Elephant Ear Plant: Care, Planting, and Growing Tips

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If you were to Google the words “elephant ear,” you would find a range of images, from the delicious, doughy staple of fried fair fare to those enormous pachyderms in all their gray, wrinkly glory.

As a gardener you will zoom in on pictures of large, green leaves that so cleverly resemble those flappy elephant ears on the real animal.

After scanning perhaps hundreds of pictures of elephant ear plants, you may find yourself filled with a burning desire to add these tropical beauties to your own garden.

Well, you’ve come to the right place for all things elephant ear! Elephant ear plant care, that is. I can’t help you with the animals ;). If you’re looking for cool plants to grow, this is a one of a kind houseplant or outdoor ornamental.

Elephant Ear Plant Overview

Common Name(s) Elephant ear plant, tarul, dasheen, chembu, champadhumpa
Scientific Name Colocasia / Xanthosoma / Caladium / Alocasia
Family Araceae
Origin Oceania, South America, Southeast Asia
Height Up to 9 feet
Light Full sun to patial shade
Water High
Temperature 65-70 °F
Humidity Medium to High
Soil Rich organic soil 5.5-7.0 pH
Fertilizer Medium
Propagation By seed, division, or runners
Pests Spider mites, thrips

If you’re a bit boggled by all the different names you see associated with the elephant ear plant, don’t be discouraged. There are more than 3,000 species out there!

The following are the related genera in the Araceae family.

Alocasia

Alocasia

Alocasia. source

Native to tropical and subtropical Asia to Eastern Australia, there are 79 species of this popular potted house plant. They include several from New Guinea, like aequiloba, boa, and monticola, and others from places like Malaysia, the Philippines, Sulawesi, and Borneo.

Vietnam, which boasts a species or two such as vietnamensis, is known for the use of elephant ear stalks as an herb in various soups and stir-fry dishes.

Before you try tossing a few into your next meal, keep in mind they can be poisonous if they’re not cooked.

Caladium

Caladium

Caladium. source

While the flowering plants in this closely related genus are known as “elephant ear,” you wouldn’t think that their other names include “Angel Wings” and “Heart of Jesus,” unless you usually think of elephants with angel wings sprouting from their backs.

The seven species are indigenous to Central and South America, also naturalized in a few parts of Africa and India.

Colocasia

Colocasia. source

Dasheen, chembu, eddoe, and tarul are just a few of the names belonging to this genus, with others that are even more a mouthful to say. To keep herbivores from filling their mouths with it, these plants have raphides, or microscopic calcium oxalate needles, which help facilitate the transfer of an irritant that causes severe discomfort.

This is a more complicated way of referring to the “elephant ear plant poison.” However, this hasn’t stopped humans from using the 12 or so different species through fermenting or cooking, sometimes with some sort of acid like lime.

Xanthosoma

Xanthosoma

Xanthosoma. source

Here is a genus native to the tropical areas of the Americas and prized for their carbohydrate-rich corms, or bulbotubers. It is also a common food staple and an ornamental, though the leaves are different from the Colocasia in that they aren’t peltate. This genus gets its name from its yellow tissues, xanthos being Greek for “yellow.” There are at least 75 species of Xanthosoma, from acutum to yucatanense.

History of the Elephant Ear Plant

When a plant has been in cultivation for more than 28,000 years like the Colocasia, it can be harder to pin down where it started. The evidence speaks to a beginning in Southeast Asia, though this is still widely debated. It has been a food crop for areas near the equator in countries like Indonesia, Polynesia, China, and Africa.

While my earlier warnings of digestive issues from consuming this plant may put a few readers off their feed, it is true that every part of this plant is edible as long as it’s prepared correctly.

Hawaiians in particular used the corms for poi and leaves for luaus, though much of their production has been replaced with modern agriculture. In spite of that, some of their Colocasia varieties have been preserved by agricultural scientists and new ones are being bred.

Elephant Ear Plant Types

There are dozens of different types of elephant ear plant, but here are 26 of the most popular varieties. Some of them are small, and some grow to be gigantic elephant ear plants if they’re given optimal growing conditions.

Tip: If you want a unique variety, I suggest going with one of the black elephant ears, like ‘Black Beauty’, also known as the “black magic plant.”

Amazonica

Amazonica
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Striking foliage with scalloped edges.

Bikini Tini

Bikini Tini
source

Bold color, taller than most varieties

Black Beauty

Black Beauty
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Deep purple leaves with green stems.

Black Magic

Black Magic
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Deep purple, huge leaves.

Black Stem

Black Stem
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Deep black stem with green leaves.

Calidora

Calidora

Ribbed foliage, huge leaves.

​Chicago Harlequin

Chicago Harlequin
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Giant green leaves with blotches.

Coffee Cup

Coffee Cup
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Black stems, leaves shaped like small cups.

Cranberry

Cranberry
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Bright ruby-red stems.

Diamond Head

Diamond Head
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Deep purple leaves that are glossy.

Electric Blue Gecko

Electric Blue Gecko
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Brightly colored stems and foliage.

Elena

Elena
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Light, bright, green leaves.

Frydek

Frydek
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Deep green leaves with bright white stems.

Illustris

Illustris
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Huge leaves with dark highlights.

Limeade

Limeade
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Two-tone green marbled leaves.

Longiloba

Longiloba
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Emerald green, stretched out leaves.

Midori Sour

Midori Sour
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Red stems with bright green leaves.

Mojito

Mojito
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Mottled light and dark green leaves.

Nigra

Nigra
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Wide, dark green leaves.

Noble Gigante

Noble Gigante
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Massive 3′ long grey-black leaves.

Pink China

Pink China
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Hyper-bright pink stems.

Puckered Up

Puckered Up
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Rippled shiny black leaves.

Red Stem

Red Stem
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Deep red stem with green leaves.

Tea Cup

Tea Cup
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Tiny, teacup-shaped green leaves.

Yucatan Princess

Yukatan Princess
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Upright, glossy, green-purple leaves.

Zulu Mask

Zulu Mask
source

Long, dark-olive leaves. Undersides are purple.

These different but related genera have similar planting requirements, with a few little special quirks of their own. Before choosing a variety to plant, you might want to consider this: whether the variety is a clumper or a runner.

Clumpers vs. Runners

While a few varieties may put a root or two over the dividing lines, most Colocasia are either clumpers or runners. For example, aquatilis may not be a good choice for small gardens as it produces very long above-ground runners, or stolons. You may end up with more elephant ears in your small space than you wanted. Colocasia Illustris, Black Beauty, and Coal Miner are the only ones with below-ground runners.

If you want slow or non-runners (gee, I can really relate to those types), the clumping varieties with their attractive vase shape may work better for you.

Planting Elephant Ears

When

When your area has seen the last of the frost and cold temperatures, you should be safe for planting outdoors. Check what zones of the type you pick are hardy to — Colocasia “Pink China” is possibly hardy to Zone 6 but some others, like Colocasia gigantea “Thailand Giant Strain,” are quite settled in the Zone 8b area.

Elephant ears are fantastic zone 9 plants and above — you usually won’t have to worry about frost in these zones.

Caladiums are generally Zone 10. Keep a close eye on your outdoor temperatures, as damage can occur below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a colder climate, consider keeping your elephant ear plant indoors, at least to overwinter.

How to Plant Elephant Ear Bulbs and Seeds

As far as how deep to plant elephant ear bulbs, you should plant tubers fairly close to the soil’s surface, perhaps two to four inches. Some types, such as Colocasia esculenta, can be potted in shallow water, submerged during the summer around the edges of a pond, for instance. If not in standing water, mulching may lend a helping hand.

If you are planting fertilized seed, sow it on the surface and look for germination to happen around 21 days.

Where to Plant Elephant Ear

Elephant ears like humid areas but not necessarily direct sunlight. A partially shady spot may be ideal, especially if you start noticing a browning of the leaves in a dryer climate.

Alocasia types sometimes do better in a controlled greenhouse environment.

There are a few sun-resistant varieties of Caladium being cultivated, if this proves to be an issue for you. Good drainage is a must when planted in the ground.

Give the taller varieties room to grow, as some can reach eight feet tall!

Elephant Ear Plant Care & Tips

Growing elephant ears is actually pretty easy, even in winter. While it’s a bit more picky than something like a cast iron plant or a zz plant, ​with a little attention you can have your elephant ear thriving.

Sun

Depending on the type, these tropical plants prefer sun or partial shade, though some might like full shade even better. It’s not so much the sun that is the issue with them, though too much can cause browning problems, but the warmth.

If you find the temperature dropping below 50 degrees, that might be a good time to move them indoors or into a greenhouse.

Water

Repeat after me: moisture, moisture, moisture. These are plants that need a lot of water! Keep them away from strong winds, perhaps potting them partially submerged in water, or make good use of mulch.

Because they are a water-loving plant, you might think that any browning at the tips is a sign of over-watering. This could be the case, but in most cases the browning is caused by too much sun and too LITTLE water.

Check the top five inches or so of soil around the plant for dryness and adjust watering as needed.

Fertilizing

Elephant ears do like their soil rich with organic compost and organic fertilizers. If you can get your hands on some manure (please wear gloves), the plants will love you for the tasty meal. Fertilize about once a month.

Spacing

Pay attention to the size your choice of plant may grow to and plant accordingly, giving them room to stretch out so they don’t hog the sun from one another.

Companion Plants

Different elephant ear plants can have different leaf colors and shapes, so it can be fun to try several kinds together planted in interesting patterns.

Other recommendations include ferns of contrasting colors, flowers like begonias, and foliage with smaller leaves like Coleus.

How to Overwinter Elephant Ears

Particularly for any Zone below 7a, overwintering indoors is recommended. Zone 8b and further south may be able to overwinter outside with some protection but a hard winter might make its spring comeback difficult.

When you notice your elephant ear plant flower and leaf production is dropping off, check the bulb for swelling and possibly even movement upward in the soil. This is a good indication that it’s time to dig up the bulb and transfer it indoors.

If they are already potted, just bring them in; they make excellent houseplants, too. Place them somewhere with light and adjust your watering as the plant goes semi-dormant.

If you don’t have space for these rather large houseplants, you can also just dig up the tubers and store them someplace dry and warm enough to avoid freezing. Skip the airtight containers, though. This can invite moisture building and destroy your hard work.

For overwintering outside, shredded leaves can help protect the bulb from freezing and rotting.

Growing in Pots

​Let’s face it – elephant ears can get pretty big. If you’d like to enjoy the unique beauty of this plant but control the size, consider growing elephant ear plants in pots.

Choose a pot that’s large enough for the roots to spread out both horizontally and vertically. ​Planting elephant ears in pots is nice when you need to overwinter them, because you can just drag them indoors or pull them into your greenhouse for the cold season.

Pests and Diseases

Leaf Blight – Fungal diseases can be common for elephant ears thanks to their constant begging for moisture, made doubly difficult when you can’t dry out this plant to fight the fungus.

Standard fungicides can take care of this issue, but try to avoid the problem to begin with by directing water to the roots and not the leaves.

Bacterial leaf spot – Just like it sounds, this microscopic bacteria causes little brown spots to appear on leaves. A copper fungicide applied in the early stages of the infection can help. Avoid planting where previously infected plants had been.

Phyllosticta leaf spot – Again, moisture is the culprit for the spread of this fungus, which shows as little purple or black spots. Splashing water can spread it from one plant to the next, so keep watering controlled and directed.

Though it doesn’t usually kill entire plants, it does kill leaves and makes the plant susceptible to other nasty critters. Keep some space between your plants to allow for air to move. Prevention is best as it is nearly impossible to eliminate the fungus on an infected plant. Some fungicides can help protect healthy plants.

Spider mites – Even the name gives me the creeps. Hiding under plant leaves, these little bugs even spin webs to protect themselves.

The use of neem oil, insecticidal soaps, and even predatory mites like the Phytoseiulus persimilis can control the spider mite population. Yes, good creepy bugs to control the bad creepy bugs.

Thrips – Some of their other names are more exciting, like thunderflies and storm bugs. Some can be beneficial, eating mites and fungal spores, but some eat plants and transmit viruses. Insecticidal soap and some pesticides can help, though thrips are hard to control due to their rate of reproduction and slender shape.

Aphid wasps, Trichogrammatidae, and Eulophidae can also control thrip populations.

FAQs​

Q: What’s the best way to overwinter my elephant ear plant?

A: Depends on where you live and what type you have. The easiest way would be to grow them in pots and bring them into the house once the temperatures dip.

If you don’t have room in your house for them, then dig up the tubers, allow them to dry a bit, and store them in a dry spot that stays around 45 to 50 degrees all winter long. Putting them in mesh bags and tucking them in layers of peat moss is good storage method.

Q: There are so many different kinds of elephant ears! How do I choose?

A: First of all, find ones that match the zone you live in. That will narrow things down a bit to begin. After that, look at pictures of the different ones and see which ones are most pleasing to you.

Perhaps you like the deep, glossy, purplish-green of the black elephant ear plant, like the Colocasia Black Coral. Or something with deep pink stems and bright green leaves, like the Pink China. This should get you started down the path to the right one for you.

So many elephant ears, so little time! If you really want people to wonder about you, try saying this out loud at your next dinner party. Then again, that might not be a good idea if you have a lot of vegetarian friends.

At any rate, it would be a great conversation starter with fellow gardeners, allowing you to enlighten them about these large-leafed beauties. Perhaps you could start a trade with them, sharing the different colors, shapes, and sizes between you for years to come.


Have a few elephant ear plants of your own?

Share your experiences in the comments.

Share your questions there, too, while you’re at it.

Share this article with your friends.

Share your coffee with me if you have any (I need a refill.)

Thanks for stopping by!


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:


Kevin Espiritu
Founder

The elephant ear plant has a long and storied history and is a great garden addition. Learn elephant ear plant care, types, and complete growing tips.
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61 thoughts on “Elephant Ear Plant: Care, Planting, and Growing Tips”

  1. I have EE on both sides of my walkway. They are over 4-1/2′ tall and are always blooming beautiful white lily type flowers. I have a lattice covered ceiling over my walkway, so the sun is filtered. I also share the space with ferns, spider plants, dracaena and spathophyllum. The only problem I have is that they get white cottony stuff on them. It doesn’t seem to hurt them, but it is not very attractive. Other than that, they are very beautiful. I actually use some of the smaller leaves from time to time to cook in an African dish.

    • Unfortunately, most elephant ears require part of the base of the plant (called the corm) to develop roots. A leaf cutting doesn’t have the energy required to grow a new corm or base.

      You can root them from pieces of the corm, or dig up one of the tuber-like roots and use that to develop a new plant.

    • If your elephant ear is developing brown leaf edges or splitting, there are two very common issues that may be to blame.

      The most common problem is actually too much light. Leaf-scorch is a pretty consistent issue with many varieties of elephant ears. If the leaves get too much direct sunlight, they can become discolored. This is doubly a risk if the leaves are wet when the sun hits them.

      Otherwise, it could be a watering issue. Underwatering can cause browning tips and leaf cracking. Overwatering can cause discoloration of the leaves as well.

      If your leaves are both discolored and splitting, I would look first at how much sunlight it receives and consider moving the plant to a shadier location. I’d then make sure to water your plant a bit more often to be sure it has enough, because they’re very thirsty plants!

      Fertilization can also be a culprit. If neither shade nor more water helps, you may simply need to boost your plant’s fertilizing schedule, because it needs a lot of nitrogen to form those big, beautiful leaves. I typically fertilize with a high-nitrogen fertilizer early in the spring, and if the plant seems to want more mid-season I’ll give it a second dose.

      But I’d be willing to bet your issues are either light or watering, and those should be the first steps to take to bring your plant back to its full glory.

  2. Hi! I had to transplant many EE to pots due to it just being TOO Much sun. I put 6 large pots with organic soil and fert mixed in. Only been 2 days but so droopy, is that normal and will they come back or will the large leaves die off and new form? Just want to make sure I didn’t miss anything. They’re in partial shade now. Thank you

  3. My elephant ear has four leaves, and one of them is drooping. I placed a stake below it, should I just cut it off? It has some brown spots on the leaves, the others do not have brown spots.

  4. This is my first year I bought elephant ears I put mine in pots, one of them has opened up a leaf I’m very excited!!

  5. HELP…I planted 3 large bulbs last spring with great success. Didn’t dig them up cuz we live in South Carolina, so winter’s not so bad.. One is coming back. One was awesome in a barrel pot , but a no show this year so far. One was the largest last year and also a no show . What’s up…???

  6. My friend’s elephant ear plan was subjected to very cold temps for a few hours before I could go rescue it from the balcony. I’m afraid he’s a bit shocked and appears to be dying. Is there any saving him? He’s now indoors with regular temps, water and partial sun.

  7. I have several places in my yard that are low. I live 17 miles inland from Galveston. These areas do dry out in the heat of the summer, but the first good rain wets them right down. I also have a bunch of elephant ears that I could transplant to these areas, if they would grow there. What’s your take on this? TIA.

    • Hmm. Could work well! I’d be careful though because they typically don’t like having a ton of sun, so if those low areas get a lot of sun you might find them suffering there.

  8. I have elephant ears. Huge ones. They get taller than my ranch house. A couple years ago I bought and planted some fruit trees, well my husband decided to fertiles them with jobe spikes the big ones for trees. When he got home he realized he bought spikes for shrubs. So being the practical guy he is he put them in the group around my knockout roses which are surrounded by my elephant ears. It did nothing for the roses, but the ears went nuts. They are so big I have people stop and ask what they are because elephant ears are not supposed to be that big.

    They are truly awesome. I live in Tennessee and I never do anything to mine. I cut the stalk about 2feet tall and let it shrivel to protect over the winter.

    I noticed someone said their bulbs are rotting. Mine do that every couple years. I just figured it was the lifespan of the tuber. The babies take up the space so I never worried about it.

    Thanks for this article.

  9. Hi, I just started growing my sun-loving giants this year in south FL, but we are moving to Ohio. Is there any chance they could be happy indoors over the winters?

    • I hope so! Long as you replicate conditions they grew in in Florida, they should do OK. I suspect they’ll struggle for a bit as they adjust, though. Good luck!

  10. Hi, I got an Alocasia a couple of months ago. I wanted it as an indoor plant – it lives in a pot by large window in my lounge room. I’m on East Coast Australia so it’s mostly warm and humid. My plant is always drooping badly – the leaves seem ok but the stems are bowing from about half way up. Any ideas?

  11. Hi, i bought a potted alocasia from the hardware store to sit in the corner of our bedroom. It was squished into it’s plastic pot worth roots exposed so i repotted it in a larger pot and placed it in the corner. The plant has new growth in the centre but two (now three) of the outer leaves are yellow/brown and drooping to the floor. We live in the northern territory (Australia – very humid), it receives sheltered light during and there is only a ceiling fan is on during the day (no air con).
    Can you please provide some advice as to the possible causes, how best to remove the yellow leaves, and if repotting in something other than soil might help.

    • This is probably a repotting issue, where it will take time to recover as it gets used to its new environment. As long as the new growth looks healthy, just exercise patience and it should come back 🙂

  12. Hello I live in Dallas, Texas and I would love to plant a few bulbs this spring. I have two places that seems like it would work but I would like to double check before planting. My first choice is a wall that gets full sun the morning until noon then it receives shade for the rest of the day. My other choice is under a tree but this tree drops some sort of sticky liquid that I hate and would hate to have the elephant ear leaves full of this liquid. Any suggestions? TIA

  13. We have large well established elephant ear plants. They have been steadily growing over the last 10 years. We had our tree deadwooded last week. The trimmers stood on the plants and the limbs fell onto the plants. I figure some fertilizer would help them recover. What is the best kind? Chicken or cow manure? Should I water a little extra?

    • Best to prune off the damaged leaves and leave it be, maintaining same level of fertilizer and watering as before. It’ll take some time but they WILL bounce back.

  14. We just received an elephant ear in a lot as a gift. It is now December. We live in Dallas, Texas. I did some research but have some questions I couldn’t find answers too. I’m incredibly excited because I’ve been wanting one, but I have a black thumb!

    1. How do they multiply?
    2. On of the areas we want to put it in is behind a tree but in the corner of a fence. I saw it likes fences to lean on… will the tree be a problem?

    • 1 – You can propagate them by division – dig up the tubers and then plant them in new areas

      2 – It likes fences but also likes shaded areas, so the tree should be just fine!

  15. I bought a plant in a pot, quite small, from a Christmas market, as my daughter fell in love with it. The leaves felt wonderfully soft to touch and they are dark green with bright green veins. I brought it home and watered it then I noticed that the leaves started curling up and drying out. I watered it even more and it got worse. I stopped watering it, it started recovering, but it still looks sorry for itself, still quite dry and stiff, no longer soft and velvety to the touch. I’m afraid to leave it to dry out too much but I’m also afraid to water it considering how bad it reacted earlier. I’m in the UK, if that makes any difference to the advice I may receive. Thank you.

  16. This is my first attempt at digging up elephant ear bulbs for overwintering, and I’m confused.
    They were 2 large plants, growing in 2 big pots on my deck. I cut off the plants about 6″ above the soil, and lifted out the bulbs. I got a big cylinder with lots of healthy looking roots around it. But instead of the usual sort of bullet shaped tuber that I planted, the tuber is concave on the bottom! It’s firm, not rotten, but what do I do now?

    • Only thing you can do is overwinter and store properly and see what happens come spring! I’m not certain on the specific shapes of different types of elephant ear, so that’s the best advice I can offer Wanda! Good luck 🙂

  17. My elephant ear is flowering (flowers are lovely for a couple of days in an arrangement) and I found the seeds in the flowers. Is it possible to turn these seeds into plants?

  18. I just brought my elephant ears in due to the colder temperatures. The leaves on some are wilting. They are in partial shade and I’m watering them. What do you think it could be?

  19. I just brought my elephant ears in due to the colder temperatures. The leaves on some are wilting. They are in partial shape and I’m watering them. What do you think it could be?

  20. I purchased a Mojito elephant ear bulb this past spring. When I dug it up, there were three plants with good roots, but no bulb. These were planted in a large pot outside in my zone 6. Is it normal for a bulb to disappear?

    • It’s definitely possible that a bulb can rot out and disappear. That’d happen if the soil retained too much water for too long, but it’s odd because you’re saying that the roots look good, Sharon. I’d investigate water retention in the soil as my 1st guess!

  21. I just bought an elephant ear plant from the nursery and reading up on potting mixes and watering. But wondering if I should leave it be until spring to repot.

    Also can you share tips for autumn and winter watering? Thanks!

    • Elephant ear plants definitely like a lot more moisture than the average plant and do well in shade. So you can use a potting mix that holds a bit more moisture, perhaps mixing in some coconut coir to retain more water!

  22. I would like to buy the very large elephant ear bulbs, however every sight I visited doesn’t offer sales. please if you have a source let me know. thanks

  23. Great article!
    I love my big beautiful Elephant Ears, but my neighbors do not want them in their yards. They were in place when we purchased a year ago and were docile until we moved a couple of them. Now they are everywhere. How do we stop the spread? Thanks

    • Oh man! Well, you can pull them out and that should stop the growth. Honestly they’re pretty slow growers in most conditions, so hand-pulling should work well Bonnie.

  24. I have small flies, black like gnats on my soil. What can I do to get rid of them? I keep my plant indoors and in a disused light area but I don’t want these bugs in my house!

    • Elephant ears are very sensitive, so I would be careful. I don’t know whether red mulch specifically will kill them, I just know how sensitive they are as I’ve damaged a few of my own!

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