How to grow an Alocasia in water

A lot of people have asked about my Alocasia zebrina plants and how I’ve made them thrive in my home. First of all, let’s go through the zebrinas I have. There's a bigger one in water, that I rescued from very certain rotting death. It was gifted to me this spring. I also have several tiny babies, that I grew from the bulbs that I took from the big one. 

Let’s start with the big one (the bulbs will get their own blog post in a few days!). When I got it, the plant had two large beautiful but slightly sad leaves and the soil was super wet. No matter how long I waited, or how much wet soil I removed, it just wouldn’t dry. I figured that the type of soil must be wrong for the plant, and removed as much as I could, and repotted it. 

A big parenthesis: you might like to know that the soil that was in the pot was what came with the plant from the grower. I think it was some kind of coconut coir (or a similar medium). This is what most Alocasias are potted in, at least if they come from The Netherlands. I tend not to use coconut coir, as I think it keeps the water for too long. And once it’s gotten too wet, it’s quite difficult to get it back on a good level again. It does work wonders for some plants though. Actually my biggest Alocasia amazonica thrives in it. But i'ts potted with coconut coir that I’ve put there myself, and if I remember correctly I mixed it with something else (and I water it quite sparsely whenever it gets water). 

Back to the repotting of mama Alocasia: Getting new soil wasn’t really helping it either. I waited a month or so, but the leaves were looking more and more yellow each day. My last option was to remove all the soil and stick the plant in water. I also took the opportunity to remove all rotten and damaged roots, and take out the bulbs that were still intact. Several bulbs were soft and rotten already.

It only took about a week in water for the plant to regain some of it’s strength. It quickly started to sprout a new leaf. As soon as it did, I cut off the remaining yellowed leaves and I decided to move the plant into a new glass jar. It looked like a beautiful alien octopus...

Since that first leaf grew to its full stage, the plant has been spitting out a new leaf every 3 weeks, each one bigger than the last. The plant now has so many roots in that glass jar (see the picture at the end of this post), and it’s getting increasingly difficult to photograph the whole plant in one photo! I’m happy this method worked so well. For all of you Alocasia haters out there, this is what you need to do for your plant to be happy. I promise it will work wonders! 

I also received questions on Instagram about this plant and method, here are some answers: 

Where on the stem do I cut it off, and can I take cuttings? 
Do NOT cut off the stem of your Alocasia. If you want to save the plant and put it in water, you need to remove all the soil and put the whole root system in water. Do NOT try to take cuttings from an Alocasia, it will never work. The only way to produce new plants is to get bulbs from the soil, or if a bulb starts growing on its own and a new plant pops up from the soil. You might also 

Do you fertilize the water? 
No. I’ve never tried adding anything, but I guess you could leave it in minimally fertilized water for a couple of hours or a day, and then change the water? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t leave it in fertilized water for a long time, it might be too much of a shock for the plant and the water roots. 

What about the size of the container?
Don’t worry too much about this if your plant is in water. I would just find a fitting vase/jar that gives the plant enough support around the sides. It needs to be quite tall (I might try to find a new one for mine soon) and not too wide. 

How do you keep the corm and the roots from rotting in water?
It simply does not rot in water! Alocasias tend to grow in moist and wet places, for example in the rainforest climate of Brazil. So if you have a true Alocasia, it should be able to handle the wet conditions. However, as I’ve mentioned above, they tend to rot fast and easy in certain mediums, such as coconut coir or very dense potting soil. These roots need oxygen, which they do get even when they’re in water. They don’t get enough of it in dense or very wet soil though. That’s why I recommend putting it in water if you’re having trouble keeping it alive in any other medium. 

Am I eventually going to put this plant back in soil? 
I don’t know. My Alocasia zebrina seems to thrive and be really happy as it is right now. I might change my mind about it in spring. But for now, and during winter, I’m definitely keeping it in water. And you decide for yourself what you’d like to do with yours. You might just want to use this method to save it from certain death and then when it’s recuperated put it back in soil. That’s fine!   

Is Alocasia zebrina toxic to pets? 
Just like a lot of other tropical plants, Alocasias are considered toxic to cats and dogs. If you have a pet, you might consider putting your Alocasia in a place where your pet can’t reach it. Or just don’t get an Alocasia. 

Checklist

  • Make sure your plant is actually an Alocasia of some sort
  • Remove as much soil as possible, and all rotten roots too
  • No direct sunlight, but give it plenty of indirect light
  • Change the water every 7-10 days
  • Sing Drake to get it to fall asleep every night (kidding) 
  • You’ll have a happy Alocasia in no time!

If you have any further questions, let me know in the comments below or in a direct message on Instagram!

 Look at those roots! Insane huh?! 

Look at those roots! Insane huh?!