GROWING ELEPHANT EARS
BIG IS ALWAYS BETTER…
Elephant Ears (Colocasia esculenta ) are tropical bulbs; the plants thrive in hot, moist conditions. They are called “Elephant Ears” because the large, dramatic leaves resemble the ears of elephants. If planting them directly into the ground outdoors, wait until the ground is warm and all danger of frost is past (end of May in our area). For larger plants, start the bulbs indoors. Once the soil is warm, they should start to sprout in 2 to 3 weeks.
Whether planted indoors or outdoors, bulbs should be set into the ground with the point up. If the bulb has already sprouted, it is easy to tell ‘which end is up’… but if not, the bottom half of the bulb may show traces of root hairs via small holes as well as bumps or divots. The top half of the bulb will be smoother, and will often have concentric circles as well as markings where the previous year’s stems were. If you cannot determine which end is the top of the bulb, plant it on its side; it will compensate! Bulbs should be firm to the touch. Plant deeply enough so that 2” of soil is above the top of the bulb. Space bulbs at least 3’ apart in the garden, and situate them in a full sun to partial shade location where they can be kept moist. Be patient; it may take a few weeks before you see sprouting. Water well when planting, and then don’t water heavily until the sprouts appear. Elephant ears are heavy feeders; use a water-soluble balanced fertilizer (we like Jack’s Classic 20-20-20) every 2 weeks throughout the summer.
Elephant ears may be planted in large pots, and the pots may be brought inside for the winter and treated as houseplants. Otherwise, dig the bulbs when cold weather arrives in the fall, cut off the top growth and place the bulbs in vermiculite or peat moss for the winter. They should be stored in a cool, dry place…but not allowed to freeze or totally dry out. Check them periodically during the winter and slightly moisten the storage medium if necessary.
Caution – the sap of elephant ears is irritating to some people. Wear gloves when cutting the stems or handling the freshly-dug bulbs, and do not rub your face or eyes when planting or harvesting. All parts of the plant contain calcium oxalate crystals and should not be eaten or put into the mouth. If ingested raw, mouth irritation and severe swelling of the throat may occur. Rarely, ingestion of the raw plant may cause nausea or diarrhea. When cooked, the root is totally safe to eat.