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Elephant Ears is the common name for a group of tropical plants. They are tender perennials. Elephant ears become hardy only in the warmest parts of the world. Whereas in places with colder climates, they’re annuals. You have to replant them every year.
They are mainly grown for their large, heart-shaped leaves and can add a tropical look to any garden.
Types of Elephant Ears:
Here are some of the most popular elephant ears:
Caladium is best for small gardens. They are not very tall up to (3 ft) and have a spread of about 2 feet. Some caladium can grow in shade also. So these are a good choice if you want to grow elephant ears indoors.
Caladiums are native to South America. They are also called angel wings because of their amazing range of colors from green, white or pink.
They are native to Asia and Australia. The distinguishing feature of these plants is that unlike other elephant ears here the leaves point upwards. Alocasia is also called The African mask plant.
They can grow in partial shade and can reach heights up to 6 ft. The tubers of alocasia are not edible.
Colocasia plants love humid and warm weather. They are native to India and Asia. They have edible tubers.
They are one of the tallest Elephant Ears and can reach a height of 10 ft with a huge leaf spread.
Alocasia vs Colocasia:
Although alocasia and colocasia leaves are quite similar, there are two subtle differences between the two.
Alocasia leaves point upward or grows horizontally, but colocasia leaves always point downward. Alocasia leaves are attached to the stem at the leaf notch, colocasia stems on the other hand attach below the leaf notch.
They are native to tropical America and love warm weather. Xanthosoma tubers are also edible. A xanthosoma can reach a height of 4 ft.
Ideal Growing Conditions for Elephant Ears:
The ideal soil pH for growing elephant ears is between 5.5 and 7.0. Do a soil test before planting. If the soil pH is not in that range you can add various additives to bring the pH to that level.
The need for sunlight in Elephant Ears varies from full sun to partial shade. Most of the varieties are grown in partial shade. Some darker varieties need full sun to grow.
A uniformly moist soil that is rich in organic nutrients is ideal for growing Elephant ears. Add a generous amount of compost and manure to the soil.
These are heat-loving plants. If the soil temperature is cold, delay the planting. You usually want the soil temperature to be at least 65°F (18°C).
How to Plant Elephant Ears:
Choose the bulb carefully. The bulb should be large, plump, and firm. Remember, the bigger the bulb size bigger the plant and the bigger the leaves.
Plant the bulbs in the springs or after the danger of frost has passed. The Elephant ear bulbs sprout usually within 3-8 weeks. In warmer climates, the sprout will be faster than in cold climates. To fasten the process, start indoors, and once the environment warms up bring them outside.
Plant the Elephant Ear tubers at about 5 inches deep into the soil with the pointy side facing up. Cover it with soil and add water.
Elephant Ears Care (in general)
Fertilizing Elephant Ears:
These plants are voracious eaters. The best fertilizers for elephant ears are slow-releasing organic fertilizers. Bonemeal and Bloodmeal are two great choices for these plants. Stop fertilizing the plants in winter.
The Watering Schedule for Elephant Ears:
Elephant ears are water-loving plants. So make sure the soil remains moist and does not dry out, especially during the growing season. Keep watering regularly. Reduce the frequency of watering in winter.
If you are growing elephant ears in containers, water them daily during the summer. Give 2-3 inches of water per week.
Pruning Elephant Ears:
These plants produce new leaves very quickly during the growing season. So you have to prune and trim elephant ears regularly. Remove wilted, browning, or ratty leaves by cutting them off at the base of the plant.
Wear gardening gloves and long sleeves shirts while pruning elephant ears. The organic compounds in them can cause skin irritation in some people.
Elephant ear plants are toxic. The leaves and stems are the most toxic parts of the plants. They have poisonous oxalic acid crystals in their leaves and stems. Chewing or biting into this plant will release these crystals. The oxalic acid crystals then penetrate the tissue in the mouth and Gastro-Intestinal tract.
Upon contact, the plant can cause skin irritation. If you ingest it can cause swelling in the throat, mouth, and lips. It can also cause vomiting.
Are Elephant Ear Plants Edible:
Not all elephant ears are edible but some definitely are. You can eat the leaves and roots of colocasia. No part of the alocasia plant is edible, whereas colocasia leaves and roots are edible.
You should always eat elephant ears cooked, and not in the raw form. Cooking breaks down the crystals and makes them harmless. Also remember, some elephant ear species are more toxic than others.
So the plants that are used as a food source are not necessarily the same varieties that grow in your yard.
Are Elephant Ear Plants Invasive:
Elephant ears can be invasive. Their huge size can create problems for other plants that live under them.
As colocasia has a rapid growth rate, especially in warm conditions. It can become huge and can escape cultivation.
As even small fragments of the corms can reestablish and colonize natural areas, they can crowd out native species.
To minimize the issue choose the right growing location for the plant. Also, clean up those humongous leaves once they are dropped.
Common Pests and Diseases :
Some common diseases of Elephant Ears are:
Mosaic Virus Disease:
You will see uneven light and dark patterns on leaves once the plant is affected. Sometimes you can clearly see ring spots and the growth of the plant becomes stunted.
This virus is spread mainly by aphids. To control the spread remove infected plants immediately. Also, take steps to control aphids.
Root Rot Disease:
A number of pathogens cause root rots.
Improve the soil drainage. This is the only way to control root rot.
Here are some of the common elephant Ears pests
They feed on the undersides of the Elephant Ear leaves.
Use organic pest control techniques to fight aphid problems.
These are 1/8 to ¼ inch long flat wingless insects. They form cottony-looking masses on stems, branches, and leaves and suck the juices from leaves and stems. This causes weak plant growth.
Wash the infected plant parts. Use predator insects to control the bug population.
These white maggots feed on the roots and cause wilted leaves. They also leave brown tunnels in the root.
Use organic pest control methods to control maggots.
Spider mites suck on the plant juice. They cause white dots on the foliage. You can also see webbing on the plant. With time The foliage will turn yellow and become dry.
Use insecticidal soaps and other organic pest control methods to control the population.
What to Grow With Elephant Ears:
Different elephant ear plants have different leaf colors and shapes. So you can try other plants to grow with elephant ears.
Some cool choices are ferns of contrasting colors, begonias, and plants with smaller leaves.
Some Tips and Tricks For Growing Elephant Ears:
- If you love elephant ear plants, but you’ve got young children or pets, you might try a few strategies to prevent accidental poisoning.
- Place the plants where they’re out of reach.
- Grow the plants in the front yard, rather than the backyard, where children and pets are more likely to play.
- Teach your kids not to touch or eat any plant in the yard.
- You can grow smaller varieties of elephant plants in hanging containers. And remove any fallen leaves as soon as you see it!
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