The waxy, dark green leaves of the Calathea rufibarba with a wavy surface and burgundy underside would make a stunning addition to any home or office.
Add the slender burgundy stems and it’s easy to get why it is popular as an ornamental houseplant.
Also known as velvet calathea or furry feather calathea due to tiny hairs on leaves that feel velvety when touched, they are easy to grow and care for.
This combination of stunning beauty and low maintenance easily makes it an excellent houseplant even for newbies.
This calathea rufibarba plant care guide contains all the info you need about growing and caring for the plant.
The guide also includes the problems to expect, how to resolve these issues when they crop up, and preventive tips to avoid these problems.
Calathea Rufibarba: Plant Care Guide
Calathea rufibarba (Goeppertia rufibarba) is a tropical flowering plant native to the forests of Brazil.
It belongs to the Marantaceae plant family and stands out as the only specie in the family with tiny, fur-like covering on the underside of the leaf.
Velvet Calatheas are nyctinastic. In the presence of light, the leaves droop while at night (or when it is dark), they fold upwards like hands clasped in prayers accounting for the name ‘prayer plants’.
This trait is basically the plant’s attempt to protect the leaf and conserve moisture at night!
Though they are tropical perennials, they can be cultivated indoors in most regions by replicating the native growing conditions.
So if the indoor humidity, temperature, and lighting are just right, you can grow them all year long on loose, well-draining soil with moderate watering.
Let’s now go into the specifics about the growing conditions and how to care for the plant.
First, though, let’s take a quick look at how to get your garden center- or nursery-bought Calathea rufibarba acclimated to your home.
How to Acclimate Calathea Rufibarba to Your Home Environment
After getting your velvet Calathea home, the urge to repot it in a cuter container can be overwhelming.
Houseplant experts are unanimous that curbing that emotion for a few weeks is crucial for the plant’s survival.
Repotting it immediately can induce additional stress while it is trying to handle the relocation stress.
There is also the stress of acclimatization to deal with and the possible introduction of pests to your house by the new plant.
So, use the following tips to get your calathea settled:
- If you have other plants. Keep your new plant far away in from them to mitigate the risk of transferring pests to the older plants.
- Inspect the foliage carefully for signs of diseases and pests.
- Clean the leaves with a damp cloth or soft brush. This helps to remove dust and eliminate pests that may be present on the surface.
- Prune old leaves that appear dead
- Water the plant if the soil is dry to touch (Check below for the best way to water your Calathea).
- Make sure it is kept where the humidity, temperature, and lighting match the growing conditions.
After at least a couple of weeks, the plant can be fully integrated into the household with other plants.
At this point, it’s safe to repot it if you don’t like the original pot.
The pot size and new potting soil must be the same though.
Calathea Rufibarba Growing Conditions
There is nothing fancy about Calathea rufibarba soil requirements.
Any standard, nutrient-rich, well-draining potting soil would be perfect. The soil should retain just enough to keep the soil moist.
Excessive soil moisture can lead to root rot which in most cases means you have to write off the plant and start afresh.
If DIYing potting soil is your thing, simply add perlite to standard houseplant mix in a 2:3 ratio respectively.
That is 40% perlite to about 60% soil mix. An equal amount of regular potting mix and orchid back is also a good choice.
And finally, the plants thrive best in soil that is moderately acidic or neutral. That is a soil pH level in the 6.0 – 7.0 range.
So you might want to keep a portable pH testing tool handy.
Growing in tropical forests, Calathea rufibarba are shaded from direct sunshine by taller trees.
Basically, they thrive best in indirect lighting.
Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight can lead to faded leaves and sometimes even death.
On the other hand, inadequate lighting is also bad. The leaves and stems might droop in low light conditions.
Indoors, you want to place the plant in a bright to medium light area.
If it is close to a window that receives direct sunlight, move it a few feet away or cover the window with a sheet that allows filtered light to pass through.
Calatheas love high humidity of at least 60%.
This can be an issue in most homes especially in winter when heaters make the air drier.
If the humidity is lower than ideal (having a hygrometer for measuring humidity would be very useful here), there are a few things you can do. You could:
- Install a humidifier near the plant
- Set the plant on pebbles on a humidity tray or saucer filled with water.
Just make sure the bottom of the pot is not touching the water. Evaporating water would raise the humidity.
- Misting the plant by spraying is also a good option. But you want to be careful not to leave large water droplets on the leaves.
Water droplets provide a good breeding ground for fungi.
- Relocate the pot to the bathroom where the humidity is consistently high.
The ideal temperature range for optimal growth is between 65 and 75°F.
Fortunately, that range is well within regular indoor temperatures making it easy to nail.
Here are some things to keep in mind though:
- Don’t place your Calathea near heating vents or other heat sources
- In winter, protect the plant from cold drafts from open windows or doors
- If you are growing it outdoors in zones 9 and below, you’d have to relocate it indoors in winter when temperatures can go below 65°F.
Prolonged exposure to chilly weather can lead to stunted growth and frost injury.
Calathea Rufibarba Care & Maintenance
The basic rule for watering Calathea rufibarba is to irrigate the soil when the top 1 inch is dry.
And keep watering until excess water starts dripping out of the drainage hole(s).
How often Calathea rufibarba needs to be watered depends on several factors such as weather conditions, season, the plant’s size, size of the pot, and the type of soil.
For instance, larger plants need more watering; you’d also water more often on hot windy days.
And you’d water more in the growing season than in winter.
It’s advisable to check the soil moisture level at least every 5 days.
You can simply stick your fingers to a depth of about an inch into the soil. If it feels dry, then your plant is thirsty for water.
This strategy is more reliable than the ‘water-once-a-week’ rule.
It is vital to draw a thick line between damp/moist soil and soggy soil.
You want to avoid the latter which can lead to root rot that ultimately kills the plant.
That said, if the soil has good drainage, unblocked drainage holes, and the watering is tied to only when the top one inch of soil is dry, you shouldn’t have a problem with soggy soil and root rot.
The quality of water used for irrigation must also be taken into consideration.
Filtered, distilled, or spring water should be the preferred choice. You could also use harvested rainwater.
Calatheas are generally sensitive to the chemicals in tap water, especially fluorine.
If you have to use tap water, let it sit in a container overnight before using it. Most of the harmful chemicals should have dissipated by then.
Calatheas are not heavy feeders. In most cases, nutrient-rich potting soil is enough for the first couple of years.
If the growth rate is unimpressive though, a light dose of nitrogen-rich fertilizer applied once a month in the growing season should be sufficient.
You want to dilute the fertilizer to about half its strength though.
Pruning and cleaning
Pruning Calathea rufibarba is mostly about trimming the yellowing, older leaves for aesthetic reasons.
For instance, if you want a bushier appearance, simply prune the leaves on the taller stems.
And if you want a taller, slimmer plant profile, prune out stems and leaves growing sideways leaving the more upright stems.
Due to the fuzzy nature of the foliage, it might become necessary to use a damp cloth to clean the leaves. This helps to remove dust to maintain the waxy appearance of the leaves.
Repotting: How to repot Calathea rufibarba
Being slow growers, it takes about 2 years before Calathea rufibarba outgrows its current pot.
You’d know it’s due for repotting when the soil dries out faster between watering sessions.
The growing season is usually the best time to repot and the process is pretty straightforward:
- Use a pot one size larger and a similar potting mix rich in nutrients
- Carefully uproot the plant and gently shake out the soil in the root system
- Replant in the new soil and water it as usual
Propagation: How to propagate Calathea rufibarba
The most efficient calathea rufibarba propagation method is via root division in the growing season.
It can be done while repotting the plant or when the plant is already matured with established roots.
That said, you’d have to be careful not to destroy the roots while attempting to divide them.
- Uproot the plant
- Carefully tease out soil attached to the root system to expose the roots
- Use your hands or sterile knife to separate or divide the root system into smaller root clusters. Just make sure each new cluster is attached to a stem with leaves.
- Plant each root cluster in potting soil and water it. Ensure that the growing conditions are present.
- Caring and maintenance from this point are similar to the parent plant.
Common Calathea rufibarba Problems
The most common Calathea rufibarba problems are often linked to less than ideal care. But most of them are easy to resolve.
The common issues to be on the lookout for include:
Fading leaves with texture loss – This is most likely a result of long exposure to direct sunlight.
Providing shade or moving the plant to a shadier location should solve the problem.
Browning of leaf edges – Humidity is too low. Check the ‘humidity’ section for the solutions to this problem.
In the interim, trim out the brown leaves.
The use of tap water and over-fertilizing could also be the cause of brown leaf edges in Calathea rufibarba.
Yellowing Calathea rufibarba – This is mainly caused by over-watering.
The bigger issue though is root rot if the plant sits in soggy soil for too long. You want to avoid this.
Quit watering the soil immediately and allow it to dry out. Then resume watering according to the standard procedure.
You also want to make sure the drainage holes are not blocked.
Calathea rufibarba curling leaves – The temperature is too chilly. Check to see if the plant is exposed to cold drafts. It might also be too close to the AC.
Calathea rufibarba pests
Calathea rufibarbas are rarely attacked by plant pests. But they are susceptible in the right conditions.
The common pests include spider mites, mealy bugs, aphids, and scale insects.
Regularly cleaning the foliage is usually sufficient to prevent proliferation.
But when they appear in large numbers on leaf surfaces or under the leaves, you can eliminate them by spraying the plant with neem oil or insecticidal soap solution multiple times.
Calathea rufibarba is a low-maintenance, gorgeous houseplant with tropical origins.
It can be grown indoors if the native growing conditions that include high humidity, ambient temperature, and well-draining soil that is regularly kept moist are replicated.
Also known as velvet calathea, it isn’t finicky, but like most plants, it is sensitive to extreme neglect and responds with a variety of symptoms or problems.
However, most of the problems can be resolved quite easily keeping to the theme of an easy-to-grow plant.