The Elephant Ear Plant
Elephant ears provide some of the boldest foliage for your garden. But, the big question is, do elephant ears come back every year? This article takes a deep dive into this plant, having huge, heart-shaped leaves that come in different colors. Please keep reading this article to find out more about elephant ears.
How to Plant Elephant Ear Bulbs
Elephant ear is the typical name for different herbaceous perennials. Their common characteristic is their large arrow-shaped leaves. Moreover, most of them grow mainly in the tropical regions of Southeast Asia. Although they thrive in US Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones 8 to 11, they cannot withstand freezing temperatures.
The most popular elephant ear plant varieties are Alocasia macrorrhizos or giant elephant ear and Colocasia esculenta or taro. The two belong to the Araceae family, and people grow them for their large, showy green leaves. Moreover, their tubers are edible.
You can grow both varieties in the same way. They also require similar climatic conditions to grow properly. Here are the things to consider before planting elephant ear bulbs:
Location and Light Conditions
It would help to grow the elephant ears in a sheltered location that does not experience strong winds. If you plant them in a windy area, the leaves become shredded. Moreover, the plant grows well in partial shade to full sun.
Suppose you live in a very hot climate; go for a location that offers shade or filtered sunlight in the afternoon. On the other hand, varieties whose foliage has a darker color do well in places that receive bright sunlight.
Rich soil full of organic matter is the best for growing elephant ear bulbs. Therefore, add some manure or compost to your soil if it lacks nutrients. Spread around 4 inches (10.16 centimeters) of manure or compost over the area you select. Work into around 8 inches (20.32 centimeters) of the native soil.
If you are growing the tubers in pots, make sure you use a fertile potting mix. Use the instructions on the potting mix bag to fertilize the soil.
Many people don’t know how to plant elephant ear bulbs. Every time you plant a bulb, it would help to ensure you set it into the soil with the pointy side facing up. However, the elephant ear bulbs are pretty round, making it challenging to differentiate between the top and bottom.
So, how should you do it? Hold the bulb in your hand and run your fingers over its surface. You will realize that some of its parts are bumpy while smooth in others. The uneven part is the bulb’s bottom, and it is where the roots grow from.
Why is this important? Well, planting the bulbs upside down will not stop the roots from sprouting. However, it will take more days to grow from the ground.
Whether you are planting the elephant ears in pots or in the garden, dig a 3-inch (7.62 centimeters) deep hole. Place the bulb into the hole with the bumpy part down before covering it carefully with soil.
If you are growing more than one elephant ear, place the bulbs two to four feet apart. If you plant them in the right weather conditions, you should see the first sprouts peeking out of the soil several weeks after planting.
When to Plant Elephant Ear Bulbs
You must wait for the right climatic conditions to plant your elephant ears. For example, you must wait until there is no danger of frost before you plant elephant ears.
Remember, the elephant ear is a tropical plant that thrives in nighttime temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12.78 degrees Celsius). It also prefers daytime temperatures of 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21.11 degrees Celsius) or more. However, if the temperatures fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), your elephant ear will have minimal chances of surviving.
In this regard, it is best to plant elephant ear bulbs in the spring. During this time, the risk of frost has passed completely. Therefore, planting elephant ear bulbs during spring is your best bet.
Tips for Elephant Ear Plant Care
Once you have planted the bulb, you must continually care for it. For example, ensure the bulbs get enough water, sunlight, and plant for growth. Therefore, if you are growing them indoors, ensure you expose them to sunlight.
Your elephant ear plant needs water to remain lush and green. As a result, you need to water the plants daily or every other day for the soil to stay moist. Consider adding a layer of mulch to help retain soil moisture. Also, keep the mulch around 3 inches (7.62 centimeters), ensuring you don’t put it up against the base.
If you are growing the bulbs in containers, water them when the top inch of the soil becomes dry. Stick your finger several inches into the potting soil to check the soil moisture. If it feels dry, water until water runs from the pot’s bottom drain holes.
Elephant ears go dormant during the winter, which significantly slows their growth. During this period, cut back the watering to once a week.
Moreover, elephant ears require regular feeding throughout the growing season (spring through summer). Therefore, when the tubers produce new growth, provide water-soluble fertilizer every three weeks.
Also, consider using slow-release blends that break down slowly and release fertilizer for several months. Stop fertilizing when the plant enters dormancy.
Caring for the Elephant Ears During Winter
As we have already established, elephant ears don’t like freezing conditions. Therefore, you need proper elephant ear plant care to help them survive.
It is common for elephant ear bulbs to rot in the spring because of poor storage practices. As you work on the plants, ensure you wear gloves, as they can be toxic. The tubers will remain dormant throughout the winter months.
A couple of days before replanting, sprinkle the tubers with water. Wait until the soil temperature reaches about 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.33 degrees Celsius) before planting elephant ear bulbs.
Moreover, the nighttime temperature should drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.56 degrees Celsius); otherwise, the plant will die. If the soil is poor, use organic matter to amend it before planting the rhizomes below the soil surface. Water them well and cover them with lightweight mulch around 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) thick.
After a month, you should see signs of growth. Provide plenty of moisture and proper fertilizer weekly. Don’t fertilize during winter to allow the plants to rest.
Do Elephant Ears Come Back Every Year?
Elephant ears come back every year but in specific climates. These plants prefer warmer climates and thrive in hot temperatures. Therefore, if you grow elephant ears in tropical climates, they become perennials.
But, in freezing temperatures like winter, the plant might die off at the end of the season. As a result, dig them out and know how to store elephant ear bulbs for them to survive.
Are Elephant Ears Perennials?
Yes, elephant ear plants are perennial plants that thrive in Zone 9 and warmer regions. When you grow them in such conditions, they come back every summer.
However, if you grow them in cooler regions, you’ll have to treat them as annuals meaning they’ll live for one growing season and die. In this regard, dig up the tubers before the first frost occurs and shift the plant to a cool, dry place throughout winter.
How to Store Elephant Ear Bulbs
You must properly store the elephant ear bulbs if you plan to replant them during the spring. Here are some tips to consider:
- Cut the foliage back after the first frost to help the rhizomes or tubers survive year to year. Do this before the temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.44 degrees Celsius).
- Leave 2 to 4 inches (5.08 to 10.16 centimeters) of stem and carefully root out the underground structures. Start one foot from the plant’s center.
- It is essential to store the tubers correctly. For example, keep them in a cool, dark, dry, and well-ventilated spot, probably 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 15.56 degrees Celsius).
- Let the tubers dry and avoid using sand or moss because they contain moisture which causes premature sprouting.
- Throw away any rhizomes that develop molds or soft spots.
- Once the tubers are completely dry, store them in shredded paper, a growing medium such as vermiculite or packing peanuts, a paper bag, or a shoebox.
- Lastly, don’t let the tubers touch each other as they could rot.
Do Elephant Ears Need Full Sun?
First, elephant ears can grow in the sun or shade. However, if you put the plants in a hot, sunny location, ensure the plant gets some shade during the middle of the day.
Therefore, you can plant elephant ear plants in indirect sunlight or partial shade. Direct sunlight is not ideal for the plant as it may burn its leaves. Also, different ear elephant varieties have different sun needs.
The Different Elephant Ear Varieties
There are two significant types of elephant ears, i.e., colocasia and alocasias. The colocasia display their leaves with the tip of the heart pointing down. Moreover, this variety prefers full sun and consistent humidity.
On the other hand, the alocasias hold their leaves’ tips out and upward. Moreover, they love more well-drained soils and some shade.
Examples of colocasia include:
- Colocasia esculenta: They have huge and velvety leaves. They are sun tolerant but require plenty of moisture and protection from the sun.
- Colocasia esculenta Black Magic: These are dusky, blue-black leaves with red and orange flowers. It also has pale yellows, white, and pink, making it the pink elephant ear plant.
- Colocasia esculenta Black Stem: They have burgundy-black stems with arrow-shaped and teal blue leaves.
- Colocasia esculenta Diamond Head: This variety comes with blue-black leaves with a smooth surface and lustrous sheen, reflecting light.
- Colocasia esculenta Hawaiian Punch: This variety has glossy, lime green leaves that the dark red veins decorate.
- Colocasia esculenta Mojito: It has mesmerizing variegated foliage and unusual patterns of splashes and blue-black dashes.
Elephant ear plants are your ideal choice if you are interested in exotic and tropical plants. If you are in warmer zones, they are perennials, and you can expect them to come back each summer. However, if you grow them in colder zones, consider them annuals. Read our article and find out What are the Signs Plants are Too Cold?
Follow the step in this guide to preserve them before the signs of the first frost. Also, follow the maintenance tips to ensure you get the best-looking plants.
You can make your garden more beautiful by including different elephant ear varieties. For example, mixing purple elephant ears and pink elephant ear plants will give your garden a better look. Do you have elephant ear plants in your garden?