Alocasia Plant Guide: How to Care for an Elephant Ear

Alocasia Plant Guide: How to Care for an Elephant Ear

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Are you into high drama, bold colors and interesting shapes? Of course you are, and so is alocasia. These big-leaved beauties, sometimes called African mask plants or elephant ears, come in an array of deep tones ranging from burgundy to emerald to black, and the leaves can be anywhere between hand-sized to arm’s length.

No matter which variety of alocasia you want to care for, you need to know what it likes and doesn’t like, because these are the high-maintenance divas of the indoor foliage plant world. But don’t worry: we’ve got you covered. This comprehensive guide includes watering, fertilizing, light needs, propagation, pest control and other care guidelines for your elephant ear. With these tips and and some attention, no alocasia will ever complain while in your care.

Alocasia Plant Details

Alocasia spp.

AKA Elephant ear, African mask, Alocasia
Ease of Care: moderate
Light: Most prefer bright indirect sunlight
Water: Moist soil at all times
Temperature: > 65° F
Height: From 2 to 15 feet tall
Growth Rate: Mostly fast growers
Pests: aphids, scale, mealybugs, spider mites
Diseases: leaf spotting, stem/crow/root rot, Xanthomonas
Toxicity: Toxic to pets and people

Benefits of Growing Alocasia

Recognized for its beautiful foliage, the alocasia plant goes by many names. Probably the major benefit of the plant is the fact that it is so diverse in cultivars that most plant people can’t limit themselves to owning just one variety. Sure, it’s not the easiest houseplant to care for, but the payoff is extraordinary.

Additionally, houseplants purify indoor air, make us happier and more productive, and can become an important part of daily or weekly self-care routines. After all, taking care of something else that’s doing well can be a much-needed mental boost.

alocasia black shield closeup of dense foliage

Caring for Your Alocasia

The Alocasia plant can be quite a fussy thing to look after, but if you follow these instructions, you should be able to have a healthy and thriving plant nevertheless.

Light

Always refer to the specific care instructions for your variety, of course. That said, almost every variety of alocasia prefers bright, indirect or filtered sunlight. Every variety also hates direct sunlight, so be sure that any windows receiving full sun have a sheer curtain or film to diffuse the light.

Water

Your alocasia likes moist soil. Not soggy soil, not starting-to-dry-out soil. Somewhere just between, which may require watering multiple times per week depending on your humidity and temperature, the amount of sunlight it receives and even the material your planter is made of—clay will absorb some moisture from the soil, while plastic, resin, glass or other impermeable materials will not.

You will know the plant needs water when the top half-inch of the soil is dry. That’s about the distance from your fingertip to the base of your fingernail. If you don’t feel moisture when you press your finger nail-deep into the soil, give your alocasia a drink. This will ensure the soil is evenly moist at all times, which is what you’re aiming for. During the winter, you can water the plant less frequently because it enters its dormancy stage. Just keep in mind that alocasia loves water and has a flair for the dramatic, so the soil cannot dry out or you’ll end up with a wilted elephant ear.

Soil

And, about that soil. Alocasia plant likes crumbly, loamy soil or well-draining potting mix. If you find your alocasia struggling in a standard mix, add a bit of cactus and succulent soil, perlite, or organic matter to the soil and repot it with gravel or rocks at the base of its container for improved drainage. We like a mix of coco coir, worm castings, and perlite—or any quality organic meant for tropicals—like this one from Wonder Soil.

    Wonder Soil Premium Organic Potting Soil Mix

Buy at Amazon
    The only dry compressed coco coir mix with added amendments of worm castings, mycorrhizae, kelp, pumice, water saving polymers, and more! Grow your plants faster with stronger roots! Peat free, all natural, family and pet safe! 3lb bag expands to 12 quarts of potting mix.

Fertilizer

The Alocasia plant enjoys a lot of fertilizer. This is particularly true for larger varieties. You should apply liquid fertilizer during the growing season, but not through fall and winter when the plant is dormant. Alternatively, you can also use granular fertilizer and apply a little bit of it at a time.

    EarthPods Premium Indoor Plant Food

Buy at Amazon
    Slow release fertilizer robust with a large variety of organic plant nutrients, trace minerals, soil humates + a diverse population of beneficial soil root fungi, all in a form immediately available for plant uptake. 100 capsules.

Temperature & Humidity

All alocasia varieties are cultivated from tropical plants originating in Asia. The temperature has some range, depending on variety, but as a general rule it is best to keep these plants between 65 and 80 degrees F. Colder temperatures (adnything under 55 degrees, at best) will kill an alocasia or damage it irreparably.

Alocasias also thrive in humidity, and if your bathroom or kitchen has a lot of filtered sunlight from windows or a skylight, you might find that this is an ideal location. These areas stay more humid than other parts of the house, especially in winter when heating can dry the air considerably.

ALOCASIA POLLY HOUSEPLANT CLOSEUP OF FOLIAGE VEINING AND SILVER STRIATION

Wherever you park your African mask plant, be sure it is well away from drafts or vents, as sudden or repeated changes in temperatures will send this fussy houseplant to an early end. Be careful, also, when changing the plant’s location, and do so slowly (over the course of a few days) when possible. interruptions in light exposure, a too-rapid shift in temperature, or a drop in humidity will cause your plant to droop or drop its leaves.

Propagation

Alocasia can be propagated through rhizome division. In short, you will have to expose the underground rhizome, cut off a piece of it, and plant it in another pot.

If you have an alocasia growing outdoors, you can propagate it just as well by digging around the plant to expose the rhizomes without damaging the roots. When planting the propagation, you will need to ensure that the plant gets plenty of warmth and moisture to speed up new growth.

Repotting

The alocasia plant requires repotting once every one or two years. It is best to repot only when the plant gets too big for its pot. The repotting process isn’t complicated. You will need a pot with a diameter that’s two inches larger than the current one. Also, make sure that the pot has a drainage hole. Fill one-third of the pot with well-drained soil and gently tap it to make sure there are no air pockets inside.

When you remove the alocasia plant from its current pot, it is best if you tip the pot to the side and gently remove the plant by grabbing the base of the stems. If you notice there are any rotten or dead roots, use a pair of sharp and sterilized pruning shears to remove them. Also, if you notice that leaves are circling the root ball, cut them off as well to correct this growth habit. In order to spread the roots outward, you have to massage the root ball gently with your hands to separate the entwined roots without breaking them.

Place the alocasia in the center of the new pot. Add as much soil as needed to make sure that the root ball lies about two inches below the top of your container. In some cases, you will have to remove soil in order to meet this condition. When the root ball is positioned correctly, add potting soil around it and press it down gently so the plant won’t wobble.

When the plant is in position, water the soil until you notice water coming out of the bottom drainage hole. Once the water is drained, water the soil again, just to make sure that it’s evenly moist.

Varieties of Alocasia

The good news is that there are about 70 different Alocasia species to choose from, and a few other hybrids as well. Their color and leaf form has made them very popular houseplants that offer plenty of visual diversity. Some of the most common varieties of alocasia include Polly, Lutea Golden, Pink Dragon, Purple Sword, or Amazonica.

alocasia pink dragon and purple sword
Credit: ParadiseFoundNursery, Boombox Club
alocasia golden and silver sword
Credit: David Stang, WonkaSeeds

Where to Purchase an Alocasia

Buying an alocasia plant is tricky if you’re not yet sure which variety you want. Regardless of which variety you want, Amazon is one of the best alocasia sources.

    American Plant Exchange Alocasia Odora v. California

Buy on Amazon
    Alocasia California is considered a dwarf Elephant Ear and can reach up to 4' In Height. TThis variety is shade tolerant and cold hardy to 41 degrees F. Ships at 30+ Inches tall in a 3-gallon growers pot.

    Alocasia Lauterbachiana (Silver Sword)

Buy on Amazon
    Silver Sword has deep shiny green leaves with a coppery underside. Unique with narrow long wavy edged spearlike leaves. Average mature height up to 2 - 3 feet. Receive a free sample of Wellspring Gardens' proprietary fertilizer blend (one per order)!

You can also opt for nurseries or specialized store purchases. For instance, FloraStore has a great Alocasia Portodora, and they offer international shipping.

    Alocasia Portadora

Buy at Florastore
    This beautiful Alocasia is loved because of its large decorative leaves but also because of the transparency through the long stems. Height at shipping (including grower's pot) is 30 inches.

Pests & Diseases

Considering its size, you’d think the alocasia was a sturdier plant. However, it is one of the most sensitive houseplants around, and it can be affected by quite a lot of diseases. The most common ones include leaf spotting, stem/crow/root rot, or Xanthomonas.

It is also important to note that some of these diseases are caused by improper care. For example, over watering the plant can lead to root rot of leaf spotting. It’s important that you know that changes in the color of the leaves usually indicate that the plant is suffering from something. Much like other plants, the alocasia also requires that you remove the diseased parts of the plant to make sure it doesn’t spread.

Common Questions

Are Alocasia plants toxic?

Yes. Their leaves are right in insoluble oxalate crystals, which are poisonous to both humans and animals even if they are merely chewed upon and not even ingested. When the crystals are released and find their way into the body, they can lead to mouth and gastrointestinal irritation and swelling. In some cases, this can also lead to upper airway swelling, which causes difficulty in breathing. They should be kept out of reach of both children and pets.

Why are my Alocasia leaves drooping?

Plants will often tell you that there’s something wrong with them if you carefully assess the current leaf situation. When the leaves of your Alocasia plant start drooping, that usually means that they’re not getting enough light or water. It could also be a sign that there aren’t enough nutrients in the soil. Revise the instructions for caring for your specific Alocasia variety and make sure that you meet all the fertilizing/watering/lighting requirements. You can move the plant to a brighter spot or you may have to water the plant more frequently.

outdoor alocasia green velvet elephant ears

How do I get rid of spider mites?

Spider mites are probably the most common pests known to attack a houseplant. If you suspect that your Alocasia has spider mites, the first thing you have to do is isolate the plant from the other plants in your household. Spider mites aren’t that difficult to get rid of. You can clean the plant with some neem oil but soapy water also works. Make sure that you clean the stems as well. To prevent your Alocasia from getting spider mites again in the future, make sure to increase the humidity around the plant. Spider mites love dry-air conditions.

Why are there spots on the leaves?

Leaf spotting is usually a sign of chlorine or salt in the soil. This is a common problem for plants that have been watered using regular tap water. If you can’t use distilled or filtered water, leave the tap water in a container for about 24 hours before using it to water the plant.

Why is my Alocasia dripping water?

Believe it or not, the Alocasia Zebrina can drip water from the leaves when it has been over watered. While some of you may panic because this isn’t a type of behavior that you see in just every plant, rest assured that there is nothing wrong with the plant per se. This process is very similar to human sweating, and this helps the plant eliminate excess water. The leaves have tiny pores on the surfaces and excess water is eliminated through those pores.

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