How to Care for a Calathea Setosa: 8 Straightforward Points

This exotic-looking rainforest plant has stunning foliage that resembles artistic brush strokes. This makes the Calathea setosa an ideal house or office plant. With the movement of the leaves that mimics the action of hands preying, it acts like other Calathea species but is actually from the ctenathe genus.

As a horticulturist, I have the pleasure of growing several Calathea varieties. The Calathea setosa has been one of the easiest to keep looking great! My mature Calathea setosa stands beautifully at 5 feet (152cm) tall in the corner of my living room. The purple underside of the leaves complements my home’s design scheme and liven up an empty corner.

If you wondered whether the Calathea setosa could be a perfect addition to your living room or office, here is the run-down.

Table of Contents

How Many Hours of Indirect Light Is Ideal?

calathea setosa outside in sun

This jungle-loving tropical plant prefers bright indirect light conditions. You will discover that placing it next to a window with partial shade will keep its striking variegated foliage looking fresh. Aim to give the Prayer plant bright indirect sunlight for 6-8 hours per day.

If your room is exceptionally bright, you can use a sheer curtain on the window to diffuse the light.

A sign that that the Calathea setosa is receiving too much direct sunlight- or that the light is too strong is that the leaves will lose their dark green color. On the other hand, if your Calathea setosa is in too much shade, the leaves will lose their silvery gray stripes and will become dull.

Can I Use Tap Water?

The watering routine is one of the critical factors in keeping your Never-never plant looking fabulous. Depending on the temperature and humidity of your home will determine how often your Prayer plant needs watering.

The best way to check is to stick your finger 2 inches (5cm) into the soil and see if it has dried out; if it has dried, then it’s time to water. As with other Calathea species, the Calathea setosa can be a bit fussy with the type of water it prefers.

Avoid using tap water that naturally contains chlorine salts and other compounds, as this can discolor the leaves. Use purified or distilled room temperature water when watering your Calathea setosa. Additionally soak the soil, letting the excess water escape the drainage holes.

The Prayer plant can dry out slightly between waterings, but if left dry for too long, it will stop folding its leaves at night. Eventually, the leaves will fall off. It’s super important not to overwater this unique plant, too. They are pretty susceptible to root rot which can eventually kill them.

calathea setosa on dark background

What Soil Prevents Root Rot?

The Calathea setosa thrives in premium potting soil that is well-drained and evenly moist. Adding one gallon (3.75 litres) Perlite peat and one gallon (3.75 liters) sand to the one gallon (3.75 litres) soil mix will ensure moisture retention. The typical pH of store-bought potting soil is around 5.8 to 6.2, which is sufficient for the Calathea setosa, so you shouldn’t need to amend these levels. 

You can test potting soil by using a pH test strip kit or the pH levels on a moisture meter.These are available from gardening stores.

If your potting soil is more alkaline than 6.1, you can raise the acidity by adding wood ash, calcitic lime, or dolomitic lime (about two ounces of ash to every square yard (50-70g per square meter). On the other hand, if the soil is already too acidic (above 7.1), you can amend the soil with a quarter pound of sulfur per square yard (0.11kg) aluminum sulfate or baking soda. 

Add some Orchid bark or gravel to improve aeration in the soil and lessen the chance of root rot. That way, it will reduce soil compaction and give more oxygen to the roots so they can develop quickly.

What Temperature is Best?

Regarding ideal temperatures for the Prayer plant family, they prefer a range of 65-75 F (18- 23 C) degrees, which is no different for the Calathea setosa. If Calathea setosa experiences a drop in temperatures below 60 F (15 C), the plant will be under stress with cold damage to the leaves. During the winter months, try to keep the Prayer plant away from drafty windows or doors and control your home’s temperature.

As the temperatures rise during peak summer months, the Calathea setosa can succumb to temperatures up to 75-85 F (23- 29 C). Therefore if you live in a warm climate area, take care to keep your stunning plant in a cool spot with air conditioning at this time.

calathea setosa in front of the fireplace

Is High Humidity Suitable?

With Calathea setosa being from a tropical climate, keeping it within suitable humidity levels is vital. The ideal humidity range for the Prayer plant is 50-60%, which is a little higher than the average house in seasons outside of summer. 

The Calathea setosa absorbs humidity from the air with the plant’s leaves. One sign of insufficient humidity is that the leaves will turn crisp and brown at the edges.

To maintain humidity levels in your home, you can install an inexpensive humidifier (a favored option among house plant collectors).

Another option is to stand the pot on a tray of pebbles with water in it. This method creates a small reservoir and increases the moisture around the plant. Keep your Prayer plant in a room with high humidity, for instance the bathroom, kitchen, or laundry.

hand holding a calathea setosa in black pot

Should I Use a Well-Balanced Fertilizer?

Like other Calathea plants, the Calathea setosa does well with feeding during the peak growing season (spring and summer). You can opt for a well-balanced liquid fertilizer like a 10-10-10 ratio (Nitrogen/Phosphorus/Potassium) and feed once per month. During the winter, the Calathea setosa growth will slow down, and there is no need to fertilize it. Be sure to follow the guidelines on the fertilizer to ensure proper dilution.

Over-fertilizing can cause excess salt build up in the soil, which affects drainage, causing root rot. Signs of over-fertilizing the Calathea setosa are yellow leaves that have wilted and eventually dropped off. In contrast, the Calathea will show signs of when it needs fertilizer, which is the form of stunted growth and pale leaves.

Can I Use Stem Cutting to Propagate?

Suppose you want to multiply the number of Never-never plants and give one as a gift or simply keep more for yourself! You can do so by propagating by stem cuttings. I am sure I am not on my own when it comes to being a greedy plant owner, so knowing how to reproduce a plant successfully is priceless!

First, choose a stem with new healthy growth to take stem cuttings from the Calathea setosa. Secondly, use a clean, sharp pair of scissors and cut at least 3 inches long above the growth node (the little nobbly bit where the leaf forms). After that, make sure you have a pot to hand filled with the same potting mix you have the mother plant in. Place the cut end of the stem into the wet soil with the nodes buried. Finally, keep the new cutting in the same position as the mother plant and ensure the same care routine.

After a few weeks of keeping the soil moist, the plant’s roots will develop, and you will have a new baby tropical plant.

person holding calathea setosa

Calathea Setosa is Non-Toxic 

The Calathea setosa is pet friendly, making it non toxic to dogs, cats, and humans. Still take precautions when having it in your home. Although it won’t harm them, you don’t want them to damage it!

Problematic Pests and Solutions

The Prayer plant is not resistant to diseases or pests and can experience its fair share of problems like any other indoor plant. Here are a few to look out for and how to treat them:

Spider Mites

Small brown and yellow spots combined with fine webbing on your plant’s leaves indicate the presence of spider mites. A large infestation will reduce the plant’s growth and can stop it completely. Use an insecticidal soap spray made of 2.5 tablespoons of vegetable oil, 2.5 tablespoons of liquid dish soap, and water. Spray the foliage and watch as the numbers decrease and the plant bounces back to its proper form.

Scale Insects

These can look like small hard brown lumps on the plant’s stem and appear not to move much. They slowly suck the sap from your plant, causing wounds in the stem and leaving them vulnerable to other diseases.

One way to get rid of them is to gently scrape them off your plant using a piece of card. Alternatively, you can use a neem oil spray of one tablespoon of neem oil, one teaspoon of liquid dish soap, and warm water. Spray the soil and leaves once a week and watch as they start to disappear.

calathea setosa in white pot on white background


Another sap sucker found on the Calathea setosa are Aphids. They will destroy your plant at any given chance. To maintain your gorgeous plant and keep the aphids away, use a spray made of one tablespoon of neem oil, one teaspoon of liquid dish soap, or one-part hydrogen peroxide to four parts water.

After spraying the leaves and soil once a week, you will reduce the infestation, and your plant’s health will be revived.


These small fluffy looking bugs may look cute under a microscope, but they are notorious for sucking the life out of indoor tropical plants. They are not difficult to notice on the dark green leaves as they live in clusters and are bright white colored. The best weapon to use for mealybugs is one teaspoon of neem oil diluted with 1 liter of warm water.

Top tip: If using neem oil, always dilute it as it is super potent and will harm your plants otherwise.

Brown leaf tips

Brown leaf tips can be a sign of change in humidity levels, over-fertilizing, or using tap water. If there is no change in humidity levels, you can re-pot your Prayer plant into the new soil. By repotting your Calathea setosa, you ensure there is no build-up of salts from over-fertilizing, and then you can resume a regular watering cycle using distilled water.

Yellow leaves

Yellow leaves are a telltale sign of irregular watering. With the Never-never plant being sensitive to root rot for instance, be sure not to soak the roots and allow the excess water to drain out of the drainage holes fully. You can remove the yellow leaves from the plant with a clean, sharp pair of scissors. Maintain a good watering routine by checking the soil’s first 2 inches (5cm) to see if it is moist.

About the Calathea Setosa

Originating from the lowlands of the rainforests in Central and South America, it is no wonder this clump-forming perennial thrives in a shady, warm, and humid environment. The Ctenanthe plants are members of the Marantaceae family, also known as Arrow roots Never-never plants or Prayer plants. The Calathea setosa is a variety that showcases some of the most eye-catching foliage.

The Calathea setosa leaves are patterned with what looks like soft silvery white paint brush strokes on a deep green background. The underside of the Calathea setosa leaves are a rich maroon color and simultaneously grow from a sturdy thin stem.

As the Prayer plant adapts to the changes in the light, you will see the leaves move. During the day, the leaves fold in an upward position, and at night they fold downwards. This intriguing characteristic is called nyctinasty and can be seen in several plants from the same family.

Other names you may see when looking for this prized possession are Compact star plant, Ctenanthe setosa, or Zebra plant. When fully matured, they can reach an impressive height of 7 feet (213cm) which starts up an empty corner of the room.

close up of calathea setosa leaves

FAQ About the Calathea Setosa

How do you care for a Calathea setosa?

Care for the Calathea setosa by ensuring it is kept at a suitable temperature of 75-85F. Humidity levels of 50-60%, sufficient light, water, and fertilizer.

How often should I water Calathea setosa?

Water the Calathea setosa when the first top 2 inches of the soil is dry. This routine will change during different seasons.

How big does the Calathea setosa get?

The Calathea setosa will grow to 3-7 feet tall and 6-2 feet wide.Does Calathea like sun or shade?

Calathea setosa needs bright indirect sunlight to grow. They originate from the rainforest floor, where the direct sunlight is filtered.

Calathea Setosa Catches the Eye

The beauty of this rainforest plant has become increasingly popular among plant owners. With its thick leaves and unique variation, you can see why. By gaining a little bit of knowledge, the Calathea setosa can be an ideal plant for beginner gardeners. 

My Calathea setosa has grown to a staggering 5 feet tall, and I couldn’t be happier keeping this plant. The deep maroon undersides of the leaves add a splash of color to the room. Calathea setosa makes an ideal office or desk plant too, where bright sunlight is limited in commercial spaces. 

Reproducing the Calathea setosa is easily done by stem cuttings, so be sure to make a few babies and share them with your friends.Ready for Calathea Custodianship?

Ready for More Leafy Inspiration?

It continues beyond there; dive into the details of other houseplants with these helpful guides. If you fancy some additions to your plant care kit, find some advice on the best tools to care for your plant babies. You can find all you need to swot up on your indoor shrubbery!

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Alex Tinsman
An avid plant and flower lover! Ever since he was little, plants, flowers, and shrubbery of all kinds filled his life. Alex credits this fascination with nature's beauty to his mother and grandmother who were - and still are - dedicated gardeners. It's now Alex's mission to pass that same love for plants onto others and show them it's as easy as pie to bring nature inside.

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