Just like Pantone announces its “Color of the Year,” folks are pretty excited about the 2021 “Plant of the Year,” thanks to a popular American gardening blog by 1800flowers.com.
This year’s winner is the red maranta prayer plant, a Brazilian beauty known for its unique, and colorful foliage. The plant will fold and close its leaves at night in a “praying” motion, which is a welcome emblem after a stressful year, whether you're religious or not. A quote from the blog echoes this: “symbolizing gratitude and respect, the red maranta prayer plant gives us hope for a healthy, successful new year.”
It’s also a fairly easy plant to take care of, perhaps not as indestructible as a spider plant, but not complicated like an orchid. This takes the stress off new and veteran plant lovers alike, allowing more time to simply enjoy its elegant beauty. Here’s how to take care of the 2021 plant of the year, and keep it thriving.
The red maranta is a prostrate evergreen species that grow from rhizomes and can mature up to 12-15 inches, on average. It’s known for its broad, oval leaves that extend upward on main stems. They are primarily a deep, green color with shades of lighter greens and creams that surround their signature red or bright pink veins. A middle vein runs throughout the whole leaf with smaller, V-shaped veins shooting out in a distinct herringbone pattern. The underside of its leaves can also be a deep red or scarlet color, which it shows off when in “prayer” mode.
Why it “Prays”
The prayer plant is very responsive to light, so during the day, its leaves are displayed and open. As night falls, the leaves move upward and close, which looks like they are praying. While the symbolism is romantic, this nastic movement is a response to environmental stimuli and allows the plant to protect itself from losing moisture. Check out time-lapse videos of this cool phenomenon, or get one for yourself and watch the transformation.
Although the red maranta descends from tropical regions, direct sunlight will burn the leaves and stress out the plant. Bright, indirect light is preferred, though it will tolerate some lower light conditions, as well. It would rather not be brought outside, even when the weather turns warm, unless you live in growing zones 11 or 12, and still, it would need shade and humidity. While it may bloom tiny, white flowers when grown outside, they are not notable, and the consistency of staying indoors is recommended, especially since most cultivars are bred for indoor use.
Watering your prayer plant is not complicated, as they prefer to remain consistently moist, but not soggy, like most common houseplants. If unsure, water when the top inch of soil is dry. Similarly, watering needs are far less in the winter months, as it goes dormant and stops growing. You can generally keep them on the same watering schedule as other plants in your home that are similar in size. Use room temperature water, and always water directly into the soil or into the bottom tray; never on the leaves. Make sure there is good drainage.
Humidity and Temperature
Prayer plants prefer room temperatures between 65-85-degrees F, and humid conditions similar to other tropical houseplants. They prefer high humidity, so if you live in a climate with cold, dry winters, protect them from blowing heating vents, cold windows, and use a humidifier to keep the room comfortable. A good trick is to place them with other plants on a table or shelf, as they protect each other and keep humidity in. Make sure they aren’t blocked from their light source, however, and that there is still good air circulation. Some people like to mist houseplants, but there is a risk of leaf fungus if not done properly.
Soil needs are also consistent with common houseplants. Use an organic potting mix, and make sure there is proper drainage in the pot. It will not thrive with wet feet, so if the pot does not have drainage, be very careful about how much you are watering. Adding rocks or gravel to the bottom of pots can help, but best to choose ones that have good drainage holes at the bottom. Often, this is why prayer plants don't do well or eventually die. Adding perlite to the soil can also help to aerate the soil, and keep the plant happy.
Fertilizing and Re-potting
Feed every 2-4 weeks during the spring and summer growing season with a balanced (10-10-10), high-quality, water-soluble mixture. Stop fertilizing in the winter, or at least cut down significantly. When the plant outgrows its pot and becomes root bound (usually every 3-4 years), transplant it into a slightly larger pot with added soil and water well. I like to sprinkle blood meal at the bottom of the new soil to encourage root health. Transplanting is less stressful on the plant when done during the growing season.
Propagation and Pruning
The red maranta can be propagated quite easily during the growing season. With sharp scissors or sheers, cut just below a leaf node towards the bottom of the stem, dip in rooting hormone, and put the cut end in a glass of water. Change the water every day or two. Once roots emerge and grow about two inches, they can be placed in potting soil and kept moist until the roots take. Once established, you can resume regular watering as per the season. When pruning, cut directly above a leaf node and the plant will send out multiple new shoots.
The red maranta prayer plant is a stunning species that will look great anywhere in your home, as long as the conditions are right. They can be beautiful centerpieces on a dining room table, cute on desks or countertops, and will also thrive in hanging baskets, since they trail nicely. Its versatility and beauty make it a wonderful houseplant, as it will add grace and style to your collection. As we look forward to a healthier, safer year, 2021’s plant of the year gives us a reason to be thankful—for its distinct beauty, and the symbolic, nightly gesture of praying.