When it comes to keeping a Prayer Plant growing beautifully, we usually focus on basic needs like light, humidity, and water. And while those are the most important factors in caring for this plant, you shouldn’t forget about providing your Prayer Plant with extra nutrients in the form of fertilizer.
Do Prayer Plants need to be fertilized? Think of fertilizer like a vitamin for your plant – it’s not strictly necessary for survival in most cases, but it will help the plant grow more quickly and maintain its overall health. While Prayer Plants can usually get their required nutrients from potting mix, those nutrients become depleted over time which can lead to a deficiency.
In this article, I’ll recommend a couple of fertilizer options, plus answer the questions of how, when, and why to fertilize Prayer Plants. If you’re not familiar with houseplant fertilizer or are hesitant to use it on a picky plant like Maranta leuconeura, the tips below should give you all the information you need to fertilize with confidence.
What Fertilizers Are Best for Prayer Plants
Let’s look into a basic overview of fertilizer before deciding which one works best for Prayer Plants. Simply put, fertilizer supports container plants’ growth by providing the chemical elements needed for their basic cellular function. Most fertilizers contain three main plant macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. They may also contain additional secondary nutrients and micronutrients, depending on the type of fertilizer.
In nature, Prayer Plants can readily access all the nutrients they want from rainwater and decaying organic matter in their environment. When we bring them inside, those natural materials are no longer available. Adding fertilizer supports more vigorous growth and overall health.
If it’s your first time fertilizing your Prayer Plants, you may be surprised by how quickly they produce new growth. A happy Prayer Plant sometimes puts out small purple flowers. Marantas produce lots of leaves during the sunny seasons and can even start to trail out of their pots in the course of a single summer. But don’t worry – if your Prayer Plant gets too big or unruly, they are also easy to propagate!
N-P-K Ratios: What Are They?
Plant fertilizer labels should display a set of three numbers separated by dashes, which represent the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N, P, and K) it contains. These letters will always be listed in the same order.
Depending on the fertilizer, there may also be additional ingredients such as sulfur, calcium, and magnesium. Micronutrients like boron, copper, zinc, and manganese might be added, but they are required in such small quantities that container plants can easily get enough from the potting mix.
Each macronutrient has a role to play, so the ratios will be different depending on the goals of fertilizing. For instance, phosphorus supports healthy and strong root systems, while nitrogen works more on the foliage and flowers. Potassium is a generalist and helps the plant to grow and function well overall.
For my Prayer Plants, I prefer to use a balanced fertilizer, like Jack’s All-Purpose 20-20-20 Houseplant Fertilizer. Balanced means that it has equal ratios of the three main macronutrients. The NPK numbers will all be the same, usually 10-10-10 or 20-20-20.
There are a couple of reasons I choose a balanced liquid fertilizer. First, I can use this on all of my houseplants. It makes things much more straightforward to keep just one type of fertilizer around and not worry about which plant gets which type. Second, I feel good about using a fertilizer that supports all of my plants’ growth equally. I want them to have strong root systems, robust foliage, and healthy cell functions. If I were growing fruiting or flowering plants, I might choose a different ratio, but for Prayer Plants (and my other tropical plants), balanced fertilizer is ideal.
How to Use Fertilizer on Prayer Plants
When you start shopping for fertilizer, you’ll find that it comes in a few different formats like liquids, granules, and sticks. I prefer to use a water-soluble fertilizer (Jack’s 20-20-20 falls into this category), meaning that I dissolve it into the watering can when I’m doing my regular watering.
The reason I prefer water-soluble fertilizer over other types is that I can control it more precisely. If you use sticks or granules, you have no way of knowing how much or little is being released at one time, and the nutrients will be concentrated in one spot instead of being distributed equally to the whole root system.
Another advantage of water-soluble fertilizer is that it is more compact and lighter than liquid fertilizer and can last indefinitely if stored correctly. I can mix up just as much as I want to use at a given time and adjust dilution levels if needed.
Speaking of which, I water my Prayer Plants with fertilizer diluted to half the recommended strength. Most fertilizers can be used for indoor or outdoor plants, but obviously, the conditions are quite different between those two environments. A plant in a container has a confined area, so I prefer to be extra cautious when it comes to fertilizer. It is far better to give too little than too much.
An overdose of fertilizer can damage any plant, but it is especially bad for Prayer Plants since their leaves are so easily affected. Too much fertilizer causes a condition called “fertilizer burn,” which I’ll describe more in the section below.
When to Fertilize Prayer Plants
Just like humans need to eat a lot more if we are exercising or otherwise burning a lot of calories, Marantas only benefit from being fertilized when they are actively growing. During the growing season, all of their processes speed up considerably, including their nutrient consumption.
Prayer Plants don’t have a true dormancy period the way some plants do, but their growth slows down considerably in the winter. As less sunlight is available, they are less active overall and don’t need as many nutrients. If you continue to fertilize during the winter months, you risk giving them too much.
In general, fertilizing (at half strength) once per month during the spring, summer, and early autumn should give your Prayer Plant plenty of nutrients. The actual timing of when you start and stop fertilizing may vary depending on the climate, but (as always) it is better to be conservative when it comes to fertilizing.
Signs Your Prayer Plant Needs To Be Fertilized
Deciding when your Prayer Plant needs fertilizer requires a bit of detective work. There are some signs that point to a need for fertilizer, but you also need to have some knowledge of your individual plant over time.
First, how recently has your Prayer Plant been repotted? As noted earlier, potting mixes have nutrients incorporated. A plant that is in brand new potting medium will not need a supplemental fertilizer for quite a while.
Most of us repot our Prayer Plants every couple of years. However, if you have one that has been growing in the same soil for a year or more, chances are that the nutrients have been depleted, and the plant would appreciate some fertilizer.
You also want to assess how quickly your plant is growing. One of the main signs that a Prayer Plant needs to be fertilized is slow growth – but remember, many other factors can contribute to slow growth (insufficient light, cold temperatures, pests).
A Prayer Plant with a nutrient deficiency would have yellowing leaves, slow or no growth, and new growth may be stunted. You would see these problems develop slowly over time, not all at once.
In most cases, Prayer Plant problems are a result of something other than a nutrient deficiency. A plant in poor or very old soil might get to the point of showing real symptoms that can be treated with fertilizer. Remember that fertilizer isn’t medicine, and fertilizing a plant that has environmental or pest problems can actually make the situation worse.
The Risk of Over-Fertilizing Prayer Plants
Fertilizer is amazing when used in appropriate doses, but you can burn your Prayer Plant (and other plants) if you apply too much or too often. Fertilizers contain soluble salts, which can pull water away from the roots if their concentration in the soil is too high. That causes the plant’s cells to become dehydrated, and some of the roots may die off.
Stunted growth, loss of lower leaves, and wilting can all be caused or exacerbated if you use too much fertilizer. Excess salts also show up in the leaves in a condition called leaf tip burn. Brown, dry edges on older leaves are a sign that the plant is attempting to push out the excess salts. Remember that Prayer Plant leaves may also turn brown because of low humidity or inconsistent watering, but you should be able to determine if your plant has salt stress if the symptoms appear shortly after fertilizing.
Another indication of over-fertilization can appear around the pot or soil – a whitish crust on the top layer of soil or on the inside of the pot itself indicates excess salt build-up. Salt may also appear on the exterior of terracotta pots.
If you think you have overfertilized your Prayer Plant, you should act fast to minimize damage, using the steps below.
What To Do If You’ve Burned Your Prayer Plant with Fertilizer
To get rid of as much unwanted fertilizer as possible, you’ll want to flush the soil. I always strongly advise keeping your houseplants in a pot with sufficient drainage holes, and this is one of the times they are vital. You are going to run a lot of water through the pot to remove the surplus fertilizer. If you see any salt crusted on the top of your potting soil, remove it before flushing the soil.
It is easiest to do this in a sink or bathtub. Simply let the water run through the soil until it comes out of the drainage holes. Make sure you rotate it so that all parts of the soil get rinsed. You don’t have to flush the soil for a long time, but make sure to do it thoroughly.
How to Use Compost on Your Prayer Plant
In this article I’ve been covering chemical fertilizers, but using compost is also a great way to provide your Prayer Plant with supplemental nutrients. You can make your own compost if you have the space and the time, or you can purchase a fertilizing compost such as worm castings.
Unlike chemical fertilizers, compost will not burn roots. Compost also more closely replicates the organic debris that provides nutrients in the plants’ natural environments. Compost is an excellent choice for those who prefer not to worry about a fertilization schedule – you can apply a layer of worm castings on top of the soil once a year and then forget about it.
Remember not to use compost and fertilizer on the same plant at the same time. If you have more than a few plants, it might be worth keeping a diary of when and how much you have fertilized so you can avoid overdosing them.
Do Prayer Plants Like Coffee Grounds?
Some online sources suggest that you can amend a Prayer Plant’s soil with regular used coffee grounds. It is easy to see why this is an attractive idea, since coffee grounds are free and readily available. It feels wasteful just to throw them out if they could be put to use helping your plants. The truth is, coffee grounds are a great source of nitrogen, but it’s a bad idea to just dump coffee grounds onto your houseplants’ soil.
Coffee grounds are an ideal addition to compost, but they aren’t good for fertilizing plants directly on their own. They contain a lot more nitrogen than phosphorus or potassium, so they are not a balanced source of nutrients. When added to a compost mix with other materials, the nutrients get balanced, but coffee alone doesn’t make a good fertilizer for Prayer Plants.
Aside from the nutrient imbalance, putting coffee grounds in your plant pots can cause real issues – they hold a lot of moisture, which could make you inadvertently overwater your Prayer Plants. They can also attract pests, smell bad, and develop fungi that are harmful to plants. There are far more risks than benefits to adding coffee grounds to your plants’ pots, so I recommend sticking to traditional compost or a commercial fertilizer.
In many cases, adding additional fertilizer isn’t necessary to keeping a Prayer Plant healthy. Although fertilizers often call themselves “plant food,” they are more similar to a vitamin that can provide a boost on top of what the plant generates itself.
However, sometimes Prayer Plants can benefit from the use of a balanced commercial fertilizer or a layer of organic compost. It is a good idea to fertilize a Prayer Plant that has been in the same pot (and potting mix) for a year or more, since it may have depleted the nutrients from the soil over time.
If you do decide to fertilize your Prayer Plants, always use a light hand. When it comes to fertilizer, a little goes a long way!