How to Grow and Care for Alocasia (Elephant's Ear)
Tropical plants in the Alocasia genus feature stunning foliage that can become the centerpiece of a garden or room. Large rhizomes or tubers produce enormous heart-shaped or arrow-shaped ears, leading to the popular common name, elephant's ear. Fast-growing Alocasias are most often grown as houseplants, but it's common to bring them outdoors during the warm months, sometimes burying the entire pot in the ground to create a natural look.
If you have children or pets, you might want to avoid these plants altogether because the leaves are toxic to humans and animals.
Elephant's Ear Care
Even with a short growing season in northern climates, these plants can grow rapidly. In the warm summer months, Alocasia plants can produce a new leaf every week, and each new leaf can be twice the size of the previous week's. The leaf shapes can vary from slim arrowheads to wide heart-shaped leaves that have colorful veins and a variety of textures: thick, waxy, slick, and glossy.
Once the plant is in its dormant period (in the late fall and winter), it will begin resting. The rapid leaf growth will stop and the plant will likely remain as-is throughout the winter season. Continue to care for it, and the rapid growth will return the following growing season.
Light requirements vary from shade to full sunlight, depending on the species and variety. Ask the grower or seller if the plant is sun-trained. Leaf color tends to be better among plants that grow best with more light.
Most Alocasia species will survive in shade, but they often appreciate slightly brighter filtered sunlight. The bigger varieties can be trained to handle the full tropical sun.
Plant elephant's ear in loose, well-drained potting mix or in a crumbly loamy soil. They have a preference for slightly acidic soil, which is provided by a standard peat-based potting mix.
Keep Alocasia plants moist all year; they are water-loving plants. There is a fine line with these plants. You want to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. They require less water during the winter months because the plant is dormant.
Allow the top few inches of soil to become nearly dry before watering. This will help keep the soil evenly moist. Soggy soil makes the plant susceptible to fungal infections.
Temperature and Humidity
Elephant ear plants will suffer below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Some varieties will die back during colder weather and re-sprout from the rhizome. They require, and thrive in, very humid environments. To raise the humidity around your plant, place it on a tray filled with pebbles and then add water until it rises to just below the bottom of the pot. Keep them away from cold drafts from windows, doors, and air conditioning.
Alocasias can be heavy feeders, especially large specimens. Feed with liquid fertilizer once or twice a month; a 20-20-20 formulation is recommended during the growing season.