Taro (Colocasia esculenta) and caladiums (Caladium spp.) are plants native to the tropical regions of Asia and central and northern South America, respectively, that share the common name "elephant ears." When planting elephant ears, choose a full sun to full shade location in the garden, depending on the species. In Texas, both kinds of elephant ears are easily grown in the coastal regions where they thrive and reproduce rapidly in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 10. In colder areas that fall in USDA zones 6 through 8, elephant ears can still be grown in the summer garden but should be lifted and taken indoors for storage when the weather turns cold.
Things You'll Need
Balanced 8-8-8 garden fertilizer
Step 1: Put on Protective Gear
Put on your protective gear, including gloves, safety goggles and a mask before preparing the garden bed and planting your elephant ears. Keep the corms and tubers out of reach of children and pets because while taro corms are edible once cooked and are an important source of food in many parts of the world, the colorful leaves and tubers of caladiums are toxic to horses, dogs, cats and humans.
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Step 2: Select a Location
Locate an area of the garden that is located in full sun to part shade for taro, or part to full shade for caladium. Elephant ears vary in size, with taro spreading up to 6 feet tall and equally wide with 3-foot leaves, while caladium grows up to 2 feet tall and 2 1/2 feet wide with brightly colored or variegated 6- to 12-inch leaves. Both elephant ears prefer a well-drained, moist soil enriched with organic matter.
Step 3: Prepare the Garden Bed
Clear the area of competing weeds. Add up to a 2- to 3-inch layer of well-rotted compost and mix into the soil where the elephant ears will be planted. Do not add fertilizer at this time.
Step 4: Plant the Elephant Ears
Plant elephant ears in the ground with the blunt side down, eyes or bumpy side up and deep enough so they are covered with 2 inches of soil. If the taro corm or caladium tuber is very round and you cannot tell which end is the blunt or bottom end, plant it on its side. The roots and leaves will know which way to grow.
Step 5: Keep the Soil Evenly Moist
Water the elephant ears often. While actively growing, you cannot overwater them. However, when they start to turn yellow and decline in the fall, taper off the amount of water and fertilizer given to the plants. The roots will rot if given too much water late in the season.
Step 6: Fertilize the Plants
Fertilize with a balanced garden fertilizer once a month during the growing season. If you use a timed released fertilizer apply as recommended. Elephant ears appreciate a high fertility level, but don't add more fertilizer than recommended; too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen can affect the bright colors of caladium leaves.
Step 7: Dig Up Before Winter
Wait until the plants drastically decline in the fall but before freezing temperatures arrive and dig up the corms or tubers, cutting the stalk off at the base. They can be easily divided at that time by pulling the roots apart. Be careful not to damage the roots with your shovel or planting tool when digging.
Step 8: Store for the Winter
Store both kinds of elephant ears indoors at 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit in a cardboard box surrounded by dry sawdust or dry peat moss until after danger of frost has passed. Check on them occasionally to be sure they are dry and not mildewing or rotting. Replant the garden or containers in spring when the weather warms.