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Past Articles Library | How to Grow Elephant Ears

Elephant ears are a beautiful plant that is normally found in the tropics but is beginning to appear in many landscapes.  This plant’s large, heart-shaped leaves make it a perfect focal point for both landscaped areas and container gardens.  It can also be found in water gardens when placed in a container and submerged. 

Elephant ears can be found in many different color combinations.  This ranges from solid green to variegated green and white to solid deep purple. 

This plant is started by tubers (corms).  Some varieties grow in clumps while others spread through runners.  Regardless of what spreading pattern they have, you must first prepare the garden space for elephant ears.  This plant loves sunny to partial sunny areas that contain a soil that is slightly acidic.  They also like damp to soggy soils, which addresses their native habitat of wetlands.

Once the location has been selected, prepare the soil for planting and lay down your elephant ear corms so that they are 2- to 4-inches deep.  Cover with compost and shredded leaves.   Gently tap down the soil with the shovel and water in.

After the corms begin to produce leaves, it is time to feed the plant.  Elephant ears are heavy eaters and require a large amount of high nitrogen fertilizer. 

Throughout the season, the plant will produce new leaves while older leaves die away.  To encourage new growth and tidy up the plant, one will need to remove the older, dried up leaves.  When doing this though always wear gloves and safety glasses.  Elephant ears produce calcium oxalate, which can irritate both skin and eyes.

Overwintering Elephant Ears

As the days get shorter, the elephant ear is preparing for dormancy.  This plant begins to shift its energy from leaf and flower production to sending energy to the corm.  This energy will then be used to carryover the plant until the next spring.  During this time, the roots surrounding the corm will die-off. 

Elephant ears can be overwintered in two ways.  If you live in an area that receives severely cold winters, then they will need to be dug up.  If, on the other hand, your winters are mild, consider wintering them in the ground.

Overwintering corms that are not in the ground requires you to first dig them up prior to the ground freezing.  Once dug up, shake off as much soil as possible and place in a cardboard box.   The box will need to be stored in a cool but not cold area.  Garages and basements are perfect for storing your corms.

Periodically through the winter, check your corms.  You do not want them wet but you do not want them to dry out either.  If you find that your corms are drying out, simply mist them with a little water or place a humidifier in the room.  This will add the needed moisture without causing your corms to rot.

If you want to overwinter your corms in the ground, you will need to a little garden work.  This starts by encircling the plant with chicken wire that spans a 3 foot diameter.  Once that is done, fill the “cage” with shredded leaves.  Do not use plain, raked leaves in the cage due to the fact that they will pack down.  This packing down action will hold water and cause your corm to rot.

Once you begin to see leaves appear, remove the cage and the leaves and care for as described above.

Ideas for Planting Elephant Ears

If you are looking for a unique way of planting your elephant ears, consider using them in a container garden.  The advantage of this planting design comes from the fact that you can use your elephant ears as the thriller and not have to dig them up.  To create your own container garden showcasing your elephant ears begins with a large container that has a drainage hole.  Next, you will need to clean and sterilize the pot.  This process is done by place your container in a tub of water mixed with a squirt of dish soap.  Once that is done, rinse the container in clear water and place outside in the sun. 

After the container has dried, the next step is to place a layer of drainage material in the bottom of the container.  When doing this step, make sure to cover the drainage hole(s).  Once that is done, fill the container half way up with an all-purpose potting soil mix.  To aid in the fertilization process, mix in a slow-release, high nitrogen fertilizer.

Once you have the soil in the container, the next step is to plant the container.  Add the corms of the elephant ears to the center of the container and cover with soil.  At this point you want the container filled to ½- to ¾ inch from the top of the rim.  To this thrilling component, add the filler.  In this planting, I would suggest using impatiens and then add the spiller, which is the sweet potato plant.  After it is planted, fill in with remaining soil and water in.  Add additional soil as needed.

Instead of digging up your elephant ear corms in the fall, just move the planter indoors.  Elephant ears can move into their dormant period or you can add them to your interscape as a houseplant.    

Another idea when it comes to elephant ears is to plant them in the vegetable garden.  While many people are familiar with the elephant ear as a landscape plant, it can also be eaten.  In this case, the plant is known as “taro” or “yam.”

Sizes of Elephant Ears

If want to grow elephant ears but feel you do not have the room, forget that idea.  Elephant ears come in three sizes, which includes dwarf, medium, and large.   Dwarf elephant ears typically reach a height of 2 feet or less.  They look wonderful when planted in mass or planted as an addition to other tropical plantings. 

Medium-sized elephant ears can grow between 2 ½- to 5-feet in height.  This type of plant consists of the widest color and leaf shape variation of all the elephant ears.  The last group, the large or giant elephant ears, can reach a size larger than 5 feet and have very large leaves.  Due to their size, they make prefect specimen plants or a showy addition to a container garden.  In both situations, the elephant ear’s beauty can be enhanced with additional planting from underneath.  Using this later technique will allow one to add contrast to the design.  This contrast can highlight the texture and color of the elephant ear while utilizing space that would go unused.


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Keep Seedlings Moist

When you have just planted seeds, keep the soil moist until germination.

If the soil dries out, the seeds will die.

After germination, allow the soil to dry out a bit between waterings, but keep a close eye on the seedlings until they are well established.

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