Every serious gardener loves to have a wide variety of both blooming and leafy greenery in the garden. Different colors and textures come together to create an eye-catching landscape.
The hunt for different greenery is never over.
There is one plant that never fails to catch attention. It doesn’t bloom, but that doesn’t matter. Because it has beautiful, large, and lush leaves. They came into various shapes and shades—from intense dark emerald to magnificent lighter lime green.
The stem often provides a nice contrast to the deep color of the leaf itself.
You are sure to have seen it; it is hard to miss even when driving past it. The sheer size of this glorious plant ensures that it will never hide in a corner.
Have you guessed which plant we are talking about? Yes, it is the luscious and aptly named elephant ear.
It has earned the reputation of being tricky to grow. But that is not true. It is easy to make mistakes with this luscious greenery, but this is easy to fix.
Here, we will explain how to plant and take care of an elephant ear so that you, too, can enjoy the beauty of this impressive plant.
Elephant ear is the common name for several groups of herbaceous perennials.
They are known for their large arrow-shaped leaves, and many of them are native to the tropical areas of Southeast Asia. They are not hardy enough to withstand freezing temperatures but thrive in USDA zones 8 through 11.
Taro and Giant Elephant Ear
Colocasia esculenta (taro) and Alocasia macrorrhizos (giant elephant ear) are two of the most common types of this leafy greenery. Both Alocasia and Colocasia fall under the Araceae family.
These two popular 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 types are edible.
Taro plants typically grow around 3 to 6 feet tall and wide, producing leaves that are about 2 feet long.
Giant elephant ears grow up to 15 feet tall and with a spread of around half that. The green leaves have wavy edges and grow up to 6 feet long and 4 feet wide.
Both varieties grow quickly, so you won’t have to wait long to see the broad leaves grace your garden or containers.
Although Colocasia contains the most varieties, both it and Alocasia have various types with foliage in different sizes and colors.
How to Plant Elephant Ear Bulbs
All elephant ears are grown the same way, no matter which variety you have selected for your yard. They all require the same climate conditions for proper growth.
Best Season to Plant
The number one rule is to wait with planting your elephant ears until there is no danger of frost anymore.
Remember that these are tropical plants that prefer nighttime temperatures above 55℉ and daytime temperatures of 70℉ and above. Once temperatures drop below 50℉, the chances that your elephant ear will thrive are slim.
So, plant the tubers during the growing season in spring once soil temperatures and outdoor conditions are consistently warm.
Alternatively, you can start growing this addition to your garden early by planting the bulbs in a pot and growing them indoors in a warm and sunny location. Once outdoor conditions have warmed up, you can move the pot outdoors.
Preferred Growing Conditions
Although elephant ears are considered to be low maintenance, you will get the best growth by selecting a location that meets all their needs.
Site Location and Light Conditions
To keep the showy foliage looking its best, grow elephant ears in a sheltered site that is not exposed to strong winds. If it’s consistently windy, the leaves can become shredded.
Elephant ears grow best in full sun to partial shade.
If you live in an extremely hot climate, select a location that provides a bit of afternoon shade or filtered sunlight. If your variety sports darker-colored foliage, a sunny location will ensure that the color stays dark and vibrant.
If you decide to grow this species indoors, make sure the pots are placed in a location that receives bright sunlight.
Elephant ears prefer moist soil that is rich in organic matter.
If your soil lacks the nutrients that organic matter provides, you can add compost or manure. Spread about 4 inches of the compost or manure over the area you have selected and work it into the top 6 to 8 inches of the native soil.
If growing the tubers in pots, use a fertile potting mix or potting soil rich in nutrients. Fertilize the soil as outlined on the potting mix bag.
Which End Is Up?
Anytime you plant a bulb, the rule is to set it into the soil with the pointy side facing up. However, the bulb of this leafy plant is quite round. It can be a challenge to tell which is the top and which is the bottom of an elephant ear bulb.
What do you do? Take the bulb into your hand and run your fingers over the surface. You will notice that some of it is smooth and some of it is bumpy. Well, the rough part is the bottom of the bulb. The roots will grow from the bumps you feel. The smooth side goes up.
Don’t let this extra step deter you. The bulb will still start sprouting, even if you plant it upside down. It will just take a couple of days longer to sprout from the ground.
Bulb Planting Depth and Spacing
Whether growing these leafy greens in pots or directly in the garden, dig a hole that is 2 to 3 inches deep. Set the bulb into the hole and carefully cover it with soil.
If growing multiple elephant ears, space each bulb 2 to 4 feet apart.
Varieties with extremely large leaves require large containers to grow properly. You don’t want them to become top-heavy.
If planted outside after all dangers of frost have disappeared, you can expect to see the first sprouts peeking out of the soil several weeks after setting the tuber into the ground.
For continued lush, green growth, keep the soil around the bulbs moist. Water regularly, especially if outdoor conditions are hot and dry.
That means you may have to water daily or every other day to keep the soil damp.
Adding a layer of mulch helps the soil retain moisture. Spread organic mulch evenly to form a 2- to 3-inch layer, making sure not to butt it up against the base.
If growing the bulb in containers, water when the top inch of soil becomes dry. You can quickly check soil moisture by sticking your finger several inches deep into the potting soil. If it feels dry, water until it runs from the pot’s bottom drain holes.
During the winter, elephant ears go dormant, which significantly slows their growth. During dormancy, cut back the watering to once every week or two.
Elephant ears like to be fed regularly throughout the growing season—spring through summer. Once the tubers produce new growth, provide them with a water-soluble fertilizer blend applied every three to four weeks. You can also use slow-release blends that slowly break down and release fertilizer over several months.
Cease fertilizing once the plants enter dormancy.
Protecting the Bulbs When It Gets Cold
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 up the bulbs for winter protection.
When they are grown in a frost-free area, this tropical greenery can stay in the ground year-round. It might even remain green year-round.
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 come up.
If you live in an area that experiences frost during the cold season, you need to protect your elephant ears. Make sure to bring potted varieties inside before it gets colder than 55℉, so they don’t suffer damage. Place the container in a warm indoor location that receives bright light.
Preparing the Bulbs for Storage
If you live in an area that experiences frost, you need to remove the tubers from the ground while they are dormant.
Once cool weather is on the horizon, you’ll notice the leaves becoming yellowing and dying. Now is the time to start digging out the tubers and get them prepared for storage.
Digging about 10 inches from the plant and about a foot deep, dig the plant from the soil. Make sure to gather up any loose tubers lying in the soil.
Shake off all excess dirt and then rinse the bulbs with a gentle stream of water.
If you’re storing bulbs that are planted in a container, simply empty the container’s soil, remove the bulbs, and rinse them off.
In a shady location, lay each tuber on a newspaper so that they are not clumped together. This allows proper air circulation while they dry.
After a few days, remove all remaining brown foliage and cut back the roots.
Make sure to use clean tools during this process to prevent the transfer of any disease or pests to the bulb. If you are worried about disease, spray the tubers with a fungicide and let it dry for a day.
Your elephant ear tubers are now ready for storage.
Tips for Proper Storage
After cleaning and drying the bulbs, you are ready to store them until the weather warms up again.
Place the tubers into a cardboard box, leaving several inches of space between them so that they don’t touch each other. Then add a layer of dry peat moss all around and over the tubers. Wet or moist peat moss can negatively affect the bulbs, so be extremely careful that the peat moss is completely dry before you spread it.
Once the cold-weather months are over, remove the tubers from the box and plant them again, using the process explained above.