How to Grow an Elephant Ear Plant Indoors

Crank up the indoor drama by growing this big-leaf plant in your home.

<p>Jacob Fox</p>

Jacob Fox

With their big, bold leaves, elephant ear plants (Alocasia spp.) can definitely make a splash in your home. And you don’t need a whole bunch of them–even a single plant is sure to be eye-catching in a brightly lit room. Keep this large-leafed houseplant inside year-round or give it a summer vacation on your patio. Here's how to care for an elephant ear plant indoors so you can keep this tropical beauty thriving, glossy, and pest-free.

Poison Control and the ASPCA point out that alocasia plants are slightly toxic to people and pets, so don’t add an elephant ear to a toddler’s playroom or put it within reach of nibbling cats.

Elephant Ear Indoor Care Tips

Like true divas, elephant ear plants demand that certain requirements be met to keep them looking their best. As with all plants, the goal is to mimic their native conditions. In the wild, alocasias grow in Asian tropical forests beneath taller trees, where they receive filtered sunlight or part shade and their roots are in damp, well-drained soil.

For indoor elephant ears, if you live in northern light and chilly rooms, keep on plant shopping. These tropical drama queens need bright, filtered light; not sitting in direct sunshine, but definitely spending most of the day on the sunny side of the room. They also demand warmer temperatures and higher humidity. Tweak your indoor environment to meet these needs by:

  • Opening your curtains or blinds in the daytime to let the sun pour in near the plant.

  • Setting the room heat to 70°F or warmer.

  • Creating a more humid microclimate by setting your elephant ear on a plant saucer filled with stones and a low level of water in the saucer (water shouldn't touch the bottom of the pot).

  • Misting the alocasia regularly to keep its local humidity high.

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Water and Fertilizer Needs

You might think that humidity-loving plants also want to be drenched in water. Not so for elephant ears. In the winter, the plants are semi-dormant, and they need to be on the dry side to avoid root rot or fungal problems. Grow them in unglazed ceramic pots, if you like that look, to allow the moisture to evaporate more easily from the soil. Water them after the top 2 inches of soil dry out.

After resting in the winter, alocasias have their growth spurts in spring and summer. That’s when you want to use a houseplant fertilizer to give them extra nutrients. In the fall and winter, plain water is best.

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Indoor Pests and Problems

Three words frighten people who grow alocasias indoors: red spider mites. Elephant ears are notorious for harboring red spider mites, and the University of Minnesota Extension suggests humidity to keep the plant healthier and more resistant to these pests. I’ve grown alocasias indoors and outdoors for years without any kind of pest problems. But if you’ve had issues with spider mites on your houseplants, stay vigilant if you take on an elephant ear plant.

Start with prevention: Examine the plant when you buy it, and after it spends any time outside. Spider mites are super tiny and a group of them will look like dust. You may also notice their fine webs, particularly on the undersides of leaves.

Routine check-ups: To be the best caretaker, wipe the tops and undersides of the big leaves with a soft or microfiber cloth every two weeks. These wipe-downs also keep your elephant ear free from house dust, so it can shine as a star on your indoor stage.

How to get rid of red spider mites: If your elephant ear spends the summer on your patio, give it a thorough hosing down before you bring the plant back inside at the end of the season. If your indoor alocasia looks dusty, pop it in the shower for a rinse. If that doesn’t remove the spider mites, wash the leaves with insecticidal soap or use neem oil to smother the mites. 

Best Types of Elephant Ear Plants for Indoors

Before you select an elephant ear plant to grow indoors, pay attention to how tall you can expect it to grow because there's quite a range, depending on the species and variety. For example, my enormous ‘Calidora’ alocasia travels outside for the summer and is lugged back in when fall temperatures become chilly. This sturdy plant gets 8 feet tall so it definitely needs plenty of space.

If you don’t want an elephant ear plant that’s close to the size of an actual elephant, choose a dwarf or short variety. A three-foot-tall elephant ear that sports big, bold leaves will still make a statement. Popular indoor choices include:

'Black Velvet' (Alocasia reginula) is a tiny (12 to 18 inches tall) charmer with sturdy, heart-shaped leaves. Aptly named, the elegant leaves look black, with white veins and edges, and have a velvety texture.

'Frydek' (Alocasia hybrid) has eye-catching white veins on its black, shield-shaped leaves. The leaf color starts out bright green and changes to black by the time the plant reaches its mature height of 1 to 3 feet.

'New Guinea Shield' (Alocasia wentii) produces shield-shaped leaves that get about a foot long. The plant will reach 3 feet tall and wide, so give it some space, then sit back and admire the shiny bronze-green leaves as they point upward, showing their purplish undersides.

If you get into collecting these big beauties, look for 'Dawn', a rarer selection that has stunning variegated leaves (shown below) and gets 3-5 feet tall.

<p>Nature&amp;#39;s Way Farms</p>

Nature's Way Farms

Alocasia vs. Colocasia

Elephant ear or elephant's ear is a name used for both alocasias and their cousins in the genus Colocasia, also called taro. Alocasias can thrive in indoor, filtered light year-round. But colocasias will simply cling to life, waiting for summer so they can return to the great outdoors to revel in full sun and soak up buckets of water. Also, alocasia leaves tend to be thicker and sturdier than the thin and floppy colocasia leaves, but there's a lot of variation that makes it tricky to generalize the differences between these plants. However, if you want to grow elephant ear indoors, double check that the plant you are getting is in fact an alocasia, not a colocasia.