Despite all your love and care, your Calathea has begun to droop like a sad animal in a cartoon. Remain calm – Calatheas are fussy plants, and this current slump might be a minor protest against a disruption in its usual routine. Even if it’s a sign of something more serious, you should be able to revive it with proper care. We’ll explain how you can diagnose and treat the most common causes of wilting in Calatheas.
Plants droop when they run short on moisture, either because the roots can’t get enough to drink or because the plant has been damaged. The usual reason for a wilting Calathea is that it’s receiving either too little water or too much. Check the soil beneath your plant to see if it’s bone-dry or soggy, and adjust your watering habits accordingly.
If you’re watering your Calathea correctly, then you’ll have to check for other issues. Temperature shock, lack of humidity, pest infestation, and mineral deposits in the soil can all cause Calatheas to droop. Read on to learn how to identify the cause of your plant’s droopiness.
Why Do Calatheas Droop?
When a Calathea’s growing conditions are out of whack, its boldly patterned foliage begins to sag, making your beautiful plant look like a pouting toddler. But what’s behind this drooping?
The answer lies in a plant’s internal structure. Your Calathea is filled with fleshy tubes rather than a rigid skeleton, so what keeps it upright is turgor pressure – the cell walls are kept taut by the moisture inside them pressing out. It works a little bit like a bouncy castle at a kid’s birthday party: as long as the air is pumping in, the tubes remain inflated, and the castle stays upright. If the pump shuts off or the structure springs a leak, it starts to crumple and collapse.
Something similar is going on inside your Calathea, only with water instead of air. If your plant can’t take in enough moisture at its roots, or if something causes it to lose water too fast, the cells can’t maintain their turgor pressure. When that happens, the leaves and stems begin to crumple and wilt.
Is Your Calathea Really Wilting?
Keep in mind that a shift in the position of your plant’s foliage doesn’t always indicate a problem. Like other members of the Marantaceae family, Calatheas exhibit a behavior called nyctinasty: they fold their leaves up to a near-vertical posture at night and spread them out during the day.
Scientists aren’t sure precisely why Marantaceae do this, but it’s a normal part of your plant’s routine. If you’re not used to seeing your Calathea lower its leaves, you might assume it’s wilting when it’s actually just going about its business.
Are the leaves and stems outstretched and relatively firm to the touch? If so, your Calathea is probably fine. If the plant feels limp and the tips of its leaves are hanging straight down toward the ground, you’ve got a wilting issue.
Typical Causes of Drooping in Calatheas
Assuming your plant really is unhappy, it’s time to take stock of its growing conditions. There are several reasons that a Calathea can start wilting; we’ll examine them in order of most to least common.
Reason One: Calatheas Don’t Like Change
Calatheas are creatures of habit, and any shift in their environment is likely to stress them out. This is true even if you’ve changed something for the plant’s own good, such as replacing old and worn-out potting mix with a fresh batch.
Have you recently:
- Repotted your Calathea?
- Brought it home from the store?
- Moved it to a different spot in your house?
- Started or stopped a fertilizer regimen?
- Added or removed a grow light?
If you’ve made a recent change to your Calathea’s growing conditions, and the plant isn’t showing other signs of distress (such as leaves yellowing, browning, curling, or dropping off), then it may be best to wait for a week or two and see if it perks up on its own.
Reason Two: Overwatering
Although wilting suggests a lack of moisture, it doesn’t always mean your Calathea isn’t getting enough to drink. In fact, overwatering is a more common problem.
A pot is a much more cramped environment than an outdoor patch of soil. That means it can quickly become waterlogged, denying your Calathea’s roots the oxygen they need. If the soil stays wet for too long, fungi or bacteria may grow out of control and cause root rot, which can be deadly if not addressed quickly.
Root stress of any kind limits your Calathea’s ability to take in water, causing the upper portions of the plant to droop. If you see the plant sagging, but the soil is still moist, overwatering is a likely culprit. In fact, any time you notice the potting mix remains damp for five days or more, you should start watering less frequently.
Leaves that turn yellow, or get brown and crispy at the tips, can also indicate overwatering. Stems turning mushy and foul odors coming from the soil are even worse, hinting at an advanced case of root rot. When you think your Calathea’s roots may be infected, slide it out of the pot and inspect its roots right away.
If you spot any roots that are gray, black, squishy, or slimy, trim them off with a disinfected set of shears and repot the plant in fresh soil. For more on root rot in Calatheas, see our detailed article on the topic.
Reason Three: Underwatering
On the flip side, if your droopy plant is sitting in bone-dry soil that’s begun to cake and peel away from the edges of the pot, it’s probably thirsty rather than overwatered. Slow growth is another common sign of underwatering. Fortunately, the fix here is easy: water your Calathea a bit more.
The best way to ensure your Calathea gets enough to drink is by testing the potting mix every few days. When the top two inches have dried out, you can water again without risking root rot.
When watering, pour in enough that you see some leaking out of the drainage holes at the base of the pot. This ensures you’re getting all the way down to the roots. You can find more detailed instructions on watering Calathas here.
Reason Four: Dry Air
Calatheas are absolute gluttons for humidity. If the moisture level in the air drops below 60% or so, their foliage may start to dry out and slump.
The simplest way to test the humidity level is with a basic hygrometer. When the air becomes too dry for your Calathea, there are a few ways you can bump up the humidity:
- Group your Calathea together with other tropical houseplants
- Move the plant to a humid bathroom or kitchen
- Set the pot on top of a pebble tray, as described here
- Place a humidifier near your Calathea
It’s also a good idea to check whether your plant is sitting near a heating vent, a fireplace, or some other source of hot and dry air. If so, move it somewhere else!
Reason Five: Temperature Shock
Calatheas are jungle dwellers by nature and don’t deal well with cold. If the plant is kept in a space consistently below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, it may start wilting from the stress. Even if the room is warm most of the time, brief drafts of cold air can be enough to make your Calathea sag.
Move your Calathea someplace where temperatures are warm and stable, and it should perk back up, though any leaves that have died as a result of cold shock will stay dead.
Reason Six: Mineral Buildup
Over time, salt compounds dissolved in your Calathea’s water can accumulate in the potting mix. High concentrations of these minerals block the roots from taking up water. In extreme cases, the salt buildup may actually leach moisture away from the plant via osmosis, causing a condition known as fertilizer burn.
As the name implies, this is usually caused by providing more fertilizer than your plant can use, though it may also simply be due to the high mineral content of the water you’re giving your Calathea. Poor drainage in the soil and pot is another possible cause; everyday watering can help wash out salts if the water can flow freely through the soil and out the base of the container.
Along with drooping, high salt saturation is often accompanied by curling, discolored leaves. Browning at the tips and edges is especially common. You might also observe a faint whitish crust on the soil’s surface or pale deposits on your Calathea’s leaves.
To correct this issue, run water through the potting mix thoroughly with distilled, room-temperature water. Keep going until at least four times the total volume of the pot has flushed out the base. You can repeat this process once every month or two as a preventative measure.
In the future, you may want to scale back your fertilizer use. Switching from tap water to distilled, filtered, or rainwater can be helpful as well.
Reason Seven: Pests
Houseplants can be plagued by a variety of insects and arthropods that drain the sugary juices out of their stems. The resulting loss of moisture causes the plants to slump and wither.
The most common Calathea pests are spider mites. They’re so tiny that they’re hard to spot with the naked eye, but you can spot the scars they leave behind, which appear as pale stippled dots across the surfaces of the leaves. Spider mites may also leave behind the wispy webbing for which they’re named.
Most Calathea pests can be addressed by spraying or wiping the plant down with a dilute solution of mild dish soap. Try shaking up about a teaspoon of soap in a liter of warm water, then spritzing it over your Calathea. Make sure you get into every nook and cranny you can find. Leave it to dry for 10 minutes and then rinse the plant off.
You’ll need to repeat this every few days, for at least a week or two, to ensure that you get rid of all the pests. If the infestation is really stubborn, you may want to try adding a teaspoon of neem oil to the soap mixture before spraying again. Be extra careful to keep your Calathea out of direct sunlight for the next few weeks if you’re using neem because it can make the plant more sensitive to sunburn.
Whatever insecticide you use, apply it to a small section of one leaf and wait a few days before treating the rest of the plant. Some Calatheas are more sensitive to chemicals than others, and it’s important to know whether yours will react poorly.
Calatheas have a reputation as drama queens for a reason, so don’t panic if yours is beginning to droop. Use the tools we’ve laid out above to make a careful assessment of its growing conditions before you take action. Check for watering problems first. If your plant has root rot, you’ll need to tackle it immediately.
Restore your Calathea to its preferred lifestyle, and you’ll soon see it standing tall once more.