Elephant's Ear Plant Care

Listen up: Make room in your summer garden for the dazzling tropical beauty of elephant’s ears.
Story by Gene B. Bussell

Elephant’s ears offer some of the boldest foliage you could ever want in a garden. Huge, heart-shaped leaves come in black, purple, emerald green, chartreuse, yellow, or a mix of colors. The mammoth leaves can be more than 3 feet long on plants that can grow higher than 6 feet tall. Even the stems deliver impressive colors. New breeding has resulted in hybrids that offer a wealth of choices in a range of colors, sizes, and habits. Some of the best new ones are from the Royal Hawaiian series with selections such as ‘Hawaiian Punch,’ ‘Blue Hawaii,’ ‘Kona Coffee,’ ‘White lava,’ and ‘Pineapple Princess.’

Elephant’s ears grow from tubers. Some clump, while others spread on runners along the ground. If you are worried about elephant’s ears going rogue in your yard, choose clumpers instead of runners, or grow runners in pots. Either way, they all love water, sunshine, and fertilizer. Plant tubers or transplant container-grown plants into soil amended with organic matter such as chopped leaves, peat, or composted manure. It does not have to be well drained. These plants have big appetites, so feed regularly with Dynamite Organic All-Purpose (10-2-8) or Espoma Plant-tone (5-3-3).

Most elephant’s ears are perennials and will come back every summer in the Lower, Coastal, and Tropical South. Some are perennials in the lower part of the Middle South. They like the soil to be relatively dry in winter. If gardening any farther north than that, lift tubers before the first frost and store them in a cool, dry place over the winter months.

Create a Focal Point
Grow elephant’s ears en masse for a big show of texture and color, or use one as a specimen for a striking accent. They thrive in big pots and will work in water gardens if placed in submerged containers. Elephant’s ears mix great with each other and also combine well with the flashy foliage of other tropicals such as bananas, cannas, and crinums. For a colorful summer combo, try this container recipe in a big pot: Use chocolate leaves of ‘Puckered Up’ elephant’s ear as the thriller, the pink flowers of ‘Fanfare Orchid’ impatiens as the filler, and the chartreuse foliage of ‘Margarita’ sweet potato vine as a spiller.

Where to Buy: Visit your local nursery for a selection of elephant’s ears to transplant into your garden. You can also check out Tony Avent’s Plant Delights Nursery (plantdelights.com) in Raleigh, North Carolina, for a big assortment of elephant’s ears. Or click on these sites: justfruitsandexotics.com, floridahillnursery.com, and logees.com.