If you wish to create a bold and beautiful tropical background to your landscape this summer, now (March/April) is a great time to plant Elephant Ear bulbs.  For about the past 15 years, I have been fortunate to enjoy Elephant Ears in my back yard with very, very little garden work involved. There was only one really very cold winter that I recall when I had to plant a few extra bulbs the following spring, otherwise my Elephant Ears have reliably sprouted and multiplied throughout the years.  (That really cold winter I'm speaking of was the very unusual February in 2011 when we had freezing temps and ice on the ground for 3 -4 days straight - during Super Bowl weekend of all inconvenient times!)  At any rate, the reason I mention this is because Elephant Ears are tropical plants and thus, are considered annuals in Zones 7 and northward.  You will most likely have to dig up the bulbs and overwinter them from year to year if you reside in the less than tropical zones of the U.S.  The good news about this practice is it will give you the opportunity to split the corms (or eyes of the bulbs) and produce more plants the following year.    I personally live in Zone 7b (the southern part of Zone 7) and as I stated earlier, my Elephant Ears are definitely perennial so there is a little wiggle room with the annual/perennial designation depending upon the location in your yard that you plant your bulbs.  (For a detailed garden zone map, including lookup by ZIP code, see http://www.garden.org/zipzone/index.php.)


Elephant Ears are fast-growing, huge foliage plants very similar to, but much, much larger than their close relatives, caladiums.  Depending upon where you live, Elephant Ears will grow 3 - 6 feet tall and their leaves can become as large as . . . ummm . . . Elephant Ears!  Because of their bold appearance and need for ample space both in width and height, it is best to plant Elephant Ears in corners of your home or landscape - or on the back row of your beds.  They will give a tropical, summertime feel to any landscape and thus, are especially attractive planted in yards with pools or ponds. You may find bulbs that produce green, variegated or dark purple leaves.   So - depending on the color of your home's brick, rock, wood, etc. you are sure to find striking specimens perfect for your surroundings. Various leaf margins can also be found among the exotic species, such as smooth, ruffled or scalloped.
Black Magic Elephant Ears  http://scienceray.com/biology/elephant-ears/


Unlike most bulbs & tubers, Elephant Ears enjoy warm, humid and oftentimes wet conditions.   In very hot areas of the U.S., such as south Texas and Florida, Elephant Ears do best if planted in full to almost full shade.  Areas north of these states can plant the bulbs in mostly sunny to partly sunny locations. My Elephant Ears are planted in a corner of my backyard that is mostly shaded and stays a bit damp.  They thrive in this (relatively) cool, damp locale, although they do get a burst of sunlight for a couple of hours in the late afternoon - amazingly from the reflections of a couple of my neighbors western facing windows!  Sometimes the sun is so intense bouncing off the windows in the Texas heat, I will find the leaves of my plants will have temporarily wilted and dipped to the ground.  However, after a quick spray of the water hose they usually perk up by the next morning.
Once you have located the perfect location in your landscape for your Elephant Ears, you will need to plant the bulbs, pointed end up (or sideways if you have a bulb that is hard to differentiate), at about 2 inches under the soil.  Typically, the bigger the bulb, the bigger the plant, thus, depending on the size of your bulbs you may wish to leave about 1.5 to 2 feet between each one accordingly. 
As I mentioned earlier, in the ornamental sense, Elephant Ears are grown specifically for their large and beautiful leaves.  However they do flower on rare occasions.   The flowers remind me of those of peace lilies (although about 10 times larger!).


Frog in Elephant Ear Flower www.emilycompost.com

Another interesting fact about Elephant Ears (also called Taro) is their bulbs have been cultivated for many centuries in the tropical areas of Oceanic, Asian and African countries, and still are today an important part of the Hawaiian diet.  In fact, Taro is considered a "tropical potato".  Different cultures utilize the bulb (and sometimes the stalk and leaves) in different ways, but it is always cooked thoroughly.   If not, the plant can cause quite an upset stomach, among other problems, as it contains calcium oxalate crystals which can produce gout and kidney stones in humans.  Since pests are hardly a problem with Elephant Ears, it is thought the spiny calcium oxalate crystals within the raw plant actually deter insects from eating the plant as well.

 
Elephant Ear (Taro) Bulbs

 


Well, at the close of this post, I'd like to point you to a few Web sites that provided me a wealth of information - but the main reason I'd like you to visit them is to gaze upon the photos to see just how huge an Elephant Ear leaf can get.  Truly amazing.

  
I hope you find the perfect place to create your tropical paradise this year!


Until next time, Cindy

http://natureisnurture.net/

 


 References:  http://www.emilycompost.com/elephant_ear.htm http://www.elephantearsplants.com/elephantearsgrowing.htm                             http://www.tarofestival.org/  http://www.tropical-plants-flowers-and-decor.com/elephant-ear-plant...

  

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Tags: Ears, Elephant, bulbs, foliage, planting, spring, taro, tropical

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Comment by Lyn - Sydney on April 9, 2012 at 6:19pm

These are the photos I took during the week of the paddock filled with Taro plants.  They harvest them and then replant as soon as possible so there is always a crop growing as demand for them is so high!

Comment by Lyn - Sydney on April 9, 2012 at 4:24pm
Cindy, seeing your post has just reminded me I have a photo on my camera of the Taro crop and will post later.
Comment by Cindy Pierce on April 9, 2012 at 1:34pm

Thanks, all, for your comments.  I am very interested in seeing pics of the Taro and Bonnie - of your Black Magic ones!  Mayn . . . keeping my fingers crossed yours come back.  Mine have been mushy, too, in the past and amazingly they sprouted despite! 

Comment by Xil Perez on April 4, 2012 at 1:36pm

Beautiful Elephant ears i just love them!

 

Comment by Myan Jencks Zone 7-B SC on April 2, 2012 at 6:42pm

Hi Cindy love your post. I planted them the first time last year have always love them. Was afraid it got too cold but they are about 2 inches out of the ground so I am so excited. I have the black magic and the green. I thought my one green one was dead when I touched it last week it broke in half with real white mush in the center.I am leaving it alone and keeping my fingers crossed:)

Comment by Bonnie Hannum ~ Missouri, USA on April 2, 2012 at 6:03pm

Oh, and I've been pairing the Black Magic with fuscia coleus in the front/underneath and red canns behind....it's pretty stunning.  I will post some pics later this summer when they've grown. No nubs showing yet......

Comment by Bonnie Hannum ~ Missouri, USA on April 2, 2012 at 6:01pm

Cindy, thanks so much for the info!  Elephant ears are among my favorites and are definitely a "staple" in my gardens just as rice and potatoes are in the house!!  ;)   Can't live without 'em!  I just started growing the Black Magic a few years ago and have been getting some new corms from the originals, so am hopeful that they become as beautiful as the clump in the photo you shared!

Lyn, I'll be waiting to see that paddock picture you'll be sharing, I can only imagine how stunning that must have looked!!!!  I can't believe you went off without your trusty camera!!!  :)

Comment by Lyn - Sydney on April 1, 2012 at 2:14am
Cindy, after discussing Taro here, I was driving out to the Farmgate to pick up some bags of topsoil and passed a paddock full of Elephant Ears being grown for the Taro. Unfortunately for the first time in ages I didn't have my little camera with me, but will go by during the week and get a pic to post here. It was a lovely sight!
Comment by Cindy Pierce on March 27, 2012 at 3:34pm

Hi Lyn & Denise:  Lyn - No, the Black Magic isn't mine.  I agree it is stunning!  I did see a few black ones in the garden centers this weekend here in North Texas.  I may give them a try.  The area I have mine (green ones) planted is in a corner, so I think the black ones may not look at stunning in my yard.  Bet they'd look really nice up against Coleus. though.  Thanks for the interesting info about the Taro in your part of the world.  The article was truly an eye-opening research piece for me.  I'd heard of Taro before, but I did not associate it with the Elephant Ears I grew for ornamental purposes!  Always learn something with gardening! 

Denise - I do not fertilize my Elephant Ears much at all and it could be that I am just fortunate that they are planted in a fertile area.  I've never been one that is much on granular fertilizer - but when I do supplement my plants, it is usually with liquid seaweed. A bonus is it keeps spider mites away too!   You may wish to plant your Ears in a tad more sun than I give mine in Zone 7b (almost 8).  Give them a try again and let me know how they grow.  Good Luck!

Comment by Lyn - Sydney on March 27, 2012 at 12:26am
Cindy - Thanks for the great info on Elephants Ears. They are grown in huge quantities here more for the Taro, that is utilised in large amounts by the population of Samoans, Tongans and other Islander folk.
The beautiful Black Magic one you have featured is stunning. Is that one of yours?
I did have an indoor miniature Elephant Ears plant that stallholder convinced me at Christmas would survive happily indoors! Not so, we then planted it in shade in our front garden and there it happily succumbed a few weeks ago! Might have to give the big ones a go in the garden.

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