An elephant ear plant turning yellow, white or even brown can be a cause for concern.
Most of the time, the change in color affects the leaves and is due to an issue with either watering too much or too little. In other cases, it can be a sign that your plant isn’t receiving the right amount of sunlight or nutrients.
I’ve split this guide up into three sections so you can quickly find the reasons for your elephant ear turning a specific color – either yellow, brown or white.
Reasons Why Your Elephant Ear Plant Is Turning Yellow
Elephant ears turning yellow is very common, and this is something that usually affects the leaves rather than the stems. This is commonly seen in conjunction with curling leaves, but not all the time.
If you water your elephant ear too much the soil will become saturated with water.
This is an issue because it removes oxygen from the soil that would normally be supplied to the plant. This effectively drowns the plant and causes the leaves to turn yellow. Similarly, underwatering leads to a lack of moisture and nutrients which will also affect the leaves and cause them to turn yellow.
You should water when the soil feels dry to the touch and aim to keep it constantly moist but not saturated.
Overwatering can lead to root rot over time.
Root rot is a condition where the roots begin to rot and turn mushy or discolored (usually brown) due to excess water. This excess water causes the spread of a fungus that attacks the roots and damages them.
If the roots have rotted they become unable to transfer nutrients or water to the leaves, causing them to turn yellow and eventually brown and die. Root rot affects a wide range of plants such as calathea and majesty palms, and is an important reason why you need to use well-draining soil as well as drainage holes for plants that are susceptible to it.
Incorrect Soil Mix
On a similar theme, getting the soil mix right for an elephant ear is crucial to aid against overwatering.
The right soil mix will not only aid with draining water but it should be packed full of nutrients and small pockets of air to boost the overall health of the plant – preventing discoloring of the leaves in an ideal world.
Consider adding things like peat moss, perlite and vermiculite to your soil mix to give it a boost.
Nutrient deficiencies can cause the leaves on elephant ear plants to change color.
Calcium deficiency, for example, causes yellow and brown spots surrounded by sharp brown outlined edges. Other essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium which make up the three essential plant nutrients (NPK) found in complete fertilizers are also crucial for elephant ear growth and can cause color changes if they aren’t abundant.
During warmer months I would recommend fertilizing with a complete liquid fertilizer about once every two to three weeks to increase the number of nutrients. It’s also important to provide a good soil mix packed with nutrients as well.
Reasons Why Your Elephant Ear Plant Is Turning Brown
If a leaf on an elephant ear turns yellow, it will likely start to turn brown over time as the leaf dies. This is why the reasons above also apply to those that can cause the leaves to turn brown.
This happens because once the green pigment is lost so is the chlorophyll. At this point, the plant abandons the leaf and begins to absorb leftover nutrients from it.
There are some very niche cases where a yellow leaf may turn green, but these are incredibly rare.
Leaf scorch is a condition where large amounts of water are removed from the plant, which causes the outer edges of leaves on elephant ears to turn brown as they lose moisture. These leaves will die slowly and, in most cases, fall off on their own.
It’s brought on by hot temperatures, wind movement and low soil moisture; but can also be encouraged by prolonged exposure to direct sunlight.
If the temperature is going to be very high it’s important to monitor the soil of your elephant ear plant to ensure it stays moist, which may involve watering daily or even twice per day in extreme circumstances.
Reasons Why Your Elephant Ear Plant Is Turning White
If you notice leaves or parts of your elephant plant turning white it’s usually much easier to identify the problem as it is quite uncommon and therefore limited to fewer variables.
Powdery mildew is a fairly common cause of white spots on elephant ear plants, and it can affect a wide range of other houseplants as well.
Powdery mildew can be recognised by lots of small white spots on the leaves and is caused by a type of fungus that grow on the leaves due to excess moisture. This fungus feeds on the moisture found in the leaves and will eventually kill entire leaves, causing them to turn yellow and brown.
There are lots of species of powdery mildew, and it grows in high humidity conditions where moisture collects on the surface of the leaves. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t recommend misting plants, as the excess moisture can create an environment for fungus to grow.
To treat powdery mildew any affected leaves must be removed. The remaining leaves can then be treated with a fungicide, and the conditions need to be kept relatively dry afterwards.
Fungal leaf blight is another common problem for elephant ear plants that also develops under humid conditions.
It causes lots of small brown lesions on the leaves which will spread quickly. Again, affected leaves must be removed and the plant can be treated with an insecticide. It can be prevented by improving airflow around the plant and avoiding excess moisture on the leaves.
There are quite a few pests that can also cause white spots on elephant ear plants:
- Mealybugs – Mealybugs feed on sap and produce honeydew, which can lead to white spots in the form of mold growth.
- Aphids – Aphids can also produce honeydew by feeding on sap, which again leads to white spots in the form of mold growth.
Treatment for pests involves first removing as many pests as possible using a spray of water, followed by treatment with an insecticide.
Edema (also called oedema) is a disorder where the roots take up more water than the leaves can transpire.
Edema causes spots to develop on the leaves that look water-soaked. These spots will grow and can have a white, powdery appearance. The best way to prevent edema is to check the soil and replace it if it has become oversaturated with water.
Replace the soil with a well-draining mix as I explained earlier and ensure that good drainage is in place via drainage holes.
Don’t pull off affected leaves and instead let them die naturally.