Growing Elephant Ears!
I’m not a dainty gardener by any means. I love bold, colorful, and unexpected elements in my garden. Each year, my garden looks less and less like Cleveland, Ohio, and more and more like the Seychelles. Tropical plants are my passion, and each year I incorporate more and more of them into my garden. I like to push the limits of my climate. And why shouldn’t I? Who doesn’t like a tropical garden? With their rapid growth, gigantic leaves that come in an array of different colors, and ease of growth, elephant ears will give you a big bang for your buck in creating a tropical feel in your garden. I started out growing the plain old Colocasia esculenta. This species is actually the taro plant which is widely grown in many tropical regions as a food source. Taro roots provide a starchy food source for many, but I grow them for their colossal leaves. My goal is for you to be inspired to grow elephant ears in your garden. Your neighbors will be amazed!
Years ago, I picked up a packet of Colocasia esculenta at a local garden center and planted them in my garden. It was an encouraging first encounter because although they are said to be hardy only in zones 8 and above, mine somehow managed to survive our sometimes nasty Ohio winters and returned year after year! The clump grew bigger and bigger each year and there was no additional mulch or protection added! They simply returned as any perennial would on its own. I attribute them surviving our winters in our zone 6 climate because they were planted in a protected corner of our home, close to a concrete pad and brick foundation of the house. This created a microclimate and helped to defy where this is “supposed” to grow. As shown in the photograph below, it created a lovely pairing with Lady’s Mantle, boxwood, and hydrangea.
This year, the last time I counted, I have 8 different types of elephant ears in my garden! They are hard to resist and there are so many varieties. I planted the same Colocasia esculenta at our new house, but I dug up the corms and replanted them in the Spring since I didn’t want to risk them freezing. I planted some in the ground, like the photo below. I love the contrast they provide against the surrounding flowering plants.
I had 3 extra corms that I didn’t have room for in the ground, so I decided to plant them in a 14 inch clay pot. I did not expect them to grow as large as they did in the photo below. Needless to say, I’ll be planting some in that pot every year. Look how big they grew! And yes, the pot in the picture below is 14 inches in diameter. The large leaf in the middle of the picture is over 2 feet long, and it was close to 2 feet wide.
Where to Plant Elephant Ears
I suppose you probably clicked on this blog post to find out how to grow elephant ears, so let me tell you about the cultural conditions that they like. I’ve found that elephant ears grow best in partial sun or filtered sunlight. Morning sun works beautifully, but afternoon sun may be a little much sometimes for these plants. You’ll know if they are upset if the edges of the leaves turn brown. They also like areas protected from high winds.
Elephant ears LOVE water. They grow best in consistently moist soil. If you are heavy handed with watering, these are the right plants for you! In fact, the taro plant is often cultivated for their edible corms in flooded fields. Take a look at the photo below showing a dark leaved variety, growing directly in our old pond!
Whatever you do, do not let this plant go bone dry. Keeping these plants well watered is the most important thing you can do to keep them looking great. This is one plant that you can “overwater” with profound results! So take out that hose and watering can and go to town. I will have to add though that you should go light on the water if you are starting out with a bare corm. Wait until the leaves start to grow before increasing the watering. For a newly planted corm, give it a good watering, but wait until the top of the soil dries out before watering again. As the plant grows and get bigger, you can safely increase the watering. With the exception of the ones growing in the ground, I water the potted elephant ears daily in the summer.
These plants prefer a loamy soil with a lot of organic matter, but the ones I planted directly into the ground in an amended clay soil are doing just fine! If you are planting in a pot, any good potting mix will do. Mixing in compost into the potting soil would be very beneficial.
Make sure you regularly fertilize these plants for the best show possible! They are heavy feeders and will grow quickly. I mix Oscomote into the pots, and then I also supplement with liquid fertilizers every week or two. I’ll use mostly fish emulsion, and will also do an occasional application of Miracle-Gro. Don’t skip the fertilizer if you want your elephant ears to grow luxuriantly!
Overwintering Elephant Ears
Elephant ears are easy to overwinter if you live in areas colder than zone 8 like I do. I will dig up the corms, cut most of the stems off, and shake off all the extra soil. After letting the corms air dry for a couple days, I’ll store them in our heated garage completely buried in either perlite or vermiculite. You can also store them in dry peat moss. I like to use old plastic pots and will bury the corms completely in perlite, and then place them on a shelf for the winter. If you don’t have a heated garage, any cool area that stays somewhere in the range of 40F-60F or so will work well.
When Springtime Comes
I’ve learned that these plants sometimes take a long time to start growing after you replant the bare corms. They will eventually catch up with rapid growth once they start growing leaves, but starting them into growth sometimes takes a very long time! If you can, I would recommend planting these indoors in the spring, at least 2 months or so before it is warm enough to plant these outside. This will give you a good head start on the season. Look at the cute little baby elephant ears below!
More Elephant Ears!
I hope you’ve been inspired to grow some elephant ears in your garden. In case you haven’t been inspired, here are some more photos from my garden.
This is Colocasia esculenta Royal Hawaiian ‘Maui Gold’
Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’
Colocasia esculenta, with coleus in the front, and an Alocasia in top right. I grow the Alocasia as a houseplant and set it outdoors in the summer.