Succulents have a wide range of fascinating characteristics that most people can easily manage. When it comes to succulents, the Elephant Bush is a shrub you’ll love caring for indoors.
This article will discuss everything you need to know about the elephant bush. We’ll elaborate on its distinguishing features, uses and benefits, varieties, how to care for it, and much more. Keep reading for a closer look at how to grow and nurture the Elephant Bush succulent.
A Quick Look at the Elephant Bush
The elephant bush is a plant indigenous to South Africa, where it thrives on semi-arid and rocky slopes. People also know it by its scientific name, Portulacaria afra. It can flourish in almost any climate because it is a succulent plant. It grows well both indoors and outdoors, but it’s more advisable that you cultivate it indoors. Furthermore, it also has as many names as it has applications. In its natural habitat of South Africa, people call it Spekboom. Other names for it are Miniature Jade and Elephant’s Food.
The elephant bush is frequently confused with the classic jade plant, Crassula ovata, another succulent. Although they are similar in many respects, you can distinguish classic jade by its vertical growth without support. On the other hand, the elephant bush requires support because it appears to droop and cannot sustain its heavier leaves.
If you’re curious about the origins of this succulent’s name, it’s pretty straightforward. Elephants and goats like to eat the plants’ juicy leaves and stalks, as do many other species. In its natural habitat, this plant supplies 80% of an elephant’s diet. This exotic succulent can also provide sustenance to tortoises.
It’s a resilient plant that can flourish in USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11. The reddish-brown stems of this succulent spring upwards, growing an average height of 8 to 15 feet. However, given its slow growth rate, it’s likely that it’ll only reach a height of a few feet.
Uses and Benefits of This Amazing Plant
The Elephant Bush has many advantages over other succulents found in nurseries and gardening shops. Thanks to its stunning color combination of green leaves and crimson stems, it’s an impressive addition to any home’s interior. Its capacity to grow freely in a window facing south or west is also a huge plus.
Apart from its decorative uses, the elephant bush has culinary benefits as well. The plant’s shiny dark green leaves aren’t only beautiful, they are also safe to eat. It’s because of its meaty leaves that it’s so influential in South African food culture. Its sour flavor makes it a popular ingredient in South African stews, soups, and salads.
Different Types of Elephant Bush
Although the elephant bush comes in various types, your local nursery is likely to have just a few species available. Below are the most popular varieties of elephant bush.
A lightweight succulent that works well in tight areas, both indoors and out. The leaves are the most distinguishing characteristic. They begin as a yellowish-green color under the sunlight before maturing into a dark green color.
- Foliis variegatus:
You can grow this variety in a container. This species would appeal to most plant owners because of its slow growth rate, making it much more manageable.
The green leaves with distinct white stripes and the red stems make this colorful variety stand out. As such, this plant has excellent aesthetic appeal.
The broad leaves of this species filter contaminants from the air. Taking care of this variety can be challenging because you need to prune it regularly to stay under control.
Its vertical stalk sets it apart from other elephant bush types. White or cream markings with reddish tones surround its green leaves. The only disadvantage is that it does not thrive under direct sunlight, so it’s best to cultivate it indoors.
- Cork Bark:
This variety has a distinctive bark with rifts similar to cork, as the name suggests. It is the most appealing variety to grow as a bonsai and the easiest to care for and maintain
The leaves on this species are nearly twice as broad as those on the regular variety. As opposed to freshly sprouted leaves, the older leaves are not as shiny. The stems resemble those of a typical Elephant Bush.
- Minima “Lilliput”:
As the name implies, this species is exceptionally tiny. The leaves are lustrous, and the stems resemble those of the typical Portulacaria Afra.
How To Plant Elephant Bush
The elephant bush is an adaptable succulent, with several different ways to grow it. You can cultivate it in a hanging basket or an indoor or outdoor succulent garden. You can even nurture it as a bonsai because of its ability to flourish in shallow containers. Additionally, the elephant bush is much more robust than other bonsai plants like maples because it thrives in dry conditions. Here are a few elephant bush planting tips:
- Select an appropriate pot or container. For example, an unglazed pot with sufficient drainage holes would be enough for indoor use.
- Use a potting mix that’s closest to cactus mix for the best performance. To boost aeration, add some poultry manure or pumice to the mix.
- Alternatively, you may apply a third of a cup of standard sand to the potting mix. Added sand will offer you the perfect blend, close to the elephant bush’s natural habitat. We will elaborate on the ideal soil for your elephant bush in a later section.
- Place the plant in a hole in the soil that is wider and deeper than the rootball.
- To ensure that the succulent stands on its own, cover the hole with the potting mix. Then, pack it in carefully, but not too tightly.
- To hold the plant upright, the use of poles may be necessary.
- On top of the dirt, scatter a light coating of worm fertilizer. It will gradually provide the plant with the nutrients it needs for several weeks.
- Carefully water the soil until the extra water drains out from the drainage holes.
- Before watering the pot again, wait until about half of the soil has dried. This succulent is drought tolerant but does not thrive in wet soil.
- You can cultivate it by itself in a succulent container or combine it with other plants to make gorgeous scenery.
Caring for Your Succulent Indoors
Elephant Bushes are low-maintenance and make great indoor plants. They are excellent plants to grow if you are just getting started with succulents. They need little upkeep and do not constitute a risk to children or pets because they are edible. As a result, they’re a good fit for just about any family or pet-friendly setting.
The Ideal Soil for Elephant Bush Plants
Elephant bush succulents need porous, sandy soil with good drainage to thrive. Two parts of all-purpose potting soil, one part horticultural sand, and one part perlite, make up an ideal succulent soil mix. Alternatively, you may also buy cactus or bonsai tree-specific succulent soil from commercial gardening suppliers.
One of the essential aspects of elephant bush cultivation is to grow the succulents in fast-draining soil. To maximize drainage, you can use poultry manure, pumice stones, or small pea gravel. However, perlite is the most widely used drainage soil addition. Succulent elephant plants like “sandy” soil, but excessive sand in containers isn’t optimal. Sand is usually too fine and may cause the potting soil to become too compact.
Elephant bush plants dislike it when their roots are constantly damp from sitting in soggy soil. The wet conditions cause root rot, which can easily kill plants. As such, elephant bush succulents thrive best when the soil is consistent and the pot is the right size.
Here are a few pointers for having the proper soil moisture for your Portulacaria afra succulents:
- To encourage the quicker evaporation of moisture, plant your elephant bush in a porous, unglazed clay container.
- It’s best to use earthenware pots with wide drainage holes in the bottom to ensure that excess water drains quickly.
- Use a pot that is appropriate for your plant’s size.
- When temperatures are colder in the winter, there is less sunlight, and plant growth is inactive. Water your elephant bush less when it is not actively growing.
- Before watering the loose potting mix, make sure it is fully dry.
The drought tolerance of the elephant bush is impressive. As such, it is not necessary to keep the soil moist daily for it to thrive. A routine watering schedule would suffice.
The watering requirements of your elephant bush plant will be highly dependent on the climate patterns in your region. However, it’s also much like most other indoor succulent plants. It would help if you water it more often throughout the summer or when the temperatures are warmer. During winter or colder climates, you need to spread out the watering cycles a little more.
For best results, water elephant bush plants once a week during the hot, sunny summer months. However, it’s still advisable that you water according to the soil’s dryness. Dry soil mix is the best indication of when you should water your Portulacaria afra. The elephant bush is susceptible to overwatering, which causes root rot. And root rot is a common reason for succulents to die.
The drench and dry approach is the perfect way to water elephant bush succulents. Pour lukewarm water into the pot uniformly until it flows out the bottom when watering this succulent. Then transfer the elephant bush container to its ideal spot. Monitor the soil for dryness after about five days to see whether you need to water your plant.
Spring is one of the best times to fertilize this succulent since temperatures during daytime are at least 59°F (15°C).
Use natural materials like compost tea, coir fiber, and soluble fish emulsion, in addition to a well-balanced fertilizer (15-15-15). Don’t forget to use soluble fertilizer to keep the roots from overheating. Before fertilizing your Elephant Bush plant, make sure it is well watered.
Soak the soil with the watered-down liquid fertilizer until it flows through the openings under the container. It makes no difference what brand you choose as long as the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium ratios are the same. To feed succulents like the Elephant Bush, use half the recommended amount on the container.
Looking at the elephant bush’s natural environment in South Africa is the best way to consider its light requirements. It’s a sunny, humid habitat with plenty of natural light. Elephant bush, as a result, grows best in bright sunlight.
Portulacaria succulents can thrive in partial shade. However, they require at least six hours of bright sunshine a day to survive. It’s also crucial to shield your elephant bush from direct exposure to intense sunlight. The leaf tips will turn yellow or burn if they receive excessive light from the sun through a window. When it comes to caring for elephant bush succulents, light is preferable to heat or water.
Nevertheless, elephant bush plants do well when they are near a sunny spot. The oval leaves of the elephant bush maintain their vibrant deep jade color with the sun’s help. Additionally, having the right amount of shade keeps elephant bush stems from being leggy and sparse.
The Portulacaria afra can withstand high temperatures. Nevertheless, rooms with moderate temperatures are ideal for the elephant bush succulent. Temperatures of 65°F to 80°F (18°C – 27°C) are suitable for growing Portulacaria afra plants. A temperature range of 50°F to 55°F (10°C to 13°C) is optimal for nighttime temperatures.
It’s essential to keep in mind that the elephant bush is vulnerable to temperature changes. As such, keep the jade green succulent away from drafts and warm air vents. It’s also worth noting that intense midday sunshine through a window will cause the plant to overheat. The scorching sun and high temperatures will cause burnt leaves and leaf drop.
Humidity Requirements of Your Elephant Bush Succulent
Elephant bush plants do not need much humidity to thrive. In most cases, the ambient dry air of a house is suitable for growing succulents. Humidity will not be an issue if you are not overwatering your Portulacaria plant.
However, sudden increases in humidity can be harmful to Portulacaria afra.The majority of these problems stem from home cooling and heating. Drafts cause stress among elephant bush succulents. So, in the winter, protect your plant from the warm heating vents. And in the summer, shield your plant from the air conditioning ventilation. The plant can lose leaves due to the dry air.
Repotting Your Elephant Bush Plant
The elephant bush is a succulent that grows slowly, so you don’t need to repot it too often. Roots sticking out the drainage hole in your elephant bush plant’s container is a good indication that it requires repotting. Select a container that is one or two sizes bigger than the succulent’s current one when repotting it.
Use a succulent soil mix that quickly drains when repotting the elephant bush.
Elephant bush plants with variegated leaves develop more slowly than those with “jade” leaves. Furthermore, variegated elephant bush plants are smaller than those that are not. As a result, the Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’ needs less frequent repotting than other elephant bush plant varieties.
The Ideal Time to Prune Your Elephant Bush
Prune your elephant bushsucculents to remove leggy, trailing stems and reshape the plant. Wherever you cut branches off from this woody succulent, buds develop. Portulacaria succulents are easy to prune into the desired shape because of their growth characteristics. Trim off any excess leaf clusters from the tips of branches to prune your elephant bush’s foliage.
How To Propagate Your Elephant Bush
Stem cuttings are a simple way to propagate this resilient succulent. Seeds require a longer time to grow into mature plants, particularly if they’re old or you didn’t store them properly. As a result, stem cuttings are usually a faster option in comparison. Take the following steps to begin the propagation process:
- Slice off a few healthy stems at the mother plant’s base with a sharp blade or pair of scissors. However, you can also use the offshoot that grows on the pot’s edges after breaking off from the parent plant.
- To avoid infecting your freshly propagated cuttings with dangerous diseases, disinfect the blade or scissors.
- Give the cuttings enough time for the plant wounds to heal and develop a callus.
- To stimulate root growth, use a propagation station with rooting hormone to soak the base of the cuttings.
- Place the cuttings in a well-draining cactus potting soil mix.
- Keep the cuttings in a room with filtered bright light and in slightly moist soil. The roots should start to develop in about 4-6 weeks.
Common Elephant Bush Pests and Diseases
Root aphids or scale insects are the most common pests for the elephant bush. These insects can be challenging to detect with the naked eye. As such, keeping an eye out for early warning signs might be a lifesaver for your succulent.
The elephant bush’s shiny leaves can also have some cottony white patches on them. If you notice this, mealybugs are nesting in your indoor succulent. Spider mites and whiteflies are two other pests that can infest the plant. Simply brush off the white patches with a swab dipped in alcohol to eliminate them. Alternatively, you can also remove the bugs by picking them off the plant leaves and stems. To kill them, gather them and dump them in a tub of water.
Pest infestation prevention is critical since dealing with a pest problem can be a tedious and stressful ordeal. It’s vital to keep your house clean, but it’s also crucial to quarantine any new plants you bring in. Maintain the pest-free status of your succulent garden by segregating any new additions. Keeping them apart will help to avoid the proliferation of pests that are both irritating and harmful.
We’ve already discussed root rot when it comes to diseases, which occurs when the soil becomes overwatered. Overwatering will cause root damage as well as yellowing and drooping of the leaves. Wait until the soil is completely dry before watering. If the plant does not recover, repot it and remove all infected roots to start over. Review the water requirements recommended in this guide to ensure that your elephant bush succulent only receives what it needs.
The Bottomline on Growing Elephant Bush Indoors
The Elephant Bush is an indoor plant you’ll enjoy owning and tending. This gorgeous succulent from South Africa isn’t just for display. This plant also has culinary uses and is ideal for homes with pets and children. It’s easy to grow and maintain, making it perfect for those starting with their succulent collection. Throughout this article, we have discussed all the fundamentals about caring for this lovely addition to your indoor plant collection. Just follow our tips, and your elephant bush will flourish beautifully in no time!
FAQ for How to Grow Elephant Bush Indoors
Use a variety of compost materials along with a well-balanced, commercial fertilizer (15-15-15). To feed succulents like the Elephant Bush, use half the recommended amount on the container.
Elephant bush plants do well when they are near a sunny spot, like a south-facing window. Just make sure to shield your elephant bush from direct exposure to intense sunlight.
To encourage the quicker evaporation of moisture, plant your elephant bush in a porous, unglazed clay container. It’s best to use earthenware pots with wide drainage holes in the bottom to ensure that excess water drains quickly. Use a pot that is appropriate for your plant’s size.
The watering requirements of your elephant bush plant will be highly dependent on the conditions in your home. Water is more often throughout the summer or when the temperatures are warmer. During winter or colder climates, spread out the watering cycles a little more.
Elephant bush succulents need porous, sandy soil with good drainage to thrive. Many indoor gardeners use a cactus or succulent soil mix.