Often grown for their dramatic foliage reminiscent of elephant ears, Colocasia and Alocasia are terrific tender perennials that provide a strong ornamental interest and quickly give a touch of the tropics in gardens or containers. Impossibly exotic, their architectural shapes make them perfect for planting as focal plants or massed to create a tropical effect. Easy to grow, they stand proud and bold provided some basic rules are respected.
1. Choose The Right Tubers
- Choose tubers that are large, firm, and plump.
- The size of the tubers is highly correlated to the overall size of the plant and leaf production. The bigger the bulb, the bigger the plant and more spectacular the foliage.
2. Select The Right Site
- Elephant Ears thrive in organically rich, uniformly moist soils. Never allow their soil to dry out, especially in summer. Most can be grown in a few inches of standing water (6 in. or 15 cm), and can be added to water gardens.
- Amend native soils as needed to increase their organic matter with compost, manure, ground bark, or similar material.
- Elephant Ears perform best in sun or part shade. While most can be grown in partial shade, the darker colored varieties are best grown in full sun.
- Provide a sheltered location to protect the decorative leaves from strong winds.
- Sensitive to frost, Elephant Ears are tropical plants that are winter hardy in hardiness zones 8-11 - However, please note that hardiness varies among the species and cultivars. In zone 8-9, Elephant Ears generally survive winter if left in the ground. They usually die to the ground, returning in spring once soil temperatures warm. In zones 10 through 11, the plants are nearly evergreen. In cooler climates (zones 3-7), the tubers are planted in the spring, after the danger of frost has passed, and usually treated as annuals. However, if you want to save your bulbs for next spring, you may dig them up before the first frost and store them over winter before replanting them next spring. Not sure about your growing zone? Check here.
3. Planting Your Elephant Ears
- Elephant Ears can be planted from spring (after all danger of frost has passed) through early summer. They may be started indoors as early as a 4-6 weeks before the average last frost date (for earlier blooms) or planted directly in the ground after the danger of frost has passed.
- As they come from tropical and subtropical regions, Elephant Ears are heat-loving plants. If conditions are cool or soil temperature is cold, delay the planting until the soil has warmed to at least 65°F (18°C).
- Plant your Elephant Ear tubers 5 in. deep (12 cm).
- Elephant Ears needs room to grow. Planting distance varies with the size of your Elephant Ear plants. Small and medium sized Elephant Ears should be spaced 18-24 in. apart (45-60 cm), tall Elephant Ear varieties (over 5 ft. or 150 cm) about 3-4 ft. apart (90-120 cm).
- Set the Elephant Ear tuber with the pointy side facing up. Cover the tuber with soil and water as needed. Mulch to keep down weeds and conserve soil moisture.
- Provide consistent moisture during the growing season and do not allow the soil to dry out. Regular water is the key to growing bountiful Elephant Ears.
- Elephant Ears are greedy feeders. Apply a liquid fertilizer every 2-3 weeks to promote a brilliant display.
- Keep plantings mulched to a depth of 2 in. in beds (5 cm), 1 in. in pots (2.5 cm).
- Elephant Ears continually produce new leaves throughout the growing season. The older leaves that gradually die off can be removed to keep the plants looking neat and tidy.
- Most Elephant Ears are winter hardy in zones 8-11, so in these warm climates the tubers can be left right in the ground. If you live in a colder area and you want to save your rhizomes for next spring, you may dig them up before the first frost and store them over winter before replanting them next spring.
- As soon as temperatures drop below 40°F (4°C), lift the tubers for winter storage.
- Brush off excess soil from the tubers, store them in dry peat moss or wood shavings. Place in a warm, dark, dry place for the winter, no higher than 50-60°F (10-15°C).
- Alocasia (Upright Elephant Ears) can be brought indoors and grown as houseplants. Give them bright, indirect light and make sure the soil remains consistently moist.