Growing Alocasia: Learn How to Grow and Care for 'Elephant Ears'

Alocasia Plants

Mature Elephant Ears Alocasia Plants

Alocasia is a unique addition to an existing houseplants collection. It's renowned for its large, veined leaves, hence its common name, 'elephant ear.' The leaves are heart-shaped and glossy with wavy edges, making them ideal for improving interior decor. Available in bronze, red, purple and blue-green, the plants can easily blend into most interiors.

The distinct appearance of Alocasia plants is bound to give homes a dramatic look when grown as houseplants. There's no better way to give homes the lush look of tropical forests than growing Alocasia indoors or outdoors. The decorative veins on leaves add texture to interior spaces.

Although they were popular during the Victorian era, they've made a comeback as gardeners and homeowners alike crave exotic plants. They also come in varied sizes to fit in different homes and gardens and meet the unique needs out there.

What is Alocasia Plant?

Alocasia is a plants genus of tuberous or rhizomatous perennials. It belongs to the Araceae family of plants. It's native to Eastern Australia and sub-tropical and tropical regions in Asia. As a result, it's cultivated in many places across the U.S and the entire world. The genus has about 79 Alocasia species of plants.

Also known as African Mask, Elephant Ears or Kris plant, Alocasia is a popular houseplant also grown outdoors. The most popular Alocasia variety has large leaves with decorative veins. The leaves resemble hand-carved ceremonial African masks and thus the Alocasia common name, elephant ears.

Variegated Alocasia Bambino Leaves

Variegated Alocasia Bambino Leaves

Alocasia plants thrive in varying light conditions with the brightest leaf pigments occurring in full sun when it becomes more compact. The converse is also true with the leaves becoming smaller and more elongated.

However, the Alocasia plant isn't native to Africa. It has its origins in Asia such as the Philippine Islands. Xanthosoma, Caladium, Colocasia, and Monstera genera are other plants often known as elephant ears. Nevertheless, there are variations in the many hybrids and species of the plant.

Be careful to find out the difference between Alocasia and Colocasia before picking the variety to plant. Often referred to as jewel-like, architectural and stunning, the plant has variegated leaves and resembles tropical plants. In summer, it grows fast in shady gardens to offer cover to the bare ground.

Alocasia thrives in USDA hardiness zones 8 to 11 depending on the specific cultivar to be planted. Apart from offering green foliage in summer, the plant is hardy to winter if appropriately planted and well cared for.

Why Grow Alocasia Plant

Alocasia isn't an easy-care houseplant. However, if properly cared for, it richly rewards with attractive foliage to improve the appearance of indoor or outdoor decor. The Kris plant, specifically Alocasia sanderiana plant, comes in a defined color with clean, crisp lines, making it ideal for modern homes.

If grouped with other plants, Alocasia adds an exotic, tropical look indoors. The decorative plant is versatile and thus can easily complement almost any existing interior or exterior decor. The leaves can grow up to 18 inches long with silver-white veins for a truly modern look.

Alocasia flowers are usually brightly-colored for unmatched visual excitement. They bloom seasonally, and when not flowering, foliage growth takes center-stage. Foliage color and shape of leaves are key when picking Alocasia varieties to grow.

Heart-Shaped Alocasia Leaf with Purple Veins and Stem

Heart-Shaped Alocasia Leaf with Purple Veins and Stem for a Dramatic Look

A Short Guide on How to Grow Alocasia

Alocasia is a genus of popular tropical houseplants. Some species and hybrids have won awards such as the Garden Merit Award of the Royal Horticultural Society. They can be grown in greenhouses, pots or containers, or even raised beds outdoors in gardens.

The leaves require regular cleaning, and the plant as a whole thrives in moist conditions. Acclimatization prepares the plants for survival indoors, in addition to protecting them from frost in cold winters. The frequency of watering reduces indoors.

Factors to Consider When Growing Alocasia

  1. Alocasia Growth Conditions

Alocasia plants have special requirements for optimal growth, whether grown indoors or outdoors. Here are top Alocasia growing conditions to consider:

  • Soil

Alocasia thrives in loose, porous, well-drained soils. They can also be grown in well-aerated, moist potting mix growth medium. One part coarse potting sand or perlite, one part peat, and part soil are used to make the potting soil for Alocasia.

  • Light

Alocasia lighting needs vary from one species to another, with some thriving in full light, but not direct sun, and others under shaded conditions. If planning to plant Alocasia seedlings, make sure the plants are sun-trained for growth outdoors.

  • Fertilizer

Alocasia plants, especially cultivars with large foliage, are heavy feeders. Frequently apply granule fertilizers in small amounts. Alternatively, apply liquid fertilizer (20-20-20) while the plant grows.

  • Water

Alocasia requires moist conditions all-year round. They're water-loving plants that thrive in areas with high humidity. Fill a tray with pebbles and place the pot holding the plant on it. Add water on the tray to ensure the plant enjoys high humid conditions.

Group plants or use a humidifier to improve humid conditions around elephant ears. Don't mist Alocasia plants because it promotes fungal diseases.

  • Temperature

The tropical plants do well in hot climates above 60 F. They're prone to cold weather and thus must be protected from frost in winter. Prolonged exposure to low temperatures causes the leaves to fall, and the plant goes into dormancy. Indoors, keep cold drafts and air conditions far from your houseplants.

  1. Alocasia Cultivars

Alocasia is available in about a dozen hybrids and 70 species. Hybrids have appealing colors, leaf forms, and even plant sizes. Choose the specific Alocasia species to grow indoors or outdoors. Small varieties make perfect houseplants while larger species are often grown outdoors.

  1. Propagation of Alocasia

Alocasia plants can be propagated from seeds, bulbs or even rhizomes. Rhizome division or clump involves cutting a piece from underground. It's removed and kept in warm, moist conditions until new growth is spotted.

Alocasia Leaves Sprouting from a Rhizome

Alocasia Leaves Sprouting from a Rhizome

  1. Repotting Alocasia

Alocasia requires repotting every year. Larger pots with fresh, loose, well-drained soil or potting soil are usually used to accommodate the plant's increasing size. Rhizomes are also cut every year to propagate new plants. The yearly division also ensures the size of plants remains manageable.

How to Plant Alocasia from Bulbs
  1. Choose the Right Site

Depending on the chosen Alocasia variety, choose the right site for planting. The chosen location must meet the plant's growth requirements. Does the plant require shade, full sun or a combination of both to grow?

Opt for a bed or garden site that receives enough sunlight in the morning and is shaded for the rest of the day, especially afternoons. Make sure the soil in the area is moist to support Alocasia growth. Add compost to the soil to improve its organic matter and ability to retain water.

Sandy soils aren't recommended because they don't just drain water faster, but also dry quickly. Growing Alocasia on sandy soils would mean the plants don't get the moisture they need to grow.

  1. Prepare the Soil/Buy Pots

If working on a raised bed, prepare the soil for planting. Till it with a hoe or rake to loosen the soil and remove all weeds. Buy pots or containers for potted plants. In that case, buy a potting mix from a local garden center.

  1. Choose the Variety to Plant

Choose the elephant ears species to plant and buy seeds, rhizomes or seedlings to start the plants.

  1. Plant Alocasia

Plant Alocasia in spring because tuberous roots or rhizomes die in winter. Alternatively, start them in pots two and a half months earlier, indoors. In spring, transplant the Alocasia seedlings outdoors.

Dig out holes 2 to 10 inches deep, leaving 3 to 5 feet spacing in between for foliage growth. The exact spacing depends on the specific Alocasia cultivar being planted. Place a tuber or rhizome in each hole and cover with soil.

Make sure the root zone faces done while the narrow end points upwards. The rhizome top must stay above the soil. Water them after planting and expect to start seeing budding growth in 3 to 8 weeks.

The variation in time depends on the amount of moisture and warmth available to the planted rhizomes. Elephant ears also bud growth from the root runners or bulb offsets.

  1. Watering Alocasia

What are Alocasia water requirements? Wondering how often to water Alocasia? Alocasia plant watering ensures the soil is always moist for optimal growth. It requires frequent watering once or twice a week in dry weather. During dormancy (late fall to winter), the plant requires less watering.

Water the plant the moment the topsoil (2 to 3 inches) begins to dry. Mulching and ensuring the plant receives shade partly daily reduces the loss of moisture from the soil. Avoid over-watering the plants because it increases their vulnerability to fungal infections.

A Potted Alocasia Flowering Plant

A Potted Alocasia Flowering Plant

  1. Apply Fertilizer for Alocasia

During growth, elephant ears require fertilization every couple of months. Use fertilizer meant for foliage plants (usually slow release) and apply it at the recommended rate on the package. No fertilizer application is required in winter.

  1. Provide Protection from Pests and Diseases

Miticide protects the plants from spider mite infestation. Rinse the leaves with a lot of warm, soapy water to remove the pests manually. Frequently cleaning the leaves can also ensure they're free from dust and the damaging spider mites, including other pests such as scale, Mealy Bugs, aphids.

Alternatively, spray Neem oil or insecticidal oil on the plants to kill the pests. The oils also kill their eggs. Improve air circulation, avoid over-watering and frequently wipe the leaves dry to prevent diseases such as stem rot, crown rot, root rot, Xanthomonas, and Leaf Spot.

Isolate infected plants, remove affected leaves and use fungicides for disease treatment.

  1. Pruning Alocasia

Remove yellowing leaves, especially in late fall when the plants start becoming dormant. However, it depends on the location and variety planted because some Alocasia plant species are evergreen. Also remove leaves with black or brown spots, a sign of fungal infection.

  1. Alocasia Winter Care

Frost tolerance or cold hardiness varies from one Alocasia cultivar to another. Foliage dies in late fall into winter when the plant enters a dormancy period. Cover Alocasia roots with ground cover or 2 to 3 inches of mulch in mild climates without prolonged frosts.

The mulch or cover insulates the plants for winter protection from frost damage. Alocasia species prone to even the mildest of cold weather require overwintering indoors. Dig out tubers and remove foliage from garden beds for overwintering. Let them dry before storage.

Use dry peat moss to store the rhizomes or tubers in open containers under room temperature levels in the garage or basement. Leave them in storage until spring when it's time for replanting. Note that Alocasia is poisonous and must be kept away from pets and kids.

4 Tips for Decorating with Elephant Ears

  • Create a portable focal point outdoors in spring when bulbs or plants that bloom during that time go dormant.
  • Use large elephant ears cultivars to create focal points at the border with perennial plants. It stands out among the brightly-colored flowers.
  • Group Kris plants with tropical plants such as bananas, Caladiums, Cannas, Coleus and variegated tapioca to create a beautiful, jungle garden in summer.
  • Grow pink, silver and chartreuse plants with purple-colored Alocasia for a contrasting yet elegant look.
  • Grow elephant plants with flowering annuals and foliage plants that thrive in moist soils and partly shaded conditions to come up with dramatic centerpieces. Alocasia plants make good companion plants. A large variety grown in a big pot can create a stunning focal point outdoors.

A Group of Different Alocasia Plants Varieties Indoors

A Group of Different Alocasia Varieties Indoors

There's no better way to bring nature indoors with an exotic look than growing Kris plants indoors!

Alocasia Varieties

Some popular elephant ears species include the following:

  • Alocasia cucullata
  • Alocasia odora
  • Alocasia macrorrhizos
  • Alocasia brisbanensis
  • Alocasia robusta
  • Alocasia fornicata
  • Alocasia sanderiana

Alocasia Macrorrhiza

Alocasia Macrorrhiza

Grow Alocasia Indoors

Whether you want to grow elephant ears indoors in pots or outdoors, they can give your home an instant dramatic look. You can start your plants from rhizomes or seeds as you deem necessary.

Check out our raised garden beds and cloth grow bags for growing Alocasia plants indoors.