Elephant ear plant care guide. Planting elephant ears in beds or containers. Propagating Alocasia and Colocasia plants. Buy elephant’s ear bulbs. ‘Black Magic’, amizonica ‘African Mask’, ‘Black Stem’, etc.
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Growing Elephant Ear Plants
When provided with the amount of moist heat and shade that they crave, Alocasias are striking tropical foliage plants that will infuse your home or garden with a jungle vibe.
The most important aspect of their care is the watering, for while elephant ear plants prefer that you keep their feet slightly damp, they grow from an underground bulb which will rot if it is kept too wet for too long.
Solution: If your soil is at all heavy, lighten it by digging in sharp sand or organic compost to improve drainage.
Also, water the bulbs freely in summer’s heat but keep them drier once the weather turns cool. These tropical beauties don’t enjoy being cold and wet.
Fertilize the plants only during active growth with any balanced plant food cut to half strength and applied every 2-3 weeks.
Indoor elephant ear plants should be potted in a mixture of 2 parts peat to 1 part charcoal or Perlite and kept from drafts to prevent browning at their leaf edges.
Storing Elephant Ear Bulbs
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Most species originate in tropical Asia and are frost tender. Where winter temps drop below 20 degrees F., withhold water and allow the foliage to die in the fall. Then, dig the bulbs up and leave them to dry for a few days before storing them (packed in peat moss) for the winter at 70 degrees F.
Outdoor potted elephant ear plants may be left to dry off in place and stored in their pots. Check the bulbs periodically throughout the winter. Moisten them just enough to prevent shriveling.
Planting Elephant Ear Bulbs
Taro Black Velvet Growing in a Pot (Alocasia reginula)
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Set the bulbs into the soil with the tops 2-3 inches below the surface of the soil. Space them 2-6 feet apart depending on the mature size of the cultivar you are planting. For pot culture, set a single bulb into each container.
When sited in a wind-protected outdoor garden bed, elephant ear plants will spread to form sizable clumps. To increase your planting, divide the clumps by cutting through the rhizomes with a sharp spade.
Alternatively, you can remove offsets from the perimeter of a clump shortly after growth begins in the spring.
Elephant Ear Varieties
Colocasia esculenta ‘Fontanesii’
Colocasia esculenta ‘Fontanesii’ a.k.a. ‘Black Stem’ growing outside a hotel in Savannah, GA.
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‘Black Stem’ features large, shiny green leaves held upright on black stems which can grow to 4 feet.
The coloration of this plant is quite dramatic on its own, but for an even more decorative display place it beside ‘Black Magic’ (sold below).
When planted together, these two black elephant ears make a dynamic duo indeed.
‘Black Magic’ Elephant Ear
|Buy Black Magic Elephant Ears||‘Black Magic’ planted with an ornamental sweet potato vine and variegated ginger.Color Combo Tip: Black elephant ears really pop when grown with yellow, chartreuse or bright gold foliage or flowers.|
Being a Colocasia, ‘Black Magic’ needs a bit more water than an Alocasia would require. Keep its soil moist at all times when growing it in containers or the open ground.
Its love of water also makes this 3-5 foot tall beauty a great aquatic plant.
A Colocasia by Any Other Name
The green taro plant is a type of C. esculenta which is raised for food.
Learn more about this plant and how to prepare its tasty tubers, here.
Alocasia (dwarf alocasia)
Of all the elephant ears, Alocasia cucullata produces the smallest leaves and is the species most often used for bonsai.
Its heart-shaped leaves are prominently veined and radiate outward on short stalks. When grown to its full size, A. cucullata most closely resembles a Philodendron. When growing it as a bonsai tree, trim off any leaves that get too big and look out of scale.
Other names for the dwarf elephant ear include Buddha’s Hand and Chinese Taro.
This species is quite cold hardy and will survive winter temps in the mid 20s F. when planted in the open ground. When grown as bonsai, Alocasia should be kept indoors in order to preserve its beautiful top growth.
Alocasia macrorrhiza syn. A. macrorrhizos
|Alocasia macrorrhizos||Variegated Elephant Ear Plant|
Plants of this species are called upright elephant ears because of the tendency of their spade-shaped leaves to point toward the heavens.
These highly ornamental, 2 foot tall leaves sit atop stalks which may achieve a height of 5 feet under favorable growing conditions.
The foliage of this cold hardy, giant elephant ear will remain green after light frosts. A hard frost will melt them, but the bulbs are hardy in the ground into zone 7b (mulch them).
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Alocasia x amizonica is called ‘African Mask’ because of its huge, sheild-shaped leaves. Ebony green and shiny, they feature prominent white or pale green midribs and veins which look as if they were painted on. This plant is a living work of art.
This plant is growing in Nassau but don’t be deceived, this is one of the most cold hardy elephant ears in commerce today. Its ability to withstand frost is not the only unusual thing about it.
This giant elephant ear can grow to 15 feet! The juvenile in the image above has not done so yet but, after the large, upright tuft of leaves are in place, a tall trunk will form. At maturity, A. odora looks more like a fan palm than the aroid it is.
Another pleasing feature of this species is the fragrant flowers it produces which inspired its name.
Bulbs of this type can be mulched and left in the ground in zone 8.