Elephant ears are a common ornamental plant found in gardens and common areas all over USDA hardiness zone 10. That’s the only area they are truly hardy to in the US, but you commonly find their beautiful foliage accenting rooms all over. They come in many different shades of color aside from green, as you’ll see below.
PRO TIP: An easy hack to growing these outdoors in colder zones is to store the bulbs indoors over the winter months.
Elephant ear plants are a species are native to Southeast Asia where they grow in the ground as clumps of foliage under jungle canopy. These perennials thrive in the high soil temperatures of the tropical environment there. BELIEVE IT OR NOT – The cooked tubers of the Colocasia variety were commonly used as a food in the Hawaiian islands.
If you’re interested in learning how to grow this tropical plant, then you’ll find a complete guide on plant care below, along with a comparison of products you can find on Amazon. Use the table of contents below to navigate this page:
Colocasia – These can grow to be 10 foot high in the right conditions! As far as that goes, they are actually considered to be invasive along the Gulf Coast in the southern US. These are the variety that have edible tubers -when cooked – called taro. Check out the colocasia towering above the green grass in the photo below. [Link Opens In New Tab]
The ‘Black Coral‘ variety makes an excellent houseplant and it looks completely otherworldly. You can also checkout Colocasia Esculenta, assuming you have room for the 2 foot wide leaves that spread out to take in the sun. If you don’t, they also make a nice accent around water gardens and ponds, if your regions cold season mild enough.
Alocasia – This is one of the cultivars that will only grow about 6 feet tall in the right conditions outdoors. While it is sometimes referred to as the ‘African mask plant‘, these non-edible tubers are actually found in the wild all over Australia.
Caladium – These are the most colorful varieties and they hail from South America. They require slightly more acidic soil than their cousins and grow to a height closing in around 3 feet.
Xanthosoma – This is one of the least common varieties found in US gardens. Xanthosomas are native to the American tropics and they can grow to be about 4 foot tall.
One popular variety is the ‘Lime Zinger‘ or Xanthosoma aurea.
NUTRIENT, LIGHT, AND WATER REQUIREMENTS
They are accustomed to a warm and humid climate where they thrive in partial shade. They lend a tropical look and feel to any landscape and are often used to add a dramatic flair to larger flower arrangements. Elephant ears grow well in soil that is similar to their native habitat.
They are often found growing near the edge of ponds and streams, so you’ll need lots of organic matter in your soil mix. Adding a small amount of peat moss and/or perlite to your potting soil will really help create a moisture rich growing medium.
PRO TIP: Keep PH around 5.5 to 6.5
Compost is also beneficial to add before planting. If you’re potting or repotting your elephant ears, you can get some really high quality compost online that will really make them take off.
LIGHT & SHADE REQUIREMENTS
Next up, let’s take a look at light requirements. As we already mentioned, they are all fairly shade tolerant. Too much shade can be a problem though and you’ll know it if you see pale or yellow leaves. That’s a sign that you need to -gradually – move them to a spot with better lighting.
Surprisingly, they can survive full sun in some environments where they get plenty of consistent moisture and nutrients. They’re water-loving plants though, so I wouldn’t recommend giving them full sun unless you have the time to closely monitor your watering schedule.
Early morning sunlight is ideal. If you’re planting near a building or structure, consider placing your elephant ears on the east side of the building. That way, they should get plenty of sunlight without having to deal with as much midday heat drying them out.
WATER FOR YOUR PLANTS
If these plants were bar patrons, they could drink you under the table. In the summertime, elephant ears require between 2-3 inches per week.
They should be watered daily and will actually thrive partially submerged in a pond or wicking bed. Pay close attention for signs of wilting immediately after planting, or any time you move them to a new location.
LEARN ABOUT SPECIFIC NPK NUTRIENTS
If you choose to use traditional – chemical – products, your ideal N-P-K ratio will be 20-10-20 for growing elephant ears. 20-20-20 is also an acceptable option. Organic products work differently and these ratios are often less important.
You can use a general purpose organic product as directed while also supplementing monthly with epsom salts. For epsom salt, simply mix 1/8th cup with 1 gallon of water. Use once a week over the course of a month, making sure to only water the outer edges of your container. Here’s why.
How to – Indoors
Use soil that is rich in organic matter. Be sure to mix in compost and a small amount of peat moss and/or perlite. Know that plant growth will be restricted by the size of your container.
To keep your plant healthy, you need to increase container size by two inches each year. However, you can save some headache by planting either starter plants or bulbs in a 30 inch container. That will give them plenty of room to grow early on.
Be sure to choose a nonporous material like these plastic containers by Tusco Products. They help keep things from drying out.
PLANTING BULBS – Soak the bulbs in purified water for 5-10 minutes before planting. They should be planted at a depth of 4 inches. It may take 3 full weeks of root growth before you notice any new sprouts emerging from dormant bulbs. Just keep watering daily so that the soil is moist, yet not soggy.
TRANSPLANTING – This is usually done in the Spring whether you’re buying a starter plant from the nursery or just transplanting to a bigger pot. You should leave an opening that’s as deep as the existing root ball and twice as wide. Gently place your plant in the new container making sure to maintain the existing depth. Fill in with soil and gently pat the surface down around the base of the plant.
How to Care – Outdoors
Outdoor planting instructions are basically the same as above. The main difference is that you should be aware of local conditions. If you have to heavily amend the area to add a lot of compost and decaying matter, it may be better to prepare the area a few months before planting.
If you live in an area that experiences any freezing temperatures, you should be prepared to overwinter them indoors:
-Cut them down to 6 inches immediately after the first frost.
-Dig the bulbs out of the ground [undamaged!]
-Place in a plastic pot or garbage bag
-Cover bulbs with soil, but DO NOT water
-Leave in a cool, dry place over the winter
An unheated, attached garage or root cellar would be ideal for this. Temperatures should not drop below freezing though. While your soil in the container should not dry out, it’s very important to avoid too much moisture, which can lead to rot.
Buy Bulbs Online
Here’s a few interesting finds you can have delivered to your door:
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Fertilizer Product Recommendations
Next you’ll find the specific products that are our 5 best matches for elephant ear fertilizer. Starting out we have a product specially formulated for elephant ears by Wellspring Gardens. After that, we’ll be closing in on 3 organic options followed by Epson Salts, which is a recommended monthly amendment.
Elephant Ear Fuel by Wellspring Gardens
PRODUCT HIGHLIGHTS – First on our list is a product made specifically for your elephant ears. Please note that this product does contain magnesium sulfate. As such, you should not use Epsom salts along with it. This is a 20-10-20 formulation, so it’s perfectly designed to meet the needs of your elephant ear plants. At the time of writing, it’s currently receiving 4.5 stars from 6 total reviews. Read more details below or click here to buy now.
Neptune’s Harvest Organic Hydrolyzed Fish & Seaweed 2-3-1
PRODUCT HIGHLIGHTS – Next up is a popular organic product that can be applied as either a foliar spray to plant leaves or as a liquid to the roots. In addition to being more eco-friendly, fish emulsions have many micro nutrients missing from chemical options. But then there’s the smell…It’s not terribly bad really, but you might want to reserve this one to outdoor use. If you’re okay with the smell, this is probably the very best food you can give your plants.
SW 250 ml Liquid Worm Castings Concentrate
PRODUCT HIGHLIGHTS – Well for starters this one has an elephant ear plant on the front label, so we have to assume it will work! Aside from that the Smiling Worm product is organic and it contains millions of beneficial microorganisms. This amazing product really packs a punch according to the manufacturer:
“Our worms are fed on dung from dairy cows which in turn are fed on organic vegetation. When the worms digest the dung, they add enzymes as it passes through the gut. This process is repeated in our worm farm 4 times. The result is a rich organic nutrient simply teeming with beneficial microorganisms. They are dormant until exposed to air and water. When you dilute the concentrate, they spring into life to feed your soil and your plants.”
I haven’t tried this yet, but I suspect alternating between their product and Neptune’s harvest would make your plants bulletproof. If you try it, reply and let me know in the comments. Here’s our rundown of the pros and cons:
Indoor Plant Food by Houseplant Resource Center
PRODUCT HIGHLIGHTS – This is an all purpose type that lists elephant ears as one of the plants it is well suited for. This organic formulation includes calcium for steady growth. It is specifically marketed for use with indoor plants, so smell should not be an issue at all.
Epsom Salt (Magnesium Sulfate) Agricultural Grade Bulk
PRODUCT HIGHLIGHTS – The last item closing out our list is considered to be more of an amendment, but trust us…it’s absolutely not necessary if you’re using the Wellspring Gardens product mentioned above. Adding Epsom salts is one of those useful information tips you hear from experienced gardening pros all the time though, so seriously consider using it with other products. Magnesium sulfate helps keep pests under control while providing vital nutrients to supplement your regular fertilizer. Magnesium and sulfate are both important elements that elephant ears need access to in order to be at optimal health. Occasional watering with 1/8th cup Epson salts added to a 1 gallon container of purified water will benefit your plants by:
-Increasing chlorophyll production in leaves
-Repelling slugs and garden pests
-Improving uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus and other minerals
As you can see there are a number of products available for your to help these wonderful plants thrive indoors or outside. Elephant ears can really spruce up the interior design in a room with their vibrant colors and tropical look. Growing them is easy if you follow our care instructions and pay close attention to your plants every day. Check leaves for signs of disease every time you water.
Be aware of USDA zones and when it’s time to bring your bulbs inside during the fall for winter dormancy, if applicable to your area. These are hardy, shade tolerant plants when planted in the right conditions. They make a great design accent to your lawn when added to partially shady flower beds. Growing indoors is also possible without the need for grow lights, provided you have a south facing window that gets 4-6 hours of direct sunlight each day.
In closing, these plants are easy to keep up and a joy to own. Be sure to visit the rest of our blog for more informative articles.
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