The Calathea rufibarba (Goeppertia rufibarba) is an incredible tropical plant that offers a subtle and textured feel to your indoor space. This stunning cultivar of the calathea species has long, slender foliage and gently patterned, furry leaves.
Are you considering adding a new plant to your home? Here’s why you should consider the Calathea rufibarba.
Calathea Rufibarba Plant Details
Also known as the Velvet Calathea and Furry Feather Calathea, the Calathea rufibarba is a more subtle cultivar of the calathea species which originates from the Amazon rainforests across Brazil.
Part of the Marantaceae family, the rufibarba is part of the prayer plant varieties, which include a range of intricately patterned tropicals with incredibly decorative leaves.
This gorgeous, furry, feathered plant has trailing, wavy leaves with light variegation and a distinct maroon-coloured underside. Once they’ve reached maturity, these gorgeous plants can reach up to 1 metre in height.
It’s the perfect plant to be grown indoors, and as it’s non-toxic, perfect for homes with pets or curious little kids. Here is how you can cultivate, care for and grow this incredible plant.
How to Grow Velvet Calathea
Although areas with high humidity, like the bathroom or kitchen, are perfect for these plants, they really can grow almost anywhere. Bedrooms, home offices and lounges are great too.
The velvet calathea needs bright, indirect light, so anywhere within 3 to 4 feet of a window is usually perfect. Still, they are incredibly adaptable to lower light and fully shaded conditions.
It is not advisable to keep your furry feather calathea in full sun conditions as it can scorch the leaves and cause them to wither. When it comes to soil, pick a potting mix that is rich, well-draining while still retaining some moisture.
Potting mixes developed for ferns often work well. However, you can also create your own mixture with equal parts moss, orchid soil and perlite.
One of the most vital aspects of growing conditions for the velvet calathea is to ensure sufficient humidity. Ideally, an area with at least 50% humidity is perfect. Too little humidity can cause the leaves to dry out and shrivel.
If you cannot guarantee a sufficient amount of humidity, consider keeping your plants near a humidifier (see our review on the best humidifiers here) or on a moist pebble tray.
This often helps the soil retain its moisture. Alternatively, consider popping your furry feather calathea into the bathroom when you shower.
Another great tip is to pick a terracotta pot rather than your standard plastic pot. Due to the porous nature of terra cotta, it allows the soil to drain well without forcing it to dry out too quickly or altogether.
Grouping your calathea plants together is another great way you can help to improve the relative moisture and humidity of your plant.
Repotting Furry Feather Calathea
These plants are pretty quick growers, which means they can become overgrown over time. Regularly repotting every few years will help to encourage new growth, fullness and help to replenish the soil of nutrients.
- Remove the base of your plant from its pot, taking care not to damage the roots.
- Using your fingers, gently tousle lose the roots, allowing most of the old soil to fall away.
- Fill a new pot, which is at least one size up from the previous pot, up to a 1/3 with a fresh potting mix.
- Place the root ball into the pot and backfill with the rest of the soil. Gently pat down the soil to remove any other air pockets.
- Keep the soil moist, not wet, in the first few weeks after planting.
It is important to note that the velvet calathea can take some strain right after replanting and may need some extra care and attention while establishing their roots.
Calathea Rufibarba Propagation
Repotting also provides the perfect opportunity to cultivate some new, smaller velvet calathea plants. Once removed from their pot, the root balls can easily be divided into smaller plants and replanted into new pots.
Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Remove the parent plant from its original pot.
- Using your finger, gently detangle the roots doing your best not to damage the roots. Generally, it’s best to only divide the plant in half and not smaller.
This will ensure the plant has enough roots and foliage to sustain new growth. Larger, long-established plants can be divided into 4 or 5 smaller plants.
- Once divided, fill two pots with a rich potting mix and place the root balls inside. For the best results, pick two plants which are the same size as the original plant that they can grow into.
- Backfill with the rest of the soil and gently pat down.
- Keep the soil moist and warm for the first few weeks after repotting.
Avoid dividing plants too often, as it can cause them to take some strain. Allow younger plants at least 2 years of good growth before dividing.
Calathea Rufibarba Care Tips
Although these plants offer such a stunning aesthetic, they do require a little extra attention than most other plants. While regular fertilizing isn’t necessary, you will need to keep your eye on watering, cleaning and occasional leaf removal.
These plants have a high demand for humidity and moisture. However, getting your watering routine right can sometimes be tricky and take some time to get used to. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Using a finger test or a soil moisture meter is always a good idea to help keep the soil in check. Avoid allowing more than the first inch of soil to dry out between watering. Keep a careful eye on your soil and leaves, which will indicate if your watering routine is working.
These plants can also be affected by the mineral burn; as such, it’s best to avoid watering with tap water. Choose filtered water, distilled water or rainwater as a better alternative. If you only have tap water on hand, consider boiling it first and leaving it to stand for 24 hours.
During winter, you can almost cut back on watering completely. If you notice the soil may be drying out, give it a gentle water when needed. Do not water with cold water, as this may affect the roots. Rather use room temperature water.
Velvet calatheas also don’t fare well with sudden environmental changes. As such, avoid moving your plants too often or keeping them near areas that experience heavy drafts or extreme heat.
It’s easy to over-fertilize calathea plants, so most often, it’s best to avoid altogether. Nonetheless, a diluted, half-strength, slow-release fertilizer can be added every now and then to promote a brighter colour and fuller foliage.
A nitrogen-rich fertilizer is often the best choice for these plants. Do not fertilize during the winter. The fuzzy foliage is also a terrible trap for dust which can affect your plants' ability to photosynthesize.
As such, it’s recommended to gently cleanse the leaves every now and then. This can be done by means of a gentle shower, with regular misting or with a soft cloth dabbed into some diluted with dish soap.
From time to time, leaves can also shrivel, dry out or develop brown tips. These can be trimmed away to help your plant focus its growing energy on the healthy leaves.
Furry Feather Calathea Pests, Problems & Diseases
If you’re keeping your plants in the wrong place, over-watering, over-fertilizing or providing too little moisture, they can develop some issues in the form of brown leaf tips, scorched leaves or yellow and limp foliage.
Dry and damaged leaves are usually an indication of too little moisture. Whereas yellow and lifeless foliage is most often a sign of too much moisture. Slightly burnt tips usually develop from a mineral burn, which means you’ll need to switch to filtered water.
When it comes to pests, they can be incredibly tricky to find due to the thick fuzz on the upper side of the leaves. Take the time to inspect your leaves from time to time. Should you find yourself with an infestation of mealybugs or spider mites, they are best treated with a diluted alcohol solution.
Need something slightly more decorative than the Calathea rufibarba? Here are other Calatheas you can grow at home:
Start Growing Rufibarba Calathea Today!
Get ready to add the perfect, subtle tropical touch to your home when you decide to grow the velvet calathea. While it will need an extra little bit of attention from time to time, once you get your routine down, you’ll have a thriving and happy growing Calathea rufibarba!