Grow an Indoor Shrub with the Portulacaria Afra

Portulacaria afra is a succulent shrub native to South Africa. While it grows quite large outdoors, this succulent also makes an excellent houseplant with pruning. As with most succulent plants, Portulacaria afra is low maintenance with few care needs.

Grow an Indoor Shrub with the Portulacaria Afra

Portulacaria Afra Appearance

Also known as the Elephant Bush succulent, the plant is a soft-wooded shrub with reddish-brown stems. When grown outdoors, the shrub reaches a height of between 8 and 15 feet (2.4 to 4.6 meters) tall.

As a houseplant, the Trailing Elephant bush is well suited to a hanging basket. The leaves are a glossy, emerald green with a fleshy texture. The foliage is flat and either round or oval shaped, much like a Jade plant.

Blooms appear in late spring or early summer, as clusters of tiny, pink or white flowers. Flowering is rare indoors, but pruning or pinching long stems encourages blooming, as well as controls size.

Elephant Bush Succulent Light Requirements

Provide bright, indirect sunlight for optimal growth. A place near a South-facing window is ideal, but an East or West window also works well. Avoid exposing your plant to direct sunlight as excessive light turns the leaf tips yellow, red, or burns them.

Watering Your Trailing Elephant Bush

Watering Your Trailing Elephant Bush
Succulent Garden

Portulacaria afra is drought tolerant, but regular watering encourages faster growth and lusher foliage. Water your plant, in the spring and summer, when the top 1 inch of soil feels dry when a finger is inserted. Water thoroughly, until the moisture begins to run out of the pot’s drainage holes. Decrease watering in the fall and winter, watering only when the lower leaves begin to shrivel.

Soil and Fertilizer Requirements

Grow your Elephant Bush succulent in a cactus soil mix or potting soil amended with pea gravel or pumice. Avoid fine sand, as its texture does not provide enough drainage. Choose an unglazed terra cotta or ceramic pot to allow excess moisture to wick away from the soil, which helps avoid root rot. In spring and summer, feed your plant once per month with a liquid, balanced fertilizer. If you are pruning your plant on a regular basis for fuller growth, fertilize more often. Withhold feedings in the fall and winter when the plant goes dormant.

 Temperature and Humidity Levels

Ideal growing temperatures are between 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 to 26.6 degrees Celsius) during the day, and between 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 12.7 Celsius) at night. Temperatures below 50F (10 C) are not recommended. Keep humidity levels no lower than 30 to 50 percent as drier climates cause the foliage to wilt.

Propagating Your Portulacaria Afra

Propagating Your Portulacaria Afra
Succy Crafts

Propagate your plant by cutting a stem at least a few inches long and allowing it to sit and form a callus on the cut end. Rooting can take place in either water or a succulent soil mix. If rooting in water, ensure the water is changed every few days. Transplant the cutting into succulent or amended soil once it has grown roots at least two inches long. Roots, by either method, will form in 4 to 6 weeks. Keep your plant in warm temperatures at all times.

Common Pests and Diseases of the Trailing Elephant Bush

Mealybugs are a common pest that infects this succulent plant. The insects feed on the plant, excreting sticky honeydew. If left untreated, the honeydew encourages the formation of sooty, black mold, which further damages the plant. Treat infestations with an insecticidal soap. It is recommended to perform a test patch on a small area of the plant first, to ensure it can withstand the treatment without damage. If damage occurs, remove the mealybugs manually by wiping them away with a cotton swab soaked in 70 percent or less rubbing alcohol.

Root rot is a result of overwatering your plant. Soil with a constant, high moisture content develops fungus, which rots the roots of the plant. Younger plants are more susceptible, with the first sign presenting as yellow or red leaves. The best care involves prevention by proper watering and soil, as rot is difficult to reverse. If rot is present, cut away any affected roots that appear dark and mushy. Repot your plant in a clean pot with fresh soil. Remove as much of the old, infected soil from the plant as possible before repotting.

Portulacaria afra is a unique succulent plant, making it an excellent addition to any houseplant collection. The plant is easy to care for, and easy to propagate, for gardeners of all experience levels. 

Portulacaria Afra FAQ

In What Climates Can IGrow My Elephant Bush Succulent Outdoors?

The shrub grows best in USDA zones 9 through 11.

Is the Portulacaria Afra Considered Toxic?

No, it is safe for both pets and humans. In fact, Portulacaria Afra leaves are edible and used in soups and salads in its native South Africa.

When Should I Repot My Trailing Elephant Bush?

Repot your plant when the roots begin to grow through the pot’s drainage holes. Choose a pot one size larger and provide fresh soil. 

Can I use the Portulacria Afra’s Leaves to Propagate a New Plant?

Yes, fallen leaves will propagate into new plants. Follow the same directions as propagating by stem cuttings. 

When Should I Prune My Elephant Bush Succulent?

Prune your plant when the stems become leggy or too long. Pruning also encourages thicker growth.