What is wrong with my elephant ear plant?

Asked October 7, 2015, 2:07 AM EDT

I have an elephant ear plant and I can't figure out what is wrong with it. I have it near a sunny, southwest-facing window. The room itself isn't necessarily sunny, but the window is. I also have a water meter in the soil and I never let it get into either the "dry" or "wet" areas; I keep it consistently at "moist." The plant got a little infestation of tiny bugs that look to have webs. I washed them off, and then I applied an organic insecticidal soap to the leaves every 2 weeks or so. It has taken most of them out, although they do come back, but they are getting less and less. So why is my plant drooping like this? Not enough sun? Too much sun? Water? Or are the tiny bugs killing it? I already had to cut off one large ear, because it started drooping and I came home to its stalk completely broken in half because it could no longer support the weight. This was about 3 weeks ago, and it had a mark on the leaf, most likely from the bugs. Now the tallest leaf is starting to bend down toward the ground. It seems to do well for a period, then another problem like this comes up. Is it making room for more leaves? I'm baffled. I don't want to move it into the sunroom because I am afraid it will give the mites to my other plants.

Orange County California

4 Responses

Elephant ears are usually robust plants which are very hearty. They generally prefer to be outside with plenty of light in summer months and indoors in winter. Sounds like you are aware to never allow the plant to dry out – they drink a lot of water as they naturally grow in wet areas, but it is possible to overwater.

The most common pests you see on elephant ears are spider mites which love the texture of the elephant ear leaf, especially if you have it in a room where the air is very dry. Take a white paper towel and wipe the backside of the leaf. If you see black or reddish colored spots, you probably have mites. To get rid of the mites, try rinsing the plant thoroughly with a good blast of water, or following the label directions, treat with a specific miticide.

If you haven't been fertilizing, you may have a nutrient problem. Since they grow so fast, they are also heavy feeders. They can be feed each time you water and respond well to foliar high nitrogen fertilizers. You said you have a sunny window – again because they are fast growers, they need lots of energy from photosynthesis. Provide as much light as possible. Insufficient light could be responsible for stems too weak to hold up the elephant ear leaves. The tear in your leaf looks more like the leaf being too heavy than like insect damage. You might also consider whether your pot is big enough. If you have had it for a while, you might consider repotting to give the roots more room.

Hello and thank you for your response. What's a good type of fertilizer to use?

I would move it outside but I am afraid the spider mites will infect my other plants. Should just keep it inside?

You can use a fish emulsion or even a spray-on foliar fertilizer. The trick is to have high nitrogen so if you are looking at fertilizers they will have three numbers like 6-1-1. The first number is the nitrogen content, the second number is the phosphorus, and the third is potassium. The nitrogen is what is needed for leaf and stem growth so that should be your highest number. Yes, I agree that keeping it separate from your other plants until you can confirm/treat for mites would probably be in the best interest of your other plants.

Thank you, Vicki!