Colocasia, commonly known as elephant ear, makes for a stunning landscape plant. If you want it to survive winter though, you’ll need to dig it up and care for it indoors. It’s the perfect time to roll up your sleeves and get your plant into a toasty room.
All About Elephant Ears
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, your elephant ear plant. Colocasia and Alocasia are both within the elephant ear family. Although related, the leaves on Alocasia and Colocasia have some notable differences. Colocasia have a matte finish on the leaves, which are rounder than the heart or arrow-shaped Alocasia leaves. For a quick way to differentiate between the two, remember that Colocasias have leaves that point down, and the stem connects to the very center of the leaf.
The common name, elephant ear, is fitting. This species is a giant in the plant kingdom, especially when they are used as houseplants. Their leaves alone can grow to 3 feet wide, with the plant itself growing 2-3 feet wide and 2-6 feet tall.
Caring for Elephant Ears
It can be a tough gig growing tropical-loving elephant ears in the decidedly un-tropical state of Iowa, but it certainly can be done.
Sunlight: Your elephant ears will thrive in brightly lit rooms indoors and partial shade outdoors. However, the leaves can be sensitive to intense sun, so be wary of any burning or bleaching on the leaves. If you suspect your elephant ears are getting too much light, relocate or add a sheer curtain to help block out some of the light if needed.
Space: Elephant ears have surprisingly small beginnings. They start as unsuspecting tubers and grow into giants. When growing outdoors, you’ll need to give them ample space to grow, so don’t crowd them. For growing or relocating indoors, you should choose a large 14-20 inch pot. If growing from its tuber state, plant it about 8 inches deep into the soil.
Watering: These plants like to stay moist but avoid wet feet. Proper drainage is key to regulating water distribution and avoiding root rot. Tropical plants love humidity, so encourage humidity indoors with a saucer of pebbles and water.
Dormancy: Elephant ears may go dormant indoors during Iowa winters. Don’t be too alarmed if the leaves turn brown and fall away. If you notice this, slow down on the watering and cut off some of the extra leaves so it can focus its energy on root development. With proper care, it will bounce back in spring with fresh new leaves. Stop all your fertilizing efforts and water occasionally.
Transplanting Elephant Ears in Winter
To safely dig up and transplant your elephant ear, start by digging down a foot away from the base of the plant. Elephant ear tubers are prone to bruising and damage, so you’ll need to take care and be particularly cautious. Once you’ve dug them up, you’ll want to try to get your plant near a south-facing window for ample light. Keep them well-watered and in warm, humid conditions.
If you’re not interested in immediately repotting the elephant ear as a houseplant, you can instead cut away the foliage, brush the dirt off the tubers (don’t use water as it can cause rotting), and dry them in a warm, dark place. Once dried, wrap the tubers in paper and keep them safe and dry until spring.
Caring for Elephant Ears Indoors
Elephant ears are some of the most impressive houseplants you can have in your collection. With some care, patience, and troubleshooting the occasional issue, you can have a lush, vibrant elephant ear of your own. They are susceptible to overwatering, so be careful and watch for signs of “weeping” where the plant drips water from the tips of their leaves. This warm-weather-loving plant prefers temperature around 60–80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Finally, a fun fact about Colocasias: if you’ve been enjoying the flavor trend of taro, you can thank elephant ears for that! Colocasia is grown as a food crop in some Asian countries and Hawaii. While it’s toxic when raw, when cooked, it’s absolutely delicious.
With these steps, you should be able to care for and enjoy your elephant ear indoors and outdoors year after year. For more advice on how to care for your elephant ear indoors in Iowa, come visit us!