Most indoor plants beautifully enhance our surroundings with their lush foliage. But some take vibrant greenery to a whole new level. Prayer plants, or Maranta leuconeura, are bold, sumptuous, tropicals with brightly colored herringbone veins. Although there are more than 40 varieties of this stunning plant, only a few of its species make great houseplants. If you’re seeking a hassle-free, interesting plant with visual appeal, the decorative prayer plant offers everything you need.
During the day, the prayer plant’s leaves are flat like many other tropicals. But at night, they fold inward — similar to praying hands — and some fans swear they hear a rustling when the movement happens. Botanists call this behavior nyctinasty, a response to sunlight changes. As the sun sets, the leaves close. In their natural tropical habitat, this allows raindrops to fall through the prayer plant’s leaves, making it easier for moisture to find its way to the roots.
The erythrophylla, or red prayer plant, is the most common variety. It features bright, red veins, while the Marisela variety exhibits lighter-green markings between the leaf veins. For a more unusual leaf display, check out the black prayer plant, which presents silvery-blue leaves with olive green edges and purple dots across the center. Other varieties have purple, white, or lemon-lime veins or spotted leaf markings.
Healthy prayer plants have six-inch leaves that tolerate low-light conditions but flourish with bright, indirect sunlight. Light that is too intense can fade the leaves or cause brown blotches and scorching. If your prayer plant’s leaves aren’t opening in the mornings, it could indicate that it isn’t getting enough light.
The first watering rule for prayer plants is to never allow the soil to dry out during its active growing seasons, the spring and summer. When the surface soil starts to dry, water the plant with filtered, lukewarm water, but avoid waterlogging it. Don’t let moisture collect on the leaves. If leaves turn yellow and drop, it could be a sign that you’re overwatering.
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Most indoor plants enjoy a little humidity, but the prayer plant adores it. Occasional misting and a warm, moist, environment keep them perky. They grow best in temperatures ranging between 65 and 85 degrees during the day. Avoid placing them in drafty areas or near heating or air conditioning vents.
The prayer plant doesn’t usually require much fertilizer to thrive. If you’re pushing for faster growth, try a half-strength solution every two weeks, but only during the growing season. In the winter, reduce fertilizing frequency. These plants love acidity and some gardeners find that pouring leftover tea on their prayer plants boosts growth.
The hardy prayer plant is a low-grower. It slowly spreads out more than it grows upward and looks quite elegant as its vibrant green leaves reach out across a flat surface. They’re perfect for hanging baskets. Skyward-growing stems reach a height of around 12 inches. The plants produce flowers, but the blossoms aren’t showy or colorful. Its magnificent foliage is the showstopper.
If you prefer fuller, bushier plants, prune the prayer plant twice a year to improve its shape and encourage growth. Use sterilized, sharp scissors for pruning. Cut stems above leaf nodes. You’ll soon notice new leaves growing just below the cut. Remove old leaves in the fall when the plant is past its active growing season.
The prayer plant is easy to propagate. Take 10-centimeter cuttings and place them in a glass of water or directly into a soil mixture of sand and peat moss. Place a plastic bag around the plant and set in a shady spot. Within a month, you should see a new, rooted, prayer plant seedling. Transfer to a pot filled with standard potting soil.
Keep the humidity levels up around your prayer plant to deter spider mites, their most common foe. Too much humidity, however, can lead to leaf spot, a fatal disease. Prayer plant owners with some experience swear by neem oil for handling these issues. If you detect other critters crawling around your plants, try using a deterrent like insecticidal soap.