Elephant’s ear plants, or Alocasia, are gaining popularity as a houseplant due to their striking leaf shapes and patterns as well as the huge sizes they can reach indoors, making them a wonderful decorative feature.
These plants are native to tropical and subtropical areas of Southeast Asia. Growing these showstoppers is more challenging than some other foliage plants…but we have all the details here for successfully growing Elephant’s Ear plants.
There are a number of different varieties of Alocasia to suit anybody’s taste – a number of colors, patterns, leaf shapes and sizes can be found across this plant family, from a classic green to an eye-catching zebra pattern, and indoors they can grow to be 8-10ft tall if given perfect circumstances.
Get the basic setup right for this beautiful plant, and it will be a low-maintenance and high-reward addition to your home.
Check the variety of Alocasia you have, as different varieties can thrive in anything ranging from shade to full sunlight.
In general, Alocasias will prefer a bright, filtered light indoors. Situate them in a room that gets plenty of sunlight, especially in the morning, but ensure the sun is not hitting the plant directly, and that it gets plenty of shade in the afternoon.
If the plant gets plenty of indirect light, it will generally be healthier, grow bigger leaves and take on a better coloring than a plant kept in too much shade.
Elephant’s ears are native to tropical environments, so they require a reasonable level of heat and humidity to survive. A good range to maintain is 65-77oF (18-25oC).
Ideally, these plants would be kept in an environment where the temperature stays above 60 degrees all year round, and they like humidity, so make sure to mist them regularly if the air is dry.
In the growing months (i.e. spring and summer), these plants need to be kept moist, but not soggy. It’s a fine line to tread, but Alocasia will thank you for it, as they are much more likely to develop root fungus if overwatered.
A good rule of thumb is to wait for the top inch or so of soil to dry out, and then you can water again. Depending on the heat, this could be anywhere from a few times a week to every 10 days – the time between watering will become longer in the dormant months.
Another sign that you’re overwatering your Alocasia is that its leaves are dripping water– almost like it’s crying!
This plant prefers rainwater or distilled water, as it can be sensitive to the chemicals in tap water. If you have to use tap water, allow it to stand for 24 hours to allow some of the chemicals to dissipate and prevent the cold water causing ‘thermal shock’ to the roots.
Getting the soil right is one of the most important aspects of making sure your Alocasia stays healthy. The potting mix must be well aerated and able to drain, while maintaining enough moisture to keep the plant happy. A good soil combination is mixing general potting soil with peat and perlite in a 1:1:1 ratio.
If you want your Alocasia to grow to a monstrous size, plant it up in a huge pot. Terracotta pots are particularly recommended for these plants as they absorb moisture and allow better airflow to the plant’s roots.
In the colder months, make sure your plant is in the warmest region of your house, as it’s a tropical plant and needs to be kept warm. The plant will go through a dormant phase in winter and may drop leaves – don’t be tempted to overwater, this is just the normal seasonal cycle of the plant, and overwatering may make its condition worse.
Maintain humidity levels by misting daily, providing a pebble tray or installing a room humidifier.
Elephant’s ear plants can be propagated in a number of ways, although unlike many plants, you can’t propagate them from cuttings.
The easiest way to propagate is by division; the plant is often made up of multiple baby plants, or rhizomes, and if up-rooted, you can easily divide out some of the offshoot plants and pot them up separately.
You can then either plant them in soil, or propagate using water, depending on the variety of Alocasia. It’s actually good for the plant’s health to divide up these rhizomes annually, so don’t hesitate to propagate and add to your Alocasia family.
Pests & problems
Alocasia are susceptible to a number of diseases, and you can usually spot a health issue with the plant via brown spots with a yellow ring on the leaf. Most of these issues come from overwatering, such as root rot, stem or crown rot, leaf spot and bacterial infections.
They also attract a number of bugs such as aphids, spider mites, scale and mealybugs. These pests can be treated with neem oil, but a spray of soapy water every few weeks should prevent them from settling on the plant in the first place.
One of the downsides of elephant’s ear plants is that some varieties are highly toxic and must be handled with care. For some, even touching the plant can lead to skin irritation.
Usually, though, the poisonous varieties of this plant have to be ingested for them to be toxic. Also, be sure to wash your hands before touching your eyes, as the sap can burn your eyes and turn them red for several hours.
According to the ASPCA, Alocasia is toxic to dogs, cats and horses. In both humans and animals, ingesting Alocasia can lead to death if consumed in large quantities. You should be extremely cautious with these plants and ensure they are not kept in areas where children or animals may access them unsupervised.
On the other hand, some varieties of Alocasia are used as food sources – so be sure to check which variety you have, but overall, it’s best to err on the side of caution.
Common questions about elephant’s ear plant care
Should I fertilize my elephant’s ear plant?
You can fertilize your Alocasia during the growing season, but leave it be in the dormant autumn/winter period. In spring and summer, a monthly application of liquid fertilizer will do the trick or give it slow-release fertilizer at the start of spring.
Should I clean the elephant’s ear plant’s leaves?
Like all plants, elephant’s ears need to absorb sunlight through their leaves in order to photosynthesize – and survive. Gently wipe any buildup of dust and dirt from its leaves with a damp cloth or mimic the natural way it would be cleaned – with rainfall – and put it in the shower for a rinse.