Tips For Storing Elephant Ear Bulbs
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By: Heather Rhoades
Elephant ear plants are a fun and dramatic feature to add to your garden, but just because these beautiful plants are not cold hardy does not mean you can’t keep elephant ear bulbs from year to year. You can save money simply by storing elephant ear bulbs or plants for the winter. Read on to learn more about how to overwinter elephant ear bulbs and plants.
How to Overwinter Elephant Ear Plants
If you would like, elephant ear plants can be brought into the house and treated as a houseplant for the winter. If you decide to keep your elephant ear as a houseplant, it will need high light and the soil needs to stay constantly moist. You will also want to make sure that it gets plenty of humidity.
In the spring, once all danger of frost has passed, you can put your elephant ear plants back outside.
How to Overwinter Elephant Ear Bulbs
While many people use the phrase “elephant ear bulbs,” elephant ears actually grow from tubers. Since so many people use the incorrect term, we will use it here to avoid confusion.
The first step for storing elephant ear bulbs is to dig them out of the soil. It is very important to the success of saving elephant ears for the winter that you dig the elephant ear bulbs out of the ground undamaged. Any damage to the elephant ear bulb may result in the bulb rotting over the winter. In order to keep the bulb undamaged, it is a good idea to start digging about a foot (31 cm.) away from the base of the plant and gently lift the plant and bulb.
The next step for saving elephant ears is to clean the elephant ear bulbs. They can be gently rinsed, but do not scrub them. It is okay if some dirt is still on the bulb. You can also cut off any remaining foliage at this time.
After you clean the elephant ear bulbs, they must be dried. Keep elephant ear bulbs in a warm (but not hot), dark place for about a week. Make sure that the area has good air circulation so that the bulbs dry properly.
After this, keep elephant ear bulbs wrapped in paper and in a cool, dry place. While you are storing elephant ear bulbs, check on them every few weeks to make sure that there are no pests or rot. If you find pests, treat the bulbs with an insecticide. If you find rot, discard the damaged elephant ear bulb so that the rot does not spread to the other bulbs.
NOTE: Please be aware that elephant ear bulbs and leaves contain calcium oxalate, or oxalic acid, which may cause skin irritation and burning in sensitive individuals. Always use care when handling these plants.
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Read more about Elephant Ear
How to Grow Elephant Ear
The Spruce / Adrienne Legault
Elephant ears are tropical perennial plants grown for the appeal of the large leaves rather than for their flowers. Elephant ear is the common name is used for several species in three plant genera—Colocasia, Alocasis, and Xanthosoma. The most commonly grown plant Colocasia esculenta, also known as taro. Whatever the species, elephant ears are dramatic, exotic plants with huge heart-shaped leaves, used as accent plants or as a feature in tropical-themed water or bog gardens. While these leaves can reach 3 feet long and 2 feet wide in the tropics, in colder climates they will remain smaller (but still impressive). Depending on species, elephant ears grow from tuberous roots (Colocasia spp.) or a hard swollen stem structure known as a corm (Alocasis and Xanthosoma spp.)
In warm zones (8 and above) the root can be left in the ground as a perennial, while in colder zones the plants are either treated as annuals, discarded at the end of the season, or dug up and stored indoors for planting the following spring. In any landscape, elephant ears provide an infusion of tropical atmosphere. Some varieties are well suited for planting in large containers.
These fast-growing plants that will achieve their full size within two months are generally planted in the spring after all danger of frost has passed and soil temperatures have warmed to at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit. They can also be planted later, into early summer.
|Botanical Name||Colocasia, Alocasis, Xanthosoma spp.,|
|Common Name||Elephant ear, taro|
|Plant Type||Tropical perennial|
|Mature Size||3–8 feet tall, similar spread smaller in colder climates|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Rich, humusy, damp to wet soil|
|Soil pH||5.5 to 7.0 (acidic to neutral)|
|Bloom Time||Rarely flowers|
|Hardiness Zones||8–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Tropical eastern Asia, Americas|
|Toxicity||Leaves and sap contain a skin irritant|
All About Alocasia
According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, the genus Alocasia is made up of around 80 members, generally herbaceous perennial plants that come from tropical regions in Asia and Australia, and are closely related to taro plants (Colocasia spp.). Alocasia species find regular use as ornamental plants in homes and gardens, as their foliage usually appears quite distinct from many other types of plants. Alocasia polly is a common houseplant, but it and various other members of the genus can be grown outside in warmer climates.
Alocasia leaves tend to take interesting shapes, most notably either heart or arrow-shaped, and can reach between 12 and 36 inches long, born as individuals on sturdy stems. The leaves of the plants, including Alocasia polly, can come with engaging markings caused by the veins. Their inflorescences, or small clusters of flowers sprouting from the stems, are surrounded by a leaf-like structure called a spathe. Many types of Alocasia can grow up to a foot in a single growing season.
7 More Questions
Ask a Question Here are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.
Question: Storing Elephant Ear Bulbs for the Winter?
How do I store my elephant ear bulbs?
By David from Nashville, TN
I brought them in in a laundry bag, and hung it up on a nail on the wall. I have so many more this year I will have to find somewhere else to store them or give them as gifts.
I love Elephant Ears, and I can't wait to plant them again next year!
Question: Saving Elephant Ears Bulbs?
I dig up my elephant ear tubers each fall. Now I read about those that have a problem with their remaining tubers in the ground keep coming back each spring. Why dig them up each fall if they survive the winters in the ground?
I *think* it depends on your zone. I have one near a picture window that comes back every year, too (I'm in 7a). I just looked at a hardiness zone map, and your zone gets quite a bit colder than mine (-15 to -20 vs 5 to 0).
Question: Storing Elephant Ear Bulbs?
Do we tear the stem off of the elephant ear bulb after we have dug it up or leave it to completely dry?
Make a clean cut toward the base of the bulb(be sure not to tear) leaving maybe a inch or two from bulb!
In the tropics where I live we never have to store our bulbs or take them out. The plants grow year-round here on the islands. However, it is easy to store your bulbs for the winter and plant them again in spring.
We run ours over with the lawn mower in the fall (like just recently) and they keep coming back every year, including in the place I don't want them and dug them up. They are hearty buggers and in Pittsburgh hard to kill no matter what you do!!
I store my bulbs in a paper bag in the garage.
Many people do not dig up their elephant ear tubers/bulbs but if that is what you are doing, you should trim the foliage before drying but it seems the most important thing is not to damage the bulb or they will rot over winter.
Here is an excellent site for complete instructions on how to store your bulbs.
Question: Growing Elephant Ears?
I dug up my elephant ear bulbs today and it appears that the original bulb that I planted has rotted or gone soft. Since this is my first year doing this, I'm not sure what else I should be seeing. Is the portion at the bottom of each stalk a new bulb?
- Leave this a few days to dry out. Store in a cool, dry spot for winter. Use either peat moss or dry potting soil to store the bulb.
- In Tahiti these grow year round because we don't have cold winters.
- If you live in areas like California or Arizona. you can cover the ground with a heavy top layer of soil to protect the bulb during the winter months. Otherwise, dig it up and store it for winter.
Question: Elephant Ear Bulb Rotted?
I have been an owner of an elephant ear for the last year. It was my first try, and I left my pot outside all winter. However I did cut it back, but like I said before I didn't know to put it up in a dry area. It's very devastating because I love my plants!
You can remove some mushy spots at the top of the bulb. If there is damage in other areas, the bulb must be discarded.
Unless the bulbs are either total mush (look, smell, feel rotted all the way through--like you touch them in the smoosh between your fingers) or are totally dry, black, and literally disintegrate in your hands, they should grow back.
You don't say which variety you have (there are several) but that should not matter (even the loss of the main root usually does not kill these plants).
These are very hardy (at least where I am in Pittsburgh) and not much can be done to kill them.
I would suggest that when in doubt about anything to do with a new plant (or even an older plant) check out what USDA zone it grows best in so you can know better what climate changes are needed.
Everyone has given good advice about gently removing all the black or soft spots to see if anything is salvageable.
If any good roots are left, you can let it dry out a little (not in direct sunlight) and then try planting it in new soil or even in the ground.
Try the same thing with the bulb you received from your friend as there may be enough of the root system to survive.
Freeze and excess water root rot are the two worst things to happen to elephant ears.
If neither of these things work you may have to look for new bulbs. I have found several types at Walmart and Ace Hardware for $5-6.
Here are a couple of sites that have a lot of information about caring for elephant ears and what to do if they are damaged.
Question: Elephant Ear Bulbs?
I live in Indiana and therefore must dig up my elephant ears every fall and store in an attached garage. This has worked well for me for several years, but this winter was brutally cold. I'm sure they were in temperatures below freezing for several days at a time. Should I assume they're dead and buy new? I'm on an extremely tight budget, but I'd really hate it if I wound up with none coming up this year.
The same thing happened to me but I'm going to try planting them anyway.
If they didn't make it, big grocery stores should have taro bulbs in the veggie section. They don't get as big as the elephant ears do but 3 or 4 in a pot make a nice showing and they aren't nearly as expensive. Taro is used in Hawaii to make poi.
How-to Overwinter Elephant Ears
A native of the tropical climate of Polynesia and southeastern Asia, elephant ears are not equipped to survive the winter outdoors in our area. However, there are two options for moving them indoors during the winter. This makes elephant ears a landscape investment that you can enjoy for many years. As a bonus, new tubers will sprout from old ones giving you more plants!
Option 1: Bring Them Indoors
Elephant ears can be moved indoors and grown as a houseplant during the winter months. To give it the best growing conditions place it in a bright, south-facing window. They also need warm temperatures in the 70s and plenty of water. Also, elephant ears require humid growing conditions. This may be problematic if you use electric heat which tends to lower indoor humidity.
Option 2: Storing the Tubers
Some folks, even people in the horticultural industry, use the term “bulb” when referring to elephant ears. They are actually tubers! That being said, it is possible to store the tubers inside during the winter.
The first step in storing the tubers indoors is digging them up. While researching this article, I found differing opinions on when the best time is to dig them. Some gardeners dig them prior to the first frost and others after. Personally, I have never had a problem waiting until after the first frost when the foliage dies back. However, you never want to expose them to a hard freeze.
When digging the tubers, be sure not to damage them. Elephant ear tubers are susceptible to rot which can be caused by damage or bruising. When digging them up start at least a foot from the plant and dig carefully to ensure that they are not harmed.
The second step is cleaning the tubers. Use a bucket of water to rinse them and remove excess dirt. Use only your hands to gently clean them. Using a scrub brush can create small scratches on the tubers and cause rot.
The third step is to remove the excess foliage. I remove the bulk of the leaves before digging them up. Now is the time for a final trim. Cut the stalks about 1-2 inches above the tuber. The remainder will later dry out and may fall off. Also, I take this time to trim off excess roots, and separate new offshoots that are big enough to be planted on their own next spring.
The fourth step is drying the tubers. Drying them allows the outer skin to toughen and help keep rot at bay. To dry them, place the tubers in a dark, warm, and dry place with plenty of air circulation.
The fifth and final step is storage. Wrap the tuber in paper and store them in a cool, dry place. For example, I store mine on a shelf in my basement. Check on them every couple of weeks throughout the winter. Remove tubers with signs of rot to prevent it from spreading to the rest of the tubers.
Following these steps should ensure that you have an elephant ear crop to enjoy for many years to come. In the spring plant them outdoors after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed. Another option is to start them in pots inside toward the end of winter. That gives you some ready-made foliage when planting your summer gardens. I normally do this with a few of my smaller tubers, and plant the others when the ground warms. This gives younger tubers a head start in the spring.
How to overwinter, divide elephant ear bulbs
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Q uestion: This is the second year we’ve grown two big elephant ear plants in containers next to our front walkway. Last winter I packed the bulbs up in a box of peat moss and I plan to do the same this year. But, it looks like there are several smaller bulbs off to the side of the main bulb. Should I separate them? If so, when is the best time to do that?
Answer: Elephant ears are a large tropical bulb that adds a touch of drama to the garden. They make a bold statement, particularly in containers. Though elephant ear bulbs are easy to care for, they do require a few special considerations in order to perform their best.
When planting elephant ears, give them plenty of sun. A minimum of six hours of full sun will ensure strong, sturdy stems and large, succulent leaves. Elephant ears planted in the shade often grow long, lanky leaf stalks that topple over. Because the bulbs store carbohydrates made during the spring and summer, there’s seldom a need to fertilize these bulbs, as long as the previous season’s growth was lush and healthy.
The challenge in growing elephant ears, as you know, comes when frost threatens. Elephant ear bulbs will not survive the winter here in Pennsylvania if left outside. They’ll readily freeze and turn to mush, regardless of whether they’re grown in a container or in the ground. So, lifting the bulb out of the ground and storing it as you did last winter is the best way to enjoy the same elephant ear plant from year to year.
If you don’t want to overwinter the bulbs in peat moss, you can also simply leave them in the pot they’re growing in, move the pot into an attached garage, cut off the leaves, and stop watering the container completely. The potting soil will dry out and form a protective barrier around the bulb until spring’s arrival.
When warm weather arrives the following spring, lift the bulb out of the pot, dispose of the old soil and replant with fresh potting soil.
As for when to divide the bulbs, if you dig them up in the fall and overwinter them in peat moss, feel free to divide them before packing them up for the winter. You could also wait until the spring to divide the bulbs when using this method, but I often find I have more time to do these types of chores in the autumn.
If you’re going to over-winter the bulbs in their pot, then do your division in the spring, when you dig them up and replace the potting soil.
Whenever you decide to divide the bulbs, use care when cracking the “baby” bulbs off of the mother bulb. Simply separate the bulbs by pulling them apart with your hands. Don’t use a shovel or knife to separate them unless it’s too difficult to do by hand.
If you divide the bulbs in the fall, let the separated bulbs rest for two to three days before packing them in the peat moss. This will give the separated bulbs time to callous over before putting them into storage.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.
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