How to Grow and Care for Elephant Ears (Colocasia)

Introduction to Elephant Ears

As their name implies, elephant ears are prized for their large stature and huge leaves, making them impressive additions to container gardens and in-ground plantings. Available in a range of foliage colors from brilliant chartreuse to deep purple, they're dramatic accent plants and create a dynamic backdrop for perennials, annuals, and bulbs.

About Elephant Ears

If you're looking to add "wow" to your gardens, look no further than elephant ears! Although this common name can refer to several different plants, it's most often used for plants in the Colocasia genus (most often Colocasia esculenta). Also known as taro, this plant produces edible corms that are a staple food in various tropical regions and is considered one of the oldest cultivated food crops. 

The plant's large leaves — up to 3' long! — are held aloft on long, gracefully arching leaf stalks (petioles). Although the plants can grow up to 6' tall and equally wide in warm regions, they tend to remain somewhat smaller (3-5' tall and wide) in regions with shorter growing seasons or when grown in containers.

⚠ Note: Colocasia esculenta is recognized as an invasive species in parts of the southeastern US, California, and Hawaii, where it invades wetlands and crowds out native plants. In these regions, plant it only in containers to prevent it from spreading.

Growing Zones for Elephant Ears

Elephant ears are perennial tropical plants hardy in zones 9-11, where they can be grown outdoors year-round. In zones 10-11 the plants are evergreen; in zone 9 they may die back in winter and regrow in spring. In cooler regions (zones 3-8) the bulbs can be planted in spring and grown as annuals. In fall, the tubers may be dug up and stored over the winter for replanting in spring. Container-grown plants may be brought indoors and enjoyed as houseplants for the winter.

Choosing a Site to Grow Elephant Ears

Select a planting location with plenty of space for these large plants. In regions with hot, sunny summers, plant them in shade; in cooler regions part shade is best, though they'll tolerate a sunny spot. A location protected from strong winds, such as near a wall or fence, will prevent wind damage to the large leaves. The plants prefer rich, slightly acidic soil that stays consistently moist. Elephant ears also thrive in large planters on patios and decks and add a tropical vibe to poolside plantings. Planters should be 16" in diameter or larger and heavy enough to prevent toppling.

Planting Instructions for Elephant Ears

Elephant ears are usually grown from their corms (fleshy, underground stems). In tropical climates and regions with long growing seasons, plant corms in spring after the soil has warmed and all danger of frost has passed. In cooler regions, get a jump on the growing season by planting the corms indoors eight to 10 weeks before the last frost date.

Loosen soil to a depth of at least 8" and, if desired, mix in some compost and/or slow-release fertilizer. Dig a hole about 5" deep and set the corm in the hole pointy side up, positioning it so the top is about an inch below the soil surface. Cover with soil and water thoroughly. Be patient; the plants can take up to a month to sprout. 

Fertilizer for Elephant Ears

These large plants require a consistent supply of nutrients. To ensure healthy, vigorous growth, apply an all-purpose fertilizer monthly during the growing season following label instructions.

Elephant Ears Pests and Problems

Browned leaf margins, called leaf scorch, can result from too-intense light. Move container plants to a shadier spot or provide mid-day shade to in-ground plants.

Aphids, mealybugs, and mites can cause mottled or discolored foliage. Wash the leaves to remove pests and, if needed, spray with insecticidal soap. 

Fungal diseases can also cause leaf discoloration. To minimize disease problems, avoid getting foliage wet when watering.

Ongoing Care for Elephant Ears

Prune off old, dying, and discolored leaves to keep plants tidy.

In cool climates (zone 3-8) you can dig up the corms before the first frost, allow them to dry at room temperature, and then store them in a dark, cool (but not freezing) location, such as a basement or garage. Replant in spring.

Some popular Elephant Ears (Colocasia) photos:
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