When to Plant Elephant Ear Bulbs/Tubers

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When to Plant Elephant Ear Bulbs/Tubers

Elephant ear plants have large-sized, other-worldly-looking leaves that resemble an elephant’s ear. The plant’s name covers a group of aroid plants, including Colocasia, Caladium, Alocasia, and Xanthosoma. Though native to parts of Asia, the Pacific Islands, and the tropical Americas, they can grow in USDA hardiness Zones 3 through 8 as annuals and higher zones as perennials. It’s best to plant elephant ear bulbs in the spring after the last frost in your area.

The bulbs of elephant ear plants are called tubers, which are different from true bulbs. Tubers are root stems that store essential food and nutrients, while true bulbs like tulips and daffodils hold the entire plant within the bulb.

You can purchase a pack of 15 Caladium Fancy Red Flash tubers online at Longfield Gardens for less than $40. These tubers grow beautiful, large scarlet and dark green heart-shaped leaves. Elephant ears come in various shades ranging from deep purple and black to bright and dark green, with pops of color in pink and white. If you want to try growing elephant ears, now you know where to start.

What month do you plant elephant ear bulbs?

elephant ear colocasia tubers

NA photograper/Shutterstock

In colder climates, you may not be able to plant elephant ear bulbs until May or June. The soil temperature must be at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit for elephant ears to actually grow. To check the temperature of your soil, use a soil thermometer. You can find a 4-in-1 soil tester on Amazon for $22. This soil tester measures soil moisture, temperature, pH, and sunlight. With this tool, you can plan the best time to plant your elephant ear bulbs (tubers) based on an accurate soil temperature in your area.

The last frost date in your area will depend on what USDA Hardiness Zone you’re in. These last frost dates are variable and based on previous climate data in each region. Frost is a big threat to plants, especially tropicals. It not only damages your plants but may entirely wipe them out, depending on the temperatures. Your local weather and climate report can give you the best idea of when the final frost date is in your area.

Do elephant ear bulbs come back every year?

bright green elephant ears

Mercy Edjoc/Shutterstock

As mentioned, elephant ears are a tropical plant, so as annuals in colder regions, they’ll only survive one growing season and won’t survive the winter. Their bulbs must be dug up, stored, and replanted for the following year. You can also care for elephant ears by planting them in pots and bringing them inside in the winter. In USDA Zones 9 through 11, elephant ears are perennials and will come back every year because of the milder climate and temperature during the winter.

Digging up and replanting elephant ear tubers is relatively simple. Cut off all the leaves and stems by cutting directly above the ground a week or two before the first frost date in the fall. Then, gently dig up the tubers and pull them out, leaving whatever roots have formed, trimming them as needed. Wash them well with water to remove all the dirt, and let the bulbs dry in a cool, dark area. After a week of drying, you can prep them for storage through the winter. Wrap them in paper, store in a box, and check on them every few weeks. If you notice any disease or pests, spray the elephant ear tubers with neem oil and let them dry out before re-wrapping. Wait until the soil reaches the right temperature in the spring before planting the tubers again. Do not soak them in water before planting. This popular planting myth can lead to pathogens and rotting.

Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.