Want to Add Tropical Flair to Your Garden, Deck, or Patio? Plant Elephant Ears!

Arricca Elin Sansone
·4 min read


“Hearst Magazines and Verizon Media may earn commission or revenue on some items through the links below.”

Elephant ears are a delightful plant for any garden! With their colorful, bold foliage, they look equally at home in the landscape or containers—and yes, their leaves resemble the ears of an elephant! Two types of plants commonly are referred to as elephant ears: Colocasia, with leaves that point downward, and alocasia, with leaves that often point upward. Both offer stunning beauty with their tropical flair. Their foliage ranges from a few inches wide to a more than a foot across! They provide privacy if planted in pots to line your patio or balcony, and they’re the perfect water plant alongside ponds and waterfalls. “Native to Southeast Asia, these are great plants because they’re beautiful and trouble-free,” says Venelin Dimitrov, senior product manager for vegetables and herbs at Burpee. “They’re also fast growers that love the heat and provide a lot of drama in your garden.”

Here’s what else you need to know to grow and care for elephant ear.

How do I plant elephant ears?

Find a spot in your yard that’s full or part sun. In hot climates, place them in morning sun and filtered afternoon shade. Elephant ears prefer well-draining soil, so if your yard is solid clay, you’ll do better planting in pots. They grow from corms, which are swollen underground stems that store food for the plant, says Dimitrov. Some may be as small as your fist, while others can be softball size!

Plant corms about 2 to 4 feet apart so they have room to spread. Look for the remnants of roots from last season, and place the corm root-side down in a hole so that the top of the corm is about an inch below the soil. Don’t worry if you’re not sure which side is up. It may take a little longer for the plant to pop through the ground, but it will figure it out, says Dimitrov. Give these plants plenty of water (about an inch a week), although they’re forgiving if you miss a few days. Check pots, which dry out fast, every day. If they’re droopy, they need watered.

Start your elephant ears indoors in cold climates.

Because they emerge late in spring, it’s not a bad idea to start elephant ears indoors about six weeks before your region’s last frost. Plant in pots that will be large enough to accommodate their mature size, then place outside after threat of frost is past. “Cold is the number one enemy of these plants, so make sure you don’t put them out too soon,” says Dimitrov.

Should I fertilize my elephant ears?

These plants benefit from using a water-soluble fertilizer when you give them a drink, or you can use a slow-release granular type worked into the soil. Look for those that have a higher percentage of nitrogen (the “N” in N-P-K, which lists the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels) than other components to ensure good leaf growth. It’s especially important to feed container plantings regularly because the nitrogen leaches out when watering, says Dimitrov.

Elephant ears should be dug up for winter in cold climates.

In cold climates, small pots can be brought indoors and enjoyed as a houseplant during the winter. In USDA zones 8 and higher (find yours here), they can stay in the ground to return the following spring. Before the first cold snap in the fall, cut the foliage down to within a few inches of the ground. Use a digging fork or spade to lift the corms gently out of the ground. There may be baby corms, too, which you can keep or share with friends!

Let the corms dry out a bit, then place in a 5-gallon bucket of peat moss, perlite or vermiculite. If you have lifted out other tender perennials, such as dahlias, you can store them in the same bucket. Place in a cool, but not freezing place, and replant next spring when all danger of frost is past.

Is elephant ear toxic to pets?

Unfortunately, elephant ear is toxic to pets and contains calcium oxalates, which cause swelling of the mouth, lips and tongue, drooling, and vomiting. If your pet likes to nibble on plants, keep this one away from him or he! And if you think your pet has ingested any part of this plant, call your vet ASAP.

You Might Also Like