Elephant ear (also known as colocasia) produces enormous heart-shaped leaves that often reach three feet long and two feet wide in the tropics. Under ideal conditions, a single plant can reach eight feet tall with the same spread. Even in cold regions, the plant is likely to grow to two or three feet, adding a tropical, dramatic touch wherever it's planted.
Where to Plant Elephant Ear: Light and Soil Requirements
Elephant ear plants grow best in slightly acidic soil. They prefer partial shade in warm climates but full sun in cooler areas.
Colocasias are grown as perennial garden plants in tropical and subtropical areas. They can overwinter in the ground as far as Zone 8. In colder climates, the plants can be moved indoors for the winter before the first frost, or elephant ear bulbs can be lifted and stored after frost.
Watering and Fertilizing Elephant Ear Plants
These plants are heavy feeders. They should be fertilized weekly with a liquid fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. If they don't produce lush growth, they need more heat, more nitrogen, or more water. While you likely won't be able to do much about the heat, start by giving them a little more water, and if that doesn't result in more vigorous growth, it's even more important to make sure you're fertilizing on a regular basis.
Elephant ears crave water. Some potted colocasias can even be grown in standing water, and all varieties should be grown in moist conditions.
Pruning Elephant Ear Plants
There are a few pruning tasks you'll need to do regularly to keep your elephant ear plant looking its best.
- As the leaves start to age, they'll start looking droopy and not as vibrantly colored as younger leaves. If the appearance detracts from the overall look of the plant, it's fine to trim these off near the base of the stem, using a pair of sharp pruners or shears.
- It's important to remove dead leaves for the same reason.
- If you live in a cold climate and will be overwintering the bulb indoors, you'll want to trim all of the stems and leaves off after they've been killed back by your first fall frost.
- If you're growing colocasia as a houseplant, just remove any leaves that are looking old, ragged, or otherwise unattractive as you notice them.
Elephant Ear Plant Pests and Diseases
Elephant ears can suffer damage from a few insect pests. If you're noticing that the leaves are chewed or have holes in them, slugs or grasshoppers are likely to blame.
Damage to the stems, including leaf yellowing and die-off, are often due to aphids and squash bugs. If the plant stems are snipped off fairly close to the soil, you'll want to install collars or other deterrents to keep cutworms from attacking your plants further.
The only real disease issue elephant ears have to contend with is fungal leaf blight. If you notice small round spots on the leaves that ooze liquid and eventually turn a sort of purplish color, that's a sure sign of fungal leaf blight.
To treat fungal leaf blight on elephant ears, prune off affected leaves to prevent it from spreading. If it's already spread, apply copper fungicide according to the package instructions.
Propagating Elephant Ears
Propagating elephant ears isn't difficult, but it does require a bit of planning and patience. You can't grow new plants from stem cuttings, but it's pretty straightforward to divide the tubers to make more plants.
- Carefully dig the plant up when the foliage starts to die back in the fall, usually when the temperature falls to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a cold area, where temperatures end up below 40, you'll need to overwinter elephant ears indoors anyway, so this is a good time to propagate them.
- Once you've dug up the tubers, carefully shake or brush any excess soil off of them, and inspect the tuber carefully so you can see if there are small tubers that you can divide from the main one. These will look like miniature versions of the larger, main tuber, connected to the sides of it, but with their own roots.
- Once you've identified tubers to remove from the main plant, it's a good idea to make sure they don't have any blemishes, rot, or other issues.
- After you've selected a healthy offshoot, simply use a sharp knife to remove it from the mother plant. It's essential to make sure that the part you're removing has its own roots, since it will need them to take up moisture and nutrients.
- If you're overwintering the tuber indoors, it's best to store it in a paper bag in a cool, dry place such as a basement or a closet along an exterior wall. If you live in a warm climate, you can simply replant the division where you'd like it to grow in your garden.
Beautiful Elephant Ear Plants to Grow in Your Garden
Elephant ear plants are available in a wider range of colors. You'll be sure to find one that fits perfectly into your garden, whether you prefer dark, dramatic foliage or something more colorful.
Colocasia esculenta 'Fontanesia' is hardy to Zone 7 and has attractive violet stems and leaf veins. The leaves are a dark, purplish-green, and the plant grows well with morning sun and afternoon shade.
'Illustris' has bright yellowish-green stems and leaf veins, and dark purple leaves, which provides a pop of contrast. The plants grow to 36 to 60 inches tall, and are hardy in Zones 8 through 10.
If you like dark foliage, 'Black Magic' elephant ear is an excellent choice. It has dark, dramatic purple-black leaves and grows up to six feet tall, making this a true focal point plant. 'Black Magic' is hardy in Zones 8 through 10.
Aside from the very curious name, Colocasia esculenta 'Nancy's Revenge' is an absolutely stunning plant. The leaves emerge a solid, medium-green, but as they mature, the leaf margins turn creamy white, giving the plant dramatic variegation. (Fun fact: this cultivar was named after the breeder's business partner. Still not clear what she was getting revenge for!)
Jet Black Wonder
Colocasia esculenta 'Jet Black Wonder' has dark purple leaves with white veining. It grows to about three feet tall.
If you like brighter colors and are a fan of variegation, you might want to check out 'Yellow Splash.' It has light green leaves that are marbled with a nice amount of creamy-yellow variegation.
Another plant perfect for those who love dark, dramatic foliage, 'Diamond Head' elephant ears have glossy leaves that are a deep, dark chocolate color. Another unique thing about this cultivar is that, generally, the leaves of colocasias try to point upward, but the leaves of 'Diamond Head' point down, giving them a diamond-shaped appearance.
'Elena' has vibrant chartreuse leaves with light green veins and a purple center. Often, the stems are also purplish in color. Growing to about three and a half feet tall, 'Elena' is good for small garden spaces or even for growing in containers.
This is a playful, colorful cultivar, and is also a bit smaller than the others on this list. Colocasia esuclenta 'Hawaiian Punch' has lime green leaves and bright red stems, and grows to about three feet tall, making it a good choice for container or even indoor gardens.
'Black Beauty' has velvety black leaves with green veins, which provides plenty of dramatic contrast. This cultivar grows to around two and a half feet tall, and sends out runners; if you garden in Zone 8 or warmer, 'Black Beauty' will eventually spread via runners, forming colonies of plants.
Color and Drama for Your Garden
Elephant ears add a tropical, dramatic look to any garden. With a bit of care and planning, they grow well even in cold climates, and you can find one to suit both the size and style of your garden.