aralia plant

Growing and Caring for Aralia Plant (Spikenard)

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Isn’t it nice to see how the leaf color changes during fall? Are you a fan of plants that give off that fall vibes inside your homes? If you are that type of person, then the Aralia plant is perfect for you.

This deciduous shrub will surely fit your collection with its attention-grabbing and color-changing leaves. What makes it better is that it can either be an indoor or outdoor plant. In the outdoor setup, this plant attracts a variety of wildlife from small mammals and birds to butterflies and bees. You will never know if there will be a new visitor in your garden. Also, you have 70 species to choose from and surely there will be one that will pass your criteria.

Despite its unique appearance, some growers are cautious about Aralia plants because of their prickles and low toxicity. Common problems related to its toxicity are skin irritation upon contact with the plant’s bark and roots. Also, ingestion of the unripe berries, bark, and roots may lead to nausea, intestinal problems, and hypersalivation.

Accidental harm caused by the aralia plant can be easily avoided by choosing the right place to put it and placing some warning signs. Read on to know how to properly grow and care for this magnificent plant.

Plant Facts

Scientific nameAralia sp.
Common namesSpikenard, Hercules’ Club, Prickly Ash, Prickly Elder, Devil’s Walking Stick, Ming Aralia, and Angelica Tree
FamilyAraliaceae
Plant TypeOutdoor plant or Houseplant
Height and Width4-8 ft. tall (indoors), 2–4 ft. wide (indoors)10-35 ft. tall (outdoors), 6-10 ft. wide (outdoors) depending on the species.
OriginAsia, Different part of America
Flower colorsCream, White, Light green
Foliage colorGreen, Orange, YellowFall Colors: Brown, Yellow, Orange, Purple, Red
Sun ExposureFull Sunlight (>6 hours of uninterrupted and direct light)Partial shade (2-6 hours of direct and uninterrupted light)
Soil Type & pHWell-drained, Moist, Wide areas (12-24 feet planting space), Slightly acidic soils (6-6.5 pH)
Special featuresLow Maintenance, Slow grower, Good for Containers, Interesting foliage, Thorns, Low Toxicity

How to Grow an Aralia Plant

There are two ways you can grow your Aralia plant, as an indoor potted plant or as an outdoor landscape plant. Most requirements are the same regardless of where it is planted, however, there are some modifications to be done.

For example, as an indoor potted Aralia houseplant, your plant might need more fertilizer over time compared to outdoor Aralia plants. This will be discussed in detail as we progress through this article.

The aralia tree thrives in USDA zones 4 through 9 and is commonly found in mountainous areas or near the coasts. Having said that, the plant loves to be in a moist and humid environment. Moreover, its blooms present themselves during fall and summer. 

The color change of the foliage and flowering is a good combination giving an enchanting performance during fall. If you want to have a row or a corner of Aralia plants, here is some information on how to grow them.

Propagation

The main methods of propagation for Aralia plants are through division, root cuttings, or softwood cuttings. Although they are called differently, the process is fairly the same. The basic steps involve the following:

  1. Before doing anything, remember to wear personal protective equipment such as gloves and long sleeve clothing to avoid contact. Keep in mind that this plant may cause skin irritation so utmost care should be taken.
  2. Harvesting the planting material (this may be a root, stem, or a small plant attached to the mother plant) is done with the use of a garden knife. Carefully get the planting material from a healthy plant. 
    1. Softwood cuttings: choose a stem that is at least 8 inches long with actively growing leaves. Trim the older leaves and let the ⅓ of the number of the leaves untouched. Keeping those leaves will help the cutting to root and survive.
    2. Suckers or Sprouts: These are small plants growing from the mother plant. You will often see them attached to the base and roots. Carefully segregate the roots of the sprout and detach it from the mother plant. Use a knife to detach it with as minimal damage as possible. Try not to cut main roots. 
  3. Prepare your potting mix. It should have good drainage and water retention capacity. Some gardeners put sphagnum moss in the mix to improve aeration.
  4. Pick a pot or container and fill ⅓ of it with the potting mix.
  5. This step is optional. You can use a rooting hormone for the stem cuttings. Dip the incised part in the rooting hormone and dust off the excess.
  6. Put your cuttings or sprout on top of the soil and start filling the pot with more potting mix. Fill ¾ of the pot with a potting mix. 
  7. Lightly press on the soil an inch or two away from the cutting or sprout. This will ensure that the plant will not wobble or lean when watered.
  8. Put it in partial shade and provide water through misting.

In propagating your Aralia plants, it is best to do it during summer or when the plant is actively growing. Also, this is the time when your plant will have enough preparation for the cold weather.

Soil

For your Aralia tree to meet its optimum growth, it needs fertile soil. This means it needs soil rich in nutrients, organic matter, good drainage, and porous. These characteristics may be found in pre-mixed soil sold in different gardening stores. 

However, if you have garden soil readily available and you want to use that, you may do so. Remember to pasteurize the soil to kill any soil-borne diseases and weeds. 

To improve the porosity of the soil, you may add peat moss or rice hull. In terms of the soil nutrient content, you may do a soil test to know what type of fertilizer is needed.

Pruning

Pruning is not a major activity for Aralia plants. It may be done whenever it is necessary, meaning the removal of dried and damaged plant parts or when the leaves are exceeding their boundaries. Keep in mind that this plant has thorns that may cause skin irritation so be careful while pruning and wear protective clothing.

Repotting and Transplanting

As a slow-growing plant, repotting and transplanting aralia plants are performed every 2 or 3 years. They love to grow in a compact pot so when choosing a new container, pick something that is 2-3 inches wider. 

Start repotting by loosening up the soil bounded in the containers using a garden trowel. Wear gardening gloves when touching the Aralia plant. Remember to take caution to not damage the root system. 

Once you have uprooted the plant, fill ¼ of the pot with the growing mix and place the plant on top of the soil. Fill in the spaces in the pot with more soil until the base is completely covered. Slightly press on the edges on the base part to ensure that the plant is intact and won’t lean when watered.

A useful tip for successful repotting is the proper choice of containers. Since the Aralia plant loves occasional dryness and good drainage, choose a pot with enough holes in the bottom to avoid waterlogging. This will work well with loose and porous soil.

How to Care for Aralia Plants

Water

Aralia plants love a moist but occasionally dry environment. Watering must be done when the soil is slightly dry. To know when to water, do the soil feel test. You will only need to use your finger and sound judgment. To do this, you will need to stick your finger a few inches deep into the soil. Once you take it out, check if it is dry or still a bit moist. If it is the latter, hold off from giving water for 1 to 2 days.

Sunlight

This beautiful shrub is a sun-loving plant. It prefers to be under direct sunlight for more than 6 hours. Although, it can tolerate partial shade, which means less than 6 hours of exposure but more than 2 hours. If you are growing aralia outdoors, plant it in an open area. On the other hand, if it is utilized as a houseplant, it is best to put it near a window where it can get direct sun in the morning. 

Some growers who want to take care of an aralia plant but have no space where bright direct light is available, opt for artificial grow lights. There are a variety of grow lights available in the market. This may be a bit more costly but it is worth it with this plant’s aesthetic quality.

Temperature and Humidity

As a sun-loving plant, Aralias are fond of high temperatures and humid environments. Also, it is known to thrive in USDA zones 4 through 9.

Fertilizer

Fertilizer applications for houseplants are often done every 4 to 6 months. In doing so, the fertilizer is diluted in water with a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio. Dilution is done to avoid overfertilization and salt build-up since potted plants are more constricted and susceptible to these. If grown as an outdoor landscape plant, simply follow the recommended rates indicated in the fertilizer packaging. 

To promote more foliage growth, opt for a Nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Although, to be sure about what your plant needs, perform a soil test and check which nutrients need to be added.

Pest and diseases

Mealybugs, Aphids, and Mites

This magnificent shrub does not have any serious diseases. However, it is still plagued by common houseplant pests, such as mealybugs, aphids, and mites.

If you have been growing different houseplants, this may be a problem when the infestation worsens. These three are often the culprit of damages in most houseplants. So, the moment you see this in one of your plants, make sure to check the others as well. 

Mild infestations are still manageable with the help of insecticidal soaps or household remedies. If you opt for the household remedy, use a mild soap and warm water to wipe the white mold-like structures on your plant. However, if the infestation is severe, isolate the plant from the others and treat it accordingly. 

As a precaution, neem oil may be applied to the leaf’s surface. Put a generous amount of neem oil in a cotton pad and wipe the Aralia leaves with it. Re-apply as needed.

Root Problems

Aside from insect pests, another common problem of Aralia plants happens below, where it is not that evident in one look. Their roots are sensitive to too much or too little moisture. The best way to avoid this is by following the aforementioned watering technique and checking if the soil is dry enough to be watered. 

As a general rule, roots still need air to breathe even if they are underground. This is the reason why we opt for growing mixes that are porous and have good drainage. Waterlogging will lead to more complications and when not amended, could cost you the life of your plant.

Common Varieties and Cultivars

Now that you know how to take care of your Aralia plant, here are some of the notable Aralia plant varieties and species you can choose from:

California Spikenard (Aralia californica)

This species grows in USDA zones 3-8. It can extend from 4 to 10 feet in height and it bears white flowers. Moreover, its leaves change from green to golden yellow during fall.

Devil’s Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa)

What makes it unique is its long blooming period when grown in tropical areas. Its blooms can last for the whole summer. Also, it can reach up to 20 feet high. Be careful with its berries because it is toxic.

Chinese Angelica Tree (Aralia chinensis)

This plant’s bark is poisonous but the roots are utilized for medicinal purposes. It grows up to 30 feet and bears white flowers in dense clusters. Fruits are juicy and dark violet.

Angelica Tree (Aralia elata)

The angelica tree is different from the previously mentioned species. It can grow up to 35 feet high and leaves grow up to 3 feet long. Flowering and fruiting are a bit difficult for this plant when utilized as an indoor potted plant.

Japanese Spikenard (Aralia cordata)

The Japanese spikenard is a fast grower, wherein it adds 3 to 6 feet in height in a span of one growing season. Its white blooms are present during late summer and early autumn.

Japanese Aralia (Aralia japonica)

Its foliage is the main reason why people grow this plant. It has a lobed palmate leaf with 7 to 11 pronounced toothed lobes. Also, it has a leathery or glossy appearance. Moreover, this plant grows to 19 feet high and 6 feet wide max. Blooms are creamy-white and are showy during late fall. Its fleshy, small, and black fruits come shortly after flowering.

Rice-Paper Tree (Aralia papyrifera)

The common name gives a clue to what this plant is utilized for, rice paper. Its stems are used to produce rice paper in China. Furthermore, it has unique leaves that can extend up to 3 feet long. Also, the foliage has white fine hairs underneath that can irritate upon contact to the skin or eyes. Its blooms are white and grow in clusters. 

For a more detailed description of each type, read the 8 Aralia Species You Should Know About.

Conclusion

Aesthetic value is not enough to choose the plant. It is also vital to know both the advantages and disadvantages of growing any plant. In this article, the basic knowledge you need to know about Aralias was discussed. The basic care information, as well as the toxic qualities, are brought to you so that you can decide whether or not to get one. 

If you do decide to take care of Aralia plants, remember that this article is a guide but it is still best to listen to your plant. Signs and symptoms, such as color change and stunted growth, will say a lot about your plant. The aforementioned requirements may need some alterations from time to time. 

For example, the frequency of watering may be different with different temperatures, humidity, soil texture, and container type. Different factors may also affect the growth of your plant. Take time to experiment and learn what is best for your Aralia plant.

*image by Akchamczuk/depositphotos

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