The Best Soil Mix For Calatheas (DIY Calathea Soil Mix Recipe)
Setting your Calathea up for success with the right soil mix will save you a lot of frustration and crispy tips in the long run. Calatheas are known to be difficult houseplants, but many common problems people struggle with stem from choosing the incorrect Calathea soil type.
Calatheas prefer to live in moist soil, so using ingredients that balance retaining moisture and still allowing for proper drainage is critical. Ideally, you will want your Calathea soil mix to have approximately 50% moisture retention properties, with 30% drainage and 20% soil enhancement, to ensure that your Calathea has well-rounded nutritious, and pH-balanced soil.
Of course, you should adjust this based on environmental conditions such as light, pot type, and watering habits.
Why change your Calathea’s soil?
The soil your Calathea has been brought home with may not be suitable for the plant or the conditions of your home. While most plant sellers may use the correct mixture for a happy and healthy Calathea in your home, that may not always be the case.
For example, the soil that worked well in greenhouse or garden center conditions may not work as well for your home, which will likely be cooler and have less intense light conditions.
Some other reasons you might want to change your Calathea’s soil include:
- The soil from your Calathea isn’t suitable (too dense or too airy)
- Your Calathea’s soil has too much fertilizer
- The soil from your Calathea has a pest
- Your Calathea came shipped to you with bare roots
- Your Calathea has been overwatered
Why is mixing your own soil important?
Some people will purchase a bag of potting soil for their Calatheas, and while some Calatheas may do fine, others might not.
Choosing a pre-mixed potting soil means trusting that the soil mix already has everything your Calathea needs. That isn’t to say that pre-mixed or potting soil is the wrong choice, as long as you carefully check the ingredients.
Here are some benefits to mixing your own soil for Calatheas:
- You can tailor your substrate to precise conditions, resulting in a happier Calathea.
- To avoid overwatering and underwatering, you can adjust your soil mix to your watering habits.
- You have the assurance that your Calathea has an adequately draining soil mixture.
- You will avoid dealing with fertilizer burn if the seller has overfertilized your Calathea.
Factors to Consider When Mixing Soil For Calatheas
Determining your space’s light levels is crucial when selecting the best soil mix for your Calathea. This is because your light levels impact Calathea’s ability to absorb water.
Calatheas prefer medium to low light conditions. The more light your Calathea receives, the faster it will intake water.
Conversely, if your Calathea is in lower light conditions, it will slow down its water intake, which may increase the likelihood of root rot. In this case, you will want to increase the amount of substrate that encourages drainage.
The temperature in your space should also be a factor in your Calathea soil mix recipe, as higher temperatures will cause your soil to drain much faster.
The type of pot that you choose will also determine what type of soil works best for your Calathea.
While terracotta or clay pots are not recommended for Calatheas as they wick away the excess moisture from the pot, if you decide to go with this type of pot, you will want a soil mix that is a bit denser.
If your Calathea lives in a ceramic or a plastic pot, the moisture is more locked in, so you may want to incorporate a chunkier mix such as perlite or orchid bark to avoid root rot.
Many people lose their Calatheas because they set themselves up poorly initially and don’t anticipate their watering habits.
Overwatering is a quick way to give your Calathea root rot. If you tend to be a heavy-handed waterer, you should aim for soil that is a bit more chunky and aerated to allow for faster and better drainage.
If you are someone who tends to forget to water your plants, whether it’s because you are busy, forgetful, or too afraid to overwater them, then a denser soil mixture is recommended.
Calathea Soil pH
Calatheas do not like very acidic environments. They can develop yellow or crispy brown tips when exposed to strong chemicals and overly acidic environments.
Therefore, when it comes to soil, Calatheas prefer a more balanced soil mixed between 6.5 and 7.
Fortunately, this pH level is standard for most houseplants, so finding ingredients compatible with your Calatheas pH requirements is not too difficult.
Ingredients for the Best Calathea Soil Mix
High-Quality Potting Soil
Starting with high-quality potting soil is a good baseline for Calatheas.
Unlike aroids or houseplants that are more epiphytic, Calatheas grow naturally in soil and will need some form of soil as a baseline.
Choosing high-quality soil from a reputable seller will decrease the likelihood of pest problems. In addition, it will provide your Calathea with the necessary macro and micronutrients needed to thrive.
Orchid bark is a great way to allow oxygen to your Calathea’s roots because it is a chunky ingredient that prevents the soil from becoming too compact.
While the orchid bark shouldn’t be the main ingredient for Calatheas, adding some to your mixture will significantly help prevent root rot, especially if your Calathea is in a lower light setting or if you tend to water a little too frequently.
Perlite is another inexpensive way to provide aeration to your Calathea’s soil.
You will often see perlite added to pre-mixed potting soil because it’s a very economical way of ensuring the soil does not become too compact.
Coco coir is a fantastic ingredient for moisture retention while still adding texture and aeration to the soil.
This makes it a desirable ingredient if you struggle with watering your Calatheas in time or if your Calathea is in a more medium-light location.
Adding some horticultural charcoal is a great way to prevent overwatering your Calathea.
The charcoal will absorb any excess water in the soil. More importantly, it is excellent for reducing fungi and bacteria in the soil, which are the main contributors to crispy brown tips in your Calathea.
Keep this ingredient minimal, as it does amend the pH levels in the soil to more alkaline levels.
Earthworm castings serve as a gentle fertilizer and soil enhancer for many houseplants, but they work particularly well for Calatheas since they are much milder than common fertilizers.
They are rich in nutrients, but their nitrogen levels are minimal. So, they will not cause nitrogen burn if you accidentally add too much to your Calathea’s soil.
Our Favorite Calathea Soil Mix Recipe:
- 30% Potting Soil
- 20% Coco Coir
- 20% Orchid bark
- 15% Perlite
- 10% Worm Castings
- 5% Horticultural Charcoal
Sourcing Ingredients for Your Calathea Soil Mix
Depending on your location, you may not be able to find one or more of the ingredients listed above. If you struggle to source any of the above ingredients, you can make adjustments within the following guidelines:
- 50% Moisture Retention Base (such as traditional soil and coco coir)
- 30% drainage (perlite or bark)
- 20% Soil enhancer (castings or charcoal)
You can switch out any of our ingredients for similar substrate options as long as you are keeping a similar balance between your moisture retention and drainage.
Can I Use Cactus Soil For My Calathea?
Cactus soil can work well for Calatheas, depending on the type of cactus soil mix you are working with and the conditions in your space.
Many pre-mixed cactus soils you can purchase from big box stores contain more potting soil than you might expect, usually with some perlite and bark mixed in.
If the cactus soil you use is primarily drainage-providing ingredients, you may want to mix in some regular potting soil or coco coir to help retain moisture.
Otherwise, you will find that you will have to water your Calathea much more frequently and risk some leaf-yellowing due to drying out.
Can I Use Orchid Soil For My Calathea?
Orchids are epiphytic plants, meaning they don’t need to grow directly in the soil. Instead, they often grow up trees, absorbing water through moss and bark. This is very different compared to Calatheas, which grow in the understory of the tropical forest in soil.
Generally, using a substrate intended for orchids is not ideal for Calatheas, but there can be some exceptions.
You can use orchid soil as a drainage ingredient when mixing soil for your Calathea if using orchid bark isn’t readily available.
It’s always a good idea to check the ingredients before buying any pre-mixed soil type and look at the soil density before purchasing your Calathea.
When crafting the best Calathea soil mix, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all recipe since your Calatheas ability to thrive will ultimately depend on your current conditions. So don’t be afraid to adjust as you go and monitor your Calathea for signs of unhappiness.