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All About Alocasia Care: How to Keep them Alive and Thriving

Posted on February 14 2021

All About Alocasia Care: How to Keep them Alive and Thriving

Alocasia (pronounced: al-oh-kay-zee-a) comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. They have found a way into our hearts and into our living room, as striking “living art” pieces. Small varieties, with their high-gloss leaves, almost look artificial! Other towering species are a simple way to turn a boring corner into a striking centerpiece. What are the keys to caring for your Alocasia?


Basic Alocasia Care

  • Temperature: 65-80 degrees.
  • Light: Bright indirect light.
  • Water: Evenly moist.
  • Soil: Well draining.
  • Humidity: Moderate-High.

Origins

These plants are native to the warm, balmy rainforest climate of Southeast Asia. Naturally, there are 79 native species in the world. Understanding your Alocasia’s warm, humid background will go a long way in caring for it!


Alocasias entered the American houseplant scene in the 1950s and continues its popularity. Science has made additions to the family by select-breeding new species (called “cultivars”) for their eye catching appeal. Beautifully shaped leaves, with high-contrast veins, some with zebra stems, and others with an almost rubber-like leaf face. These children of science never cease to amaze! The native-grown species are just as spectacular with their pillowy texture and gargantuan size.


Anatomy 

Alocasia plants are rhizomatous (also known as tuberous). What does this mean? Instead of a “normal” root system, these plants have a rhizome or tuber. If you need help imagining what it looks like, ginger root is an example of a commonly known rhizome. 


Alocasias are poisonous to humans and animals. They contain oxalate crystals in their sap, which releases upon biting or chewing. Some have also reported skin irritation from contact with the sap, making it advisable to wear gloves while pruning.


Alocasia vs. Colocasia: Is there a Difference?

These two plants are similar in appearance, they are both referred to as “Elephant Ears,” and they come from the same Araceae plant family. Is there a difference? Yes, they are from separate gena (plural for genus).


If you need help understanding plant-family terminology, this relationship makes the Alocasia Imperial Red and Colocasia Black Magic first cousins.


Since they are similar-looking species, how can you tell them apart? Alocasia stems (petioles) are stiff from their base to the leaf, holding the leaves firmly vertical or horizontal, in some cases. In contrast, Colocasia petioles soften before connecting to the leaf, causing them to dangle downwards.


Be-Leaf in your Alocasia

Plant parents quickly become attached to their favorite Alocasia’s leaf. But, sadly, the life expectancy of this plant’s leaves is comparatively short. While Monsteras can hold onto their leaves for years on end, it’s not unusual for Alocasias to lose one or two monthly. The good news? Alocasias are fast growers! 


How can you tell if you are experiencing a typical Alocasia leaf drop or if there’s a problem in your care routine? Dying leaves will start with a softening stem, which will cause your Alocasia to lean. This is followed by the leaf turning yellow from the edges toward the center. It is common for Alocasias to be losing and growing leaves simultaneously, which is a good indicator that you have an overall healthy plant.


Yellowing is an irreversible condition. There is not anything you can do to stop or slow down the process. It is beneficial to allow the leaf to remain on the plant. The chlorophyll that causes the green pigmentation in your leaf is slowly traveling back to nourish the rest of the plant. However, the benefits are limited, so many Alocasia owners choose to cut it off.


If the worst happens, and your Alocasia is entirely bare, the plant’s rhizome acts as an insurance system. Within this bulb, your plant stores enough energy to regrow leaves. Maintain healthy care habits, keep your plant in a warm location, and wait for regrowth!


What contributes to irregular leaf drop?

As stated above, “dropping leaves'' is not always an issue in your Alocasia’s care. It can be its natural life cycle. However, certain environmental factors contribute to premature leaf drop.


Temperature

To care for your Alocasia properly, you must keep it at 65-80 degrees. Place your plant away from cold window sills, AC vents, and drafty doorways. Low temperatures will induce dormancy. 


It is not rare for most (if not all) of an Alocasia’s leaves to fall during dormancy. If you want to hasten the process, remove yellowing leaves by cutting them 1-inch above the soil’s surface at a 45-degree angle. Why the angle? With a straight cut, liquid naturally gathers at the “injury site,” and the unwanted moisture will make your plant susceptible to pests and disease. By cutting on an angle, you will minimize these juices, lowering your plant’s risk.


After removing unwanted leaves, keep your container in a warmer location and maintain your regular dormancy watering routine. (More on that later!) More leaves will grow in the spring.


Stress

Alocasias lose their leaves prematurely when they are under stress. This can easily happen when you first purchase your plant. The temperature, light, and humidity are all suddenly different! Whether you bought it in-person or online, your Alocasia has to acclimate to a new environment. 


It is not unusual to lose some of the older leaves on a newly acquired Alocasia. It will grow new leaves that are more suited for the conditions of your home. Focus on caring for your Alocasia properly, and leave the rest to nature. Do not overwater your plant in hopes of “rescuing” it.


Why are my Alocasia’s stems and leaves drooping?

Many different factors can contribute to droopy leaves and stems on an Alocasia. Often, it is a sign of one of three things: 

  1. Insufficient Light: Your plant should be in bright indirect light. Alocasia will not grow properly in low light conditions. Move your plant closer to the window or invest in a grow light.
  2. Over Watering: Alocasia should be planted in well-draining soil and be kept evenly moist. Allow large pots to dry out 2-3 inches down. Only the topsoil of small containers should dry out before watering.
  3. Nutrient Issues: Evaluate how long your Alocasia has been in its pot. The soil could be nutrient deficient, or the container could be too small. Fertilize your Alocasia monthly during March-September. 

When adjusting your Alocasia’s care routine, start at the beginning of the list, and only change one thing at a time. Doing this ensures that you will identify the issue and address it without causing more problems.


Why are my leaves curling?

The leaves on your Alocasia will curl under when it is severely dehydrated. Solution? Water your plant. Establish a healthy watering routine. 


If you have used the proper soil, you cannot overwater your Alocasia in one-sitting. (More on soil selection to come!) However, do not overcompensate by watering your Alocasia several days in a row. Soak it once and let it sit.

Light Required for Alocasia Care

As noted, Alocasias require bright indirect light. Placing your plant in the direct sun will bleach and sunburn the leaves. If your window is too sunny, hang a sheer curtain to diffuse the light. 

Alocasias will not grow or stay healthy if put in low-light conditions. 


Watering Your Alocasia

For proper care, you must keep your Alocasia ‘barely moist’ at all times. This requires diligence and the appropriate soil. As stated, allow large pots to dry out 2-3 inches. The topsoil of smaller containers should become crumbly before watering.


After using the proper soil, water your Alocasia by soaking it thoroughly. These plants are rainforest natives. Feel free to place your Alocasia under lukewarm water in the shower or outside during a summer rain.


If overwatered, Alocasia “sweat” out of their leaves, which is called “guttation.” If you haven’t watered your plant recently and notice water droplets on it’s leaves, it’s a signal to water less frequently.

Your Plant’s Soil-Mate

Alocasias should be planted in 1 part potting soil, 1 part perlite, and 1 part peat moss. Why? Alocasias are susceptible to crown and root rot, which are both challenging to reverse, and can easily result in the plant’s death. By using a well-draining soil, you are taking steps to prevent these conditions!


Using the correct soil will make-or-break your watering routine. For Alocasia, the traditional potting mix takes too long to dry out in-between waterings. Meaning, your plant is being ‘overwatered’ while it sits there, and you haven’t even touched the watering can!

 

Humidity 

These plants require warm, humid conditions. Boost the ambient humidity around your plant by investing in a humidifier or placing it in the bathroom or kitchen. Alocasias also benefit from a regular misting routine. 


Brown tips are a tell-tale sign that your plant is not receiving enough humidity.


Bug Off!

Alocasias are especially susceptible to spider mites. These bugs feed on the pigmentation of your plant and live on the backs of leaves. During your care routine, inspect your Alocasia’s leaves often.


If you notice an infestation, quarantine your plant. Wipe down its leaves with a soap and water mixture, and then treat it with a Neem solution. Dry conditions encourage spider mites, so increase the humidity around your plant to keep them away.



Repotting & Propagation 

When you repot your Alocasia, it is a perfect opportunity to propagate. Why? As mentioned, these plants thrive off of an underground rhizome. You cannot reproduce an Alocasia from stem cuttings, as you would a Monstera. 


Choose the correct time to propagate: spring or early summer. This ensures that your Alocasia is out of its dormancy period.


Start by repotting your Alocasia. If you have a large variety, like the Alocasia California, choose a 3-4 inches larger container than your existing pot. For smaller species, like the African mask, relocate them into a container that is 1-2 inches larger.


Propagate your plant by separating smaller rhizomes from the main bulb. You can select rhizomes that are not producing leaves or ones that have. Whichever you choose, plant them in a small pot, and monitor their moisture closely. As fast growers, you should notice your Alocasia pups making progress in the coming weeks.

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