Elephant ears are a wonderful plant for every garden! With their colorful, bold foliage, they look equally at home in the countryside or in containers – and yes, their leaves resemble the ears of an elephant! Two types of plants are commonly referred to as elephant ears: Colocasia with leaves that point downwards and Alocasia with leaves that often point upwards. Both offer breathtaking beauty with their tropical flair. Their foliage ranges from a few inches wide to more than a foot in diameter! They offer privacy when planted in pots to line your patio or balcony, and they’re the perfect aquatic plant next to ponds and waterfalls. “These plants, native to Southeast Asia, are great because they are beautiful and trouble-free,” says Venelin Dimitrov, Senior Product Manager for Vegetables and Herbs at Burpee. “They are also quick growers who love the heat and add a lot of drama to your yard.”
Here’s what else you need to know about how to grow and care for the elephant ear.
How do I plant elephant ears?
Find a spot in your garden that is full or partial sun. In hot climates, place them in the morning sun and the filtered shade of the afternoon. Elephant ears prefer well-drained soil. So if your garden is made of solid clay, you’d be better off planting in pots. They grow from tubers, which are underground stems that store food for the plant, says Dimitrov. Some can be as small as your fist while others can be softball size!
Plant tubers about 2 to 4 feet apart to allow them to spread. Find the remains of last season’s roots and place the tuber root side down in a hole so the top of the tuber is about an inch below the ground. Don’t worry if you’re not sure which side is up. It may take the plant a little longer to jump through the soil, but it will figure it out, says Dimitrov. Water these plants plenty of water (about an inch per week) although they will be forgiving if you miss a few days. Check the pots every day as they dry out quickly. If they hang, they need to be watered.
Start your elephant ears indoors in cold climates.
Since they show up late in the spring, it’s not a bad idea to start elephant ears indoors about six weeks before your area’s last frost. Plant in pots large enough to hold their mature size, then move them outside after the threat of frost has passed. “Cold is the number one enemy of these plants, so make sure you don’t put them out too soon,” says Dimitrov.
Should I fertilize my elephant ears?
These plants benefit from using a water-soluble fertilizer when you give them a drink, or you can use a slow-release granular type that is built into the soil. Look for those with a higher percentage of nitrogen (the “N” in NPK that lists nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels) than other components to ensure good leaf growth. It’s especially important to feed container plantings regularly because the nitrogen will run out when watering, says Dimitrov.
Elephant ears should be dug up for the winter in cold climates.
In cold climates, small pots can be brought into the house and enjoyed as a houseplant in winter. In USDA zones 8 and above (find yours here), they can stay in the ground to return the following spring. Before the first cold snap in autumn, cut the foliage to a few inches above the ground. Use a digging fork or spade to gently lift the tubers out of the ground. There may also be baby tubers to keep or share with friends!
Allow the tubers to dry out a bit and place them in a 5 gallon bucket of peat moss, perlite, or vermiculite. When you’ve picked out other tender perennials like dahlias, you can keep them in the same bucket. Put in a cool, but not frozen, place and plant again next spring when the danger of frost has passed.
Is the elephant ear poisonous to pets?
Unfortunately, the elephant ear is poisonous to pets and contains calcium oxalates, which cause swelling of the mouth, lips and tongue, drooling, and vomiting. If your pet likes to nibble on plants, keep them away from him or her! And if you think your pet has ingested any part of this plant, call your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Where to buy elephant ears
Alocasia ‘Black Magic’
Colcasia ‘Jumbo Diamond Head’
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