Plant elephant ear bulbs

Tips For Growing Elephant Ear Plants

The elephant ear plant (Colocasia) provides a bold tropical effect in nearly any landscape setting. In fact, these plants are commonly grown for their large, tropical-looking foliage, which is reminiscent of elephant ears. Keep reading to learn more about how to take care of an elephant ear plant.

Elephant Ears Gardening Uses

There are a number of uses for elephant ears in the garden. These plants come in a variety of colors and sizes. Elephant ear plants can be used as background plants, ground covers, or edging, especially around ponds or along walkways or patio enclosures. Their most common use, however, is as an accent or focal point. Many are even well adapted to growing in containers.

Planting Elephant Ear Bulbs

Growing elephant ear plants is easy. Most of these plants prefer rich, moist soil and can be grown in full sun, but they generally prefer partial shade. The tubers can be placed directly outdoors once the threat of frost or freezing temperatures have ceased in your area. Plant the tubers about 2 to 3 inches deep, blunt end down.

Planting elephant ear bulbs indoors approximately eight weeks prior to the last frost date is also acceptable. If growing in pots use a rich, organic potting soil and plant them at the same depth. Harden off elephant ear plants for about a week prior to placing them outdoors.

How to Take Care of an Elephant Ear Plant

Once established, elephant ears require little attention. During dry spells, you may want to water plants regularly, especially those growing in containers. Although not absolutely necessary, you may also want to apply a slow-release fertilizer to the soil periodically.

Elephant ears cannot survive winter outdoors. Freezing temperatures kill foliage and damage tubers. Therefore, in areas with harsh, cold winters (like those in northernmost regions), the plants must be dug up and stored indoors.

Cut the foliage back to about a couple of inches after the first frost in your area and then carefully dig up the plants. Allow the tubers to dry out for about a day or two and then store them in peat moss or shavings. Place them in a cool, dark area such as a basement or crawlspace. Container plants can either be moved indoors or overwintered in a basement or protected porch.

Elephant’s Ear

Elephant’s Ears

Big leaves and bold vein patterns make elephant’s ear easy to spot. Popular indoors and outdoors, elephant’s ear brings bold shape and pattern no matter where it is planted. Call on it to serve as a focal point where its easy-care foliage will add interest throughout the growing season and year-round indoors. Elephant’s ear tolerates moist soils in the landscape but grows best when kept on the dry side indoors.

genus name
  • Alocasia
light
  • Part Sun
plant type
  • Bulb,
  • Houseplant
height
  • 1 to 3 feet,
  • 3 to 8 feet
width
  • 1 to 6 feet
foliage color
  • Blue/Green
special features
  • Low Maintenance,
  • Good for Containers
zones
  • 10,
  • 11
propagation
  • Division

What to Pair With Elephant’s Ear

Plant elephant’s ear wherever moist soil prevails. It is striking alongside ponds where its massive leaves create beautiful reflections in the water. It also grows well in containers and will anchor a large pot planting with ease. Pair this tropical plant with other easy-to-grow tropicals for a lush, vibrant garden. Colorful planting partners include canna, coleus, ginger, caladium, sweet potato vine, and philodendron.

Elephant’s Ear Care

Elephant’s ear grows best in part shade or filtered sun. Prolonged direct sunlight can scorch its dark leaves, leaving them marred for the duration of the season. Plant elephant’s ear in a location where it receives morning sunlight and afternoon shade. A great plant for a shaded porch or patio, elephant’s ear thrives when planted in large containers. Well-drained, moist soil that is high in organic matter is ideal for elephant’s ear.

Often started from rhizomes or tuberous roots, elephant’s ear can be planted indoors in large nursery pots 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost in spring and moved outdoors as soon as the nighttime temperatures are above 50°F. In cool climates, start plants indoors or purchase transplants at the nursery to maximize the enjoyment of this warm-temperature-loving plant.

Many elephant’s ear plants grow best when their roots are not disturbed after they begin to grow. Sink the potted plant into the ground so the rim of the pot is level with the surrounding grade. Water and fertilize outdoor elephant’s ear regularly. Indoor plants grow best when soil is allowed to dry out slightly before watering. Also, fertilize indoor plants with a houseplant fertilizer in spring and summer and cease fertilizing in fall and winter.

Overwinter elephant’s ear in cool regions by bringing in potted plants before the first frost. Place plants in a cool, humid location and reduce watering in winter. Many gardeners grow elephant’s ear as annual plants, purchasing new plants each year.

New Types of Elephant’s Ear

Elephant’s ear is becoming a popular houseplant. It has held court in the garden for years, but it is making bold statements indoors thanks to some showy leaf varieties that are a great size for growing indoors. Add houseplant types of elephant’s ear to end tables, desktops, and mantels for a touch of tropical plant life indoors.

More Varieties of Elephant’s Ear

African mask plant

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Alocasia amazonica is an exotic foliage plant featuring large, leathery arrowhead leaves in shades of olive green, bronze, or maroon. It grows 3 feet tall. Zones 9-11

‘Black Magic’ elephant’s ear

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The purple-black leaves of Alocasia infernalis ‘Black Magic’ have a brilliant sheen that makes them look like they have been lacquered. Slow growing and 10 to 12 inches tall. Tropical.

Giant upright elephant’s ear

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Alocasia macrorrhiza bears huge, glossy leaves shaped like alligator heads on rigid stems. This clumping plant grows to 8 feet tall. Zones 7-10

Colocasia, also known as elephant ears or taro, make spectacular landscaping plants. Their long stalks and large, luxurious leaves add a tropical feel to any garden setting. They also come in a variety of colors, from deep green to purple or black.

Native to Asia, Colocasias are only winter hardy to U.S.D.A. Plant Hardiness Zones 7B-8B, depending on the variety. If you’re lucky enough to live within these zones, you can enjoy Colocasias outdoors year-round. If cold weather threatens, a layer of mulch is usually enough to protect them.

Northern gardeners longing for something exotic can still enjoy elephant ears. The secret is to plant them outdoors in the spring and bring them back indoors again come fall. Read on to learn how:

  1. Select a sunny location in your garden after nighttime temperatures are reliably above 50 degrees and daytime temperatures remain about 70 degrees. Amend the soil with 2 inches of compost or manure. Elephant ears prefer a soil pH between 5.5 and 7.0. Add a little lime to sweeten acidic soil or add sulphur to lower your soil’s pH.
  2. Dig a hole 2-4 inches larger than the elephant ear bulb. Place the bulb in the hole with the flat end pointing down. Cover the bulb with soil and firm lightly.
  3. Water the bulb regularly to keep the soil evenly moist. Since colocasias are tropical plants, they’re used to warm, moist conditions and fertile soil. Do not allow the plants to dry out between watering.
  4. Fertilize your elephant ear plant once a month with a balanced fertilizer.
  5. Cut back any leaves that turn brown or straggly.
  6. Reduce watering as temperatures drop in the fall. After the first light frost, trim back the leaves to ½ inch above the bulb. Gently dig up the bulb, which may have produced a cluster of bulbs over the summer. Don’t separate the bulbs and be careful not to nick them, which can promote disease.
  7. Place the bulbs in a dry, shady place outdoors for a day or two to allow them to dry out completely. Tuck them in a bit of sphagnum moss or a paper bag and store them indoors for the winter in a cool, dark spot. Come spring plant them again and the process starts anew.

Tips for Success

  • Read up on the needs of your specific variety. Some colocasias prefer very wet conditions and may even sit in an inch or two of water, such as at the edge of a pond or water feature. Others prefer a bit more shade.
  • If you live in a dry, hot area, plant elephant ears where they’ll get more shade. In cool Northern climes, they thrive in full sun.
  • Elephant ears range in size from 9 inches to over 9 feet. Make sure you leave plenty of space for your plant to spread out in the garden.
  • All parts of the Colocasias are edible when thoroughly cooked. In fact, taro is one of the most common vegetables eaten in the world. But beware: Raw leaves and stems contain calcium oxalate, the same poisonous substance found in rhubarb and Dieffenbachia. Wear gloves and avoid touching your eyes when cutting or handling elephant ear bulbs and plants, and keep them away from children and pets.

Growing Elephant Ear Plants in Pots

If you’d rather not deal with the bulbs, another option is to grow elephant ears as a potted plant. You can keep it indoors year-round, or you can put it outdoors in spring and bring it back indoors in the fall.

As fall approaches, move your potted elephant ear plant to a shady, cool location outdoors. Reduce watering to nudge the plant into dormancy. Cut the leaves 1 to 2 inches above the soil. Bring the elephant ear indoors before the first heavy frost and keep it in a cool, dry location. Water it occasionally, but avoid overwatering it or fertilizing it during the winter. Come spring, start watering it more regularly and apply a balanced houseplant fertilizer.

Want to learn more about planting elephant ear plants?

Growing Elephant Ear from Iowa State University Extension

Elephant Ears from University of Florida Extension

How to Grow Elephant Ear Plants in Texas

elephant ears image by robert mobley from Fotolia.com

Elephant ear plants are native to tropical Asia and derived their name from their huge, 2-foot-wide, 3-foot-long, heart-shaped leaves. The plants grow 4 to 8 feet in height and do well in Texas. If you live in the warmer areas of the state, grow the elephant ear in the shade. Northern Texas gardeners can plant theirs in morning sun with afternoon shade.

Ready the planting area by digging into the soil to a depth of 12 inches. Crush the soil to reduce any large clumps. Remove any rocks or other debris.

Mix a 4-inch-thick layer of compost and a 2-inch layer of sphagnum peat moss into the soil to a depth of 8 inches. If you live in the Dallas area, the peat moss is especially important to counteract your alkaline soil.

Plant the elephant ear bulbs deep enough so that the tip of the bulb is just slightly exposed.

Water the planting bed to a depth of 4 inches and keep the soil moist, not saturated, at all times. During Texas summers, water more often.

Spread a 3-inch layer of mulch surrounding the elephant ear plant when it reaches 1 foot in height. Mulch will help the soil retain moisture during the hottest days in the Texas summer.

Fertilize the elephant ear once a month during the growing season. Use a 20-20-20 water soluble fertilizer at the rate suggested on the label. In Texas the best time of day to apply fertilizer is early in the morning or in the early evening after the sun sets.

Dig up the elephant ear bulb when the leaves begin to yellow and die if you live in an area of Texas that receives frost. Cut off the leaves and the stems. Dry the bulb well, wrap it in peat moss and store it in a warm, dry area. Gardeners in frost-free regions in Texas can leave the bulb in the ground over the winter.

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NOTE: means species is on that list.

Colocasia esculenta

Elephant ears

Synonym(s): Colocasia antiquorum
Family: Araceae (Arum Family)
Duration and Habit: Perennial Herb


Photographer: Charles T. Bryson
Source: USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

Description

Perennial herb to 1.5 m (4 ft) tall, with thick shoots from a large corm; slender stolons also often produced, along with offshoot corms. Leaf blades to 60 cm (24 in) long and 50 cm (20 in) wide, arrowhead shaped, with upper surface dark green and velvety; leaves peltate (stalked from back of blade); petioles large, succulent, often purplish near top. Inflorescence on a fleshy stalk shorter than leaf petioles; part of fleshy stalk enveloped by a long yellow bract (spathe). Flowers tiny, densely crowded on upper part of fleshy stalk, with female flowers below and male flowers above. Fruit a small berry, in clusters on the fleshy stalk.

Native Lookalikes: Currently no information available here yet, or there are no native Texas species that could be confused with Elephant ears.

Ecological Threat: Taro invades wetland areas and colonizes lake banks, forming dense growth. Outcompetes native species, thus altering natural habitat and ecosystem processes; reduces biodiversity.It will forms dense stands along lakes and rivers where it completely eliminates native plant species.

Biology & Spread: Reproduces primarily vegetatively, via culm fragmentation and budding at the base of the plant. Disturbance greatly encourages its spread.

History: Introduced to the United States in 1910 as a substitute crop for potatoes. Later cultivated as an ornamental. Numerous varieties continue to be sold.

U.S. Habitat: Needs soil that is moist to wet, mildly acidic, and rich in organic material. Found spreading along wetland fringes as well as stream, ditch, canal, and lake banks.

Distribution

U.S. Nativity: Introduced to U.S.

U.S. Present: AL, FL, GA, HI, LA, MS, NC, PR, SC, TX

Distribution: Occurs in the southeastern U.S. west to central Texas, as well as Puerto Rico and Hawaii. Common in local residential and urban areas; naturalized along banks of bayous and lakes within the Lower Galveston Bay watershed, and west to the Llano River (among others).

Mapping

Invaders of Texas Map: Colocasia esculenta
EDDMapS: Colocasia esculenta
USDA Plants Texas County Map: Colocasia esculenta

Invaders of Texas Observations

List All Observations of Colocasia esculenta reported by Citizen Scientists

Native Alternatives

Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata).

  • Pontederia cordata (pickerelweed)
  • Sagittaria platyphylla (delta arrowhead)
  • Canna glauca (maraca amarilla)

Management

1% solutions of 2,4-D, triclopyr, or glyphosate have provided effective control within 6 weeks of application. In mechanical removal, all care must be taken to keep the plant intact, as remaining fragments will readily germinate.

USE PESTICIDES WISELY: ALWAYS READ THE ENTIRE PESTICIDE LABEL CAREFULLY, FOLLOW ALL MIXING AND APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS AND WEAR ALL RECOMMENDED PERSONAL PROTECTIVE GEAR AND CLOTHING. CONTACT YOUR STATE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE FOR ANY ADDITIONAL PESTICIDE USE REQUIREMENTS, RESTRICTIONS OR RECOMMENDATIONS. MENTION OF PESTICIDE PRODUCTS ON THIS WEB SITE DOES NOT CONSTITUTE ENDORSEMENT OF ANY MATERIAL.

Text References

Online Resources

The Quiet Invasion: A Guide to Invasive Plants of the Galveston Bay Area. Lisa Gonzalez and Jeff DallaRosa. Houston Advanced Research Center, 2017.

Search Online

Google Search: Colocasia esculenta
Google Images: Colocasia esculenta
NatureServe Explorer: Colocasia esculenta
USDA Plants: Colocasia esculenta
Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States: Colocasia esculenta
Bugwood Network Images: Colocasia esculenta

Last Updated: 2007-11-08 by LBJWFC

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