Danny Flanders

elephant ear
Lush, tropical elephant ears make a bold garden statement.

If you ever want to make a bold statement in your garden, bring on the elephant ear plant! I can think of no other plant that offers the kind of in-your-face structure, texture – and in some cases, color – that they do.

In recent years, growers have come out with varieties reaching 4 feet in diameter, colors ranging from lemon yellow to jet black, and stalks as sturdy as a small tree.

Elephant ear plants are tropicals grown from bulbs and fall into two major categories: Colocasia and AlocasiaColocasias typically are the old-fashioned type with giant leaves that bob – much like the ears of their pachyderm namesake. Most can sit straight in the water because they thrive in wet conditions. The more drought-tolerant Alocasias are typically grow upright, with leaves that point skyward. With their thick stalks, many can reach 6 feet or taller. And then there is a third type – Xanthosoma – just to throw a wrench in the whole category discussion, such as the ever-popular ‘Lime Zinger’ with its bright yellow-green foliage.

One reason elephant ears have become so popular in recent years is container gardening. One bulb can add more drama to a pot than a Hollywood star parading on the red carpet. An elephant ear forms the perfect centerpiece, giving the container often much-needed height, much like a small shrub. When using a Colocasia, such as ‘Black Magic’, just make sure you pair it with plants of like needs because these bulbs require lots of water.

Also know that some elephant ears can take full sun while others only full shade – and still many others in between! ‘Tea Cup’ with its cup-like leaves curled upward can tolerate lots of sun, while ‘Frydek’, with its unusual emerald green and white-veined leaves,  can tolerate only shade.

Want to super-size your garden statement? Choose Colocasia gigantea ‘Thailand Giant’, which, with its 5-foot-long by 4-foot-wide leaves can reach 9 feet tall!

Rotting is a huge issue for bulbs, so depending on how harsh your winters get, you’ll need to store them indoors after the growing season ends. In late fall, cut back the foliage to several inches above the bulb, dig up the bulb, and store it in perlite in a cool place, such as a basement or garage. Then replant it next spring once the soil warms.

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