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I don’t think that Alocasia are easy to care for, because any plant that hates having both wet and dry soil can never be considered so.
HOWEVER I don’t think they’re necessarily a bad plant for house plant for beginners.
If you’re after an easy-to-care-for plant that just needs a cup of water throwing its way twice a month then Alocasias are NOT for you
BUT if you’re wanting to learn about how light, humidity, and taking the time to learn about your plant’s care needs can have a massive impact on it’s growth, then an Alocasia is a great idea.
Why aren’t Alocasia considered easy to care for?
Alocasia keep you on your toes. If you’re after a plant that you need to nurture, then Alocasia might be for you.
They also have fairly specific care needs, that will result in leaf drop if you don’t provide them.
And alocasia LOVE to drop their leaves. It’s their favourite thing (after spider mites).
They require high humidity
Alocasia come from tropical rainforests, and they tend to live below the canopy but in more open areas (usually close to water). They are adapted to live in high humidity and will suffer without it.
As well as the slow growth and brown leaf edges that are typically associated with not providing a plant with high enough humidity, Alocasia can end up with deformed leaves.
These aren’t really a problem beyond aesthetics, but coupled with any other minor issue, such as being a couple of minutes late with the water, it can cause leaf drop.
It’s not just humidity that Alocasia needs, it’s high-quality humidity. If you have decent tap water then you might be able to get away with putting that in your humidifier, but if you notice any crispy leaf tips then you may need to switch to filtered water.
They like bright, indirect light
Most tropical plants can take higher light than we give them – especially if you live in a country with a fairly temperate climate.
However, Alocasia grow best if they have long hours of indirect bright light. Whilst they’ll tolerate direct light, you’ll have to be extra careful that they don’t dry out, and that humidity remains high.
I’ve had the best luck growing them a couple of feet away from a south or west-facing window (but remember that I’m in the UK where it’s usually overcast). For those of you that live in sunny places then an east-facing window might suit it better.
They don’t like to dry out
I mentioned before that Alocasia are usually found in the shade of the rainforest, but not directly under it, close to water.
In fact, some species of Colocasia (which are a different genus to Alocasia but share the same family and tribe) live with their roots submerged in water.
Alocasia are the type of plant that will give up on a leaf if you’re a day later with the water. It’ll allow it to brown and shrivel up, and then you’ll have to wait for the next leaf to form.
Oh, and like with humidity, they might be ok with tap water, but they might not. Often the more common forms, like amazonica, are fine with tap water, but rare ones (or ones with velvet leaves, like Alocasia frydek) will get brown marks on their leaves from salt deposits in the water.
I would recommend filtered water, but if you’d prefer to use distilled water, make sure you’re using a good fertiliser that will provide a complete macronutrient profile.
They rot easily
And yet here we are.
The only thing Alocasia hate more than being underwatered is being overwatered.
This can see a bit confusing, especially since those colocasia in the picture above are clearly thriving in their water, but the key here is oxygen.
There are a couple of things I recommend when keeping Alocasia:
- VERY well-draining soil. A lot of perlite or even leca, because both of these have the dual ability to retain water and break up the soil and provide air pockets.
- Keep them in as small a pot as you can. Don’t let them get root bound, but don’t go up a pot size if you need to
Both these tips will help stop you from overwatering.
Ideally, you want a soil that dries out quickly, and a plant caregiver that checks the soil every few days and waters just before it’s dry – about a three on the moisture meter.
Not only do Alocasia rot easily, they have more parts to rot.
If the roots rot, sure it’s not ideal, but we can always regrow them. However, if the corms (like a bulb) rot, then it’s game over.
For what an Alocasia craves above all is attention.
They’re not straightforward to propagate
They’re not difficult to propagate, they’re just different to other aroids we tend to find in the hobby.
They don’t propagate by cuttings – instead they pop up little plantlets that you can divide up. They also produce tuberous rhizomes that you can separate and root in their own pots.
They go dormant in winter
Alocasia grow from corms (which is like a bulb, but whilst a bulb is a layers of leaves and other plant parts all compressed together, a corm is more of a fancy stem that holds nutrients), and if the environment is not to their liking, they pull all the nutrients out of the leaves and back into the corm, drop the leaves, and then hunker down until the outside world is more palatable to them.
So for the majority of winter, I have to look after this:
I mean, it’s fine, but also…not the most aesthetically pleasing plant you’ve ever seen.
It is exciting when the weather warms up and they start sprouting though.
Pests love them
Particularly thrips and spider mites. Weirdly, they can handle them for a long time before they kill them. Telltale signs of thrips and spider mites and browning tips and deformed leaves (just like every other issue, smh).
These white marks on the leaves may look like variegation, but they’re actually from thrips.
Oh, and of course, alocasia don’t like being treated for pests, because they’re not massive on getting wet leaves.
Beneficial bugs or something gentle like diluted castile soap is the way to go when it comes to treating pests on Alocasia.
If you do manage to treat them well they reward by growing huge
Ok, not all Alocasia grow big, but some of them really do. Like, MASSIVE leaves and a couple of meters tall.
They’re not like Monstera, that you can stake up or take a top cutting from – they’re just big and the only thing you can really do is chop them right back to the corm, and treat them a LITTLE bit worse so they don’t grow quite as big.
Are Alocasia good for beginners?
I know it seems like they’re not, but I think they’re an interesting project for a newbie.
I’ve made them seem impossible to care for, but some species are easier than others. I personally really struggle to grow Alocasia amazonica, yet my dragonscale grows like a weed.
Whilst alocasia aren’t a good choice for people that only want plants to be decor pieces, they can be a great way to learn about more challenging plants. They’re actually pretty difficult to kill – they just also difficult to get growing.
They’re pretty cheap
Alocasia prices have dropped a LOT in the past few years. Silver dragons used to be hundreds of pounds and now you can get them for under £20 in a lot of garden centres. They tend to grow well in nursery conditions, and grow quickly once they get going, so they’re cheap for nurseries to produce.
The roots and corms can be forgiving
As I said, whilst the leaves can be a pain to grow and maintain, the actual roots are fairly hardy. If you’re aware of making sure that you don’t over or under water a lot, then you’re unlikely to kill an alocasia.
They may not be a great choice for a complete newbie (which is a shame because they’re a stunning plant we tend to gravitate towards), but once you kind of know what plants are looking for in terms of water and humidity, but are definitely far from an expert, you can probably give alocasia a decent go.
Beginners can learn a LOT from Alocasia
This is the main reason I think people shouldn’t shy away from Alocasia just because they’re fairly new to house plants.
They’re a great plant to help you get into the routine of checking your plant’s soil regularly, even if they don’t LOOK thirsty.
Alocasia rarely look thirsty. They might droop if they’re etiolated or hot, but if they’re thirsty they just drop their leaves. You have to check the soil and water before they’re thirsty*.
*Why do we do this to ourselves.?
What is the easiest Alocasia to care for?
Which Alocasia is the easiest depends a lot on the conditions you’re providing for it.
In my experience, Alocasia dragonscale is one of the more forgiving Alocasia, though it does have a tendency to harbour thrips.
They have quite thick leaves so they don’t require stupidly high humidity (60% is fine), and they grow quickly. They also don’t mind drying out on occasion.
When buying an Alocasia, try to avoid buying the baby ones in one-inch pots. They dry out incredibly quickly and you’ll be making an already difficult job harder.
The exception to this would be if you had a terrarium to keep it in, as the super high humidity would stop the soil from drying out so quickly. You will, however, have a monster Alocasia on your hands in a few months.
I don’t often to recommend Alocasia in terrariums because they get too big too quickly, but if you have a big enough terrarium, it’s probably the only way to make Alocasia easy to care for!