California Elephant Ear is a stunning plant with their bold foliage make excellent houseplant but you will need to get both the watering and temperature right to keep them looking at their best.
Once you have mastered those two conditions the reward will be one of the most breathtaking plants in your collection.
California Elephant Ear likes bright, indirect light and temperatures ranging from 64 – 77°F (18 to 25°C). Keep it in a well-draining potting mix and water as soon as the top inch of soil becomes dry, or once about every two weeks. Maintain a relative humidity of greater than 50% and fertilize twice a year. It is susceptible to spider mites and thrips and will go dormant if the temperature drops or there is very low light availability.
Almost all issues relating to growing these plants indoors are related to watering and temperature. After reading this article you should have no problems growing this plant in your home.
What does California Elephant Ear Look Like?
Once you have seen this plant you will have no difficulty identifying it in the future. It is notable for its very large leaves which are rounded at the top and pointed at the bottom. As a result of the leaf shape, it is often referred to as the Africa shield plant.
California Elephant Ear Care Details
|Scientific name||Alocasia gagaena California|
|Common name||California Elephant Ear|
|Type||Fast-growing perennial (tuberous)|
|Maximum growth||2 to 4 feet indoors (larger outdoors)|
|Watering needs||Moist but not wet|
|Light requirements||Bright light but not direct sun|
|Soil||Humus rich potting soil|
|Fertilizer||Nitrogen-rich feed every 3 – 4 weeks|
|Temp||64 – 77°F (18 to 25°C)|
|Common Pests||Aphids/Spider mite/Mealybug|
|Diseases||Root rot/fungal leaf spot|
|Pruning||Cut shabby leaves back to base|
|Toxicity||Contains Oxalic acid|
|US hardiness zones||9 – 11|
First Steps After Purchase
As soon as you have purchased your plant, the first thing you should do is check to see if it is in a large enough container and that there is sufficient drainage capacity. Checking the container will drain is easy. All you need to do is ensure that there is a hole in the base of the pot large enough to stick the tip of your finger into.
If the pot is bulging or there are roots clambering over the top or out of the drainage hole then you may need to repot it immediately. If you have bought your plant from a reliable supplier, neither of these should be an issue.
Assuming all is well, all you need to do now is ensure the top of the soil is moist to the touch and find a suitable position to house your plant in.
A position near a south-facing window where there is plenty of light but not too much direct sunlight would be perfect. You want to avoid draughts and remember that this plant gets big so allow room for it to expand into as it grows.
How to Care for California Elephant Ear Plant
Watering is the most important thing to get right with a California Elephant Ear. These plants are from the tropics and are accustomed to moist conditions. You want to keep the top of the soil damp to the touch but not wet.
In a house, during the growing season, this might entail watering every day or two. You will learn to assess this by feeling the top layer of soil.
Water directly onto the top of the soil and then allow that water to drain completely. Excess water will flow into the saucer beneath the pot.
You may need to empty this after draining has stopped to ensure the plant does not get wet feet and that the water at the base does not impede total drainage.
I use captured water rather than municipal water which contains chemicals. This really makes a difference to all of my house plants.
Those chemicals will not cause an instant problem but over time they build up in the soil and become detrimental to the plant’s health.
In the cooler months of fall and winter, you will be able to water far less but you still want to keep that soil slightly moist to the touch.
Many varieties of Alocasia are grown outdoors in warmer regions so they can be quite light tolerant.
To get the best out of your California Elephant Ear indoors, however, you want to place your plant in a bright position that gets plenty of light but no direct sun. I find that near to a south-facing window works perfectly well.
Being from the subtropics, the last thing California Elephant Ear wants is to be exposed to the cold.
In an indoor environment, this is not usually an issue but a constant room temperature of 64 – 77°F (18 – 25°C) is ideal.
Most houses fall into this temperature range so this should not be too difficult to achieve.
Sudden changes when using temperature control devices are what you want to watch out for.
Humidity is important with almost all tropical house plants and with its large foliage, this is definitely the case with the California Elephant Ear.
It is unlikely that the humidity in the house will be too high but it could easily become too low, especially in cases where you are using air-conditioning or central heating.
If you suspect that humidity is too low you can purchase a humidity meter and stand it near to your plant. The ideal range should be in the 60 to 70 percent region. If the reading is below that, you will need to look at ways of raising that level.
You can purchase a humidifier that will regulate the humidity in its vicinity but here are a few tricks you might like to try before making that purchase.
First of all, surround your plant with other plants as their combined transpiration creates a microclimate that increases the humidity in the vicinity of that cluster of plants.
A group of plants can look very attractive in the home but with something as large as California Elephant Ear this may not always be a practical arrangement.
The next option is to fill the plant saucer with pebbles and then with water. This means that the pot will be standing above the water but its feet will not be wet.
As the water evaporates, the humidity will rise and this is normally sufficient to keep your California Elephant Ear happy.
Misting and Spraying
Another common trick with plants that are suffering from low humidity is to spray their leaves with a fine mist of water using a squeegee bottle. This cools the leaves and raises the humidity.
There is some debate in the horticultural world about this, with some growers suggesting the effect is temporary and increases the risk of fungal diseases while others swear it is the answer to low humidity problems.
Personally, I mist my large-leaved plants with untreated water and don’t have any problems, but you will need to experiment and then decide what works best for you.
If you do go down the misting path then do this in the morning so that excess moisture can evaporate during the day, thus ensuring the leaves are not wet overnight.
Soil Type for California Elephant Ear.
Because these plants like to stay damp you need to use a potting mix that is rich in organic matter and therefore retains plenty of moisture.
You can purchase Alocasia potting soil in some garden centers, but you can also enrich ordinary potting soil by adding some retentive material such as coconut husk, bark, or leaf mold.
As soon as you see a plant with so much leaf material, you can be pretty sure that it is going to need lots of food and that is certainly the case with the California Elephant Ear.
This is very easy to achieve by simply using a liquid fertilizer. You want one that is high in Nitrogen as that is what is needed for the growth of green plant material.
Look for a mixture that reads 20-10-20 on the bottle and expects to feed every three to four weeks during the warmer months.
Once the cooler weather arrives the growth will stop and you can stop feeding until the following spring.
California Elephant Ear Propagation
In theory, it is possible to propagate these plants from seed, but unless you are planning on living to be 200 years old, I wouldn’t bother going down that path. What you want is a tuber which you can then pot so as to grow your plant from that.
The tuber will have a pointed end and when you plant it you want the pointed end facing upwards.
You need a large pot and you then place the tuber in the potting soil and cover it to a depth of five inches (12 cms).
I use the same potting mix in which I will be growing my plant and simply grow it in that.
When purchasing tubers, make sure they are firm and solid and not damp or soggy. The ideal time to plant them is right at the end of winter so they get the full benefit of the spring growth period.
Some growers aim to plant them eight weeks or so before the last frosts have passed. Keep the soil slightly moist but don’t let it get soggy.
I repot my California Elephant Ear far more often than I do any of my other house plants, for the simple reason that they grow so fast that they get too big for their containers and they use up all of the nutrients.
I prefer to do this in the spring but it can wait until as late as mid-summer if I am too busy.
Repotting is quite easy but you need to take care not to break off any of the leaf stems in the process. This is made easier by ensuring the plant does not become too root-bound.
Tip the plant out of its pot and repot into a new or sterile container that is two sizes bigger than the preceding one.
Use the same type of potting mixture and plant so that the depth of the plant is not deeper than it was in the original container. Water in after repotting but make sure any excess water can drain away.
Trimming and Pruning
There is not really much pruning to do with these plants. Any leaves that start to look shabby or damaged I cut off at soil level from where they are quickly replaced.
California Elephant Ear Problems and How to Fix Them
A healthy California Elephant Ear should be fairly resistant to pest attack. The three most common culprits are spider mites, aphids, and mealybugs.
All three are fragile little creatures that suck sap. Their secret to success is to hide so that they go unnoticed and breed rapidly.
To counter this, you need to observe your plant closely so that you can take action at the first sign of infestation and before any real damage can be done.
When they are established it is much harder to solve the problem. Spider-mites are almost invisible to the naked eye.
They tend to inhabit the lower sections of the plant where they make small web-like structures which are often the first sign you will have that they are there. They prefer dry conditions and can be easily blasted off with a jet of water.
Mealybugs look like a light dusting of flour and they like to hang out in the leaf axles where they are hard to see.
Aphids are a little less discerning about the position but tend to favor soft new growth.
Both of these pests can be wiped away with neem oil or an insecticidal soap which you can buy at garden centers and nurseries.
To prevent all three of these pests in the first place, and to keep my Californian Elephant Ear looking pristine, I wipe down the leaves every week or so with a soft cloth dipped in vegetable soap.
This destroys any pests, gets rid of dust buildup, and forces me to observe my plant closely so it may be a practice you want to adopt.
Root rot and fungal leaf spot are the two most common diseases and they both stem from overwatering.
The fungal disease takes the form of black or brown bruise-like blemishes on the leaves and root rot is revealed through collapsing and soggy leaves and stems.
In both instances, the first line of response should be to dry out the root ball. If the plant shows no sign of recovery remove it from its pot and stand it on a sheet of paper.
When the soil is dry, examine the roots and cut away any soft or mushy root matter. Dust with a fungal powder and repot. Keep the plant isolated from others during the recovery process.
California Elephant Ear Drooping
If you have the watering correct and your plant’s leaves droop, it is likely that the plant is getting too little or too much light. Assess the situation and then move the plant to a more suitable position.
California Elephant Ear Turning Yellow
This may be because your plant is not being fed correctly. Adapt the method of fertilizing to the one I have given.
If this occurs in autumn, it could be that the plant could be going dormant for the winter. Cut back the yellow leaves and new healthy shoots should appear in the spring.
California Elephant Ear Leaves Curling
This tends to be the first sign of overwatering and left unaddressed the stems and leaves will flop. Stop watering and ensure that there is adequate drainage.
Brown Spots on California Elephant Ear
This is commonly a sign of low humidity. This can occur more often over the winter period when the moisture carrying capacity of the air is lower.
If you are standing your plant on a pebble tray then ensure there is plenty of water in it. I would also start misting the plant every morning.
Brown Leaf Margins
This is very different from spots on the interior of the leaf. If the margins go brown and crisp it is likely that the plant is getting too much sun and in effect becoming sunburned.
Moving it to a shadier position and ensuring there is enough moisture in the soil should overcome this problem.
Varieties of this plant are eaten widely in various parts of the tropics but they need to be correctly cooked first.
The plant contains Oxalic acid which when consumed raw can be poisonous. This could be harmful to dogs, cats, or humans. The good news is they would need to munch a lot of leaves to get sick.
General Care Tips
- Water correctly. Keeping the soil moist but not wet is the main thing you should take away from this article. Most other issues will stem from getting this wrong.
- Bright light but not direct sun.
- Use a water-retentive potting mix
- Keep that humidity level high
- Feed more often than most smaller house plants
- Repot on an annual basis for a happy plant
- Finally, close observation will alert you to problems early, whether they be pests, disease, incorrect watering, or any of the other issues we have looked at.