Planting Elephant Ear Bulbs

Have you seen the magnificent leaves of an elephant ear? Learn how to plant and raise your own elephant ear plants!

Since you’re on this page, I’m sure you will know firsthand the beauty of elephant ears with your own plant soon. But one step at a time, how do you plant an elephant ear bulb to ensure proper growth during its most fragile period of its life cycle?

Too many gardeners make mistakes that are easy to fix. Today you will learn exactly how to plant and take care of your elephant ear plant.

Elephant Ear General Information

Elephant ear is a common name belonging to several groups of herbaceous perennial plants.

Elepant ear plants are known for their large arrow-shaped leaves. Many of them are native to the tropical areas of Southeast Asia. For this reason, they thrive in USDA zones 8 through 11 and are not hardy in freezing temperatures.

Taro and Giant Elephant Ear

Colocasia esculenta (taro) and Alocasia macrorrhizos (giant elephant ear) are two of the most common types of elephant ears. Both Alocasia and Colocasia fall under the Araceae family (1).

These two popular elephant ear species are grown primarily for their large showy green leaves. They add a tropical feel to any landscape setting whether grown as an annual or perennial. The tubers of both are edible.

Taro plants typically grow around 3 to 6 feet tall and wide, producing leaves 2 feet long.

Giant elephant ear plants grow up to 15 feet tall and with a spread of around half. The green leaves with wavy edges grow up to 6 feet long and 4 feet wide.

Both plants produce fast growth, so you won’t be waiting a lifetime to see the broad leaves grace your garden or containers.

Although Colocasia contains the most varieties, both have various cultivars sporting different size foliage and plants and foliage in a variety of colors.

How to Plant Elephant Ear Bulbs

When it comes to planting elephant ear bulbs, regardless of the specific variety, all elephant ears are planted in the same fashion and require the same climate conditions for proper growth.

Best Season to Plant

It’s best to wait to plant elephant ears when all threats of frost have left your region.

These are frost-tender tropical plants that prefer nighttime temperatures above 55℉ and daytime temperatures of 70℉ and above. Once temperatures drop below 50℉, the elephant ear plants fail to thrive.

Plant the tubers during the growing season in spring once soil temperatures and outdoor conditions are consistently warm.

Alternatively, you can start elephant ear plants early by planting the bulbs in a pot and growing them indoors in a warm and sunny location. Once conditions warm, you can set the elephant ear plant outdoors.

Photo credit to @ruby_flora_

Preferred Conditions for Elephant Ear Plants

Although elephant ear plants are considered low-maintenance, it’s best to get them off to the best start by planting the bulbs in a preferred location that meets their cultural needs.

Site Location & Light Conditions

To keep the showy foliage looking its best, grow elephant ears in a sheltered site that doesn’t receive strong winds. Too windy conditions can shred the leaves.

Elephant ears grow in full sun to partial shade.

If your conditions are extremely hot, the elephant ear plant appreciates a bit of afternoon shade or filtered sunlight. If you have an elephant ear variety with darker-colored foliage, placing it in a sunnier location will help it produce the best color.

Elephant ears that are being grown indoors in pots should be placed in a location that receives bright sunlight.

Best Soil for Elephant Ears

Moist soils rich in organic matter are preferred for planting elephant ear tubers or bulbs.

If your soil lacks the needed organic matter, you can amend the site with compost or well-rotted manure. Spread about 4 inches of the compost or manure over the planting site and work into the top 6 to 8 inches of the native soil.

If growing the elephant ear bulb in pots, use a fertile potting mix or potting soil rich in nutrients.

Which End is Up?

The standard bulb-planting practice is you plant the pointy side facing up. However, when it comes to telling apart the top and the bottom of an elephant ear bulb, things aren’t always so cut and dry.

The top and bottom can be hard to distinguish from one another because of the round shape of these bulbs.

If you feel the elephant ear bulb, the smooth portion that doesn’t contain rough, bumpy areas is the top. These bumpy areas on the bottom are where the roots will be trying to grow from.

Luckily, even if you plant the bulb the wrong way, the foliage will still grow – it will just take a couple days longer to sprout from the ground.

Bulb Planting Depth and Spacing

Whether growing the elephant ears in pots or directly in the garden, dig a hole that is 2 inches to 3 inches deep to plant the bulbs.

If growing multiple elephant ears, space each elephant ear plant about 2 to 4 feet apart.

Varieties of elephant ears that grow extremely large require large containers to grow properly and not become top-heavy.

If planted when outdoor temperatures have warmed (after your area’s last frost), you can expect to see foliage growth sprouting from the ground several weeks after planting.

Continued Elephant Ear Care

For the best performance, grow elephant ears in moist soil. Keep the soil moist by watering regularly, especially if outdoor conditions are hot and dry.

You may have to water daily or every other day to keep soil conditions moist.

Adding a layer of mulch also helps the soil retain moisture. Use about a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch spread evenly over the site, being sure not to butt it up against the elephant ear’s base.

If growing elephant ears in containers, water when the top inch of soil becomes dry. You can easily check soil moisture by sticking your finger several inches deep into the potting soil and if it feels dry, water until it runs from the pot’s bottom drain holes.

During the winter, elephant ear plants go through dormancy and their growth significantly slow. During this dormant period, you can cut back water applications to once every week or two.

Elephant ears like to be fed regularly through the growing seasons of spring through summer. Once plants produce new growth, provide them with a water-soluble blend applied every three to four weeks. You can also use slow-release blends that slowly break down in the soil over several months.

Cease feeding during winter while plants stop actively growing and go through dormancy.

Winter Protection, Digging & Storing the Bulbs

Regardless of whether you live in a frost-free climate or in USDA zone 8, where frosts and occasional freezes are common, you don’t have to dig the bulbs for winter protection.

When they are grown in frost-free locale, these tropical plants’ bulbs can stay in the ground year-round and the elephant ears can even remain evergreen.

In zone 8, the foliage may die to the ground over winter, but once the temperature warms in springtime, the showy leaves will once again spring from the ground.

However, regardless of whether growing in the garden or containers, if you live in an area with cold winters, elephant ears need winter protection. Make sure to bring potted plants indoors before it gets colder than 55℉, so they don’t suffer damage. Place the container in a warm indoor location that receives bright light. 

Photo credit to @cats.garden

Digging & Preparing Bulbs for Storing

Once cool weather is on the horizon, you’ll notice the elephant ears starting to decline as the foliage begins yellowing and dying. Now is the time to start digging out the bulbs and get them prepared for storage.

Digging about 10 inches from the plant and about a foot deep, dig the elephant ear bulbs from the soil. Make sure to gather up any loose bulbs lying in the soil.

Shake off any excess dirt and then rinse the bulbs with a gentle stream of water. If you’re storing bulbs planted in a container, simply empty the container’s soil, remove the bulbs, and rinse them off.

In a shady location, lay each bulb on a newspaper so that they are not clumped together. This allows proper air circulation so that each bulb dries appropriately.

Once the foliage completely browns and the roots become brown and dry, you can snip the dead leaves from each bulb.

Make sure to use clean tools to prevent the transfer of any disease or pests to the bulb. They are now ready for storage.

Proper Storage Tips

After drying and preparing the bulbs, you can easily store them in peat moss and a cardboard box until the weather warms in spring.

To prevent possible disease problems, you can dust the tubers off with a fungicide before storing.

Place the tubers so they are several inches apart in the box and add a layer of dry peat moss over them. You can add another layer if needed, just make sure they aren’t touching and there’s a layer of the dried moss in between them. Since moist or wet peat moss can have a negative effect on the bulb’s storage, it’s important to make sure the medium is completely dry before using.

Remove from storage once warm weather returns and plant as usual.

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Happy Planting!

About the author: Jeffrey Douglas is a horticultural hobbyist that loves everything related to plants and gardening. He specializes in gardens and houseplants.

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