Taking care of a Prayer Plant (Maranta leuconeura) can be challenging even for experienced plant owners. This beauty is well known for its demanding nature, making some people shy away from keeping one. However, it has an attractive appearance and can reward you with ample growth once you figure out how to meet its needs.
How much water do Prayer Plants need? Prayer Plants require consistently moist but not wet or soggy potting soil. They should not dry out between waterings, so make sure you provide a suitable pot and soil and frequently check the soil. Prayer Plants thrive in a humid environment (above 60%) that mimics their native tropical habitats.
It can be challenging to get the right balance of water and humidity and keep your Maranta leuconeura happy in all seasons. Read through the tips below to get a clear picture of exactly how to water a Prayer Plant and what to do about humidity in your home.
How to Water Your Prayer Plant
Prayer Plants have a reputation for being picky about watering, and to some extent, it is deserved. Marantas react quickly and dramatically if they get too dry, and it can be difficult to nurse one back to health if you’ve let it dry out.
That said, Prayer Plants are also susceptible to damage from too much water. They mainly want consistency, so you may need to check this plant more often than other houseplants while you figure out the watering schedule.
Don’t expect that you will water your Prayer Plant on a set schedule – just because it has been a few days or a week – plants don’t obey calendars. Check the actual soil with your finger or a moisture meter. If the top inch of potting soil still feels moist to the touch, you can wait at least a few more days before giving your Prayer Plant a drink.
When you water, try to soak the soil evenly and thoroughly. It is better to give your Prayer Plant one deep, thorough watering than to give it a little water every few days. You can choose top or bottom watering (see the section below), but either way, make sure the plant doesn’t sit in water for too long. Empty any remaining water that drains from the pot after 30 minutes.
Top Watering vs. Bottom Watering
Top watering is the typical method that people think of watering plants – pouring water onto the top surface of the soil. Bottom watering involves placing the pot into a container of water and allowing the soil to slowly absorb the correct amount of moisture. It usually takes about 10-30 minutes, depending on factors like the size of the pot, number of drainage holes, and how dry the potting soil is.
If I’m watering a lot of plants at once, I do this in the bathtub. Otherwise, I like using this collapsible tub for just a couple of plants since it folds away when I’m not using it. Of course, your regular plant saucer can work too, if it’s deep enough.
There are several benefits to bottom watering. As long as you don’t leave the container sitting in the water too long, there is very little chance of overwatering since the potting soil stops absorbing once it is thoroughly moist. The potting mix has a chance to become evenly moist throughout the pot, as compared with top watering, where we usually pour the water in just one spot.
If you have an issue with fungus gnats, bottom watering can help. These pests need moist soil, but they can only access the top 2 inches or so. Bottom watering keeps the lower soil wetter than the top, so it deters fungus gnats. For more information on fungus gnats and other pests that attack Prayer Plants, this article can help.
Bottom watering also eliminates the possibility of splashing water onto the leaves of your Prayer Plant. Water on the leaves can cause white spots as it dries or allow fungal disease to develop. It’s a good idea to wipe any water off the leaves of your Maranta.
The advantages of top watering are that it’s a faster and easier process than bottom watering. You don’t need to move the plant (in most cases), and it is a one-step process. Top watering also flushes the potting soil of minerals that can build up in the soil over time. For this reason, even if you are a regular bottom waterer, you should give the plant a thorough soak from the top occasionally.
What Water is Best for Prayer Plants
If it’s available, rainwater is always the best choice for watering your indoor plants (including Marantas). That’s because rainwater doesn’t contain the additives found in tap water (chemicals, pharmaceuticals, minerals, and salts, for instance). It contains more oxygen and is overall more pure than tap water. It can also collect nutrients from the atmosphere that are beneficial to plants. (Read more about the benefits of rainwater here!)
If you don’t have rainwater available, distilled or filtered water are also good options. If you or a friend keep an aquarium, old aquarium water works great for potted plants and would otherwise go to waste.
That said, many people also use water straight from the faucet for their Prayer Plants without any issues, so it depends on the quality of the tap water in your area. Leaving tap water to sit for 24 hours allows some of the chemicals to evaporate before you use it.
You should not use softened water on Marantas or any other plants. Water softeners usually use sodium carbonate, which would introduce way too much salt to your houseplants.
Prayer Plants can be more sensitive to impurities in water compared with other houseplants. This can result in yellowing or brown leaf tips as the plant tries to push these unwanted substances out.
No matter what type of water you use, be sure that it is room temperature or even a bit warmer when you water your Prayer Plants. Their roots can be shocked if you use water that is too cool.
When to Water Your Prayer Plant
Since Maranta leuconeura doesn’t like to dry out, you should take care to water it before the soil feels too dry. The top 1-1.5 inches of soil should be allowed to dry out, but the potting mix should still feel moist to the touch below that point.
A moisture meter is an inexpensive way to get a better sense of what’s going on beneath the soil, especially for those who don’t like getting their fingers dirty by checking manually. This tool uses a metal probe inserted into the growing medium and returns a result on a scale between wet and dry.
As Prayer Plants are less active in the cooler winter months, and water takes longer to evaporate in cool temperatures, reduce watering accordingly. On the other hand, fast growth and warmer temperatures mean that your Prayer Plant may dry out more quickly than usual. Our heating and air conditioning systems also play a role in indoor humidity, air temperatures, and circulation. Be aware that the season can make a significant difference to a Maranta’s watering needs.
How Often to Water Your Maranta Leuconeura
As with most plants, there is no one defined answer to how often they should be watered. The frequency of your watering schedule is going to depend on a number of factors that are unique to your plant. Pot size, temperature, growth rate, and humidity can all make a difference in how often you should water your Maranta.
It’s a good idea to set a schedule to check your Prayer Plants. Personally, I check my plants every 4-5 days, but I also take care to look at the more delicate ones daily. Since I know what they usually look like, I can quickly notice when something has changed. If a plant looks more droopy than usual, it may be because it’s thirsty.
Does Your Container Matter?
The type of container you choose to plant your Prayer Plant in can have a surprisingly significant influence on your watering routine. First off, make sure that the container has at least one drainage hole. This is vital to proper watering because a container without drainage can hold on to too much water and cause root rot. Even if you are careful, it’s tough to monitor the moisture content in the bottom of the container.
A container made from plastic or glazed ceramic doesn’t absorb any water from the soil, while a terra cotta or other unglazed pot is porous and takes in moisture. For that reason, some people don’t recommend using unglazed pots for Prayer Plants (or any plant that likes moist soil). I’ve used both for my Marantas successfully, but it’s worth being aware of how the different types of containers can change your care routine.
Prayer Plants have roots that are shallow and spread, so they do better in a container that is wide and not too deep. A pot like this would suit a Prayer Plant since it has a drainage hole, is glazed on the inside and outside, and is a good shape for its shallow roots.
The Dangers of Overwatering or Underwatering Your Prayer Plant
Both overwatering and underwatering can cause damage to your Prayer Plant, which is why it is so important to monitor it regularly. Too little water will show up first in the leaves, which will start to droop as the soil starts to dry out. If you notice at this point and water the plant right away, you can usually get away without any lasting damage. Your Maranta leuconeura should revive within a couple of hours.
However, if you let a Prayer Plant dry out over several days before you notice it, the leaves will look significantly different from normal. They start to curl in from the sides, and some will turn yellow. Stems get droopy and hang over the side of the pot. Finally, leaves dry out and get brown and crispy.
Saving an underwatered Maranta is possible, depending on the severity of the problem. First, water the plant thoroughly as soon as you notice what has happened. Trim back any dry or damaged leaves, since they will not be able to recover. You want to focus on new growth that may be able to sprout. Keep the plant in as close-to-ideal conditions as you can during this recovery period – maybe try increasing humidity with a clear plastic bag or in a terrarium. Depending on the season, you may see growth within a couple of weeks.
Overwatering also occurs in Prayer Plants since over-eager houseplant owners know that this is a demanding, moisture-loving species. However, it doesn’t like the soil to be too wet. It’s a tricky balance.
To avoid overwatering, keep in mind all the factors that influence how much water your plant needs. The container size (and the ratio of potting soil to roots), season, temperature, humidity, and type of potting soil all contribute to the amount of moisture the plant will get between waterings. It is important to start with rich but free-draining soil and a pot with drainage holes; otherwise you might be letting the roots sit in too much moisture.
Unfortunately, the initial symptoms of overwatering look a lot like the symptoms of underwatering. You will see yellowing and curling leaves and weak stems. When you see these signs, a quick check of the soil should clarify whether it is underwatered or overwatered (or maybe something else).
It may be difficult to save an overwatered Prayer Plant if root rot has already set in. Remove the root ball and all potting mix from the pot and check the root condition. Clean off as much of the wet potting soil as you can, and then trim off any roots that are brown, black, soft, or slimy. Prayer Plant roots should be yellowish to white and firm.
Don’t be surprised if you encounter something that looks like a little potato among your Prayer Plant’s roots – they grow tubers! In fact, another species in the Marantaceae family, Maranta arundinacea, produces the edible arrowroot vegetable.
Replant your pruned Prayer Plant after you have trimmed back any dead or dying pieces. Be sure to use fresh potting mix. Keep a close eye on the plant after this for signs of recovery. It may seem weak or inactive for a while until it reestablishes itself, but one of the great things about a Maranta is its ability to produce new growth even when you think it has died off.
Do Prayer Plants Like Humidity?
The short answer is – yes! Prayer Plants love humid environments, and they will soon show their displeasure if they’re kept in a place that’s too dry. The ideal humidity level is above 60%, but that can be challenging to maintain depending on where you live.
Remember that Marantas originate from tropical forests in Brazil, where humidity is usually 75% or higher year-round. They are adapted to live in those climates, so, naturally, they usually require some extra humidity to thrive in a typical home.
How to Measure Humidity Levels Around Your Plants
The easiest way to determine the humidity level in the area surrounding your Prayer Plant is to purchase a hygrometer. Most of us don’t have a clue what our indoor humidity levels are, even though the weather report gives us the outdoor percentages, and a hygrometer will give you a humidity reading similar to how a thermostat tells the temperature.
Not all rooms in your home will have the same humidity levels. Typically you will find higher humidity levels anywhere with plumbing, such as kitchens and bathrooms. Basements or garden-level rooms also tend to trap more moisture, as do older stone homes. Placing a Prayer Plant in one of these naturally humid spaces can help keep it happy, while saving you the trouble of finding methods to supplement humidity.
Hygrometers are small and can be moved easily from room to room to determine which locations will work best for your Prayer Plant. Especially as you start to expand your collection to include some of the fussier plants like Maranta leuconera, this device can quickly pay for itself if it helps you to save just one prized specimen.
Options for Raising the Humidity Surrounding Your Prayer Plant
If you don’t have a room with high enough humidity for your Prayer Plant’s needs, there are several options to create a mini tropical environment inside your home. My top recommendation is a humidifier, as it’s specifically designed for just this purpose. Since most humidifiers allow you to set your desired humidity level, you can feel comfortable that you’re giving your plants what they need without increasing humidity too much.
I advise you to do a bit of research before committing to a humidifier since they come in a variety of sizes and price points, from basic to high tech. I won’t go too deeply into humidifiers since, but we have an in-depth article that will tell you everything you need to know: The Best Humidifiers For Houseplants.
If you aren’t quite ready to commit to a humidifier, there are some ways to increase humidity levels around your Prayer Plants. These options are less effective than humidifiers but can be good alternatives for those looking for budget-friendly choices.
The first option is simply grouping several plants together – especially if they are all humidity- and moisture-loving plants. A certain amount of water will be released from the leaves, and more will evaporate from the soil of any houseplant, so putting them in the same area can increase the relative humidity in that area.
Another option is a pebble tray. Pebble trays allow for some water to evaporate all around the plant. Basically, you take a tray (or plate, bowl – something wide and shallow, but deep enough to hold water) and fill it with pebbles. Then add water to just below the level of the top pebbles, and place your pot on top of the pebbles. Make sure the pot is elevated since you don’t want the plant to be absorbing water. The intention is just to allow the evaporation to be concentrated right around your plant.
In my experience, using pebble trays hasn’t increased humidity enough for my Prayer Plants, so I moved to a small humidifier… and then to a bigger one, as my plant collection grew. As you experiment with humidity levels, you should be able to find a method (or combination of methods) that will suit your lifestyle and plants equally well.
Don’t be intimidated by the water and humidity needs of a Prayer Plant. Although they are less forgiving about inconsistent watering than some other houseplants, Marantas are rewarding once you figure out how to keep them happy.
Remember the natural habitat of Maranta leuconeura, and that can guide you on providing a suitable environment where it can thrive. It’s not possible (or desirable) to make your home into a tropical forest, but you can mimic some of the main traits in certain areas. Ample water and humidity are two of the main requirements for your Prayer Plant to flourish!