The Q&A Archives: Elephant Ears

Question: I bought two bulbs of Elephant Ears (can't remember the botanical name)but the directions weren't clear as to how deep to plant them. I planted them about 1-2" below the soil but they didn't seem to do much. I moved them up to 1-2" shows above the soil and they are doing much better now and starting to unfurl leaves. What is the proper planting depth and when do I dig them in the fall? After I dig them in the fall what do I do with the foliage? How do I store them for the winter? I have had quite a few comments (all nice) from friends and neighbors and would like to get some for gifts next year but I want to be able to tell my friends how to take care of them.

Answer: Since these plants do not do much until the soil has warmed, and do just take a while to come into growth, many gardeners will start them in a container indoors in a warm location ahead of time. When you do this, they are just an inch or so below the soil surface, enough to cover them -- use a container an inch or two larger in diameter and a clean soilless potting mix kept barely damp until they sprout. Then keep the soil evenly moist and provide as much light as possible. Next, they are gradually acclimated to the outdoors -- set outside on nice sunny days, brought in at night to avoid cold -- and planted when the soil has warmed up and there is absolutely no risk of frost, maybe a week or so after you would plant tomatoes. They do best in a very rich soil with ample moisture. In the fall, once a light frost has killed off the top, trim that off, dig it up, air dry it for several days and then store in a cool but not cold location -- about 50 to 55 degrees seem to work well. Pack it in sawdust or soilless potting mix or similar material in a cardboard box or paper bag, not in plastic which could cause condensation. Check it periodically for mold (this would indicate it is too damp) or growth (indicates it is too warm); if it turns mushy it has been too cold. Finding the right spot to overwinter can be a challenge and often takes some trial and error. Enjoy your elephant ears!

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