Move over monstera and bird of paradise, make room for the big beautiful leaves of the elephant ear plant. Big Leaves are all the rage right now in the plant world, and Alocasia elephant ears, with their big glossy heart shaped leaves, are just the thing to fill the need for big leaves.
A relatively easy plant to care for, once an elephant ear is in its ideal growing conditions (indoors or outdoors) they will payout in big green glossy leaves. Here is how to grow Alocasia elephant ears at home.
Get to Know Alocasia Elephant Ear Plant
Alocasia elephant ear plant are herbaceous plants native to the tropical rainforest regions of South Eastern Asia. They are largely cultivated as both outdoor plants and houseplants in the United States.
Some of the larger elephant ears varieties will grow up to 6 feet in a single season, and could potentially grow up to 11 feet in height with giant glossy, well, elephant ear, shaped leaves.
The size of the plant depends on its growing conditions (and variety, some are smaller), the more ideal the growing conditions, the larger the greens.
Elephant ears have such lush, tropical, attractive foliage they should be considered as an addition to any home or garden. It is important to note that there are two species which comprise what are known as elephant ears, Alocasia and Colocasia.
The main difference is Colocasia leaves hang downwards, whereas Alocasia leaves point upwards. This article will be focusing on the Alocasia variety of elephant ears. Colocasia has slightly different ideal growing conditions.
There are around 100 varieties of Alocasia. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and variegation. Some Elephant ear alocasias make for great houseplants, and some are more ideal for outdoor use.
Here are a few different varieties to consider:
- Alocasia Odora - This is a classic garden variety. It has the famous glossy green upturned leaves that immediately come to mind when thinking of an elephant ear.
Grown as a centerpiece in a container arrangement, Alocasia Odora is striking and gives a very tropical vibe to the garden.
This variety will also grow indoors as a houseplant, and it’s a good candidate for growing outside in the summer months and indoors in the winter.
- Alocasia Stingray - This unique variety makes a great houseplant. It has smaller heart shaped leaves that come together in a long point that looks like a stingray’s tail.
- Alocasia Amazonica Polly - This variety is more commonly known as an African Mask plant because the shape of its leaves resembles, well, an African Mask.
It has gorgeous dark thick leaves, with white veins. A truly gorgeous, and popular variety.
- Alocasia Macrorrhiza - This is the big guy. Also known as giant taro, it can grow leaves from 3-6 feet in length! This is a garden show stopper.
Of course, it can also be grown as a houseplant, but this Alocasia will need a lot of space.
- Alocasia Regal Shield - Regal Shield has large dark green leaves. This variety likes less light, especially if grown outside. Bright, but indirect or dappled sunlight to keep the dark leaves from getting sunburned.
- Alocasia Zebrina - This variety has unique striped stems that look striking as a houseplant or in a pot outside with low lying flowers all around. It has smaller, more arrow shaped leaves.
How to Grow Elephant Ear Plant
Alocasia elephant ears are grown from bulbs, more specifically they are known as corms. When purchasing an elephant ear, there are two options. Buying a grown plant from a nursery, or buying the bulbs (check out the planting section to find out how to grow from bulbs).
As an Alocasia grows, offsets will form on the base of its tuber, these can be split off from the main tuber and will grow into another alocasia plant.
Place the split off piece of tuber into soil, and voila, a new baby elephant ear is born. Ideally this should be done in the early Spring, or in the Fall, when the plant is not in its active growing period.
When purchasing bulbs (they’re actually technically called corms, but let’s not over complicate things) make sure they are firm and not mushy.
Take the bulbs and plant them at twice the depth as the height of the bulb (don’t go too crazy, just eyeball it) under evenly moist soil about 8-10 weeks after the last frost (check a USDA zone guide to find out your region's last frost date).
Or, they can be planted directly into the ground once the temperature is consistently above 60F (15C). If growing in USDA zones 10 and higher they can be planted at any time directly into the ground.
If they are being grown as houseplants, plant the bulbs in a pot in the spring and just keep them indoors. Place them in a bright indirect sun location, and keep the soil evenly moist, but not soggy.
Alocasia Pot Selection
Pot selection actually makes a difference to elephant ears, they will max out in growth with the size of the pot. When it comes to the large, garden variety of elephant ears, make sure the bulbs are being planted into a pot at least 2 feet in diameter for extra large leaves.
Alternatively, they can be planted directly into the ground in the garden, make sure to give them space as they get big and will out compete their neighbouring plants if they are planted too close.
The pot needs to have drainage holes, Alocasias do not like being in standing water, their roots will rot. When choosing a pot, for any plant, do not get one that is too big.
Pick a pot that is only slightly larger than the original nursery pot it comes in. Plants tend to rot in pots that are too gigantic as the soil holds on to a lot of the water that the plant itself cannot use.
Caring for Elephant Ear Plant
As a houseplant, Alocasia enjoys bright, indirect sunlight. Away from a Southern exposure, or against a Northern or Eastern exposure. They will tolerate less light, but the leaves of the Elephant ear will get smaller.
Too much light and they will have a bleached/sunburned appearance. As an outdoor plant, elephant ears like a lot of bright, but indirect light. A southern exposure with a high canopy of trees to shade out the hot afternoon sun would be ideal.
They will tolerate shade, but the leaves will be smaller. They will struggle to survive in the deep shade. If used as a container plant outside, a North or East facing entrance are ideal places to put an elephant ear.
Also, along with sun, wind and other elements is something to consider when planting an elephant ear outdoors. Plant it in a sheltered location, not in the open whipping wind where the delicate leaves will be torn to shreds, or out where the hard rain or hail can ravage its beautiful ear leaves.
Alocasia elephant ears like to be evenly moist, never completely dry, but also not left in standing water. Indoors, water weekly during the summer growing months, and then less frequently in the winter.
Never leave the elephant ear in standing water. A good way to water an elephant ear is by bottom watering, placing the plant in a tray of water and letting it slowly suck up the water and then discard the excess.
This ensures the soil is actually absorbing the moisture and it is not running straight through the pot. Outdoors, watering is more intuitive, water daily, or even twice daily if the temperatures are hot and dry.
Fertilizing Elephant Ears
Elephant ears are heavy feeders, in their active growing months use an all purpose 20-20-20 fertilizer on them every 1-2 weeks.
Or amend their soil with lots of organic matter such as worm compost, or a natural fish fertilizer to give them the nutrients they need to provide a lot of growth and beautiful big, glossy, green leaves.
Alocasia elephant ears are a tropical plant and do prefer humid conditions. Spraying with a spray bottle a few times a week, or placing it on a tray of pebbles and water will help an indoor elephant ear.
For an outdoor elephant ear, plant it in a lush area of the garden with other plants and shade cover to produce some natural humidity.
Alocasia Companion Planting
Alocasia elephant ears make a beautiful stand alone plant. In a pot on its own it attracts attention with their large gorgeous foliage. However, it can also be planted in the garden or in a pot with a variety of other plants.
In the garden, elephant ears are great companions with hostas for a really lush tropical look. The added height of the elephant ears plays off nicely with the similar shaped low lying leaves of a hosta. They both also prefer semi shaded, moist areas of the garden.
In a pot, an elephant ear in the centre as the “thriller”, surrounded by begonias as the “filler”, and then golden lysimachia (creeping Jenny) spilling out the edges as the “spiller” (thriller, filler, spiller pot design method) is a combination that is hard to beat in a summer planter.
Elephant Ear Winter Dormancy
Gardeners in zones 10 or higher, skip on, elephant ears will grow continuously through the year (lucky lucky), for everyone else, what to do with an elephant ear Alocasia in the winter months.
If the elephant ear is a houseplant, lessen the watering frequency in the winter month, don’t fertilize. Let it go dormant, some of the leaves turning yellow and dying off is a normal part of the process.
Simply snip off the yellow leaves at the base of the stem. If the elephant Ear is being grown outdoors, there are two options. Bring the elephant Ear indoors and treat it like a houseplant, or put it in a bright indirect sunny location.
Don’t be alarmed if lots of the leaves turn yellow and die, again, simply snip those off. The second option is to dig up the tuberous roots of the elephant ear and store them in a cool dry place over the winter, and then repot them 6-8 weeks before the last frost.
To do this, stop watering as the temperatures start to drop (before a hard frost), then cut off all the leaves and dig up the bulb. Make sure it is dry and bang and shake off all the excess soil.
From there, wrap in newspaper and store in a cool, dry, dark place such as a basement. It is important it is completely dry before storing or it will rot and become mush over the winter.
Common Elephant Ear Plant Pests
If Alocasias are kept in their ideal conditions they will be relatively pest free. However, like all plants, sometimes pests happen. They are susceptible to the usual culprits. Scale, aphids, spider mites, and mealybugs.
If any of these pests occur, washing the leaves down with a horticultural oil, or an insecticidal soap weekly until there are no longer any signs of the pest is the best bet. Also, consider spraying monthly as a preventative measure.
When introducing a new plant into the home, quarantining it away from the plants for a couple weeks is a good idea in case it has something it can be treated without spreading to other plants (don’t be too hard on the place the plant was purchased if pests occur, take it back if necessary.
But remember, when there are plants, there are pests, and even reputable plant stores try their best, but cannot control all pests all the time).
Outdoor elephant ears that are being brought indoors and kept as houseplants over the winter should be treated with insecticidal soap and quarantined from other plants for around 2 weeks.
There are always more pests outside and the chances of bringing something in (likely spider mites or aphids) is high.
Alocasias are generally easy to care for, however they are susceptible to some diseases. With that being said, if the leaves of an alocasia are wilting and turning yellow there is a good possibility that this is a watering issue and not a disease.
So be sure to check that it is evenly moist, not too dry, definitely not soaking wet. Also, if it’s going into the winter months, Alocasias go dormant, so some leaves will inevitably drop.
In fact, all the leaves could potentially drop from an elephant ear plant and the tuberous root will still be alive, and it will push up new growth once the growing season commences.
Now that watering, and dormancy are ruled out there are a few diseases that affect Alocasia elephant ears.
Crown rot disease is caused by a fungus in the soil and will turn up if the soil is too wet. Once it has taken hold of a plant, there isn’t much left to be done.
The best bet is using a light fluffy potting soil and not over watering. Signs of crown rot include rotting up the stems of plants and wilted and or stunted leaves.
Xanthomonas leaf spot can occur in Alocasias as well. Signs of this will be yellow or brown spots on the leaves. Again, this is more about prevention, once a plant has this leaf spot, removal of the affected leaves is the best course of action.
Prevention is keeping the plant in its ideal growing conditions, and avoiding spraying large amounts of water on the leaves (another reason to bottom water).
Powdery Mildew can also occur on Alocasia elephant ears. White powder will form on the leaves. The best course of action will be to wash off the powdery substance and then spray with a fungicide.
Check out our guide on using potassium bicarbonate for powdery mildew.
To prevent this from happening make sure the plant isn’t over crowded and has enough space for air to flow freely around it.
Alocasia Elephant Ears FAQs
Are Elephant ears poisonous to touch?
Their sap can be a skin irritant, use gloves when working with them. They are also poisonous to people and pets. This should be taken into consideration when deciding if this plant is right for your home.
How do you take care of Alocasia elephant ears?
Consistent, evenly moist soil (never over watered and soggy), bright indirect sun, and fertilizing with a 20-20-20 fertilizer in the summer months are the best ways to take care of your Alocasia.
Do Elephant ears bloom?
Yes! They do bloom. While not generally grown for their blooms, they do bloom a white single spadix style flower. It is not super common for them to bloom, especially as houseplants.
Do Elephant ears need sun or shade?
Elephant ears like bright, indirect sun. Not out in the baking sun, but not in the deep shade. Somewhere in between, perhaps where they are being shaded by a canopy of trees to protect them from the heat of the day.
Indoors is the same, not too bright light, but not too dark. Find the sweet spot and keep your plant there. Away from a South window, or against a North or East window would be good.
Is Elephant ear plant indoor or outdoor?
Both! They can be grown as houseplants or garden plants. Certain varieties lend themselves better to outdoor life (Alocasia Odora) whereas others make for better houseplants (Alocasia Stingray).
Wrapping Up Our Elephant Ear Plant Growing Guide
Whether growing Alocasia elephant ears indoors, or outdoors, care for them with consistent water, and bright indirect sunlight and they will reward you with glorious glossy leaves that are a showstopper.
Combine them with other plants, or keep them in a pot on their own. Elephant ear plant are versatile and beautiful and should be considered when purchasing a house or garden plant.