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Tropical Gardens

Plant and Grow Elephant Ear Bulbs 101


8 min read

The Elephant Ear plant, also known as Colocasia or Alocasia, is known for its huge leaves. Elephant ears are great for layered landscape settings due to their heavy, dark, and sometimes patterned leaves.

Elephant ear plants come in various colors, which range from green to black and purple. If you’re thinking of planting elephant ear bulbs in your garden, you’ve come to the right place.

In this piece, we’ll discuss the gardening tips related to caring for and planting elephant ear bulbs. Read this guide for excellent elephant ears!

What Are Elephant Ear Bulbs?

Giant elephant ear bulbs drying out after being lifted from the soil
Giant elephant ear bulbs drying out after being lifted from the soil. Source: Fred Ortlip

Upright elephant ears are called alocasias, whereas elephant ears that go dormant are called colocasias. Both have bulbs, though the more accurate term is a corm.

Once planted, elephant ears grow fairly quickly and can double or even triple in size if they are taken care of properly. They are mostly grown in containers. Elephant ears are easy to replant because you can simply break them and plant them somewhere else without starting all over again.

The elephant ear plant grew popular in the late 1990s, when tropical plants were the new trend since they came in many sizes and different colors. Elephant ears are still very popular in tropical regions since they are huge and help in adding personality to your garden.

So, let’s figure out how to plant elephant ear bulbs properly so you can enjoy the beauty of this wonderful plant.

Before You Plant Elephant Ears

Before planting elephant bulbs, it is vital to keep the following things in mind. Remember to give your elephant ears the basic care they need so you can have dramatic foliage in the growing season.

Weather and Temperature

Elephant ear plants thrive in the sun and grow fast in the summer. They prefer warm weather around 50°F (10°C). However, if taken care of properly, elephant ears can survive in the winter, too. They can also be covered with layers of mulch that can protect them during winters, and help them survive freezing temperatures.

Elephant ears need the full sun to grow. It is best to give them partial shade for a little while during an extremely hot day, but during winter days, it is best to give them direct sunlight. Full sun is better in the morning, but too much sun in the afternoon could singe the leaves of certain varieties.

Soil

The elephant ear plant should be grown in loamy soil that contains a lot of organic matter, which can be added through compost. The soil should be moist all year round since elephant ears need a lot of moisture to grow.

You also want to plant elephant ears in soil that’s slightly acidic. Since it must retain some moisture, you may want to amend the soil with rich container mix, or a rich potting soil. The soil for elephant ears should give them the nutrition they need in the growing season.

Spacing

The right spacing for elephant ears highly depends on the type of plant you are growing. Some plants need to be spaced 10′ feet apart, whereas some need to be spaced 6′ feet apart, since their roots need space to spread out under the soil.

Check the variety of elephant ears you have against its standard spacing and plan for a planting that can accommodate your bulbs. Separate bulbs into another area or container that would otherwise be crowded out.

Planting

Before planting elephant ear bulbs, make sure to pick the right tubers. If you pick tubers that are large, plump and firm enough to hold big leaves, the leaves of your elephant ears will grow big and lush. When planting, it’s a good idea to go at least 5-6″ inches deep since your plant will need a lot of space to grow.

It’s best to start growing elephant ears in large containers because it is easy to keep the soil moist, but you can certainly plant in-ground. Just make sure to cover the corms with at least 1″ inch of soil.

Water

Water elephant ears so the soil remains moist. Almost all elephant ear plants grow up to 72″ inches (183 cm) tall, or even taller, so they need a lot of water at all times. It is better to avoid the tips and the stems and water the roots since they provide moisture to the whole plant.

Water your elephant ears less in winter than you do in spring, summer, and fall. Gradually decrease your watering as fall arrives and cut it back significantly in winter. Usually winter precipitation will be enough to keep your bulbs healthy.

Fertilizer

This plant grows fast, but it needs a lot of food to grow. Make sure to apply fertilizer regularly to make sure your plant doesn’t die. Use a 20-20-20 balanced water-soluble formula, and feed your elephant ears twice per month in spring through fall.

Do not fertilize your elephant ears when they’re overwintering in soil. They move into dormancy in late fall, and won’t be able to absorb he nutrients from any feedings.

How to Plant Elephant Ear Bulbs

Corms of Colocasia esculenta ready for planting
Corms of Colocasia esculenta ready for planting. Source: Ahmad Fuad Morad

If you have a big, spacious garden, it is best to first pick a spot for this plant. For the elephant ears, choose a spot that will get a lot of sun and will have a temperature above 55°F (13°C). Before plant elephant ear bulbs in the soil, add 2 inches of compost since this plant needs a lot of organic matter to grow.

This plant thrives between pH 6-7. If your soil is too acidic, simply add lime or sulfur to balance the pH. The next step is to dig a hole that is at least 4 to 6 inches deep and then place the elephant ear bulb inside. The flat end of your bulb should be pointing down. After you’re done, cover the bulb with moist soil until it is completely covered.

Use a balanced fertilizer on your elephant ear plant every 2 weeks and your plant will grow fast. If you see any brown leaves, cut them before they increase in number and make sure to water your plant regularly to prevent that from happening.

During winters, lower the water intake and trim your leaves every once in a while. You can even move this plant indoors during winters, which we’ll discuss in the next section.

How To Overwinter Elephant Ear Bulbs

Since it is easy to replant the elephant ear bulbs, you can always dig up the corms, but make sure to handle the bulbs with extreme care to prevent damage. Treat them like you would flower bulbs.

You’ll want to wait until 1 to 2 weeks before your average first frost date. Then remove all the foliage with sharp, sterilized pruning shears, cutting to just above the ground.

Use a small hand trowel or Hori Hori garden knife to dig up the corms. Where possible, loosen the soil around the elephant ear bulb, and then pull it up with your hands. Leave any young, developing roots attached to other bulbs. Then remove the soil from around roots carefully, and trim off excess roots with pruning shears.

Then lay your corms on the ground and use a garden hose to wash them clean. Let them dry in a cool, dark place for about a week. Cut off any dead foliage that remains, and loosely wrap each elephant ear bulb in paper or newspaper. Store the tubers indoors in this box through winter.

Check them every few weeks for signs of pests or diseases. If any show up, treat the bulbs with a neem oil spray and let them dry before wrapping and storing them again.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What month do you plant elephant ear bulbs?

A: You want to plant elephant ears some time in spring, after the soil temperature has reached 50°F. Remember, these are tropical plants that don’t tolerate cold very well.

Q: Do elephant ear bulbs come back every year?

A: Especially in more temperate regions, yes. They will return from the corms in spring. In colder regions, it may be best to overwinter your bulbs in cardboard boxes.

Q: How long does it take for elephant ears to grow from bulbs?

A: After you plant elepant ears, they sprout in roughly 3 to 8 weeks.

Q: Do elephant ear bulbs spread?

A: It depends on the variety you’re growing. Some have spreading roots while others stick pretty much in the same spot year round.

Q: Can elephant ear bulbs be left in the ground?

A: In zones 7 through 11, you can plant elephant ears in spring and leave them in the ground through winter.

Q: Do you have to dig up the elephant ear bulbs every winter?

A: Not necessarily. If your winters are not that cold, or if your corms are well-protected with a thick layer of mulch they may be fine over winter. If you know the ground tends to freeze often where you live in winter, dig them up and store them.

Q: What do you do with elephant ear bulbs in the fall?

A: You can either prepare the soil with a thick layer of mulch, or you can remove the bulbs from the ground about 1 to 2 weeks before the first frost to overwinter in boxes.

Q: Should you soak elephant ear bulbs before planting?

A: No. Avoid this, as the bulbs should be kept dry when they’re not in the ground. Soaking can cause various fungal rots and water borne illnesses.

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