What catches your attention in the garden? Is it a plant’s beauty, its color, its unusual shape or size? What is the major factor that catches your eye? If it is any of these or all of them than I have a plant for you! If you are looking to grow something dramatic than elephant ears may be just what you are looking for. Flowers get a lot of our attention but as the growing season moves forward they reach a crescendo and then start to fade. Sometimes there are periods of time where nothing is flowering at all. These are the times you’ll be glad to have some elephant ears in your garden.
Elephant ears are related to taro which is a tuber that is cultivated in Hawaii and other areas of the pacific region as the major component of a food staple known as poi. Elephant ears are an ornamental plant and unlike their taro cousins they are not edible. They are grown for their striking foliage which can range in color from green to purple and even black. The intensity of the color can vary depending upon the amount of light the plant receives but what really makes this plant a standout is the size of its leaves. As its name suggest the leaves are enormous and look like a heart or you guessed it; an elephant ear. The leaves can be 3 feet long and 2 feet wide in more tropical climates and slightly smaller, but no less impressive, in northern regions.
Elephant ears grow 2 to 3 feet tall and in some more tropical climates they can reach up to 8 feet in height. If you’re going to have these in your yard a little planning is needed to be certain that they don’t take over an area where you have other plants that you want to keep. It can be pretty difficult for a smaller plant to compete with these big boys for sunlight, water or fertilizer. Many foliage plants prefer shady conditions but not this plant. It prefers full sun, although it can tolerate light shade and grows best in damp even bog-like soil. As a result they are a good choice for areas around ponds and other moist areas that can sometimes be challenging to gardeners.
Elephant ears are very similar to other frost sensitive tropical plants like dahlias, gladiolus and cannas. You plant them in the spring when you know that frost is no longer going to be a concern. Similar to their leaves the tubers or bulbs of this plant are also quite large. You have to plant them about 8” to 10” deep with the top if the tuber right at the soil line. Due to their size they are heavy feeders and should be fertilized every 3 weeks during the growing season. If you live in warmer garden zones such as zone 9 or higher you can leave them in the ground and they will go dormant during the winter and sprout again in the spring. There are some areas of the country, including Florida, where this plant has become an invasive species so it is a good idea to contact your local cooperative extension office before planting them in some areas of the country. In colder garden zones, if you dig them up after the foliage dies off in the fall and let them dry out a day or two you can winter them over in a box of lightly moistened peat moss and plant them again next year.
So, if you’re looking for a little flair and pizzazz in your garden this year try to give this plant a try and your neighbors might even say to you “what big ears you have”!