Is your plant collection still missing something? Are you looking or some color, some contrast, or some structure? Perhaps it’s time to consider an Alocasia.
Alocasia is one of several plants known as an elephant ear. Its large, arrowhead-shaped leaves are shiny, rippled at the edges, and much darker than those of other house plants. To some people, there’s something almost alien about the shape.
The bad news is that Alocasia care can be a little tricky to master. Fortunately, there’s good news too. If you get things right, this is one of the fastest-growing house plants on the market.
||Elephant ear, African mask
||Large leaves on single stems
||The most common variety reaches 2’, the largest 15’
||Lots of bright, indirect light
||Moderate – high
||60 – 80F (15.5 – 27C)
||Rich, well-draining soil
||NPK balanced fertilizer every 2 weeks in spring and summer
||Extremely toxic to humans and pets
||Aphids, mealybug, scales, spider mites, fungal infections and crown, stem and root rot.
Alocasia thrives indoors or outdoors at a range of temperatures, but it’s fussy when it comes to soil, feeding and watering. It’s also just as hungry for sunlight as it is for nutrients. This isn’t a plant you can simply forget about but, if you feed and water it regularly, it’ll give you an astonishing amount of new growth in return.
The new growth will be beautiful too. This plant is grown for its colorful leaves rather than its diminutive flowers. Depending on the variety, you could end up with a splash of red, bronze or even purple veined with striking white.
Alocasia House Plant Care Guide
The goal when watering an elephant ear is to prevent it from becoming soggy. This goes for the roots and the leaves. Both waterlogged soil and wet foliage can lead to a variety of fungal infections.
Be especially careful in the winter, when the plant is dormant. It’s much easier to overwater in the colder months. The best thing you can do is wait until the top 2 – 3 inches of soil are dry and then soak it as evenly as you can.
Elephant ear must get enough sun. It needs more than most house plants, but, although it should be in the sun for at least 6 – 8 hours of every day, the light needs to be indirect or filtered. If you can find the right balance, the light will encourage rapid growth and make the leaves even bolder.
Be careful, though. It’s very easy to stress the leaves and too much direct sun will burn them very quickly.
Alocasia is a tropical plant that needs high humidity. This is especially important in winter because central heating dries out the air in our homes. To keep the air around your elephant ear moist enough, use a humidifier or sit the pot on a pebble tray.
It’s best not to mist this plant because wet leaves can lead to fungal infections. If you do choose to mist, do it early in the morning so that the leaves have a chance to dry over the course of the day.
Finally, make sure you keep your plant warm. If it gets below 60, the leaves will quickly start to drop. Keep it inside in the winter, protect it from drafts, and never put it too close to an air conditioning unit.
Plant Food and Soil
Elephant ear is a very hungry plant. It’s essential to fertilize it every 2 weeks from the beginning of the growing season in spring until the end of September. Use a balanced all-purpose fertilizer for leafy green plants.
On the other hand, you should never fertilize it in the winter. Because the plant isn’t growing, it isn’t using up nutrients. As a result, the minerals and salts from the plant food will accumulate in the soil and burn the leaves.
Choose the richest possible potting soil for this plant. It benefits from a mix with lots of peat, as this increases the acidity of the soil and helps it to hold onto its nutrients.
Because overwatering is such a danger, it can also be helpful to add 20% sand or perlite to the soil to open it up and allow the air to circulate the roots.
Additional Care Tips
As we’ve said, Alocasia is a fussy house plant, but the information above should help you get off to a great start. That being said, even if you get the watering and positioning right, you’re going to be faced with lots more care decisions as the seasons change. Read on for some expert-level tips on elephant ear care.
This plant likes to be rootbound, so don’t be in a hurry to repot it. If you do choose to repot, choose a container with plenty of drainage holes.
Because this plant hates to stand in water, a terracotta pot is a good choice. Using one will encourage the soil to dry out between waterings.
You should consider dividing this plant when you repot it. Split the rhizome into 2 and plant it in separate containers. You’ll encourage new growth and get a plant to pass onto a friend.
Because elephant ear grows in stems rather than a branching trunk, it doesn’t need much pruning. You should use clean, sharp shears to remove any leaves which are old, or which are encroaching on your room. If any leaves start to show spots, cut them away as soon as you can, as this can be a sign of fungal infection.
Although pruning isn’t an essential job in terms of Alocasia care, it will encourage new growth. You should always prune in the spring or early summer so that the plant has plenty of time to recover.
All common house plant pests can be a problem for this plant, so watch out for evidence of aphids, mealybugs, scales and spider mites. The clues can range from misshapen leaves to white residue. You may even see the bugs themselves.
The problem is that elephant ear hates to have wet leaves. The common remedy of rinsing it with soapy water will remove the pests but encourage the leaves to become infected.
A good solution is to polish the shiny leaves with diluted neem oil every few weeks. The plant needs to be dusted anyway and neem is a natural pest repellent. This way, you can combine 2 tasks into 1.
There are over 70 species and hybrids of Alocasia. The only one to avoid is A. Macrorrhizos. This is the one which grows to over 15’ tall. Unless you have a very spacious stairwell in need of a jungle, this is probably not a plant to grow indoors.
A better choice is A. Amazonica, which grows to only about 2 feet by 2 feet. This is the most common elephant ear you can buy. Its close cousin, A. Polly, is even more compact.
If you’re looking for something a bit different, A. Zebrina has paler, thinner, stripy leaves. If you’re attracted to Alocasia because of its vibrant foliage, this is a great choice for your collection.
Finally, the most unusual elephant ear on the market is the Stingray Alocasia. It’s the perfect name for a plant whose leaves fold together and have their own tail.
Unfortunately, this plant has very high levels of calcium oxalate. It’s extremely poisonous to both pets and humans. If you notice bite marks in your plant, you should seek urgent medical attention.
Do elephant ear plants need sun or shade?
Sunlight is so important that if you live in a dark first-floor apartment, this might not be the plant for you. As an indoor plant, it needs as much filtered or indirect sunlight as possible. Keep it a few feet away from your window or use a net curtain to prevent the leaves from burning.
If you’re growing an elephant ear outside, it’s also sun-loving, but you’ll need to place it somewhere where it can have partial shade in the afternoon.
How big does it get?
This depends completely on the variety you have. While the most common varieties are quite compact, you might end up with a cultivar with the potential to grow twice as tall as you.
In the right conditions, Alocasia grows fast. You can expect a new leaf every week during the summer. Sometimes, each leaf can be double the size of the one that came before it.
If you need to control your Alocasia’s growth, repot it annually and split the rhizome into 2 containers when you do so.
What’s the difference between Alocasia and Colocasia?
Both Alocasia and Colocasia are known as elephant ear plants. Though they’re different, they both belong to the Araceae family. They both have large leaves and they’re equally hardy.
The biggest difference between the two is that Alocasia grows from both tubers and rhizomes and Colocasia grows from tubers alone. If you don’t want to dig it up to check which one you have, look at the leaves. Alocasia tends to grow straight up from the stem, whereas Colocasia flop downwards.
Finally, Colocasia is slightly harder to kill. It wants even more sun than Alocasia, but it’s much more tolerant of waterlogged soil.
Is it an Alocasian an indoor or outdoor plant?
As long as the temperature doesn’t drop below 60, the elephant ear can be grown indoors or outdoors. Many people choose to move it outside in the summer. This is an easy way to encourage growth, just make sure that it has partial shade, enough humidity, and that you check it thoroughly for bugs when you bring it back inside.
How often should I water it?
You should always listen to your plants rather than following a strict watering schedule. Wait until the top 2 – 3 inches of soil are dry before you soak it.
Because the elephant ear likes a lot of sun, you can expect to water it every 4 – 7 days in the summer. Be sure to cut back during the winter. The plant doesn’t drink as much when it’s dormant.
This is one of the most instantly recognizable plants you can bring into your home, but it’s also one of the trickier ones. You need to pay attention to it, and you’ll need to find a plant sitter if you ever go on holiday for more than a few nights. It’s certainly a commitment.
That said, if you’ve successfully taken care of other tropical plants in the past, you’ve probably got this under control. A plant that looks like an alien isn’t to everyone’s taste but, if it appeals to you and you have a lot of sunlight to offer, there’s no reason an elephant ear shouldn’t thrive in your home.
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