Elephant Ear Turning Yellow, Brown, and Discolored

If you landed on this page, then chances are you were just thinking, “why are my elephant ears turning yellow?” It’s a good question and the answer is that they are probably either not getting enough water or planted in the right environment.

Alocasia plants – also known as elephant ears are beautiful, but they require a lot of ongoing maintenance. Unfortunately, even the slightest change to your routine could have a big effect on your elephant ear plant.

Elephant ear plant in the garden

In most cases, elephant ear leaves turn yellow if they’re watered inconsistently. The best time to water elephant ears is first thing in the morning, so watering them at different points throughout the day could spell big trouble.

I’ve gone through trial and error and now I have caring for elephant ears down to a science. And with these tips below, so will you. Here are the most common reasons why the leaves on your elephant ear plant are turning brown or yellow.

Why Are My Elephant Ear Leaves Turning Yellow and Dying Off?

Elephant Ear leaf turning brown and yellow

Though in autumn, we love seeing yellow trees because of how pretty they are, the reality is that they are a major warning sign of trouble when it comes to popular household plants such as elephant ears.

Generally speaking, there are three pretty common reasons why the leaves of your elephant ear plant are turning yellow and/or dying off. These include inconsistent watering, and receiving either low light, humidity, or both.

Though elephant ears can thrive in partially shaded environments, they can’t be completely closed off from sunlight. Likewise, they cannot thrive, either indoors or out, in temperatures below 40 degrees F.

This, coupled with an inconsistent watering schedule can quickly turn your full, lively elephant ears into a wilted, yellow mess. Here are a few reasons why your elephant ears are turning yellow (and what you can do to prevent them).

Low Light

Besides their beauty, one of the biggest reasons why elephant ears are as popular amongst homeowners as they are is because they can thrive in both sun and shade. However, it’s not quite as black and white as leaving them in one type of condition or the other.

See, elephant ears are inherently tropical plants. Most common in Australia, Indonesia, and the Pacific Islands, elephant ears are used to hotter climates. Of course, they can still thrive in cooler climates, but their requirements will depend on the zone.

The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map outlines the locations in which plants are most likely to thrive the easiest in. For elephant ears, they are best planted in zones 9-11. In the United States, this includes states like Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Nevada, and Arizona. So if you’re planting your elephant ears in one of these states, it’s best to do so outside, in a partially shaded area where they’ll thrive.

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Elephant Ear Colocasia

Here’s how to identify low light issues and how you can resolve the problem (and prevent it):

Inspecting yellow spot on elephant ear plant
  • Look at your plant’s leaves: Are they turning yellow? If so, it could be the result of your plant’s positioning. Keep in mind that your leaves don’t have to be a bright yellow, either. A pale yellow is still a sign of poor lighting conditions.
  • Move your elephant ears to a brighter location: If they’re in a pot indoors, move to a different room or closer to a window. If they’re outside, try digging them up and moving them a few inches to somewhere more shaded. Keep in mind that you won’t want to give them too much direct sunlight, otherwise, you could run the risk of your leaves burning.
  • Change up how you water them based on location: If you move your plant closer to a window, be mindful to only water it in the mornings, not the afternoons. Both levels of sunshine and temperatures are higher in the afternoon, which will make your elephant ears dry out sooner and wilt.
  • Remove dead leaves: If the elephant ear leaves are too yellow and start to die, cut them off. By doing this, you’re still giving the rest of your plant a chance to survive.
  • Consider your zone’s hardiness level: If you couldn’t save your elephant ears but want to try again, don’t do anything until you read up on your state’s hardiness zone. This will help you determine the best environment to grow elephant ears in, so you can prevent a situation like this from occurring in the future.
Elephant ear potted plant

Inconsistent Watering

Since elephant ears are tropical plants, they require a high water intake – of about 2 to 3 inches of water per week! This is easier to achieve if you live in a state like Florida and planted your elephant ears outside because it tends to rain often, usually meeting the elephant ear’s water intake requirements.

However, if you’re growing your elephant ears inside or you’re not getting consistent rain, then you’ll want to stick to a consistent watering schedule. Here are 6 ways you can identify under or overwatering, and how you can fix and prevent it moving forward:

Discolored Elephant ear leaf
  • Look at your leaves: First, look at your leaves. If they’re getting enough sun, then chances are they are either being over or underwatered.
  • Feel the soil: If the soil feels very wet, then you’re probably overwatering your elephant ears before they have time to drain. If the soil feels dry, then you’re not watering it enough.
  • Water your elephant ears in the morning: You’ll want to water your elephant ears at consistent times each day. Generally speaking, you should aim to water your elephant ears in the morning, as this is when temperatures are still cool. The later in the day you water your elephant ears, the greater probability that the sun will dry out any water you added. So, to prevent underwatering, water your plants first thing in the morning.
  • Use only well-draining soil: Plants can get waterlogged if they don’t have well-draining soil. To prevent issues like this that turn your elephant ears yellow, either buy a well-draining soil from your local retailer or add sand or small rocks to your soil. This will help it drain better.
  • Use different methods for indoor/outdoor plants: If your elephant ears are growing in a pot inside your home, keep in mind that they will need more water than those planted outside that would otherwise benefit from sudden rain showers.
  • If overwatered, let the soil dry out: If you overwatered your elephant ears, let the soil completely dry out before you attempt to rewater it. Otherwise, you may unintentionally kill your plant.
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Low Humidity

Back of an elephant ear leaf naturally yellow

Remember, elephant ears are tropical plants, so they prefer to live in climates that have higher rates of humidity – somewhere between 70-80 degrees F. If elephant ears are exposed to cool temperatures, they can die.

So to combat this, here are 6 steps to take to identify wilting elephant ears that are suffering from low humidity – and what you can do to prevent them:

  • Keep humidity levels at 60 degrees or higher: Your elephant ears should always be in an environment that is at least 60 degrees F. Anything lower and you run the risk of them dying.
  • Bring outdoor plants inside during the winter: Because elephant ears can’t survive temperatures below 40 degrees, it’s a good idea to dig them up and propagate them during the winter season, so you can transfer them back to your garden during springtime.
  • Spray your leaves during the growing season: To help with drier weather conditions, be sure to mist your leaves during the growing season. This will naturally increase humidity levels on the plant when the weather conditions outside don’t match.
  • Remove dead, yellow leaves: If you want to try and salvage your elephant ears, remove any yellow leaves. Be sure to cut each leaf off at the base.
  • Group your plants together: You know how a room can feel hot if it’s filled with people? Well, the same concept applies here. If you want to make sure your elephant ears are exposed to the proper humidity, group them with other plants. It will create a hotter environment. Just don’t do this for too long, as elephant ears aren’t a big fan of overcrowding. But it can help if you’re in a pinch.
  • Buy a humidifier: If the other methods don’t work for you, you can always buy and plug in a humidifier to keep your indoor elephant ear plants at their preferred temperature. This will help stop the leaves from turning yellow.
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According to Susan Mahr, a Statewide Master Gardener Program Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, elephant ears “.. without bulbs [or tubers] are harder to keep indoors, although it may be possible to keep them going as houseplants if kept in a warm, bright location.” Just keep this in mind when you attempt to bring your outdoor elephant ears inside for the winter.

FAQ

How Do I Know If My Elephant Ear Plant is Dying?

Generally, the first sign of a dying elephant ear plant is yellow leaves. However, short, stunted leaves could also be a sign that your elephant ear plant is dying because it’s not getting enough sunlight or nutrients.

The easiest way to know that your elephant ear plant is dying is if you take the steps listed above and nothing you do revives the plant within a couple of days. If nothing works, it’s time to call it quits.

Should I Cut Off Yellow Elephant Ear Leaves?

Yes. Yellow leaves are a sign that your elephant ears aren’t getting enough nutrients, water, or sunlight. And, if you don’t cut these leaves off, you’ll be spreading these bad things to the rest of your plant.

Use a pair of pruning shears to cut the yellow leaves off at the base of the plant. This will ensure that the healthy parts of your plant are getting the nutrients they need to survive.

How Do You Bring Yellow Elephant Ears Back to Life?

The easiest thing to do is to cut off all the yellow leaves at the base so that your plant can instead turn its energy to the healthy, leftover leaves.

Outside of this, the next thing you should do is add some fertilizer to your soil. Indoor plants will need to be fertilized every two to three weeks, but this should be enough to revive your elephant ear plant if some of the leaves have started to yellow.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to yellow elephant ear leaves, the important thing is not to panic. This can be an easy fix, once you determine the root of the cause. These tips can help you revive your yellowing elephant ear plant and take proactive steps to avoid having them occur in the first place.

Brock

Brock is the head gardener and editor-in-chief at Bigger Garden. Every year you can expect to see something new in his raised beds, from purple broccoli to cotton candy peppers.

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