaves. But they are undoubtedly prone to issues that show up in their foliage. That can mean discolored leaves, wilting, or spots. Since a Prayer Plant has delicate leaves, those problems can appear even more severe than they might be in more hearty plants.
What is going on with your Prayer Plant’s leaves? Too much or too little water is a common reason for a Prayer Plant to look unhealthy, but unsuitable light or soil could also be the culprit, as could pests and diseases. To properly diagnose your Prayer Plant’s leaf problems, you will need to review its environmental conditions and the care you are providing it.
The Prayer Plant (aka Maranta leuconeura) is more prone to certain problems than others. In the sections below, I’ll review some of the typical issues that plague Prayer Plants, their causes, and how you can fix them. Remember that many Prayer Plant problems look similar to one another, so be sure to do a full assessment of the situation before taking any action.
What’s Wrong With My Prayer Plant?
The chart below can give you a quick reference to what may be going wrong with your Prayer Plant. After reviewing the possible causes in the chart, go to the corresponding section below to read more detail about the solutions.
|Prayer Plant Symptom
|Underwatering, overwatering, low humidity
|Brown, soft leaves & stems
|Overwatering and root rot
|Brown, dry leaves
|Insufficient humidity, too much light, minerals from tap water
|Natural growth, overwatering, nutrient deficiency
|Spots on leaves
|Pests, fungal infections
But First – Is Your Prayer Plant New to You?
When you first bring a Prayer Plant home from the nursery or garden center, it probably looks perfect (or very close to perfect). But once they are removed from those ideal conditions that were tailored to allowing plants to grow as quickly as possible, they experience a period of adjustment.
Our homes are designed for the comfort of the humans inside, not necessarily for their plants. The temperature and humidity may be low, and lighting conditions higher or lower than what the plant has adjusted to up to this point. Depending on where the plant was grown and purchased, it may have also gone through the stress of being shipped from a nursery to the retail store.
All of these sudden changes can cause a Prayer Plant to undergo shock. Unlike most other problems that you might see with a Maranta leuconeura, shock will usually present itself all at once. One day, the plant may look just fine, and the next day it can look like it’s on the brink of death.
Seeing your brand-new Prayer Plant decline so rapidly can be alarming, but try not to panic. Usually, the plant just needs some time to adjust to the new surroundings. However, it is worthwhile to assess the situation your Prayer Plant is in and make sure you have accounted for all of its needs. If you feel that the environment is well-suited to Prayer Plants, the best thing to do is wait for the plant to recover.
As a reminder, I have provided a short overview of the best way to water a Prayer Plant below. Since the majority of issues on the list come from too much or too little water, you can avoid many problems just by making sure you water your Marantas correctly.
A Quick Review of Best Watering Habits for Prayer Plants
Prayer Plants are picky about the amount of moisture available to their roots. Since they originate from tropical forests with high humidity and frequent rain, they are adapted to conditions that don’t dry out too much. At the same time, too much moisture can cause infections in the roots and root rot.
To water correctly, you should start with an all-purpose type potting mix that drains well. Your pot must have drainage holes and should be proportional in size to the root ball. A pot that is too large will hold too much water.
The frequency of watering will depend on the temperature, humidity, soil type, and container size. You will need to adjust your watering habits depending on the season, so you should always measure the moisture level either with a moisture meter or by using your finger.
It is best to allow just the top two inches of soil to dry out between waterings. Most of a Prayer Plant’s roots are concentrated toward the top layer of soil, but a few of the deeper roots will still be able to access moisture lower down in the pot.
Keep the soil consistently moist but not overly wet. It can be challenging to get the balance right when watering your Prayer Plants, but once you figure it out, you’ll have the main key to keeping them happy and healthy.
A Quick Review on Growing Seasons and Dormancy
Since they are tropical and grow year-round, Prayer Plants don’t experience true dormancy. Dormancy is when all growth and physical activity stop for a period of time, allowing the plant to conserve energy. While Marantas never stop growing completely, they do experience a slower growth period during the coldest months of the year.
Winter comes with colder temperatures, fewer daylight hours, and often lower humidity because of heating systems. As your Prayer Plant gets less sun, it will slow its growth accordingly. While some people continue to see their Marantas growing throughout the winter, for most people, this is a period where the plant stays more or less the same size.
If your concern is about a Prayer Plant with slow or no growth, the most likely explanation is that it is adjusting to seasonal changes and will start to grow again as soon as it starts getting warmer.
Most Common Prayer Plant Issues
When a Prayer Plant has some kind of problem, it will almost present itself one way or another in the leaves. In the most simple terms, the changes could be to the leaf color (pale, yellow, or brown leaves), texture (too dry or soggy), or behavior (wilting, curling, not moving).
All of the symptoms listed below fall into one or more of these categories. For each one, I will list out the description of the symptom and what causes it, followed by some potential solutions that you can try.
Why is My Prayer Plant Drooping and Wilting?
Healthy Prayer Plant leaves should be firm and flat. A droopy plant may also have curling leaves and/or soft stems. Remember that the leaves will point downward during the day because this plant moves in response to the light levels. Check it in the late evening to see if the plant still looks droopy or not.
Why is it Happening?
The most common reason for a Prayer Plant to become droopy is insufficient moisture. That could mean that the soil has dried out too much or that the humidity is too low in its environment. Dry Prayer Plants droop because their cells don’t have enough moisture content to hold the leaves up. Think of the stiffness of a full balloon compared to an empty one.
If the potting soil is completely dry, give a thorough watering and see if that solves the problem. Your plant should regain its normal appearance within a day or so.
If dry potting soil isn’t the issue, it could be that your humidity is too low. You can increase humidity around your Prayer Plant by grouping it with other plants, providing a pebble tray, or investing in a humidifier.
Prayer Plants may also look droopy if their potting mix is kept too moist. Overwatered plants often look wilted and also have yellowing leaves and etiolated (leggy) stems. It is harder to recover an overwatered Prayer Plant than an underwatered one, but you can start by dumping out any excess water and aerating the soil. In extreme cases, you may want to repot the plant with new, drier potting mix.
For a fuller explanation of causes and solutions for a droopy Prayer Plant, you can check out this article: The Most Common Causes of Droopy Prayer Plans and Steps to Recovery.
Why Are My Prayer Plant’s Leaves Brown and Soft?
Leaves and/or stems turn brown and feel soft and limp. They may also feel soggy.
Why is it Happening?
An overwatered Prayer Plan will usually have leaves that turn brown. Sometimes the leaves will start turning yellow and then go brown over time.
Follow the same steps as explained above for salvaging an overwatered Prayer Plant. Since brown leaves can be a sign of rot, it’s a good idea to check the roots as well. Prune away any unhealthy roots and repot in a new container with new potting soil. Remove any soft, brown leaves as the decaying matter can attract pests.
Why Does My Prayer Plant Have Dry, Brown Leaves?
Brown leaves that are crispy or dry are among the most common afflictions affecting Prayer Plants, even when they are in conditions that seem close to ideal. Usually, the dry patches start at the edges and move toward the center of the leaf over time until the whole leaf and stem have withered and died.
Why is it Happening?
Typically, dry brown leaves on a Prayer Plant result from insufficient humidity. Prayer Plants prefer warm, humid environments that can be difficult to reproduce inside your home.
Other possible causes are too much direct sunlight or a buildup of minerals from being watered with tap water.
The most likely cause of crispy brown leaves on a Maranta is lack of humidity, which is difficult to detect without actually measuring it. Climate control systems (heating and air conditioning) usually lower the humidity in the air, so you may see brown leaves appear on your Prayer Plant suddenly when the seasons change.
Check the humidity levels using a hygrometer. This inexpensive tool gives you valuable information to make the right decisions for your plants. For increasing humidity, the best options are to move them to a room with more humidity naturally (typically kitchens and bathrooms) or invest in a humidifier. Other options like misting or providing a humidity tray can help, but they are inconsistent and may not be enough for your Prayer Plant.
Tap water isn’t ideal for watering Prayer Plants since it has chemicals and minerals added to make it safe for humans. Those additives can collect in your plant’s cells over time, and the plant tries to expel them through the tips of the leaves. That’s why this kind of brown leaf is referred to as “leaf tip burn.”
If minerals in your tap water are the likely cause, try watering your Prayer Plant with rainwater if you can. Rainwater is always the best choice, but if you aren’t able to collect it, you could use distilled water instead. (More on the benefits or rainwater here!)
Why Are My Prayer Plant’s Leaves Turning Yellow?
Previously healthy-looking Prayer Plant leaves turn yellow and eventually die.
Why is it Happening?
Yellowing leaves on Prayer Plants are unfortunately common and also difficult to diagnose. Several causes can result in yellowing leaves.
First, yellow leaves may be due to the plant’s natural cycle of shedding some old leaves to direct resources toward new growth. In this case, the yellow leaves are most likely near the base of the plant, but you should still see significant new growth elsewhere. If the plant looks otherwise healthy and there are not many yellow leaves, this is the most likely scenario.
Overwatering is another common cause of yellow leaves, or nutrient deficiency may be to blame if you use poor-quality potting soil or the plant has been in the same soil for several years.
If you have determined that your plant is otherwise healthy but shedding some older leaves, you can just remove yellow leaves to keep the plant looking tidy. They will die off anyway and could potentially attract pests, so it is better to remove them as soon as you notice them.
For overwatering, check the soil – does it feel damp and soggy? Is the pot heavy? In most cases, you can just allow the potting mix to dry out a bit before giving it any more water. However, in severe cases, you may want to try replacing the saturated soil with new soil or setting the plant out of its container and onto a baking rack to dry out the soil more quickly.
Nutrient deficiency is more difficult to diagnose, as it can look different depending on which nutrients are lacking. In general, Prayer Plants get the nutrients they need from the organic matter in the potting mix, but over time it gets depleted. If your plant has been in the same soil for a few years, it may be suffering from a nutrient deficiency.
You could either provide it with a balanced fertilizer (I like Jack’s All-Purpose 20-20-20 Houseplant Fertilizer) or repot it. If you prefer not to repot into a larger container, you can certainly keep the same one – just remove as much of the old potting soil from the roots as you can, and then add in the new, nutrient-rich potting mix.
Why Does My Prayer Plant Have Spots on its Leaves?
Spots can be white, yellow, or brown, and various sizes, depending on the cause. They may be visible from the top or bottom of the leaf, or both.
Why is it Happening?
Prayer Plants are susceptible to pests, especially mealybugs and spider mites. If you see white spots, these could be the insects themselves. Spider mites also leave their distinctive webbing behind. The damage these pests leave behind can cause yellow or brown spots where they have pierced the leaf to feed.
Yellow spots with a kind of halo around them are usually indicative of fungal disease. These spots will be much bigger than the damage from insects.
Neem oil is my top recommendation for all sorts of mites and insects. This product is easy and safe to use and treats a variety of pest problems. You may need to do repeated treatments to get rid of all of them. Once you have the situation under control, it is a good idea to do a periodic treatment, so your Prayer Plants don’t get re-infested.
For fungal infections, a houseplant fungicide should take care of it. Many of these products also kill pests and treat bacterial infections, so they can also be helpful if the spots are not actually caused by fungus. Be sure not to splash water on the leaves, as standing water can lead to infections. Be sure to follow the directions on any insecticide or fungicide.
For much more detail on the types of pests that attack Marantas and how to identify them, I recommend reading through this article: Prayer Plants and Pests: What’s Eating Your Maranta.
Why is My Prayer Plant Leggy?
Leggy or etiolated plants have long stems without many leaves. Since there is a lot of space between the leaves, they can look sparse and unhealthy. Most people prefer Prayer Plants that look more compact and bushy.
Why is it Happening?
Marantas get leggy because they don’t have enough sunlight. To get more, the plant devotes its energy to growing longer stems which can get the leaves closer to the light source.
The solution to prevent Prayer Plants from getting leggy is to provide them with more light. That could mean moving them closer to a window or supplementing with a grow light if you don’t have the correct location to suit this plant.
If you already have some leggy stems on your Prayer Plant, there are a couple of options. You could prune that stem and use the cutting to propagate a new plant. But if you aren’t bothered by the appearance of that stem, it is fine to leave it on the plant.
Putting it All Together
It can certainly be alarming when your Prayer Plant’s foliage develops a new problem, especially if you don’t think anything has changed in its environment recently. I hope this article has helped you to pinpoint what could be going wrong with your plant and given you the steps to take to remedy the situation.
Remember that you should take it slow when making changes to a Prayer Plant and assess all the factors before deciding what treatment is best. With a little investigative effort, you’ll figure out what is going on with your plant and can be on your way back to beautiful leaves in no time.