Rattlesnake Plant Care: Taking Care of Calatheas

Rattlesnake plants, Calathea lancifolia, are native to the tropical forests of Central and South America. It is also called the zebra plant because its leaves have white stripes on a dark green background. The flowers are purple with yellowish anthers. Despite their common names, these plants actually belong to the Marantaceae family.

Rattlesnake plants need indirect bright light for growing indoors successfully. They prefer temperatures ranging between 16°C (60°F) – 22°C (72°F). Be careful not to overwater rattlesnake plants as they are pretty sensitive to stagnant water in pot soil which can cause root rotting disease or fungal infections. On the other hand, plants need moist but not wet soil.

Rattlesnake Plant Care Taking Care of Calatheas
Rattlesnake Plant Care Taking Care of Calatheas

Rattlesnake plants can grow up to 45 – 60 cm (18 – 24 inches) tall. Unfortunately, these plants don’t like cold weather very much, and you should therefore stop watering them during wintertime. This will make them go dormant for about three months.

If you plan to bring your rattlesnakes outside for the summertime, keep in mind that they don’t like direct sunlight either! Please put them in an area that is partially covered by shade or try to imitate their natural habitat as much as possible. Another reason why they don’t like the full sun is that their leaves can get sunburned.

  • Status: Perennial plant, Hardy plant / Half-hardy plant, Tender plant.
  • Origin: South America, Amazonia region.
  • Height: Rattlesnake plants grow up to 45 – 60 cm (18 – 24 inches) tall.

Rattlesnake Plant Care

Here are some requirements to follow for your rattlesnake plant care.

Spacing

These plants need around 25 cm (10 inches) of space between them when planted in pot soil. You can also place several rattlesnake plants together in a huge pot, and they will look stunning!

Light

Rattlesnake plants prefer indirect bright light for growing inside. They don’t like full sun, so try to imitate their natural habitat as much as possible and avoid putting them in direct sunlight, which can cause sunburn on their leaves or even kill your plant. A window facing east or west is an ideal location.

Water

Rattlesnake plants constantly require moist soil, so be sure to water every day. During the growing period, water rattlesnake plants moderately. Make sure that their pot soil is always slightly moist but not wet.

If the plant has drooping leaves, it means that it needs more water (in this case, you should stop watering during winter time), if its leaves are yellow and falling off – your plant doesn’t like the current location – you should move your plant to a new location or increase watering. You can use rainwater or filtered water for watering your plants.

Avoid using tap water as it contains chlorine which can burn the roots of your plant. Also, ensure there is no drainage at the bottom of your pot because stagnant water in the soil can cause root rotting disease or fun infections.

Humidity

High humidity is required for this species, (around 70%) and moderate temperatures around 16°C (60°F) – 22°C (72°F); it should be misted daily with room temperature water. If misting isn’t possible, trays filled with gravel and water underneath plants are very useful in increasing humidity.

Temperature

Rattlesnake plants prefer colder winter and warm summer. During winter, rattlesnake plants should be kept at a minimum temperature of 16°C (60°F). However, it is also possible to keep these plants at room temperature if you live in an area where there are no freezes during wintertime. Otherwise, you can transfer your plant into a room that has a lower temperature than the one where it was until now.

Soil

Make sure that pot soil is well-drained but moist at the same time. Use three parts peat moss, 1 part perlite, and 1 part potting soil, or you can use pre-mixed all-purpose planting soil.

Fertilizer

Use liquid fertilizer during the growing period, which should be diluted to 1/4 of the normal strength. It would be best if you stopped fertilizing your plant during wintertime because excess fertilizer can burn the roots of your rattlesnake plant.

Also, remember that these plants are sensitive to fertilizer and salt, so you shouldn’t pour hot water over their leaves or use baking soda.

Patio plant fertilizer also works very well with this species. I recommend fertilizing once a month from spring through autumn and using half the recommended dosage for Rattlesnake plants. If you are a beginning Calatheaphile, it is essential to know that too much fertilizer can damage plants, so be careful about over-fertilizing your plants!

Repotting

In my experience, bare-root plants need to be repotted every 1-2 years in soil that is appropriate for the species. Potted calatheas can go from 3-5 years before they need to be repotted in fresh potting soil.

I recommend picking a nice terracotta pot and using about half peat moss and half perlite or vermiculite as a base for your potting mixture. Add a bit extra peat moss if you plan on keeping your plant potted for more than two seasons, so you have a richer nutrient source for your plant.

Potted vs. Bare-Root

Many people prefer potted plants because of their attractive leaves and stalks, but calatheas often don’t do as well when grown in pots because they need high humidity levels.

In my experience, bare-root plants generally do better than pot-grown calatheas because the roots of Rattlesnake plants are very sensitive to stagnant moist soil, which is a common problem with potted calatheas.

Pruning

If the plant’s leaves are turning yellow for no apparent reason, it may be due to insufficient fertilizer or light levels. Make sure they are receiving appropriate amounts of fertilizer and are in a bright location.

However, if the leaves are turning yellow because they are old (this can also cause brown edges on young leaves), you should prune them off the plant. I recommend removing about 25 percent of the oldest leaves every time you water your plant during the summer months. Also, remove any tiny flower buds that appear on this plant since they will never open into flowers in most houses!

Propagation

Rattlesnake plants can be propagated by division, leaf cuttings, or by seed. I have had the best success with leaf cuttings due to my high failure rate with seeds and the slow growth of Rattlesnake plants when propagated via division, but many people report good results when propagating Rattlesnake plants via both methods.

Pests & diseases

Rattlesnake plants are susceptible to root rot caused by overwatering or underwatering, but it’s easy to prevent this disease because these plants don’t like wet soil. However, make sure to keep their pot soil consistently moist enough.

Also, if the leaves get brown spots, your plant might not have enough humidity, but you can fix that by using pebbles for elevating pots above the water level. It is also fairly resistant to leaf spot diseases

Aphids are the most common pest problem with Rattlesnake plants, which can be treated very easily with a diluted solution of neem oil or insecticidal soap. Spider mites are also an occasional issue, but these pests can also be dealt with using above mentioned treatments.

How to Repott Rattlesnake Plants?

Most Rattlesnake plants are sensitive to root disturbances. Repotting generally requires a very slow adaptation period, perhaps as long as several months. To avoid problems when repotting your Rattlesnake plants, you will need the following supplies:

  • New Pot for Repotting.
  • Soil Mix (I use equal parts of Peat and Coco).
  • Sharp Knife.
  • Old Toothbrush.
  • Oil-based Marker or Pencil.      
  1. An original pot filled with old soil mix about 1/4″ below the rim of pot – ready to be planted in the new soil mix.
  2. Remove old soil from the roots by flaking it away with your fingers or by cutting it out with a sharp knife. You may need to wash the roots off with water if the soil is caked on – do so carefully so as not to damage the roots.
  3. Roots washed clean of old dirt and ready for repotting.         
  4. Slip root-ball into the new pot, adding just enough soil mix to enable you to push the plant down out of sight in your pot. Add additional soil mix until level with the rim of the pot.
  5. Make small divots around the base of the stem at equal intervals to allow for new root growth.
  6. Allow the repotted plant to sit undisturbed for several days as it acclimates itself to its new environment.
  7. After the adaptation period, water thoroughly but gently to avoid excess moisture in the plant’s crown.         

If your plant is kept outdoors, it may be necessary to apply additional sun protection for a few days until acclimated. As Rattlesnake plants are susceptible to direct sunlight damage, provide some shade for a week or two after repotting if necessary.

After several weeks you will begin to see new root growth showing on through the soil – these roots are ready for another repotting.

Final Thoughts

If you have problems with Rattlesnake Plants or Calathea lancifolia, try moving your plant to a brighter location and making sure it’s being watered correctly (in my experience, many people don’t water their Calatheas enough). Making sure your Rattlesnake Plant doesn’t get too wet will go a long way towards preventing root rot. I hope you enjoyed this article and will share it with your friends!

Annika Vallgren

The old housewives, in general, were in charge of everything in a household. From doing budget deliberations, meal planning to implementing actions and everything in between, they are simply the right person for the job, period. A major portion of their time was spent doing laundry, cleaning, and feeding her hungry children, who would come home tired from school. I believe we have a lot to learn from her. So, here you will find old housewife tips mixed with modern life hacks, knowledge about washing and cleaning, and much more the modern housewife needs!

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