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Elephant ear plants are popular tropical plants, known for their unique foliage and many uses in landscaping. They’re often planted around ponds, along walkways, as background or house plants, and even as ground covers. They can be used in various ways to decorate your garden and the exterior of your home.
What are Elephant Ear Plants?
Native to Southeastern Asia and the Indian subcontinent, Elephant ear plants (Colocasia) are naturalized and cultivated in many other tropical and sub-tropical areas around the world. They grow best as outdoor plants in USDA zones 7-11 while in other zones they’re mostly planted indoors.
Popular Types of Elephant Ear Plants
There are many different types of elephant ear plants out there, but some of the most popular types include the following:
- Colocasia Gigantean (Giant Elephant Ear/ Indian Taro): The largest species of elephant ear plants, these grow up to a height of 1.5 to 3 meters tall. Their leaf stalk is often eaten as a vegetable in South-Eastern Regions and Japan.
- Colocasia Esculenta (Black Magic): These have an eye-catching, smoky purplish-black foliage and white to yellowish-green flowers with a spadix. Black magic plants grow 3-6 feet tall with a spread of 90-180 cm.
- Colocasia Esculenta (Tropical Storm): This is a hybrid species that grows 1-3 feet tall. It has multicolored foliage with dark green to purplish-black leaves.
- Colocasia Affinis (Jenningsii/ Dwarf Elephant Ear): This is a short variety that only grows 18-36 inches in height which is what gave them the name ‘Dwarf Elephant Ear’. The leaves are in dark in color with light-colored veins.
- Colocasia Affinis (Mojito): These plants have striking foliage with a mixture of colors and specks. They grow in USDA zones 1-10 and mostly produce flowers in the summer.
When to Plant Elephant Ear Plants
When growing elephant ear plants outdoors, it’s best to wait until the last bit of frost goes away before you start planting. The ideal time would be in mid or late spring.
You can also plant them indoors beforehand to give them a head start for the summer or you can grow them as houseplants in your home.
Where to Plant Elephant Ear Plants
Colocasia loves warmth, humidity, and rich, moist soil so make sure to pick a spot in your garden that matches the requirement. Make sure they also get some shade from the afternoon sun in the hottest time of the year.
If you’re growing your plants indoors, place them in a location with a humid atmosphere and bright, indirect sunlight. For example, you can place them on a window sill in your home.
How to Plant Elephant Ear Plants
There are several methods for propagating Colocasia, but doing it with seed or bulbs is the easiest. If you’re propagating them from seeds, simply spread the seeds on fertile soil.
After sowing, make sure to keep the seeds moist all the time. In the right conditions, they will germinate within a few months and once they’re big enough you can move them into new spots or containers.
When propagating Colocasia from bulbs, dig holes about 8-10 inches deep and plant the bulbs inside with the pointed side facing downwards. Cover them with a layer of soil a couple of centimeters thick and water thoroughly right away.
Colocasia can be planted both in the ground and in pots. If you prefer growing them in containers, always choose big ones that are at least 18 inches wide and 16 inches deep in size. That way, you won’t have to bother with re-potting them for a few years. Pots made with a non-porous material such as plastic or fiberglass are ideal as they retain moisture better and longer.
It’s important that these pots are having enough holes for good drainage.
Colocasia loves well-draining, moist soil with enough nutrition. You can make your own potting mix for your Colocasia plants at home by blending loamy soil with perlite, peat moss and compost or you can simply buy a good potting mix from your local gardening store. The ideal pH level of the soil for these plants would be in a range of 5.5-7.0, but don’t worry if your soil doesn’t meet the requirement. Your Colocasia plants will still thrive.
Although colocasia is known as a sun-loving plant, when it gets exposed to the hottest summer sun, the foliage can get burned and damaged. Therefore, in draught climates they need some partial shade and protection from the afternoon sun. About 4 hours of morning sun and bright, indirect sunlight for the rest of the day will nicely satisfy their daily light requirements.
These plants are best grown in temperatures of 20-30 C (68-86 F) so it’s harmful to colocasia to be grown in temperatures below or above these levels. In climates with a heat level of 10 C or below (50 F) they can’t survive outside at all. Therefore, in such conditions either they have to be brought inside for the winter or be grown as indoor houseplants.
Colocasia needs to be watered deeply at least once a week. In the summer, you may have to increase the watering, while in the winter-dormancy period you’ll need to decrease the amount accordingly.
In normal climate conditions, give your Colocasia plants 2-3 inches of water per week. Water them in the morning and when the 2 inches of the soil surface is dry to the touch.
Colocasia is best watered with clean rainwater, but if you don’t have a way to collect the rainwater, you can use filtered or distilled tap water. Colocasia that are grown inside your home or greenhouse doesn’t have to be watered as much as outdoor grown plants as the water evaporation is much less indoors.
Colocasia plants are heavy feeders, so you’ll need to feed them monthly except during the winter. You can use a slow-release, water-solvent liquid fertilizer and also add some organic compost and compost-tea to your plants. This will help your colocasia plants to thrive and flourish.
Pest and Disease Control
Colocasia is often infested by aphids, spider mites, and worms that harm the plant foliage. Blotched, discolored, distorted leaves and lack of growth are the visible signs of these infestations. To treat them, first, wash off the insects with a stream of water and spray the plant and soil with horticultural oil or an insecticide.
The most common infections that pose a threat to these plants include fungal leaf blight and Pythium root rot. Look out for these tell-tale indicators:
- Dark spots on the leaves.
- Lesions on the foliage that oozes fluid.
- Stunt of growth.
- Wilted and withered plants.
- Rotting stems and roots.
While plants with fungal leaf blight can be saved with a copper-based fungicide, pythium rot can’t be treated once it’s infected. The only option is to destroy all the sick plants immediately.
Spray the healthy ones and the surrounding area and soil with a fungicide to prevent a relapse. One important thing to remember is that most of these diseases can be prevented beforehand with good care.
If you’re looking to add some beautiful, exotic plants to your garden, elephant ear plants would be an excellent option. Don’t forget to give them to pay them a little extra attention and you’ll find it’ll go a long way.