By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
The name elephant ears is normally used most often to describe two different genera, Alocasia and Colocasia. The name is simply a nod to the giant foliage these plants produce. Most rise from rhizomes, which are fairly easy to divide. Elephant ear division is useful to prevent overcrowding, produce more plants in a different location and enhance plant health. It is important to know when to divide elephant ears, as the parent can become injured and pups may not perform well if divided and planted at the wrong time. Read on to learn how to divide elephant ears successfully.
Elephant ears can become huge plants with gigantic leaves. Many spread through underground runners, or stolons, and send up baby plants along the way. These babies can be separated from the parent plant and installed elsewhere. Dividing elephant ears requires sterile, sharp instruments to prevent transferring disease and causing injury. Elephant ear division isn’t necessary, but it helps rejuvenate old plants that may be performing poorly.
Elephant ears are not frost tolerant and should be dug up in zones lower than United States Department of Agriculture zone 8. You can pot them up and bring the container indoors or remove the rhizomes and store them in peat moss, packing peanuts or paper bags in a cool, dark place.
Wait until the leaves die back during the cool fall months before lifting the rhizomes. At this time, it is a good idea to divide the plant. Since it is not actively growing, the plant will be less stressed than if you divide it while it is in full growth mode. Additionally, it makes it easier to handle without the large leaves getting in the way.
Anytime you are cutting into a plant, it is a good idea to use the correct tools which are sharp and clean. When dividing elephant ears plants, you can use a knife or shovel, whichever you find easiest. Wash the tool with a 5% solution of bleach and make sure it has a keen edge.
If the plant is in a container, remove it entirely and brush off the soil around the roots and rhizomes or tubers. For in-ground plants, dig carefully around the root zone and gently lift the entire plant out of the soil.
Place it on a tarp and remove the excess soil to expose your work site. Next, look at the individual pups to decide which ones to remove. They should have healthy rhizomes and good roots to have a chance of survival off of the parent plant.
Dividing elephant ears is easy! Once you have selected your pups, it is time to remove them. Use a sharp knife or your shovel and bisect the section away from the parent. Tubers cut cleanly with a texture like a potato. Rhizomes are separated from the main mass. Ensure each new plantlet has a good root system already in place and the rhizome, or tuber, has no blemish or rotten area.
You can plant them immediately in clean potting soil or hold them in a cool dark area, with temperatures no lower than 45 degrees F. (7 C.). Move potted pups to a sunny location indoors and keep them moderately wet.
When temperatures warm up in spring, move the plants outdoors. Your collection of elephant ears has now effortlessly expanded and can be planted in the ground or kept in containers.
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This article was co-authored by Mark Leahy. Mark Leahy is a Plant Specialist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the Co-Owner of Bella Fiora, a custom design floral studio, and SF Plants, a plant shop and nursery. Mark specializes in floral artistry and indoor plants including floral arrangements, terrace planters, office plantscapes, and living walls. Mark and his business partner have been featured in Vogue, The Knot, Today’s Bride, Wedding Wire, Modern Luxury, San Francisco Bride Magazine, San Francisco Fall Antique Show, Black Bride, Best of the Bay Area A-List, and Borrowed & Blue.
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Elephant ears are lush jungle plants with large green leaves shaped like hearts. While elephant ears can’t be propagated from cuttings like many plants, you can divide the tubers of a healthy parent plant. Do this in the fall, then plant the tubers in containers or store them for the winter and plant them outdoors in the spring. Either way, these hardy elephant ears will make a lovely addition to your home.
High drama and bold texture are the signature benefits of showcasing elephant ears in a garden or container. Growing them is simple — they like filtered sun or shade and rich, moist soil. They're grown from tuberous rhizomes and can reach impressive sizes quickly.
Fully hardy in Zones 10 to 11. Elephant ears will only truly thrive in warmer areas similar to their native humid climates of Southeast Asia, and with daytime temperatures of 70 to 85F, and nights no lower than 60F. They can be grown in cooler areas, but will need to be replanted each year.
In colder zones, the tuberous rhizomes can be dug up and stored over winter.
After a frost, do the following:
For winter protection outdoors, cover the base of the plant with 4 to 12 inches of mulch.
Most prefer filtered sun or shade, but some tolerate full sun. In general, green types can take higher light levels darker-leaved ones need more filtered light or shade.
Elephant ears need rich soil that is moist (not saturated), but well-drained. Most don't like wet feet, though a few are tolerant of wet conditions—like the big-leaved colocasias you might see in water gardens. A general rule is big, green elephant ears are practically indestructible and can tolerate variable moisture conditions dark-leaved types will suffer if over watered and can stay dry for several days.
To prevent disease problems, water in the morning so they go into the night dry. If possible, water from below at the root zone rather than from above, to keep water off the leaves.
They're not heavy feeders. Apply a slow-release fertilizer at planting time, following package directions. If foliage shows yellowing, it’s probably a micronutrient deficiency. A fertilizer with micronutrients can be applied, or sprinkle Epsom salts around the base of each plant on a monthly basis.
As you may have noticed, some of my Elephant Ear plants are getting pretty large. A couple of weeks ago I took a division from one and potted it up. It was an experiment since I had never done that before, and I don't think I wrote about it here.
It seems to have worked fine, as the division is growing happily, and there were no ill effects on the parent plant either, so it's time to take some more divisions!
Here's a closer look at the "pups" that I'll be taking off:
I'm after the two on the left and the one on the right -- not the big one in the middle.
I'll use my knife and just cut down into the soil, slicing off the little plant:
It's a bit tough, and feels kinda like slicing into a buried apple, or potato. I cut as large as section of soil as I can too, to get as many roots as possible.
This one looks pretty good:
You can see where the connection to the main plant was severed:
This one has plenty of roots, so will do great:
I did the same for the two plants on the left, but I'm a little concerned because there's not too much room for cutting between them and the parent plant.
As you can see, I may not have gotten enough of the stem of the one plant:
It does have some roots, but it may not be enough. Since this is somewhat experimental, I'll pot it up anyway and see what happens.
The other plant of this pair is a little better:
I'll remove all but one of the leaves on both of these to reduce water loss due to transpiration. Here they are all potted up:
Once they start growing new leaves, I'll know that the division was successful and I got enough roots. I kind of expect the smallest one to die, but will be pleasantly surprised if it doesn't.
Speaking of Elephant Ears, here's another update on the plant I dug up and kept in a bag in the garage all winter. The older photos are included for comparison:
As you can see, it's starting to really grow quickly!
That's nice progress for just a couple of weeks, and the leaves are getting nice and big already!
Why didn't I start growing these plants years ago? They're really quite easy to grow and very satisfying!
I think I'll have to take one of these big plants out of their large pots and plant it in the ground. Either that or remove it from the pot, divide it in half, then replant. Both of those options are going to require a lot of work though. Maybe I'll feel really ambitious someday soon.
These photos are great ! - Learned so much! Thank for posting
thanks for the commentary and photos. It helped me a lot !
How do you split a tubor. I word like to have two plants after winter storage?
Chuck: the tubers will have obvious "offsets" -- smaller versions that will break off. Sometimes these are quite small (marble sized) but each one will grow. If you don't see any now then you'll want to wait until after planting next year to divide -- multiple plants will most likely form and you can dig the smaller ones out and replant. It's easier than it sounds!
Great information, thank you all. I have a giant elephant ear in a pot, zone 7 CA which comes indoors every winter. It is throwing out roots or tutors from an elongated stem so I need to know
where to cut them for thinking, pruning and for future plants. the tutors are 8 inches long!! and I have at least 10 of them! Help.
Help with transplanting my giant elephant ears. It has tutors growing out of the stem outside the pot.
It is very hardy, huge and seems to be smothering
in the pot. Thanks! lbx
Laura: Those are called stolons, and I've found that the new plants grow from the bumps along it. Each piece that is at least a couple of inches long and has one of those bumps or "knobs" will produce a new plant. Break the stolons off, bury them slightly, and a new plant will soon emerge. (It's hard to do wrong)
This plant loves bright, direct light.
Let the soil dry between waterings.
This plant thrives in humid environments.
Alocasia Polly's prefer a warm, humid temperatures between 60-80¬∞F. They will go into dormancy if the temperature goes below 60¬∞F.
Outdoors part shade in morning sun (4-6 hrs.) where nights are above 60¬∞F. Indoors in bright indirect sun areas. When bringing indoors, cut back by 1/3 to overwinter.
Slow release granules can be added to the soil or fertilize when watering with a liquid form according to directions. Do not fertilize in the fall and winter months during the resting season.
When you're ready to repot, select a container with a drainage hole and 2" larger in diameter and height. Place a piece of screening at the bottom of the container over the drainage hole to secure the soil and allow it to drain. Use an indoor container mix that is well-draining. Add soil to the bottom of the container. Place the plant in the center. Ensure that the top level of the soil is a 1/2 inch below the pot's top edge to discourage spillover when watering. Backfill around the edges and pack lightly down to eliminate any air bubbles. Water well to dampen the soil and let it drain.
Gently wipe clean with a soft damp cloth or paper towel. Work gently from the base of the stem toward the tip of the leaf doing both sides at once. After cleaning the leaves, remove any dead leaves or debris on the surface of the soil. Do not mist this plant as it will encourage plant diseases. Refreshen the soil mixture if needed. Prune away damaged or diseased leaves down to the stem base with sterile scissors. It can be pruned down to a manageable size if overgrown.
Indoors: Propagate and divide alocasia in the early spring when emerging from dormancy. Pull from the container and brush or wash away the soil carefully. Carefully divide tubers apart and repot in a rich, indoor potting soil mix.
Outdoors: Carefully loosen the soil and dig the tubers up, avoiding damaging the tubers. Divide the tubers and plant in new locations in your garden. Add rich, damp, and loamy soil in a part-shade morning sun location. Plant three feet apart if grouping together. Place the tubers at the depth they were in the ground before. Water the soil and tuber well before covering with soil. Add topsoil and water slightly to dampen. Keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Elephant ears are warm-weather plants. Some will survive in-ground over the winter in zones as cold as 6, while others need to be dug up and stored for the winter unless planted in a zone 9 garden. It always pays to check the cold hardiness information about the variety you’ve purchased. Bulbs can grow to be large, so if you can leave them in the ground, do.
Light: Most plants grow best in full sun to partial shade. ‘Black Magic’ is an exception that performs well in partial to full shade.
Soil: Grow elephant ears in moist, loamy soil with a high organic matter content.
Spacing: Spacing depends on the variety you’re growing. You could need anywhere from 2 feet to 6 feet between plants to allow them enough room to spread out.
Planting: When planting new elephant ears or re-planting for the spring, set corms in the garden when nighttime temperatures are consistently 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant 4-6 inches deep. (The bigger the bulb the deeper it goes.) Most elephant ears will grow to be at least 4 feet wide, so give them space!
Plant corms 2-4 feet apart, 4-6 inches deep in moist, well-drained soil high in organic matter. You can grow the smaller varieties in large containers. (Large, as in whiskey-barrel-sized containers.) If growing in containers you’ll have to keep the soil evenly, constantly moist.
Elephant Ears come in a wide variety of colors and sizes.