Elephant ear bulbs, also known as colocasia or alocasia, are tropical plants grown for their spectacular, oversized leaves. While they are not true bulbs, their tubers can be stored over winter and replanted in spring to regrow each year. Saving your elephant ear bulbs requires digging them up in fall before the first frost, cleaning and drying the tubers, and storing them properly over winter. With a little TLC, you can have your elephant ears up and growing again next season.
When do I dig up my elephant ear bulbs?
The timing for digging up and storing elephant ear tubers depends on your climate. In general, you’ll want to dig them up 4-6 weeks before your first expected frost date. This gives the foliage time to die back and the tubers time to cure before going dormant for winter. If you wait too long and get caught by an early freeze, it can damage the tubers and compromise their ability to be stored.
As a rule of thumb, plan to dig up your elephant ears in early to mid fall. For example, in USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10, aim for late September to mid October. In Zones 5-7, target mid October to early November. If in doubt, aim on the earlier side. The foliage may not be completely brown yet, and that’s okay.
How do I dig elephant ear bulbs?
Digging up elephant ear tubers is a straightforward process, though sometables for the tubers can be quite large and heavy. Follow these steps:
- Cut off the stems and remove as much foliage as possible. Try to leave just the tubers and roots.
- Use a garden fork or shovel to carefully lift the tubers from the soil. Take care not to slice or damage them.
- Gently shake or hose off excess dirt, but don’t wash them thoroughly yet.
- Spread out the harvested tubers and allow them to dry for 1-2 days. This helps seal any wounds from digging.
- Once dried, use a soft brush to clean off the remaining dirt.
How do I prepare elephant ear bulbs for storage?
After digging and drying your elephant ear tubers, there are a few additional steps to get them prepped for optimal storage:
- Inspect for damage or rot: Check over each tuber, looking for soft spots, holes, or signs of rotting. Any damaged or diseased portions should be cut away with a sterile knife.
- Trim the roots and stems: Remove any remaining stems, foliage, and roots with clean shears or a knife. Try to leave at least 1-2 inches of the basal neck intact.
- Cure in a warm spot: Curing further dries out the tubers for 1-2 weeks in a warm, dry spot around 75°F. This encourages faster wound sealing.
- Dust with fungicide: Dusting the trimmed tubers with a fungicide helps prevent rot over winter. Sulfur or cinnamon powder work well.
Properly prepped tubers will feel firm and light, with no moist spots. Diseased or damaged tubers are prone to rotting over winter and should be discarded.
What’s the best way to store elephant ear bulbs?
There are a few options for overwintering your elephant ear tubers. The main goal is keeping them cool, yet dry and dormant. Some good storage methods include:
- Pack in peat moss – Place tubers in breathable plastic bags or containers with slightly moist peat moss. Store in a cool basement, cellar, or garage around 45-55°F.
- Bury in mulch – Dig a trench in a sheltered spot and add a few inches of bark chips or shredded leaves. Arrange tubers and cover with more mulch. Mulch outdoors if your winters are mild.
- Keep in paper bags – Store cured, dry tubers in perforated paper bags kept in a cool indoor location with good airflow.
Check stored tubers occasionally for any signs of rotting. Discard any that show disease instead of risking spread.
Can elephant ear bulbs be stored in a garage or basement?
Storing elephant ear tubers in an unheated garage, cellar, or basement can work well if the temperatures stay within the optimal range. Ideal storage conditions are cool and dry, around 45-55°F, with plenty of air circulation. The key factors to consider are:
- Choose a spot that won’t freeze, as temps below 40°F can damage tubers.
- Make sure the area stays reasonably dry to prevent mold and rot issues.
- Allow some airflow if possible, such as with mesh bags or perforated containers.
- Check periodically and remove any tubers that show signs of rotting.
A basement or cellar storage room often provides an ideal environment. For garages, an unheated interior spot away from freezing doors may work best in colder climates. The right spot will keep your tubers dormant but still viable for replanting in spring.
What temperature should I keep elephant ear bulbs at?
Ideal storage conditions for elephant ear tubers over winter are:
- Temperatures between 45-55°F
- Dry environment with good air circulation
- High humidity around 90-95%
- Complete darkness
Cool temperatures right around 50°F are optimal to keep the tubers dormant and prevent them from rotting. Freezing conditions below 40°F or excess heat above 60°F can damage the tubers. Aim for storage spots like unheated basements or cellars that stay naturally cool.
Moisture control is also key. High humidity helps prevent shriveling or drying out. But excess dampness can lead to fungal or bacterial rots. Allow airflow around the tubers and avoid overly wet media like saturated peat moss.
How do I replant stored elephant ear bulbs in spring?
In spring when the danger of frost has passed, you can replant your overwintered elephant ear tubers back in the garden. Follow these tips for getting a head start on growth:
- Inspect tubers to ensure they are firm and disease-free after storage.
- Wait until soil temperatures reach 65-70°F before planting.
- Plant the tubers 3-5 inches deep and 12-18 inches apart.
- Water well but avoid saturated soil which can rot tubers.
- Fertilize lightly with a balanced fertilizer once sprouts emerge.
Planting too early while soils are still cool and wet can lead to rotted tubers. Be patient and plant at the right time to get your elephant ears off to their best start. Shelter new sprouts if any late frosts are expected.
Do elephant ears come back every year?
Elephant ears are hardy perennials in zones 8-11 and will regrow each year when properly overwintered. The key factors are:
- Digging up tubers before frost kills the foliage
- Storing the dormant tubers under cool, dry conditions over winter
- Replanting the following spring after danger of frost
With the right storage method, most healthy elephant ear tubers will remain viable to resprout the next season. Damaged or diseased tubers are less likely to survive winter storage. But with care, your elephant ears can return reliably for many years.
How big do elephant ear bulbs get?
Elephant ear tubers can grow quite large, sizing up over time with the plant. Here are some general guidelines for tuber sizes:
|Golf ball to small fist
|Large fist to football
|Football to basketball
Mature elephant ear tubers 5+ years old can potentially grow up to basketball size or larger. Growthdepends on the cultivar and growing conditions. Quick-establishing types like Alocasia ‘Polly’ tend to size up faster.
If tubers get overcrowded or potbound in containers, this restricts their growth. Planting in well-amended garden beds provides more room for the tubers to expand to their full potential.
Should I cut my elephant ear bulbs before storing?
There are mixed opinions on whether or not to cut elephant ear tubers before storage. Here are pros and cons of cutting them:
- Prevents tubers from rotting if any diseased sections are removed
- Can encourage multiple new plants to sprout from each piece
- Allows you to propagate and create more tubers
- Increases the chance of “bleeding” sap from cuts
- Exposes more surface area to potential disease infection
- Cuts may weaken the tuber’s stored energy reserves
When preparing tubers for storage, it’s recommended to trim any visibly diseased or damaged parts. Healthy tubers can be left whole. For propagation purposes, you can carefully divide them into smaller sections, allowing the cuts to seal before storage.
Should I remove dead leaves from elephant ear bulbs before storing?
Yes, it’s important to remove all foliage from elephant ear tubers before storing them for the winter. Trimming off dead leaves accomplishes a few things:
- Prevents moisture from being trapped around the tubers, which can lead to rot
- Allows you to inspect for any signs of disease on the stems or leaves
- Reduces material that could harbor overwintering pests
- Makes the tubers lighter and easier to handle for storage
Use clean, sterilized shears or a knife to trim leaves as close to the tuber as possible. Remove every trace of foliage and stem material to help minimize disease risks. Then inspect each tuber thoroughly before proceeding with storage.
With proper harvesting, curing, and storage methods, elephant ear tubers can easily be preserved from season to season. Pay close attention to temperature, humidity, airflow, and pest control when choosing the best overwintering spot. Inspect tubers carefully before replanting in spring to ensure viability. With a little extra care, you can enjoy your elephant ears for many years to come.