- Author: Alexia Larlee
TRADESCANTIA vs. CALATHEA plant profiles in other words, what I would recommend to the new houseplant gardener and what I would say is fussier of a plant! Both species are typically everywhere to find and get, can be found from the grocery stores, and “big box” department stores can carry a lot of different species to each since the genus comes in such a variety. Calathea can truly be easy if you're willing to give the requirements set up near to perfect. a better word would be challenging. they are ideal if you're into poking around your plants almost every day vs you can leave a Tradescantia in the corner of a room up on a shelf for a week at a time. I will be zoning in and out on particular species to ones abroad and its relatives. When I say Tradecantia I really want to mean as a whole since the care requirements are similar. But when I zone in, of course, I'll mention which one I'm talking about that could be easier. For example, within the Calathea there are also stromanthe and ctenanthe genus of its own in the Marantaceae family. While in the Tradescantia there are also callisia, cyanotis and spathacaea in the Commelinaceae family.
They can vary in zones 8-11. They can be commonly called “Inch Plant” or “Spiderwort” or the now outdated name of “Wandering Jew.” these include zebrina, flumensis and pallida these a common first-plant experience for some as these are some of the toughest plants and have spread all over the world, almost like a weed. They are weakly upright clumping standing plants that work to a trailing vine. Tradescantia and these subsets belong to Commelinaceae family.
Most can tolerate USDA zones 10-11. A new recent study has been dividing up the Calathea and giving them the genus name of Goeppertia. They also can be commonly called Prayer Plants since their leaves fold up and down throughout the day reaching for light and fold up at night or even as a sign to show stress. This genus is subsets to the genus: Marantas which are the true Prayer Plants and are part of the Marantacaea family which is called the Prayer Plant family. These Marantas have many different versions to them and many you find will be under Maranta leuconeura. I recommend you start with a Maranta. If you wish to dive into getting a plant within the Marantacaea family as they aren't as finicky as the Calathea. a leafy tropical and tender perennial: These are from jungle environments of central and south Americas. These are under-growth plants and can be found growing off detritus on the forest floors. The Marantacaea belong to an order called Zingiberales which is what we find a lot of table spices to be in and bananas. If I didn't confuse you enough let's just get to the basics of care and my experiences and more research on what I recommend would give you a very thriving and reliable houseplant.
These are no other words but succulent! They are perfect if you like to water a lot but make sure it's in the well-draining substrate with additional per-lite for great drainage and to make sure to water when the surface is dry and to do so lightly/ little each time because you can easily get crown rot and the plant will abort its whole stem and they will want to literally jump off and try their luck somewhere else. (I'll go over how easy it is to propagate with these.) They like to dry in between watering but not bone-dry as you might lose a leaf or 2 but to where there's water coming out of the bottom of the pot.
What I have been able to get away with is submerging the pot underwater and give it a good soaking but I do this 1-2 times a month during cold and once a week in hot seasons. I actually have some living with aloe so it definitely goes to show it's important to let it mostly dry in between watering. For the ones that are in higher intensity of light, it is once a week I do this. they like to go dry in between watering but for not too long, this can cause leaf dropping and legginess.
Let them dry out occasionally, they can suffer if you let them dry out all the way, they can handle small periods of drought only because they have a thick starchy tuber that holds some back up moisture. They like to live in constantly moist airy soil., so they don't like to stay sopping wet. If they stay too wet for to long their roots will rot. When you water, as a preventative measure for pests, let the water shower over the foliage. For instance, take it into the shower with you and let it enjoy the humidity and warmth, and keep it lush as it would in the tropics. When watering, these are some of those plants where your water might be too hard and damaging. We have to remember that in tap water there is fluoride. Distilled water or rainwater is recommended.
You don't need to worry about the levels for this species. Although if your leaf tips brown then humidity could be needed. These species can tolerate up to high humidity as well, just don't overwater.
These prefer 70% and higher is great for them but not for humans home. You can get away with it as a houseplant in the lower levels of 50%-60% is critical. I keep my humidity monitored with a thermostat and I work at keeping it at 60% by using humidifiers and just by having them collected in a room with my other humidity-loving plants of plants in this small 8' x 8' room. I also think it's necessary to add that these plants need to sit in a tray bigger than one that fits just right because if you add pebbles and let it stand in water, it increases humidity. Remember it is not good to let it stand in stagnate water and that the plant does require to dry out here and there between watering…they hate to be completely dry and do require that they stay on the evenly, light moist side. They hate dry air so check out your humidity in winter and point the heater vent away from it.
I must say that Goeppertia kegeljanii (Calathea musaica) can tolerate less humidity levels. I've also read from others that this can be one of the easier Calathea. I also have mine in a very bright south-east facing window and I experience no leaf tips curling or browning. This species can tolerate zone 9. I don't have mine sitting in a tray of water, either.
These make great ornamental plants meaning you can probably get away with it growing in a spot that you wouldn't call great lighting. These plants don't need “babying.” I have them in almost every room of my house! That spot where you truly believed a Calathea would survive but died might be a perfect one for your Tradescantia. Plants in too low of light can become leggy and lose premature leaves as well as the color is mottled/dull. T. pallida has that hardiness of zone 8 and can thrive in the full dead-beat sun of California summer as a ground cover. Their purple coloring is very bright, and this variety is very succulent. Most Tradescantia can't tolerate frost temperatures for too long or they begin to get leggy and die.
I left outside my T. zebrina for a couple of nights and it lost some branches which I was later able to salvage and propagate the not so scarred pieces.
They need a medium to bright lighting. Too low of lighting makes the leaves slowly yellow and you will want to pinch them off once they're crispy. This can happen to the inner, middle old leaves as time goes on and that is normal to shed. It is also easy to overwater if it's in too dark of a situation. if you give them bright or too much direct sun, you can see the beautiful coloring of their leaves fade and they can burn easily. Their light needs are not too far away from what a philodendron or a pothos can thrive in.
One variety I have called G. roseopicta, I had in a north-west window and it is 2 feet from it and so it was low lighting and the plant lived there well and was very slowly putting out leaves, it hardly showed sign of stress, just that the leaves were a bit silver-toned mottled color to its normal deep dark pink. which I read was due to low lighting. I moved the plant to another north-west window and its up against it (but under larger Calathea) and the leaves are coming through in better pink color. Another G. roseopicta 'Dottie' I had left in a darker corner in between north-west and north-east facing window (low light levels) because of the roof overhanging the house about 5'. I had a lot of new growth coming out of it and I actually got the plant to go into flower in this spot. The only problem it had was some leaf curling and tips becoming crisp from lack of humidity. I then replaced it with a T. multiflora and haven't had a problem. I placed the G. rosepicta 'Dottie' into the room with the managed humidity and the leaf curling and tips browning stopped.
Because these are used to consistent temperatures, try to keep them out of reach of drafts or fluctuating temperatures. This can cause stress and the leaves can fold up and be stuck like that until it is comfortable again. Its best to not let them get too cold. 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit, at least.
With using typical, good quality potting mixes you should not run into any problems. Adding addition vermiculite for moisture retention and per-lite for good drainage should do the trick.
By using typical, good quality potting mixes, you should not really run into problems. But if you want to create your own and go about amending it, I recommend enriching it with compost, peat moss for raised acidity. I mentioned that they can be growing out of detritus: organic matter produced by the decomposition of organisms or other materials produced by erosion and so they like a rich medium and can appreciate compost. They like a slightly acidic mix with a pH ranging near 6.5. you can acquire a soil testing kit or reader from your local hardware or garden retailers.
These plants grow large (up to 3 feet) but grow into the pot size and deal with what they're given to take. With regular feeding/fertilizing you can continue to see new growth and fill out. They like the slow-release fertilizer sticks or if you mix in compost, add some per-lite in, too to keep your loam fluffy.
this is a great plant to test your pruning strategies since it has a tendency to look leggy but grow quickly enough for you to avoid a full cut back moment. Species are commonly found popping up like weeds in garden centers and yards. They can be very invasive. They splice out roots from the nodes in water or if you gently push them into the soil and keep it evenly moist.
I've never even had a pest problem on any of my Tradescantia to tell.
Since they can be stressed easily, it's best to do so by division in spring by making a fine cut with a pair of scissors through its roots. With stress, these plants are very susceptible to pests. The bugs will be hard to notice since they will be close to the growing points and on the inner stem where you have to look into the plant until it's an infestation where you can see from far. The pests won't downright kill your plant but just keep adding to the stress which can make the plant abort its foliage and its new leaves coming in. if plants do get infected, wash it up and down with antibacterial soap and they can take some neem oil on them. Some pests infest soils so important to ring out the plant re-pot or add a systematic to the soil to keep the pest at bay. You will need to keep a close eye on the plant. Neem oil will work if you are really diligent about using it regularly as a practice with caring for your Calathea. These plants can have a real hard time bouncing back. You can do yourself a favor with these species to make sure you buy a healthy plant. Check those roots and make sure they aren't sopping wet because you might not know how long it's been and the same goes for too dry because you don't want to start out with those carbohydrates already drained out. This plant really does like to tell you signs of what could be the matter as well so make sure to look it thoroughly up and down. This is just a more challenging plant if you want something you don't want to pay any attention to.
Here attached are my happy plants. I hope you enjoy and get a better understanding of the 2 different species.
Me standing in front of my very bright south-east facing window holding Cyanotis kewensis and Goeppertia kegeljanii
My beloved humidity room of Calathea, my hanging orchid, Hoya, and Ficus lyrata in a north-west window.
My Tradescantia multiflora in a rather dim corner surrounded by the north-west and north-east windows under the roof's 5' hanger.