Your Step-By-Step Guide to Growing the Elephant Ear Plant

As the name suggests, the heart-shaped leaves of the Elephant Ear Plant will reminisce you of the elephant’s ear. Grown for their ornamental value, the plant can be grown in either – garden or container for an exotic layout. Surprisingly, they are very easy to grow as well and will stand proud in the right environment.

Read on to find out how in this step-by-step guide to elephant ear plant care.

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Step 1: Choosing the Elephant Ear Plant Types

Elephant Ear Plant Types

Throughout the years, various cultivation methods have produced a variety of elephant ears in different colors, shapes, and sizes. They are not zone limited and gardeners living in any hardiness zone from 3 – 11 can enjoy growing them with ease. The key is to select the right type of elephant plant and care for them as required.

The four main types of elephant plants you will find at the local nurseries include:

1. Colocasia

Zones: 7 – 12 Exposure: Full Sun Soil: Medium to Wet Height: 3 to 10 feet Spread: 2 to 10 feet

Colocasia is the most common type of elephant ears. It is common in the swampy areas of Asia and spans over 200 species. They are mostly recognized by their large, pelted leaves that grow rapidly – in the right environment.

However, you may want to be careful when choosing a colocasia species as some varieties are known to be invasive.

  • Black Magic is the most interesting variety of colocasia. They are recognized by the bluish-black leaves and red-orange flowers. This species can grow up to 5 feet tall.
  • Black Stem Elephant Ear produces large heart-shaped leaves of blue-green coloring. The foliage is adorned with dark green veins and a shiny black cast. It is one of the easiest to grow variety and prefers a sunny location with sufficient moisture.
  • Hawaiian Punch is a variety, ideal for container gardening. It has lime green foliage with dark red veins on the backside. It grows up to 3 feet in height when fully matured.
  • Colocasia Coffee Cups is the newest addition to the elephant ear plant family. They are vigorous growers and can reach a height of 6 feet when provided with full sun and moist soil. They are identified by their cup-shaped foliage and black stems.
  • Colocasia Esculenta or Taro is a common houseplant with heart-shaped leaves of green plants. Both its roots and leaves are edible and are a famous addition to Asian cuisines.

2. Alocasia

Zones: 7 – 11 Exposure: Part Shade to Full Shade Soil: Moist and Well-Drained Height: 2 to 6 feet Spread: 2 to 6 feet

Often called the African mask plant, this plant of elephant ear is characterized by its upward pointing leaves. Unlike other elephant ear plant types, the leaves of Alocasia are not edible. Some popular varieties of the Alocasia species include:

  • Alocasia Amazonica is usually grown for its ornamental value and is awarded Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society this plant is defined by its deep green leaves that is arrow-shaped with wavy-edges. They enjoy warmth, humidity, and water.
  • Alocasia Stingray has large leaves that resemble the wings and tails of its namesake. They are very easy to grow and generally do well in an indoor environment. However, the glossy green leaves of stingray are toxic so make sure to keep them away from children and pets.
  • Alocasia Odora can grow up to 4 feet with amazing looking paddle-shaped leaves. As the name suggests, the plant produces fragrant flowers and is often referred as the ‘Night Scented Lily’.
  • Alocasia Portora has huge green leaves on a purple-colored stem. These plants grow quite tall – up to 5 feet in full to partial sunlight.

3. Caladium

Zones: 10 – 11 Exposure: Sun to Partial Shade Soil: Moist and Acidic Height: 6 inches to 3 feet Spread: Up to 2 feet

4. Xanthosoma

Zones: 8 – 10 Exposure: Partial to Full Shade Soil: Moist and Well-Drained Height: 2 – 4 feet Spread: 1 – 4 feet

 Natives to tropical America, the Xanthosoma requires humid and warm conditions. Similar to colocasia, some varieties of the Xanthosoma elephant ears also produces edible leaves and roots.

Xanthosoma has around 75 varieties that are renowned for their beautiful leaves. Some common ones include:

  • Xanthosoma Lime Ginger is considered the ‘lightbulb’ of any garden with its neon-green color leaves. It is low-growing and reaches approximately 3 – 4 feet in height. However, the leaves are huge and can extend up to 2 feet.
  • Xanthosoma Lindenii is one of the most beautiful varieties of Xanthosoma. They are identified by their large green leaves with bold white/cream colored veins.
  • Xanthosoma Brasiliense is widely grown in Asia for its edible stems and leaves. The Brasiliense, also known as Tahitian spinach and Tahitian taro is rich in calcium, vitamin C, iron, and potassium.

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Step 2: Selecting the Site

Selecting the Site

If you are planning to plant the elephant ears in a garden or yard, select a place that gets full or part sun. Personally, I am not a big fan of just placing the elephant ears anywhere in the garden as their beauty can diminish in the midst of other plants.

Choose a focal point for their placement. They generally do well with other plants and you can try growing them alongside other tropical plant varieties such as bananas, cannas, and variegated tropica.

They also do well in mix containers as indoor centerpieces. Combine them with other flowering plants that prefer the same environment in a large, oversized container for an impressive appearance.

The best time to grow elephant ear plant is the spring season – well after the threat of frost has passed. You can also start them indoors a month before the last expected frost date.

The place you choose should have rich, organic soil. Make sure to keep a good distance – of around 2 -4 feet between the elephant ear bulbs so they can spread out efficiently.

Dig a large hole and place the bulb so it is 4 inches deeper than the soil line. Keep the pointed side of the tuber facing up and cover it completely with soil and water.

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Step 3: Elephant Ear Plant Care

Elephant Ear Plant Care

Elephant ears are generally easy going plants and don’t require much attention once the planting process is completed. A few basic aftercare include:

Water

One thing that elephant ears cannot survive without is – Water. Keep the soil moist at all times for sufficient growth of these plants. Especially during the dry season, ensure that the plants are receiving regular moisture.

Try watering during the morning. This will give the plant enough time to dry out before the evening. Watering early in the day also reduces the occurrence of some common plant diseases as well.

The elephant ears are sensitive to tap water and if possible – provide them with a supply of rainwater for adequate growth. If that is not possible, keep a bucket full of tap water aside for a day before applying to your plants.

Fertilizer

Elephant ears are heavy feeders and require fertilizers throughout their growing stage. Start them off with a light, slow-release fertilizer as soon as new growth starts appearing. However, do avoid putting fertilizer on the leaves or the crown of the plants to avoid plant injury and burns.

Fertilizers should be applied every 2 – 3 weeks for the best results.

Pruning

Just like any other fast-growing plant, elephant ears require frequent grooming to stay neat and tidy. Keep weeds under control by regularly cultivating or using mulch to prevent their seeds from germinating.

However, when using a mulch, make sure to keep them away from a plant’s stem to prevent rot. Use organic mulch when possible as well.

Winter Care

Lower the water intake during the winter months. Bring the elephant ear plant indoors during these months as elephant ears are quite susceptible to frost.

If you live in a very cold region, it is best to save them for the next spring season.

Carefully remove the bulbs and store them in dry peat moss or wood shavings. Keep it in a warm, dry, and dark place. Replant them as the season gets warmer.

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Step 4: Look out for Pests and Diseases

Elephant Ear Plant Pests and Diseases

Elephant ears are vulnerable to a few common problems that can spread if not addressed properly. Keep an eye for any changes in the plant’s growth, color, and size – and take proactive measures accordingly.

Dasheen Mosaic Virus

It is the most common virus that, unfortunately – has no cure. So every effort should be made to avoid its occurrence. The most characteristic sign of this disease is uneven patterns on the leaves along with a halt in growth.

In case an infection does occur, the plant should be removed immediately.

1. Root Rot

Root rot often occurs due to overhead watering. Avoid giving the plant water from the top and concentrate only on keeping the soil moist. Using quality water is also essential to prevent root rot.

Similar to the mosaic, there is no cure for root rot – except practicing proper sanitization.

2. Aphids

Aphids are insects of green, red, black, or peach color. They spread their disease by feeding on the undersides of the elephant ear leaves. A sticky residue on the leaf is usually a telltale sign of the disease.

Try washing the leaves with strong insecticidal soap or spray.

3. Mealybugs

A common plant insect, the mealybugs leave a white, waxy powder on stems, branches, and leaves. They suck the juices from a plant’s leaves and stems causing growth stunt.

Washing off the infected plant or rubbing the leaves helps remove the bugs.

4. Root Maggots

The maggots are white in color and feed on roots. They cause brown holes in the root and cause the growth to halt. Pesticides are recommended to cure the problem.

5. Spider Mites

The spider-like pests are red, black, brown, or yellow in color. They excrete the plant juices that cause white dots to appear on the leaves. Webbing is also visible on the plant. They are very fast-growing, especially in dry areas.  If not detected timely – the spider mites can cause the whole plant to die.

Wiping the leaves with a wet washcloth helps to remove the mites. A garden hose also does the work quickly.

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Step 5: Read our FAQ for the best growth

FAQ for the best growth

The last step to caring for your elephant ear plant is reading our FAQ guide. Here, we have covered some of the basic questions that come in the mind of gardeners who are planning the elephant ears for the first time.

1. How long does it take for the elephant ears to sprout?

It takes around 3 – 8 weeks for the first hint of elephant ears to erupt from the soil. This is also dependent on your growing conditions as they sprout faster in warmer climates, rather than colder. I also suggest bringing the elephant ear plant indoors for some time to speed up the process.

2. My elephant ears have stopped growing. What could be the reason?

Elephant ears are perennials. This means that they will come back each summer, once the weather becomes suitable for its growth.

3. Can elephant ear plant poison my children, pets, and myself?

Although many cultures have eaten some varieties of elephant ears safely, I advise against eating them in large quantities. Especially children and pets should be kept away from these plants as it contains high amounts of oxalic acid.

Some symptoms of elephant ear plant poison include:

  • vomiting or nausea
  • diarrhea
  • blisters and burning in the mouth
  • swelling in the mouth or on the face
  • redness and burning of eyes
  • pain when swallowing

Contact a poison control center immediately if symptoms worsen or high amounts of elephant ear leaves are consumed.

4. Do elephant ear flower?

Very uncommon but yes, some gardeners have reported blooming of their elephant ears for a few specific varieties. Their main beauty, however, lies in its foliage and not for the flowers.

In fact, some gardeners often remove the elephant ear flower as it emerges to maintain the plant’s attractiveness.

5. My plant is losing leaves! Help!

Don’t worry! It’s quite natural for the elephant ears to lose their leaves and make room for new growth. Continue caring for them as advised above and remove any fallen leaf from the garden bed to keep the plant’s surrounding tidy.

Get Ready to Plant

Now that you know all about the elephant ear plant, it’s time to put your green thumb to test. Give it a try and let us know how the planting experience worked out for you in the comments below!

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