Aptly named, the elephant ear plant does indeed look like the ears of an elephant. With gorgeous, large foliage, this is a real statement plant. Learn more about elephant ears, how to plant them, and how to care for them.
When to plant elephant ears: Elephant ear plants are named so because of their appearance and their towering leaves make for a bold statement in either your garden or a container. These plants start out as bulbs, which can go into the ground in spring, as long as the threat of frost is over. By summertime, the leaves will unfold and be a real show-stopper. While elephant ear plants are easy to care for, they are a tropical species. As such, if you live in an area with cold winters, you will have to bring them inside so they don’t get frostbite.
Planting Elephant Ears in Different Climates
Elephant ears are native to tropical climates and so they will thrive in these conditions. They will appreciate the moist soil and the warm winters.
Elephant ears need moist soil and warm summers, so a dry climate might not provide everything they need. If you do plant them in a dry climate, you will have to constantly monitor the plant.
The next best climate for elephant ears is a temperate climate. This provides enough moisture and the winters won’t be too cold. You may still want to bring your plant inside in the winter, though.
Elephant ears can survive in a continental climate. However, with the cold winters, you can expect, you will definitely have to bring your plant inside once there is a threat of frost.
A polar climate will not be able to house the tropical elephant ears plant.
Choosing Elephant Ear Bulbs
Elephant ear plants start from bulbs and are relatively easy to plant. While this is not an uncommon plant, however, you may not be able to find elephant ear bulbs at your local gardening store.
You can look online for bulbs that will ship to your home. Another option may be finding plants that are already growing and then transplanting them to your garden.
Unlike other plants that offer a wide array of varieties, there are only two varieties of elephant ear plants. These are alocasia and colocasia.
With the full name of Alocasia macrorrhiza Odora, this variety of elephant ears is characterized by their upright demeanor. They have very sturdy stems and are quite hardy.
Alocasia elephant ear plants feature forward-facing leaves that move upwards from their stems. As a result, you can expect a lot of height, sometimes up to 10 feet.
Another benefit of choosing alocasias elephant ears is that they blow gently in the breeze and make for a unique feature. They prefer partial shade, so this is an important consideration to keep in mind.
Although the leaves of colocasia elephant ears are similar to the alocasia variety, their structure differs slightly. In this case, the leaves on the plant grow out and down from the tall stems, instead of upright.
The leaves are still ginormous and the deep green foliage is an instant eye-catcher. You can expect the plant to be about 5 feet tall at the end of the summer growing season.
Colocasia elephant ear plants prefer full sun, so this may be a deciding factor between the two varieties.
Within the category of colocasia elephant ears, there are a few sub-varieties you can actually choose from. This includes black stem elephant ears that have a black-green hue to their leaves.
If you want a more contained plant, you can try Colocasia esculenta Hawaiian Punch. With dark, red-black leaves, the plant only reaches about 3 feet in height, so is more manageable than other varieties.
How to Plant Elephant Ear Bulbs
Decide on an area
As previously discussed, some elephant ear plants prefer full sun while others like partial shade. Be sure to match your desired planting area with the right variety for the best results.
Another obvious consideration is the amount of room you have for your plant. Elephant ear plants start with a bulb but this will quickly spread underground, leaving you with a very larger plant, if you don’t do anything to stop it.
You can simply plant your elephant ears in an area next to other plants, but this will require constant maintenance. An alternative is to place it in its own confined area within your garden.
Some elephant ear plants are also small enough to thrive in a container. You can try container gardening with new bulbs and if they are used to the small space, they will be less shocked.
Another valuable option if you use a container is that you can then bring your elephant ear plant indoors during the winter. This is a tropical plant and won’t do well in very cold winter climates.
Decide when to plant
If you want your elephant ears to be outside, then you can directly plant the bulbs in the spring. Wait until the threat of frost has gone and there are no freezing temperatures in the forecast.
However, if you want your elephant ears as an indoor plant, you can start the bulbs earlier. In this case, start them about six to eight months before the last frost date.
Prepare the soil
Elephant ears prefer soil that can drain well but is also moist. They like rick, nutrient-dense soil.
As you dig your hole in your garden, you will want to prepare a soil mixture for your new plant. It should be a 50-50 mix of native soil and a nutrient-dense option.
If you plan on planting in a container, be sure to use quality potting soil that has all the nutrients your elephant ear plant needs to start off with.
There are two ends of an elephant ear tuber. The top, sharp part, needs to point upwards while the blunt, rounded part goes into the soil. The tubers don’t need to be deep, so only dig a hole that is 2 to 3 inches in depth.
How to Water Elephant Ears
Elephant ears are a tropical plant but they are actually pretty easy to care for. You will want to give your bulbs a good watering after you plant them but after that, you don’t necessarily need to worry too much about them.
During the summer, especially if it is hot and dry, you will need to regularly water your elephant ears as they prefer moist soil. Furthermore, if you have your plants in a container, then they will need more frequent watering.
Once your elephant ears become established, you can let them be, and instead, water them a bit more frequently if they show signs of drooping.
How to Grow Elephant Ears
Your elephant ear plants need nutrient-dense soil to start out with. You can add a bit of organic matter, such as compost to the hole when you plant your bulbs.
After this, if you do want to use a fertilizer, you can use a simply slow-release one. Either use fertilizer sticks and place them in the ground or use a powder fertilizer that will slowly release the nutrients. You only need to add fertilizer once or twice a year to your elephant ear plants.
If left alone, your elephant ear plants can quickly take over your whole garden. The tubers under the ground will spread out and more shoots can break through the soil.
If you love your elephant ears plant but don’t want it to take over, you can simply pull up these new sprouts. You can then dispose of them in your compost or see if you have any friends or neighbors who want a new plant.
Many people have elephant ears in their garden but, unfortunately, this is a tropical plant that will not survive harsh winter temperatures. If you live in an area that consistently has freezing temperatures in the winter, you will have to move your plant indoors.
To do this, dig your plant up and place it in a container. This is another reason why many people choose to keep their elephant ear plant in a container from the beginning, as it is much easier to simply move it indoors.
If you don’t want to go through all the work of digging up your plant, and your winters aren’t too bad, you can try covering the plant with burlap sacks. This may prevent the leaves and the tubers from freezing, but there are no guarantees.
How long do elephant ears take to grow?
After you plant your elephant ear tubers in the spring, you only have to wait between four and eight weeks before they sprout. Even in the first summer, you will be rewarded with giant foliage.
When you want a bold statement in your garden, you can always rely on the superb foliage of elephant ears. These tropical plants can tower over your garden and are an instant mood booster.