Want to add a tropical flair to your garden this spring? Elephant ears will add a bold statement to a filtered sun or high shade spot. These striking “drama queens” of the garden may be either in genera Colocasia or Alocasia. The easiest way to tell these beauties apart is that colocasias (Colocasia esculenta) will have leaves that point downward, and alocasia (Alocasia species) leaves will point upward. Depending on the species or cultivar of each genus, the size can range from 3 to 10 feet tall and 2 to 10 feet in width. Both types of elephant ears are native to the tropical regions of Southeastern Asia.
The corms are best planted in the spring after the last frost. Elephant ears should be planted in well-drained, moist, organically rich soil. However, Colocasias will tolerate wetter soils than Alocasias. The green-leafed cultivars of each type will tolerate more sun than the darker colored leaves.
Elephant ears are root hardy in USDA planting zones 8 to 12, which includes all of South Carolina, except for the mountainous region of the Upstate. If kept in the ground, mulch your corms well in the fall to keep them toasty warm for the winter months. To prepare the corms for winter storage in colder planting zones, cut back elephant ear foliage in the fall and dig up the corm to allow it to dry for several days. Store it in an open container and cover lightly with dry peat moss. Do not allow the corm to freeze, but keep it cool with ideal temperatures of 45 to 55 degrees. Just remember, corms planted in containers are more susceptible to freezing temperatures; therefore, they will need to be removed from the container and stored properly for the winter.
Elephant ears are also excellent additions for containers. Be sure to choose a heavy container that is at least 18 inches wide and deep or larger. Putting rocks in the bottom of the container will improve drainage along with giving it weight to keep the pot from tipping over when the wind blows through the large leaves.
For more information on planting summer and fall bulbs, please see HGIC 1156, Summer- and Fall-Flowering Bulbs.