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Elephant Bush Care 101

Portulacaria Afra, otherwise known as Elephant Bush, is a small-leaved succulent plant that is native to South Africa. Plant varieties often have reddish-colored stems and green or variegated foliage that is shiny and plump. Elephant Bush is an easy to grow houseplant, but you can also grow Elephant Bush in your garden if you live in milder climates and frost-free zones.

These sun-loving succulents are adored by elephants and gardeners alike, as it’s leaves and stems are edible, commonly added to salads and soups. Elephant bush can grow anywhere between six inches and 20 feet tall, making them great for ornamental plantings and privacy screens.

Follow our guide on elephant bush care 101 and enjoy the many benefits of this beautiful planting.

Cape Weaver perched on Elephant Bush

Ideal Soil Composition for Growing Elephant Bush

This first step in proper elephant bush care is selecting the correct soil. Keep in mind that this plant is native to desert conditions and requires sandy, rocky, and well-draining soil.

They should be planted in loose, rocky soil that is nutrient-rich for best results. If you are planting cactus in outdoor containers, use a potting mix specifically formulated for succulents and cacti and plant in a pot with holes in the bottom for drainage.

Portulacaria Afra Light & Temperature Requirements

Provide your Portulacaria Afra plants with intense and bright light from the sun for several hours per day. This plant can be grown indoors as a houseplant or grown outdoors in hardiness zones 9-11. They enjoy a dry and hot climate that mimics their native desert.

How Often to Water Elephant Bush

Although elephant bush is drought-tolerant, it grows more rapidly, and the foliage is lusher when supplied with sufficient water. Elephant bush care can be tricky, and the most common mistake is too much watering or a lack of well-draining soil. Like most succulents, they do not like having wet feet. Follow these succulent watering habits for this plant.

  • They are drought-tolerant plants but do require some watering from the spring through the fall months.
  • Keep an eye on rainfall and water only when the soil is dry.
  • Water the Elephant Bush thoroughly and allow the bush to go unwatered for a couple of weeks.
  • Plants go into dormancy in the wintertime, when you can refrain from watering until a couple of weeks into the spring.
Hanging Elephant Bush Succulent

Elephant Bush Care: Pruning

The branches of this plant will grow into unruly brush if left unpruned. This is why an important step in elephant bush care is pruning. Regular pruning will help keep the elephant bush in your garden in the best possible shape.

  • Prune Elephant Bush to improve the plant’s shape as desired. Some prefer bonsai pruning.
  • Remove damaged or dead leaves.
  • Prune away dead branches.
  • Remove diseased plant sections and dispose of them entirely and away from the plant.

Common Elephant Bush Pests & Diseases

  • Root Rot
  • Leaf Drop
close up of Portulacaria afra

Propagating Portulacaria Afra

You can create a whole garden of Elephant Bush by propagating the plant from cuttings from one plant. Branches of the plant may break off if unpruned, commonly taking root on their own and beginning new plants.

Follow these easy steps for increasing the lovely Elephant Bush in your garden:

  • Take a cutting from the plant
  • Dry the cutting on a paper towel for several days until it is callused.
  • Once the callus forms, place the cutting into a pot filled with cactus and succulent mix.
  • Place the container in a warm location in direct sunlight until new roots emerge.
  • Plant the new elephant bush in your garden.

Recommended Elephant Bush Varieties

Elephant bush care is simple, making these plants a great addition to rock gardens, container gardens, sloping areas, and along rock walls. Try some of these tried and true varieties of elephant bush in your garden space and enjoy edible foliage and beautiful textures in your landscape.

  • Medio-picta’ – produces variegated leaves with deep red stems.
  • Aurea’ – is a compact form with the new leaves a bright yellow in full sun.
  • Cork Bark’ – Its corky bark makes it great for cutting into bonsai form.
  • Prostrata’- Fantastic as a ground cover, has a low habit and glossy green foliage.
  • Variegata’ – Compact variation with creamy-edged variegated foliage.

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elephant bush plants in small pots
hanging elephant bush plant in container

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