How to Grow and Care for Elephant Ear Plants

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Elephant ears are tropical perennials known for their lush, large leaves. The plants are found in the Colocasia, Alocasia, and Xanthosoma genus, among others. Though botanically distinct and native to different parts of the world, all elephant ears share similar growing conditions. Another common denominator is their fast growth rate. Elephant ears reach their mature size in a single
growing season.

They are grown as houseplants or outdoors in a warm climate. Gardeners in cooler climates often move them outdoors during the summer.

All elephant ear plants are toxic to humans and pets

Common NameElephant ears, elephant ear
Botanical NameColocasia, Alocasia, Xanthosoma, Remusatia spp.
FamilyAraceae
Plant TypePerennial
Mature Size3–6 ft. tall and wide
Sun ExposureFull, partial
Soil TypeMoist but well-drained
Soil pHAcidic
Hardiness Zones9–11 (USDA)
Native AreaSouth America, Central America, Asia, Africa, Australia
ToxicityToxic to humans and pets12

Elephant Ears Care

Whether grown as a houseplant or a garden plant. elephant ears require a moderate amount of care. Here are the main care requirements for growing elephant ears: 

  • Select an outdoor planting location with partial shade or dappled sun. Indoors, place the plant in a spot with bright, indirect light.
  • If planting elephant ears outdoors, wait until the soil has reached a temperature of at least 70°F.
  • Plant the tubers about 4 inches deep. Space smaller varieties at least 2 feet apart and larger varieties at least 4 feet apart.
  • Water regularly to keep the soil consistently moist.
  • Maintain an indoor temperature of at least 70°F during the day and at least 60°F at night.
  • Feed elephant ears regularly with a high-nitrogen fertilizer.
elephant ear plant in landscaping

Light

Although elephant ears tolerate full sun, they thrive in partial shade or dappled sun. Varieties with darker leaves need more sun to maintain their color. The more sun the plant gets, the more you will have to water it to meet the soil moisture requirements.

Elephant ears as houseplants should be placed in a bright spot with indirect light. A perfect place is near a bright, sunny window with southern or western exposure, but not directly on a windowsill. Direct sun will burn the leaves.

Soil

Elephant ears grow best in rich, humusy, moist, slightly acidic soil (pH of 5.5 to 7.0) to the point of being wet (but not soggy). To achieve proper soil conditions, you may have to work compost into the ground as preparation before planting. This plant is ideal for boggy areas, marshes, swampland, or water gardens.

Water

As a wetland plant, elephant ears need a lot of water. This makes it a good plant for wet areas where gardeners usually have trouble finding suitable plants. The plants survive in 6 inches of standing water, although they do best if you keep the soil wet but not soggy. Never allow the soil to dry out thoroughly.

Especially when grown in containers, they will need water daily or several times per day. Let the top inch of the soil be your guide: if it’s dry, add water until it is moist.

Temperature and Humidity

Elephant ears are tropical plants that are very sensitive to temperatures below their tolerance range of 70°F during the day and 60°F at night. They won’t survive frost. Below USDA Zone 9, they are grown as annuals or overwintered indoors.

This plant thrives in high humidity, which makes it unsuitable for hot. arid climates. To increase indoor humidity around elephant ear houseplants, mist them regularly or use a humidifier.

Fertilizer

Like many large-leaved tropical plants, elephant ears are heavy feeders. Apply a water-soluble, high-nitrogen fertilizer every two to three weeks during the spring and summer.

Types of Elephant Ears

There are numerous varieties of elephant ear plants. Here are popular varieties from the Colocasia, Alocasia, and Xanthosoma genus: 

Colocasia

  • C. gigantea ‘Thailand Giant’ is a variety whose leaf size is hard to beat. Its leaves grow 4 feet wide by 5 feet long in its native tropical habitat.
  • C. esculenta var. antiquorum ‘Illustris’ has dark green (almost black) matte leaves with bright green veins. The plants spread by underground runners rather than tubers or corms.
  • C. esculenta var. antiquorum ‘Black Magic’ is considered one of the best black cultivars. It has dusty purple-black leaves. The leaves fold upwards slightly.
  • C. esculenta ‘Blue Hawaii’ is a misnomer, as it isn’t blue, but still beautiful. It has medium green leaves, dark purple-black veins, and maroon undersides.
  • C. esculenta ‘Mojito’ is considered the best type of variegated elephant ear. It features green leaves that are irregularly flecked with black.
  • C. ‘Coffee Cups’ is a hybrid. It is grown for its unique leaf shape, as the leaf folds upward to form a cup shape. 

Alocasia

  • A. x amazonica, the Amazonian elephant’s ear, is a hybrid with deep green leaves, which are accentuated by whitish or light green veins.
  • A. amazonica ‘Polly’ is acompact cultivar whose ruffled leaves have creamy white veins.
  • A. zebrina is a finicky but fabulous species with zebra-striped stems. It grows up to three feet tall.
  • A. reginula ‘Black Velvet’ has striking dark green leaves with white veins. It is a compact plant that generally stays under 18 inches.

Xanthosoma

  • X. ‘Lime Zinger’ has huge, chartreuse to lime-green, arrow-shaped leaves that grow up to 18 inches long. The plant is hardy to USDA Zone 8 and grows 2 to 4 feet tall and spreads up to 3 feet. 
  • X. sagittifolium is one of the most readily available, fast-growing species, with grand dark green foliage that grows up to 4 feet in length in the right conditions.
  • X. lindenii has a silvery hue and white venation. Growing up to 3 feet tall, when mature, this makes for a standout bathroom floor plant.

Pruning

Remove browning leaves at any time during the growing season to make room for new leaves.

If you are growing elephant ears outdoors year-round in USDA Zone 10a or below (i.e. where frost occurs), cutting the plant back in the fall prepares it for winter survival. Two to three days after the first killing frost, cut the leaves near the base of the plant, leaving about 2 inches above the ground. Make clean, straight cuts taking care not to rip or tear the foliage.

Propagating Elephant Ears

The common way to propagate elephant ears is to divide the tubers. Propagating them from seed is not recommended, as most popular varieties are cultivars and the plants grown from their seeds (if you are even able to obtain seeds from the plant as elephant ears rarely bloom, especially as houseplants) won’t produce offspring that is true to the parent. 

  1. At the end of the growing season in the fall, dig up the tuber. Wear gloves to protect your skin from the sap.
  2. With a sharp, sterile knife, carefully divide the tuber into clumps, each with at least one growth node. Cut through the tuber.
  3. Place the cut tuber on a tray or plate in an indoor location at room temperature and out of direct sun. Let the cuts dry and scab over for about a week.
  4. Wrap the tuber in paper and place it in a cardboard box. Place it in a cool (but not freezing) basement or garage and check it for rot every few weeks. If it blackens or becomes mushy, discard it.
  5. Plant the tubers in the spring after the soil has warmed to at least 70°F.

Potting and Repotting Elephant Ears

To grow elephant ears in pots as patio plants, use the largest pots that are practical to keep in scale with the huge leaves because large-volume containers are easier to keep moist. Make sure the containers have ample drainage holes. Elephant ears like moist soil but at the same time good drainage. Fill the container with a combination of potting mix, vermiculite, and perlite to help drainage and water retention, and a good amount of organic matter for nutrients. 

Container plants require considerably more watering than in-ground plants—you may even need to water them twice daily in warm weather.

Repotting becomes necessary when the tubers outgrow the pot. Dividing the plant and repotting individual tubers in pots with fresh growing medium helps to rejuvenate the plant.

Overwintering

In colder climates, you dig up the tubers before the first frost and keep them in a cool (but not freezing) basement or garage. They are overwintered the same way as canna bulbs and dahlia tubers. After pulling up the rooting structure, lay it out for a week indoors in a spot with good air circulation to dry out the tubers. Airing it out will discourage rot.

Wrap each tuber separately in paper and place them in a cardboard box. Check on them periodically to make sure they are not rotting. Once the soil has warmed to 70°F, replant the tubers in the spring.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Fungal Leaf Blight

The most common elephant ear plant disease is fungal leaf blight. The tell-tale lesions may ooze fluid and turn purple or yellowish. You may find fuzzy growth on the leaves. Remove infected collapsed leaves promptly before the fungus spreads to the entire plant.

Pythium Rot

Pythium rot is often the result of soil remaining saturated for several days or weeks. It may appear as yellowing in spots or distinct patches on the leaves or stem. If you pull the root structure out of the ground, the root will appear dark and greasy.

A plant with this kind of root rot is not salvageable, and you should pull it out entirely. If your plant was grown in a container, discard all the infected soil and sterilize the pot.

Spider Mites

Inspect the plant regularly for spider mites and take appropriate action immediately. Spider mites tend to be worse for indoor plants than for plants grown outdoors. The damage looks like tiny yellow or brown spots on the leaves. An infestation can lead to leaf drop and stunted growth. Another sign of spider mites is webbing found on the plant.

To get rid of spider mites, use a steady stream of water from a hose to wash them off. To treat a heavy infestation, apply insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.

Common Problems With Elephant Ears

Elephant ear plant are easy to grow, fast-growers, and aren’t susceptible to many problems. However, since they’re water lovers, fungal infections are their biggest threat.

Leaves Start Yellowing

If the leaves turn yellow, it could mean the plants need more or less sunlight, water, or fertilizer. Alternatively, the plant may be going dormant for the season. Cut back the yellow leaves and wait for them to return next spring.

Drooping Leaves

Elephant ears droop if light, water, or fertilizer levels are off or the temperatures are too cold. Large leaves also droop if they become too heavy. Use stakes to support the plants.

Stunted Leaves or Pale Leaves

Often deformed, smaller, or pale leaves signify that your plant needs more nutrients, light, or water. Move your plant to a more suitable spot, water it more, or give it moe fertilizer.

Wilting

Wilting is a sign that the plant is getting too much sun or heat and not enough water. Consider moving your plant to a shadier spot and watering it more frequently.

FAQ

  • Do elephant ears grow indoors? Elephant ears can be grown as houseplants as long as they are in a bright spot, such as a sunny window with southern or west exposure with indirect light, Direct sun will burn the leaves so don’t place it on the windowsill. Keep the soil consistently moist and mist the plant to provide humidity.
  • Do elephant ears bloom? Elephant ears will only bloom when they reach maturity, but they are unlikely to bloom when grown as a houseplant. If it does bloom outside, many gardeners choose to remove the flowers to refocus the plant’s energy on the leaves.
  • What are alternatives to elephant ear? The banana plant is a great alternative plant to elephant ear because has a similarly lush, tropical look yet it is not non-toxic. It is also non-invasive, unlike Colocasia esculenta and Xanthosoma sagittifolium, which are considered invasive or problem species in Florida and other parts of the southeastern United States. Native plant alternatives for water gardens are pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata), arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia), and powdery thalia (Thalia dealbata).
  • Is elephant ear the same as taro? Taro is one species of elephant ear, Colocasia esculenta, a plant widely grown in the tropics as a food crop. The corms (tubers or roots) are prepared similarly to potatoes; they must be peeled and cooked before eating.