Troubleshooting Yellow Leaves on Prayer Plants

Prayer plants are loved for their beautiful, patterned foliage. But if you notice yellow leaves on this houseplant, take it as a sign of distress – a signal to you that something is amiss.

In addition to marantas, the houseplants most commonly known as “prayer plants,” I’m including the other members of the Marantaceae family that also go by this common name: ctenanthes, stromanthes, and calatheas.

The Calathea species we enjoy as houseplants were recently reclassified into the Goeppertia genus, but are still widely known as “calatheas.”

A close up vertical image of a Goeppertia zebrina in a small black pot set on a wooden surface pictured on a soft focus background. To the top and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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There are several different problems which can lead to yellowing leaves in this family of houseplants.

I’m going to address the most commonplace of these issues so that you can examine your prayer plant’s conditions, identify the problem, and take swift remedial action.

Here’s what I’ll cover:

1. Exposure to Cold Temperatures

These tropical houseplants are not cold hardy and will perish if temperatures drop below freezing. But temperatures don’t have to fall to freezing for your prayer plant to suffer. They are also sensitive to cool temperatures.

These tropical natives should be kept in a location that remains above 55°F at all times. If they are exposed to temperatures colder than this, it’s likely to cause yellowing leaves. Some species may even start to turn yellow at 60°F.

When buying specimens online during the colder months of the year, chill injury can be a problem during transport, so make sure your new arrivals come with a heat pack or two to keep them comfortable during their voyage – or wait to make your purchase until the temperature warms up.

A close up horizontal image of a small Goeppertia orbifolia with yellowing foliage, set on a wooden surface.
Chill injury sustained during transport on Goeppertia orbifolia (also known as Calathea orbifolia). Photo by Kristina Hicks-Hamblin.

If you buy your prayer plants in person from a garden center during the winter months, make sure to take them straight home – don’t leave them sitting in your cold car while you run errands.

Once you get your new maranta, calathea, stromanthe, or ctenanthe home, consistent temperatures of 65-80°F is the ideal range for these tropical natives to maintain green foliage and otherwise remain healthy, thriving houseplants.

Also be sure to keep them away from drafty windows or exterior doors, since chill injury from drafts and temperature fluctuations can also cause yellow leaves.

Sometimes those that are damaged by cold can also exhibit brown patches on the foliage as well as yellow.

If chill injury doesn’t seem to be a problem, but your Marantaceae plant has not only yellow on its leaves but brown as well, be sure to check our guide to troubleshooting brown leaves on prayer plants.

2. Poor Soil Drainage

While Marantaceae houseplants originate from wet tropical areas and are therefore moisture-lovers, they also require good soil drainage.

Letting your prayer plant sit in waterlogged soil won’t do it any good. Left in such conditions, the lack of oxygen around the roots can cause its leaves to turn yellow and even die.

Even if the soil itself is sufficiently well-draining, one common cause of waterlogged soil is watering your plant while its pot sits in a saucer.

If water is left to stand in the saucer, the excess liquid won’t drain from the soil – instead, the soil will wick up more moisture from the saucer. This creates waterlogged conditions for your houseplant and can lead to root rot, a potentially fatal condition.

A close up vertical image of a small Calathea zebrina growing in a small pot set on a windowsill with white blinds in the background.

To prevent this from happening, when you water your plant, remove it from its saucer, then water until liquid drains from the holes in the bottom of the pot. Only return it to its saucer when the water has finished draining from the pot.

In some cases, your potting medium might be the culprit. If your prayer plant is potted in a very heavy potting medium without materials that provide drainage, its roots may be consistently waterlogged and may be lacking oxygen.

Members of the Marantaceae family should be potted in a peat or more ecologically sound coir-based potting medium to provide both water retention and adequate drainage. For this purpose, I prefer Soil Mender’s 109 Potting Mix.

A close up vertical image of the packaging of Soil Mender Potting Mix 109 pictured on a white background.

Soil Mender 109 Potting Mix

It’s peat-free and contains coconut coir, as well as sand for drainage. You can purchase Soil Mender 109 Potting Mix in a variety of package sizes at Arbico Organics.

What’s worse than poor soil drainage? No drainage at all.

While professional growers and garden nurseries don’t usually sell these houseplants in pots with no drainage holes, I have encountered the occasional gardening enthusiast who swears by growing in non-draining pots filled with rocks or gravel in the bottom.

This may work for some green thumbs who are very careful not to overwater, but for most of us it’s a recipe for disaster.

Pots that lack drainage holes easily hold water in the bottom among those rocks or gravel. And without drainage holes, it’s nearly impossible to tell if the soil is saturated or not.

In short, this potting method makes it very easy to overwater your plant, which can cause leaves to turn yellow.

A close up horizontal image of a collection of prayer plants suffering from discolored foliage set on a dark gray surface.

So choose a plastic or terra cotta pot that has drainage holes, and if you want to display your plant in something more decorative, place the plastic or terra cotta pot inside a cachepot.

Just make sure you remove it when you water your plant to let those drainage holes do their job. Like with the saucer, we don’t want our prayer plants sitting in standing water inside a decorative pot either.

3. Overwatering

Even with proper drainage holes in your pot and the best growing medium, well-intentioned plant parents sometimes overwater their houseplants.

When members of the Marantaceae family are overwatered, the soil can become waterlogged, and the roots can start to rot. This can give prayer plant leaves a sickly, yellow appearance.

Getting your watering right with these species can be a bit tricky – they do require more water than the average houseplant, but at the same time, you don’t want to drown them.

A good rule of thumb is to check them twice a week, but if their pots still feel heavy and the surface of the potting medium still feels quite moist, hold off on watering.

4. Insufficient Humidity

While too much moisture around the roots can put your prayer plant at risk for developing yellow leaves, too little can also be problematic, in the case of insufficient humidity.

In arid locations or during the winter months, when indoor air is very dry, your plant can suffer from a lack of humidity, and you may notice the leaf tips or edges turn yellow or even brown.

A close up horizontal image of a maranta with discolored foliage pictured on a white background.

These tropical natives are particularly sensitive to humidity levels and thrive when the relative humidity is in a range of 40-60 percent.

There are many options for increasing air moisture around these humidity lovers.

But before you take action, you may want to purchase a hygrometer, which is a tool used to measure relative humidity, so you can check if you actually need to increase the humidity in your home or not.

Goabroa Mini Hygrometer Humidity Monitor

You’ll find a small hygrometer, which also displays the temperature, from Goabroa, available via Amazon.

When you have established that you do need to add more humidity to the air to keep your prayer plants happy, you have several options:

  • Spraying the foliage with a mister
  • Running a humidifier nearby
  • Grouping several houseplants together
  • Placing smaller specimens inside a terrarium
  • Using a humidity tray under your houseplant

You may need to use more than one of these options to provide your plant with enough humidity, especially if you live in an arid climate or have long winters where your heating system dries the air in your home considerably.

In addition to these measures, locating your houseplant in one of the more humid rooms of your home – such as a kitchen or bathroom, provided the lighting is appropriate – can also help.

My smaller prayer plant specimens are in a terrarium, in my kitchen, with containers of water underneath them, and I mist them with a spray bottle every morning. This regimen keeps them at a relative humidity of about 60 percent in my arid climate and during dry indoor winter conditions.

5. Iron Deficiency

Are the young leaves on your cherished prayer plant coming in with a yellow tinge?

If you have ruled out any other problems, it’s possible that your plant may not be getting enough iron.

According to R.W. Henley and colleagues at the Central Florida Research and Education Center at Apopka growing prayer plants in alkaline soil can inhibit iron uptake by these houseplants.

A close up vertical image of a calathea with yellowing foliage, pictured on a soft focus background.
Photo by Kristina Hicks-Hamblin.

When the soil pH is too high, it can make iron unavailable to the plant’s roots for uptake. Without enough iron, the plant’s ability to produce chlorophyll is reduced, which causes the leaves to turn yellow, which can impact its ability to photosynthesize.

To remedy the problem, you can apply a chelated iron product, such as Fertilome’s chelated liquid iron.

A close up vertical image of a bottle of Chelated Liquid Iron pictured on a white background.

Fertilome Chelated Liquid Iron 32 oz Bottle

It’s available in a 32-ounce bottle and can be purchased at Nature Hills Nursery.

Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for applying this product.

And if your plant isn’t already growing in a coir or peat-based potting medium, consider changing out your soil to one of these more acidic options.

6. Pests and Disease

In addition to the other potential causes described here, pests and diseases can also be responsible for yellowing leaves.

Spider mites can cause yellow stippling on the foliage, while a disease called cucumber mosaic virus causes yellow mosaic patterns to appear. Helminthosporium leaf spot can cause tan spots with yellow halos.

To learn more about identifying and treating these problems, make sure you read our complete guide to growing and caring for prayer plants.

When Your Plants Yell “Ow!”

Did you recognize your prayer plant’s cry for help?

Remember to double check your houseplant’s growing conditions: make sure it is kept in a warm location, away from cold drafts, that it has good drainage, and is not being overwatered.

A close up horizontal image of a prayer plant with leaves that are turning yellow at the tips, pictured on a soft focus background.
Photo by Kristina Hicks-Hamblin.

Also make sure it has ample humidity, check for signs of pests and disease, and consider giving it a booster of iron chelate if you rule out all other problems.

Do you have any of your own good tips for remedying yellow leaves on your prayer plant? Let us know in the comments section below.

And while you’re deep into your own personal houseplant research, here are a few other topics that might be of interest:

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Fertilome, Goabroa, and Soil Mender. Uncredited top photo by Kristina Hicks-Hamblin. Other uncredited photos via Shutterstock.

Photo of author
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin lives on a dryland permaculture homestead in the high desert of Utah. She is a Certified Permaculture Designer, holds a Certificate in Native Plant Studies from the University of North Carolina Botanical Gardens, a Landscape for Life certificate through the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the United States Botanic Garden, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kristina strives towards creating gardens where there are as many birds and bees as there are edibles.

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P.J. (@guest_11756)
3 years ago

Nice article. Very helpful. I only have one issue with what you’ve written and that is that coir is an eco-friendly alternative to peat.

Penny Heist
Penny Heist (@guest_15519)
2 years ago

Can you trim the leaves of a prayer plant?

Jaclyn Beier
Jaclyn Beier (@guest_15888)
Reply to  Penny Heist
2 years ago

I cut bad leaves off.

Sheila Johnson
Sheila Johnson (@guest_24753)
1 year ago

How to remove yellow leaves on big leaf plant?