How to Care for Alocasia Plant?
You may not know it by its botanical name, but you’ve certainly seen it on social media or in gardening stores. The Alocasia is a subtropical plant whose native lands are parts of Asia and eastern Australia.
Outside of its native land, the Alocasia is grown as a houseplant in nearly every corner of the world. It can seem like a demanding houseplant for a beginner, but its care is not as big of a challenge as it may seem.
If you’ve set your heart on one of the many Alocasia varieties, I recommend that you take the time to understand how to care for Alocasia plants, regardless of your skill level.
Below, I discuss all the factors you need to pay attention to when growing an Alocasia plant.
What is an Alocasia Plant?
Known botanically as the Alocasia macrorrhizos, the Alocasia also goes by other common names such as African Mask and Elephant Ears plant.
Its signature feature? Its leaves. The leaves of the Alocasia plant are either heart or arrowhead shaped. Some varieties have more rounded edges, others are more rounded.
The creamy veins on the green backdrop of the leaves create a stunning contrast that’s unmistakable.
There’s an undeniable sculptural appeal to the leaves – they can be easily integrated into the design of a room.
But the shape and color of the leaves are not the only things that make this plant so appealing.
Leaf texture is another one of its distinctive features. Some Alocasia varieties have rugged, deeply veined leaves, others are smooth and shiny, while some are velvety.
There’s some variety even when it comes to the size of these plants. From dwarf varieties to giant varieties, there’s an Alocasia for every taste.
Alocasia Plant Care
If you’re new to tropical and subtropical plants, you might understandably make mistakes in growing an Alocasia plant.
Luckily, there are ways to meet the demands of this plant despite the fact that you don’t have a tropical forest in your home.
Watering and humidity are possibly the most difficult aspects of Alocasia plant care. But these aren’t insurmountable difficulties.
My tips below are going to help you navigate the requirements of Alocasia plants, regardless of variety.
– Alocasia Plant Light Requirements
If you’re looking for the ideal spot for an Alocasia plant in your home, my recommendation is to choose either a bright kitchen or any other bright room that gets plenty of natural light throughout the day.
Despite growing under the canopy of trees, Alocasia plants thrive in bright light conditions. But there’s a catch – these plants will wither and die if exposed to strong direct light.
To prevent this, place your alocasia near a west- or east-facing window and a couple of feet away from a south-facing window.
If there are sheer curtains on your south-facing windows, the better because it will filter the light, reducing some of its strength.
Low light can be acceptable, but it won’t make your Alocasia thrive nor will it help it reach its expected size. If your Alocasia is not getting optimal light, it will let you know.
One of the consequences of a lack of light is etiolation, which is an elongation of the stalks or veins of a plant, which the plant puts out in search of more light.
Another consequence of a lack of light is a discoloration of the leaves. Without sufficient light, chlorophyll production is halted, and the plant’s leaves will go pale.
In short, don’t leave your Alocasia in direct light but don’t deprive it of light either. Provide bright filtered, dappled or indirect light for best growth.
– Watering Alocasia Plant
I mentioned at the beginning of this article how watering is one of the aspects of Alocasia plant care that’s difficult to get right.
That’s because Alocasias enjoy moist soil all the while being sensitive to overwatering. As with its light requirements, Alocasia plants need moderation when it comes to watering too.
Moderation also means not allowing the soil to go completely dry and also not allowing the roots of the plant to sit in water.
My trick is to water the Alocasia until water pools at the bottom of the pot, then allow the top layers of the potting mix to dry.
To get the watering needs of this plant right, you will need to monitor the moisture level of the soil. There are moisture probes available for this purpose, but I have a better solution – simply stick your index finger and check the moisture level yourself.
Stick your finger up til the first knuckle. If it feels dry, water; if it’s still moist, check back in a few days.
When you water, water the soil uniformly. Don’t water only at the base of the plant. Use chlorine-free water and make sure that water is at room temperature. Otherwise, your plant may go into temperature shock.
The watering needs of your Alocasia will change with the seasons. During spring and summer, the plant will need more water. In autumn and winter its water needs decrease.
Spring and summer coincide with the growth period, hence an increase in the demand for water. In autumn and fall the plant goes into dormancy and stops growing, which causes a decrease in water uptake.
– Fertilizing Alocasia Plant
Alocasia varieties that grow large can have an increased demand for fertilizing as well. Depending on the type of fertilizer you use, you can fertilize once or twice a month.
I prefer using a balanced liquid fertilizer monthly. But there are slow-release fertilizers as well that do a great job at offering nutrients throughout the growing season.
You can use any fertilizer for foliage plants. What’s very important to remember is to fertilize only in spring and summer and stop fertilizing during the rest of the year when the plant is dormant.
Another concern is over-fertilizing. There’s no benefit to adding more fertilizer than the recommended dose. So, don’t. You risk causing fertilizer burn and burn the roots of your Alocasia.
– Alocasia Plant Temperature
One of the reasons Alocasia plants can be grown with success indoors is that they’re fine with average indoor temperatures. Their preferred range is between 60 F and 80 F.
Anything below 60 F and your Alocasia will struggle. Because the plant is neither frost or cold-resistant, it should not be exposed to temperatures below 50 F.
This is only an issue if you’re keeping your Alocasia plants outdoors during the growing period. If winters in your area get cold, you should overwinter Alocasia plants indoors.
The only concern indoors is temperature shock caused by a cold draft, so you need to be careful about leaving doors or windows open during the winter.
You should also watch out for heating vents and A/C units blowing air that is too hot or too cold on your Alocasia. Both can cause damage to the plant.
– Humidity for Alocasia Plant
Another important factor that’s a source of difficulty in Alocasia plant care is maintaining adequate humidity levels.
In its subtropical natural habitat, the Alocasia plant is used to high levels of humidity. Indoors, we strive to maintain humidity levels between 40-60%, which is the average humidity range recommended as healthy for humans.
The Alocasia plant can get accustomed to the higher end of this range, even though it would prefer slightly higher levels.
Often, we struggle to maintain average humidity levels indoors, so an increase in humidity during those times is essential for the health of these plants.
A humidifier can come in handy and it’s a solution that can benefit both you and your Alocasia plant. But you don’t necessarily need one. Here are a few other ways in which you can increase humidity:
- Use a humidity tray (fill a tray with pebbles and water).
- Mist your Alocasia plant regularly.
- Allow natural humidity inside by cracking a window open when it’s raining.
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I recommend choosing a bright kitchen as the best spot for your Alocasia.
That’s because kitchens are naturally more humid because of all the cooking and dishwashing that gets done there.
– Potting Soil for Alocasia Plant
Alocasia plants can store a fair amount of water in their stems, so they don’t need a soil that gets saturated with water easily.
You want excess water to drain well and the potting soil to start drying in a matter of a couple of days.
Choose a potting mix with substrates that drain well, don’t get compacted, retain moisture without becoming saturated with water, and allow good aeration of the soil.
Check to see if your potting mix contains the following: perlite, peat moss, coconut coir, compost or others like orchid bark.
A combination of these or a few of these is going to work well for Alocasia plants.
– Repotting Alocasia Plant
After a couple of years of growing, it will become necessary for you to transfer your Alocasia to another pot. In fact, you might need to do that even sooner.
Here are some of the reasons why you might need to repot an Alocasia plant:
- The plant outgrows its pot and it’s root bound.
- You’ve overwatered the plant and that led to root rot.
- It’s been 3 years since the last repotting and the plant could benefit from a change of potting mix.
- You’ve over fertilized your Alocasia and a change of potting soil would help.
Regardless of the reason for repotting, make sure the pot you pick out is a size bigger than the last. You can go up two sizes the most, much larger pots would not be beneficial to the plant (the potting mix would take too long to dry).
You might not have a preference when it comes to the material of the pot, however, I recommend terracotta pots not just for Alocasia plants, but any plant that’s sensitive to overwatering.
The porous structure of the unglazed terracotta helps absorb moisture from the potting mix, allowing it to dry quicker and potentially mitigate the effects of overwatering.
Alocasia Plant Varieties
When I mentioned that there’s an Alocasia plant for every taste, I wasn’t joking – there are over 80 species of Alocasia plants, so you’re bound to find one you will like.
Here are the Alocasia plant varieties I like most:
- Alocasia ‘Dragon Scale’ – features glossy, deeply-veined leaves that resemble the scales of dragons. The Silver Dragon variety is even more impressive with silvery green leaves.
- Alocasia cuprea ‘Red Secret’ – another glossy-leaved Alocasia featuring red-pink tones mixed with coppery green.
- Alocasia zebrina – features bright-green leaves that are soft, without any prominent veins on the surface. Its stalks, however, feature a yellow-black zebra print, hence the name of the plant.
- Alocasia micholitziana ‘Frydek’ – features large, arrow-shaped leaves that are dark green with light-colored veins. The leaves have a smooth, velvety texture.
It would be impossible to account for all the Alocasia varieties within the confines of this article but rest assured that there are plenty of other colorful and intriguing Alocasia varieties you can get your hands on.
Alocasia Plant Diseases and Pests
Alocasia plants can be affected by all the usual houseplant pests including spider mites, aphids, mealybugs or scale.
Unfortunately, sap-sucking insects will weaken the plant and also damage the otherwise spectacular leaves of the plant.
An ongoing infestation must be addressed as soon as possible with insecticidal soaps or neem oil, both of which can be sprayed on the plant. Treatment should continue until the total eradication of the pests.
Because I’m a big believer in prevention, here are my tips on how to prevent pest infestation in your Alocasia plants:
- Keep your tools clean and sanitise them each time you use them on your plants.
- Don’t group plants together.
- Quarantine new plants for a couple of weeks before putting them in the same room with other plants.
- Keep Alocasia leaves clean and dust-free.
How Big do Alocasia Plants Grow?
Depending on the variety, Alocasia plants can grow as tall as 8-10 feet. In an ideal environment, they have a fast growth rate, hence the need to fertilize them regularly.
Juvenile Alocasia plants have a slower growth rate but as the plant matures, they put out new leaves quicker.
Light exposure, fertilizing, watering, and the quality of the potting mix can all influence the growth rate of your Alocasia. Lack of light and bad watering habits can significantly slow down the growth rate of your plant.
How Do You Prune Alocasia Plants?
Alocasia plants don’t require much in the way of pruning. Some leaves may become damaged and require removing. Old leaves at the base will turn yellow and can be removed.
The easiest way to go about removing these leaves is to take a sharp, clean blade or serrated kitchen knife, and cut at the base of the stem.
How to Propagate Alocasia Plants?
Because the plant grows from rhizomes in the ground, repotting gives you an excellent opportunity to separate these rhizomes and create new plant divisions that you should plant separately.
Repotting and dividing your Alocasia should be done in spring, just as the plant comes out of its dormancy.
Can You Keep Alocasia Outdoors?
Yes, you can keep Alocasia plants outdoors if you manage their requirements well. That includes overseeing its watering, soil quality, light exposure, and humidity.
Unfortunately, if winters get too cold in your area, it’s not possible to keep the plant outdoors all year long.
As soon as the temperatures at night go below 60 F, it’s time to move your Alocasia indoors. Obviously, if you have a tall-growing Alocasia variety moving the plant in and out throughout the seasonal changes is not ideal.
Alocasia plants can be grown outdoors all-year round only in areas where temperatures during winter stay around 55 F-60 F.
Are Alocasia Plants Toxic?
Yes, Alocasia plants are toxic. The compound that makes it dangerous is the calcium oxalate crystals present in the sap of the plant.
When in contact with skin or mucous membranes (mouth, eyes, etc.) it can cause severe irritation and blistering.
Therefore, avoid ingesting, chewing or touching the sap of the plant with your bare hands.
The plant is not only toxic to humans, and especially small children, it’s also bad for dogs and cats.
Keep the plant out of the reach of your children and pets. Ingestion can cause vomiting, nausea, GI upset, diarrhoea, skin and eye irritation, etc.
Whenever you’re handling the plant (repotting or pruning), protect your skin and eyes from getting into contact with the sap of the plant.
Alocasia plant care is not difficult if you have a rudimentary understanding of how to care for tropical plants. It’s important to get the most difficult aspects right such as watering and humidity.
Other aspects such as the placement of Alocasia plants in your home or fertilizing are much easier to manage.
Overall, Alocasia plants will thrive even indoors if you manage their needs well. You can keep these plants outdoors in spring and summer if you’d like, but take them indoors when temperatures start dipping below 60 F.