Bold tropical style for the Garden-Elephant Ears

October 10, 2021

Large Heart Shaped Leaves? How Can I Use Them?

Add bold tropical style to your garden with stately Elephant Ears. Lush, large, heart or arrow-shaped leaves lend drama to the space in which you grow it. This can be in your garden beds, large containers outside, or in your house.

If you plant in containers, because the leaves are large, ensure that the container is big and fairly heavy.

The colors range from vivid light greens to near black. You will find dramatic patterns on the foliage and even the stems. On these plants, small leaves range from 8-12″ and large from 18-36″ in length.

Elephant ears are attractive when mixed with plants having smaller, softer foliages or grasses with wispy flowers. Use their solidity for privacy and to soften walls or angular areas.

Companion Plants For Elephant Ears

To maintain a tropical context for your garden, consider canna, variegated tapioca, banana, caladiums & coleus for your summer jungle style. Imagine multicolor coleus accenting your giant tropical leaves.

Using these big-leafed plants in containers allows you to employ them as a moveable line of sight. Wherever you want your guests to look, or cover a bare spot, they are ready to oblige.

Available Varieties With Bold Tropical Style

Alocasia-This one has upright ears. Airy and elegant, it has smooth stems and plain or tiger-striped stems. The petiole (leaf stem) is connected to the leaf at the leaf notch. The tubers are thin and long.

Colocasia-This is the taro plant and is one of the earliest known plants used as food by humans. You can recognize it because it has true downward-pointing ears -like the elephant. Its petiole connects at a point down on the leaf. The tubers are thick and swollen in appearance.

Sadly, it is invasive throughout the entire Gulf Coast region, destroying plant diversity by pushing out native species.

Xanthosoma-This plant, of similar appearance to the other two, is invasive throughout Florida. It is native to tropical America. Its petiole attaches at the leaf notch. The leaf tip points downward.

History-How The Plants Got To Us

Elephant Ear Bulbs (Mainly Colucasia Escalenta) have been grown for food for more than 28,000 years. Today they are the 14th most widely consumed vegetable on earth. (Source)

Traced to origins in South East Asia, they are used around the equatorial world. Today the plants are eaten in various parts of the Mediterranean including Turkey, Lebanon, and Cyprus. Descriptions of their cultivation are found in ancient Greek and Roman writing.

How To Use Elephant Ears

Hardiness Zones: The plants are generally hardy to zones 8b-12. Above those zones, they need to be treated as annuals or have the tubers lifted and stored for the winter.

They can be replanted next season. They are also successful as large houseplants.

Check the descriptions of the plants you are buying. New varieties are constantly being developed and some have slightly different hardiness zones.

A list of plant dealers is in this article on Agapanthus.

Find your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone. It is important to understand how the hardiness zones are used by various experts. For example, I use a university source that specifies that Elephant Ears are hardy from zone 8b to zone 10.

Elephant Ears As A House Plant

In the house, the plants lend a tropical look. Because they were popular in the 1950s, you might like them for a mid-century look. Keep the potted plant in medium to bright indoor light. If you notice bleaching or browning on the leaves the light may be too bright. Move the plant to a less bright location.

Overwatering is the major problem of indoor Elephant Ears. Keep the soil light and able to drain, and evenly moist but never soggy.

If the plant appears to die back, it may be becoming dormant. Trim off any dead material, do not water for 8-10 weeks, and re-water.

How To Select The Plants

A tuber should be firm and heavy and feel dry on the outside. The size of the tuber is highly correlated to the size of the plant, large tubers produce the strongest stems with the most foliage.

It is common to use the generic term bulb. In some cases, the bulb is actually a rhizome or tuber. The Elephant Ears grow from a tuber. This includes a discussion of the various bulb definitions.

How To Plant The Tuber

Plant it in soil improved with organic matter, which is loose and well-drained. Add time-release fertilizer, make the hole deep enough that the tuber is 1″ or more below the surface (check the instructions on the vendor’s package.). Water in well and maintain steadily moist (not soggy) soil.

If you are planting the tubers in containers use a potting mix that is rich in organic matter. Include peat and perlite to maintain moisture.

Check the Soil Temperature

Elephant Ears will not grow until the soil is warm. Plant after the soil temperature reaches 65°. If you are not sure, you can use an instant-read cooking thermometer.

Take care in handling the plant, its sap contains crystals of calcium oxalate which is a skin irritant.

It is important that the soil is loose enough that the plant can reach water and that the temperature is even.


Fertilize monthly, with a timed-release fertilizer labeled 20-20-20.

How to Save the Tubers to Replant Next Year

After the first frost do this to save your tubers for next year:

1, Remove the foliage from the rhizome and dig it up. Cut the stems about 6″ long.

2. Dry for several days.

3. Store in an open container, slightly covered in potting soil at 45°-55°

People who successfully grow them outdoors in pots and then bring the entire thing indoors for the winter have sunny windows. They also say they remove a few of the largest leaves for transport.

Pests and Diseases

Spider Mites appear on the underside of leaves and can be removed with water or a miticide.


Phytophthora Leaf Blight, this is a serious disease, spreads on water and causes tiny lesions. Use copper fungicides as a preventative.

Pythium Rot, is the most damaging disease of Elephant Ears, according to the University of Hawaii which studies them intensively. The disease is prevented by keeping the general area sanitized and using clean irrigation water. It is caused by the pythium parasite which can also attack potatoes and tomatoes. This is some of the University research, regarding diseases of the plant.

Phyllosticta Leaf Spot, this is aesthetic damage that produces lesions and is prevented by not wetting the leaves when irrigating.

Some Other Summer Bulbs To Consider

Enjoying summer bulbs is an easy (and cost-effective) way to add color to the garden when the spring blooms are done. It takes a little planning. Here is a discussion of how to add other summer bulbs, along with a list of blooms with their specifications.