Trimming elephant ear plants

How to Grow and Care for Elephant Ear Plants: Ten Top Tips

Perhaps you’ve seen the long-stemmed plants with giant leaves resembling elephant ears. These exotic beauties, called elephant ear plants, or Colocasia in Latin, are native to warm climates, but they can be grown just about anywhere. Colocasia esculenta, the most common variety, has hundreds of cultivars in many different colors and patterns, and they lend any landscape that fun, tropical look.

Colocasia esculenta isn’t just an ornamental plant either. In many places around the world, this species is grown as a food source. The roots, or tubers, of the plant have a potato-like consistency and can be cooked in a similar manner. Colocasia esculenta is known by many different nick names, including taro root, poi, potato of the tropics, eddo, djamandarrand and papachina.

Read on for ten top tips on how to grow elephant ears in your garden. Learn about elephant ear plant care and how you can grow this popular species, even if you live in a colder climate.

Where to Plant Elephant Ear Plants

Growing elephant ear plants successfully depends largely on planting them in the proper location. Elephant plants can be grown as perennials in climate Zones 7 and up, and the Pink China cultivar can be grown in Zone 6. In Zones 1 through 6, elephant ears need to be planted as annuals.

Because these are tropical plants by nature, elephant ears love moist locations. They do best around the edges of ponds or in boggy areas of the yard that might be too wet for other plants. The soil must be kept continually moist and not allowed to dry out.

Elephant ears do best in filtered or indirect sunlight. You can grow elephant ears in full sun, but the edges may brown until they become acclimated to more light. They will also need more water when grown in full sunlight.

When to Plant Elephant Ears

If you live in a tropical climate, or in US Zones 7-9, you can plant elephant ears just about any time, although they may do best if you start them in the spring. If you live in a colder climate, spring is the time to plant them. Wait until all danger of frost has passed before setting them in the ground.

How to Plant Elephant Ears

You can plant elephant ear bulbs or whole plants with the tubers attached, depending on how you buy them or if you are planting divided tubers saved from the previous year (see below). Plant your elephant ears deeper than you might other plants, about two to three inches below the surface of the soil, with the blunt ends facing downward. The plants will push up slightly as they grow, so you need to accommodate this when you first set them out.

Leave approximately three to six feet between each plant to allow for mature growth, depending on how big your cultivars will be. Most elephant ear plants wind up at about six to eight feet tall, with leaves that span anywhere from two to four feet. Jack’s Giant elephant ear, for example, needs the maximum spacing between plants, due to its enormous and very striking leaves.

Also watch this video to see the process of planting itself:

Planting Colocasia Esculenta Bulbs Elephant Ear Plant Care

Elephant ears thrive in rich soil that is full of organic food. Using a compost that is high in nitrogen is best. Try to prepare the soil before planting and add nutrients as needed throughout the growing season.

Elephant ears require very little in the way of care, other than vigilant watering so they don’t dry out. As new leaves grow, the older leaves will die off. Simply cut these dead leaves off to preserve the aesthetics of the plant and to keep the old leaves from falling on the new leaves as they emerge.

If yellow flowers develop, the elephant ear plant is going through its normal yearly cycle. It naturally has a period of dormancy during the winter, and it won’t require quite as much water during this time.

Find out a little more tips on elephant ears care:

Gardening Tips : How to Care for Elephant Ear Plants Dealing with Pests

While elephant ear plant is fairly hardy, you may encounter a few pests with this species. Spider mites seem to be drawn to them, but a good spray with the garden hose should remove them. If they persist, talk to your garden center about the best solution with the least amount of toxicity to you and the environment.

If you find thrips on your elephant plants, it’s a good sign that you have not been providing them with
enough water. Not letting your elephant ears dry out is the key to preventing these pests.

See also other solutions to various problems with elephant ears.

Propagating Elephant Ears

One thing gardeners love about elephant ears is that you can propagate more plants from just one. While it is possible to grown them from seed, it is far more efficient to divide the tubers, or bulbs, at the end of the growing season. You will need to do this anyway if you live in a cold climate.

If you live in a warm climate where elephant ears grow all year long, simply dig up your plants and split them at the root, like you would many perennials with rhizomes. Then, replant the divided tubers with the appropriate spacing to create new plants.

If you are growing elephant ears north of Zone 7 (or Zone 6 with Pink China elephant ear), you can dig up your elephant ear tubers and save them to replant the next spring. This should be done in the autumn, after the first frost. The plant should have started producing yellow flowers as it prepares for its natural dormancy season.

Divide the tubers with a spade or garden fork, and cut off any foliage. Store the tubers with the soil still attached or in peat moss until the spring. Ideally, a cool storage location is best, between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, such as in an attached garage or protected garden shed.

Overwintering Elephant Plant

You can also overwinter your elephant ear plants in containers. If you are not already growing them in containers (see below), dig up your elephant ears before the first frost and replant them in large pots. They may be heavy with the soil and the size of the pot necessary, so consider placing the container on a plant dolly first.

Place your elephant plant indoors in the same type of light it enjoys outside. Gradually withhold water from the plant, as this would normally be its dormancy season, so it needs less moisture. Take care not to over-water your elephant ears during the winter, as this can cause the roots to rot and the plant to die. Elephant ears inside the house can provide a wonderful bit of greenery and make you feel like summer has never ended.

See more information about how to care for elephant ears in winter in this helpful resource.

Growing Elephant Ear Plants in Containers

If you don’t have any yard space for elephant ear plants, you can still grow them in containers. Make sure to choose a pot deep enough for the roots and wide enough to provide a stable base. In cold climates, planting elephant ears in containers makes it extra easy to pull them inside when winter arrives.

Containers of elephant ears, with their tall stalks and huge ears, make great privacy screening for decks and balconies. To fill in the bottom of the container, a plant like asparagus fern makes a great accompaniment with similar water requirements.

Landscaping with Elephant Ears

Elephant ears can provide great variety for your outdoor landscaping. If you have a dark corner of thegarden, look for a cultivar with lighter leaves to add brightness, like Mojito, with neon green leaves and dark splotches. To set off white flowers, try a cultivar with black leaves for a stunning contrast.

Elephant ear plant’s low-growing cousin, Caladium, is a perfect pairing on the ground below. Caladium also comes in many different colors and patterns, so you can mix and match to your heart’s content.

Where to Buy Elephant Ears

Many garden centers sell elephant ear tubers or whole plants if you live in warm zones. If can’t find a variety you like locally, you can purchase elephant ears online or from plant catalogues and have them shipped in protected packaging to you. Be sure to time your order to coincide with the right planting time for your zone, after any danger of frost has passed.

Some people like elephant ears so much that they have whole gardens full of different varieties. If elephant ears are a novelty in your area, you may find your neighbors are curious about your plants and want to try them too. Once you have a few friends with elephant ears, you can divide and swap them for an even larger collection of cultivars. There’s no end to what you can do with these giant tropical showstoppers!

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According to Better Homes and Gardens gardening expert, Roger Fox, elephant ears (Alocasia species) need adequate warmth and humidity to grow indoors as they’re native to tropical areas.

“Ideally, temperatures need to be above 15°C year round, and plants will benefit from a misting with water to increase humidity around the foliage,” says Roger.

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Indoors, elephant ears need moderately bright light, but Roger recommends avoiding direct sunlight on their leaves in summer, “as this can cause foliage burn”.

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Elephant ears like the soil to be constantly moist, so during the warm months of the year, you’ll need to water them frequently.

If in doubt, says Roger, “check the soil moisture with your finger, and water when the top couple of centimetres feels dry. During winter, water less frequently.”

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During spring and summer, feed monthly with a liquid fertilizer, or apply slow-release fertiliser granules at the start of spring.

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Roger’s trouble shooting tips

  • It’s common for leaves to die back periodically, especially during winter – cut them off at the base, with sharp scissors or secateurs.
  • The large-sized leaves need to be kept clean of dust, so they stay healthy and look attractive – wipe them with a damp cloth from time to time.

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Caring for your elephant ears outdoors

According to Roger, Alocasias (and closely related Colocasias) need a frost-free climate, and a position in light shade or dappled sunlight.

“They can also be grown in large pots, filled with a premium quality potting mix, and watered frequently through summer. They look great mixed in with ferns”, he said.

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Elephant Ear With Brown Edges: Why Do Elephant Ear Plants Get Brown On Edge

You can’t ask for more visual impact than the large leaved Colocasia, or elephant ear plant. That said, leaf browning on elephant ears is a common complaint. Why do elephant ear plants get brown on edges? It is often due to improper siting but might also have cultural or disease causes. They are tropical plants and cultivation of this big leaved beauty requires moisture, heat and bright but indirect sun.

Elephant ears are excellent houseplants and can also grow nicely outdoors in warm regions and as summer annuals in cooler zones. They are part of a group of tubers that produce taro, a popular food in tropical locations. While they perform well in full shade, the best exposure is where there is some protection from the hottest rays of the sun. They are heavy feeders and require consistently moist soil to present their most attractive aspect.

Why Do Elephant Ear Plants Get Brown on Edge?

The most common reason for the phenomenon is simply leaf scorch. In high light, they may get burnt along the edges of the arrow-shaped leaves. This won’t kill the plant but does affect the appearance of the glossy foliage, which is the focal point of the ornamental plant.

Provide bright light but shield the plants when temperatures are scorching, especially when the heat of the day is highest. In this case, it is easy to prevent the edges of elephant ear turning brown by positioning a garden umbrella to provide shade, tilting the blinds a bit for indoor plants, or relocating it to a region of the garden where some dappling occurs at midday.

Other reasons for an elephant ear with brown edges might be due to improper cultivation.

Cultural Concerns for Elephant Ear with Brown Edges

The second most probable cause for elephant ear leaves turning brown stems from the care of the plant. They need to have plenty of water and any plant that is allowed to dry out will shoe displeasure with dry, crinkling leaf edges.

Leaf browning on elephant ears also occurs when the plant is starving and hasn’t been fed. Give it a high nitrogen plant food in spring and again midseason to promote healthy big foliage.

They are also susceptible to cold temperatures. Exposure to conditions in USDA plant hardiness zones below 8 will experience cold snaps if left in the ground. To prevent this, container garden the Colocasia and move it indoors when cool temperatures threaten. If the leaves continue to die, clip them off and remove the tubers for storage where temperatures are warm and dry. Wrap them in sphagnum moss and repot in early spring.

Bugs, Diseases and Other Problems

Other concerns for elephant ear leaves turning brown might be pest infestations. Insects that nibble the edges or suck sap from the leaves may cause this damage. Look for pests such as aphids, mealybugs and mites. Wash them off the leaves and apply a horticultural soap to prevent their return.

Fungal issues also plague in-ground plants when irrigation water splashes on the leaves. Water from the base of the plant to prevent this occurrence. If you notice edges of elephant ear turning brown and all other issues have been addressed, try potting it up in a good clean potting soil mixed with one-third peat moss and moving it to a location where you can baby it for a while. It may have been a soil condition underlying the plant’s foliage problems.

How to Care For and Grow Your Elephant’s Ear

  • Growing – in prime conditions with the right light/water/temperature balance, Elephant’s Ear plants are fast growers. After some time, if you don’t see any new growth, consider adjusting one of its elements. During spring and summer, use a diluted fertilizer to give your plant a vitamin boost.

  • Repotting – Léon & George’s Elephant’s Ears plants come in 10” or 12” grow pots and only need to be repotted every few years if you notice the roots outgrowing the pot, or to refresh the soil and give it new nutrients. If you’d like your plant to grow larger, find a new grow pot that is 2” larger than its current pot. If you’re happy with the current size, you can reuse the same pot and simply change the soil.

    • Getting your hands dirty with or without a yard – spread out newspaper on the floor, remove the plant from the pot and shake off as much of the old soil as possible so that you have clean roots. At the bottom of the grow pot, and a layer of soil, then place the plant in the center of the pot and cover with new soil. Pat down firmly and water thoroughly. Place the plant in an area with bright indirect light. Your plant will take 2-4 weeks to settle from the shock and adjust to its new home.

How to propagate an Elephant’s Ear plant (AKA alocasia)

Propagating an Elephant’s Ear plant is best done through division and during spring or summer.

  • Divide the roots – remove the plant from its container and determine which area you will divide to create new plants. Make sure there is at least one bud in each clump of tubers, aka their roots. Carefully untangle the roots and pull apart with your hands or cut through with a clean sharp knife.

  • Place in fresh soil – Place the new divisions in fresh soil, press soil firmly and water thoroughly.

  • Stabilize – Keep freshly repotted plants in a warm area with bright indirect light, and for Elephant’s Ears the soil should be kept moist thought not drenched.

Illustrations by our talented plant stylist, Kailie Barnes.

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