Transplanting an Elephant Plant: A DIY Guide for this Evergreen Shrub

6 Feb

The other day, as I was walking up the stairs to my apartment, I started to notice that one of my favorite plants was slowly being surrounded by another (more invasive) type. This is my Portulacaria afra. Portulacaria afra, also known as ‘Elephant Plant’ or ‘Elephant Bush’ is a succulent evergreen native to Southern Africa.

It has since then been domesticated and exported throughout the world as a decorative accent plant as well as for use as a bonsai tree. Normally, these plants can grow several feet in height and width, but mine is one about a square foot in size. A lot of people around the web are asking how to transplant this succulent, so I figured that I would show them how with a step-by-step DIY.

20130204-143844.jpgAll that I want to do for my Elephant Bush is take a cutting and plant it, rather than uproot the entire bush. This should result in having two healthy plants instead of one. First off, we need to get a container and make sure that it has proper drainage.

Portulacaria afra’s native environment is a warm and dry climate (although they can take some abuse) so we want to have a planter that won’t retain too much water. I chose a coated aluminum planter from Ikea and simply drilled a few holes in the bottom. This way, we minimize the chances of the roots standing in water and rotting..

20130204-143913.jpgNext up, its time to prepare the soil. I’ve done my research, and it turns out that for optimal growth and drainage, a good rule of thumb is 1-part soil added to 1-part sand. In other words, 50% of each. As you can see from the photos below, I started off with a fairly rich potting mix and then added a medium grain sand on top in equal proportions.

I then hand-mixed the soil to make sure it was evenly distributed. I used left-over sand that I had purchased for my aquarium project. If your planter is small, I would suggest this route…otherwise you can get it from any major home improvement or garden store.


Now we have the delicate task of choosing a cutting and preparing it for the soil. In the photo below, I took a 7-inch piece that looked healthy and green and cut it off with a sharp knife. Normally, I would suggest using something like a razor-blade to minimize the damage, but I didn’t have one around..

When choosing a cutting, look for a healthy specimen with a decent amount of leaves on the plant. It will help to speed up the recovery process and form roots.

Elephant Bush Limb

The last step before placing the Elephant Bush cutting into the soil, is to strip the bottom half of the leaves off. This is done so that the plants can form roots and be securely placed into the ground. Below is what my Elephant Plant cutting looks like after I have stripped the lower half of it.

*Optional* If you have ‘rooting compound‘, I would HIGHLY recommend using it on the area that you stripped. It contains various chemicals that will help speed up root formation and get your plant on the mend much quicker. If you don’t have it, that’s fine…but it helps.

Elephant Plant Stripped

Finally, we can place the Elephant Bush into the ground and press firmly on the soil to keep it in place. Ideally, you would want to plant the cutting far enough into the dirt so that the leaves are slightly above the soil line and not submerged.

You can then water the cutting and see how well your new soil mixture is draining. After that, it’s just a matter of time until the cutting forms roots and begins to grow into a healthy and vibrant new Portulacaria afra. Good luck!

Potted Transplant

Now if you’re interested in finding a rooting compound, might I suggest something like Clonex Rotting Compound. They have a pretty good product that should last most gardeners quite a long time. You can click on the photo below to go to their website…and if you order through this link, I’ll get a small commission (which is always nice).


Clonex Rooting Compound Gel 100 ml: J

I hope that you have enjoyed this article as much as I have creating it. If you have any questions about this post, feel free to shoot me a comment in the section below.Thanks again for stopping by and come back again for more ‘upon further inspection’

7 thoughts on “Transplanting an Elephant Plant: A DIY Guide for this Evergreen Shrub

  1. Great stuff! Thank you for including pictures too! I bought a ceramic pot for my Elephant Bush…and they only drilled one hole at the bottom of the pot. Is this typically sufficient for drainage…?

    • Great question!

      The main concern here is avoiding root rot, while keeping the plant hydrated. I would say that one hole is sufficient, as long as the soil doesn’t retain a ton of moisture (peat moss comes to mind).

      That’s why I like making my own soil mixtures; That way I can control the moisture level for my plants. For an elephant Bush, I tend to go with a slightly more sandy help with drainage.

      Hope this helps!

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