Elephant ear is a group of plants in the family Araceae that consists of numerous types. They have gained popularity in recent years as houseplants, and many people enjoy the dramatic flair they can add to indoor spaces. There's a lot to know before bringing an elephant ear plant into your home, including how to water them, what kind of fertilizer they need, and potential pest problems you may run into.
Elephant ears will often come already potted, but if you're planting your own, the most crucial step is getting the soil mixture right. Potting soil for elephant ear plants needs to be well aerated. If the soil is too dense, it will hold water and clog the roots. If the soil is too loose, it won’t hold any water and dry out too quickly. The soil mixture should be part peat moss, part soil, and part sand or perlite. Fungal infections and root rot can occur in most plants without good drainage, so make sure to use a pot with enough holes in the bottom, and keep your soil loose.
Elephant ears like to be slightly snug in their pots, but they still need to be repotted when they’re getting bigger. If roots start to peek out of the bottom and you find the plant drinking up more water than usual, it might be time to repot. The size of the pot depends on the size of your elephant ear — some varieties will remain small throughout their lifetime, while others will grow to several feet. When repotting, don’t increase the planter size by more than an inch in diameter.
Most people won’t be able to plant elephant ear outside. They’re generally hardy year-round in the warmer and more humid zones 9 through 11, but gardeners in colder climates that want an elephant ear outdoors will have to grow it as an annual. They enjoy bright shade with enough indirect sunlight to encourage growth without burning the leaves. If you’re growing your elephant ear indoors, make sure it has enough humidity by placing it in a bathroom or putting a humidifier in the room it will be in.
Elephant ear plants originate in tropical Asian climates, so they enjoy moist soil that’s not too damp. In the winter months, the plant may become dormant. During these times, it’s alright to water it less frequently. Don’t overwater the plant but don’t allow it to be too dry, either. Creating a weekly watering schedule will help you remember when to rehydrate your lovely elephant ear.
Elephant ear plants are susceptible to the same pests that plague many other houseplants, like spider mites, aphids, and mealybugs. If your soil remains too damp, your plant could develop a gnat problem, as well. Spraying the plant with a water and soap mixture every few weeks will help ward off problematic bugs. If you do encounter these pests, you can use plant-and-people-friendly neem oil to fight against soft-bodied insects.
Diseases aren’t usually a big problem for elephant ear plants, though they can fall victim to fungal diseases like leaf blight. The best way to treat these problems is with a copper insecticide. Some of these treatments are also organic, so even gardeners worried about harsh chemicals can enjoy beautiful foliage free of disease.
You’ll need to feed your elephant ear plants semi-regularly, especially during the growing season. After all, it takes a lot of nutrients to grow such magnificent leaves! The main nutrient they need is nitrogen, so find a fertilizer that has plenty. If you’re planting your elephant ear in the ground, a slow-release fertilizer may do the trick and save you the hassle of fertilizing every few weeks.
The only way to propagate elephant ear plants is by dividing the mother plant. The root system consists of corms — bulb-like storage units for nutrients and water. The elephant ear will grow new corms from its parent plant, and you can simply cut these bulbs from where they meet the original bulb. These new, baby bulbs can then be planted in the ground or potted for a new plant.
Elephant ear plants are beautiful additions to homes and apartments. Their dramatic foliage varies in size and color, so many people can enjoy them regardless of how much space they have. The plants are poisonous, however, so pet owners must be extra cautious and consider the dangers of keeping animals around this plant.
Since the name "elephant ear" can refer to many different genera, there are a plethora of elephant ear varieties available. Some, like the alocasia reginula, are small and have almost black foliage with purplish undersides. This variety is also known as "black velvet" because of the color and texture of its leaves. Other varieties, like the bright green colocasia gigantea, have leaves that can grow four to six feet long.
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