COVID-19 Extension Updates and Resources ... More Information »

Close message window

Fun with Elephant Ears in the Garden

The chartreuse green leaves of the Maui Gold elephant ear (Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Gold’) are large and crinkled. All Colocasia species have heart-shaped leaves that point downward. Barbara H. Smith, ©2019 HGIC, Clemson University

The chartreuse green leaves of the Maui Gold elephant ear (Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Gold’) are large and crinkled. All Colocasia species have heart-shaped leaves that point downward.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2019 HGIC, Clemson University

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.

Mojito elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta ‘Mojito’) have large, green leaves with dark purple spots.

Mojito elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta ‘Mojito’) have large, green leaves with dark purple spots.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2019 HGIC, Clemson University

Borneo Giant elephant ears (Alocasia macrorrhizos ‘Borneo Giant’) have upward-pointing leaves that can reach four feet long.

Borneo Giant elephant ears (Alocasia macrorrhizos ‘Borneo Giant’) have upward-pointing leaves that can reach four feet long.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2019 HGIC, Clemson University

Mayan Mask elephant ear (Alocasia 'Mayan Mask') is a hybrid that has shiny, green leaves with dark chocolate-purple undersides. Barbara H. Smith, ©2019 HGIC, Clemson University

Mayan Mask elephant ear (Alocasia ‘Mayan Mask’) is a hybrid that has shiny, green leaves with dark chocolate-purple undersides.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2019 HGIC, Clemson University

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.

Puckered Up elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta ‘Puckered Up’) provide interest and texture in a shade garden. Barbara H. Smith, ©2019 HGIC, Clemson University

Puckered Up elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta ‘Puckered Up’) provide interest and texture in a shade garden.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2019 HGIC, Clemson University

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 make a bold statement and create a tropical focal point in shady gardens. Barbara H. Smith, ©2019 HGIC, Clemson University

Elephant ears make a bold statement and create a tropical focal point in shady gardens.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2019 HGIC, Clemson University

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.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

Factsheet Number

Newsletter

Categories

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This