If you are looking to add a plant with a tropical vibe to your northern garden, the Elephant Ear Mammoth is the one for you. It loves the sun, and once emerged from the ground is a relatively fast growing plant, easily reaching 48 to 60 inches tall. The elephant ear plant has wonderful large elongated heart-shaped leaves that can catch the eye, become a topic of conversation, and are a focal point in any garden.
The elephant ear plant, like the Dahlia and Canna is easy to grow, and at the end of the growing season can be dug up, stored for the Winter, and replanted the following Spring. Two tubers over time will multiply into many, that you can plant throughout the garden, or give to friends.
Siting and Planting Elephant Ear tubers ..Being a tropical plant, try to find a place in your garden for the elephant ear so it gets full sun (preferably), to partial shade. Full sun is 6 plus hours of direct sun each day, most likely coming from the south-west. Partial shade is an eastern exposure where you get 4 to 6 hours of direct morning sunlight, but no direct afternoon sun light.
Planting the tubers ..In my neck of the woods, upstate New York USA zone 5-4, I would plant the elephant ear on or just after May 1. Other tender Summertime blooming bulbs, tubers, and corms like Dahlias, Canna, Gladioli, etc would also be planted at that time.
Soil preparation is important when planting elephant ears, or any other plant in your garden. Amend (improve) the soil before planting anything. Work a shovel or two each of dehydrated cow manure and sphagnum peat moss into your existing soil. This will boost its organic content and make it more fertile and productive.
Plant elephant ear mammoth so there is just 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches of soil on top of the tuber, and space them 24 inches apart.
A lot of gardeners who have never planted the elephant ear tuber before, have a hard time figuring which side is the top. The top of the tuber has a number of rings, like the age rings, you see when you cut down a tree, and there are little bumps and nipples that could be a pinkish brown, on that top side. The top of the tuber is more round and smooth, where as the bottom is more rough, pock-marked and crater covered. Now look at the tuber in the illustration.
After being planted, the elephant ear plant sometimes waits a while before it decides to start sending up new growth. It seems to want both the air and ground it is planted in warm, before it starts growing. The first time I planted them, after not seeing anything starting to emerge after 3 or 4 weeks, I decided to do a little detective work. I carefully scraped back the top layer of soil that covered them, to see if they had been eaten by something, rotted away, or who knows what else. I discovered they were fine, so I covered them back up, gave them a drink, and maybe two weeks after that, when it got warmer they started to grow.
The elephant ear plant likes a good drink of water. Give it a drink, two or three times a week, if the weather is dry. If you can, mix up some water-soluble fertilizer and give it a drink of that every two weeks, also. Follow the directions on the package for the amount of the product you should use.
As the plant grows, it is constantly producing new leaves. Older leaves will start to yellow and collapse. Cut them off to neaten up the plant.
The elephant ear mammoth can be planted in a container, or the ground. The first time I planted them in containers, the root systems became so strong and vigorous, that they cracked through two of my nice plastic pots. My suggestion, if you are planting them in decorative containers, is to first plant them in inexpensive pots, or a plastic pot a bush or tree comes in, and then put that pot into the fancy decorative pot. That way the elephant ear’s roots can’t ruin a good container, and it will be easier, in the Fall to take the plant out of the dirt, for Winter storage.
Winter Storage ..In middle to late Fall, as days and nights get colder, the elephant ear plant will start to yellow up a bit. Wait for the first frost to knock it down. After that, take a shovel, dig up the plant, and cut off the leaves, leaving just an inch or two of stem. Take a hose, wash off the tubers, let them dry on the lawn for a day, and put them in an uncovered box or bushel basket for Winter storage. I just lay mine, one on top of the other in the bushel basket, and I store then in a semi heated garage that goes no lower than 45 degrees fahrenheit in Winter.
In Spring, when you go to plant the elephant ear tubers, you will notice / find that those thick-fleshy tubers, that you put away last Fall have dried up. The big mother tuber has now died, and is kind of clay like (not slimy). As you remove / peel away the dried layers /skins of the old tubers, you will see small baby tubers hidden in them. Those small tubers are what you will now be planting. It is funny that, even though I’ve started with big tubers, and my elephant ears grow big and healthy, I never get new big baby tubers like the ones I started with, when I first bought them at my local garden center, or nationally known discount or hardware store like Walmart, Home Depot or Lowe’s.
I am now, probably planting the off-spring of two elephant ear plants that I bought 15 or so years ago.
Finally, I think the elephant ear plant is a wonderful companion to the castor bean plant, canna, and ornamental grasses. Look at the photo. You will see mine growing by my deck. These plants make me think of the tropics, and transport me to a place far away.
Companion Post . .Grow some Castor Bean Plants, add a Tropical Vibe to your Garden 5-11-2012, When designing a perennial garden, it’s all about the shape of leaves 1-15-2011, How to Plant (Design) a garden. Mass versus Specimen planting 2-17-2011, Container planted or in the ground, Canna Plants are a Focal Point 3-18-2013