When you see elephant ears in pots, you’ll know it right away because the huge leaves resemble an elephant’s ears. These plants grow outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 8 through 12. Some cultivars can tolerate as far north as zone 6.
You may think these popular plants might be difficult to care for. However, these are quite easy to grow indoors and can make a wonderful (and very green) conversation starter.
Read on to find out how you can grow these elephant ear plants indoors and propagate them to get even more green goodness.
How To Care For Potted Elephant Ears?
It’s not difficult to grow elephant ears in pots as long as you look after their basic care requirements.
Proper care will also greatly reduce the risk of illness, which we’ll discuss later.
Note: Not All Elephant Ears are Created Equal
When you purchase an elephant ear plant, there’ll be another elephant in the room to consider: Which elephant ear do you have?
This guide will discuss the genus Colocasia, but another genus in the tribe Colocasieae called Alocasia has striking foliage and very similar care needs.
Several other plants referred to as elephant ears may or may not have similar needs and are unrelated to colocasia.
As a result, you can use this as a general guide for colocasia and alocasias.
Still, we strongly suggest you check a guide for your specific species or cultivar if you experience any problems, such as slower growth or color changes.
Colocasias originated in Southeastern Asia and the Indian subcontinent but have since become popular across the globe.
They’re known for having huge leaves that can be just 5’ feet long on some species!
There are at least 12 confirmed species and numerous cultivars to choose from.
However, if you live in the Gulf region of the US, be warned that there may be some restrictions if you wish to grow Colocasia esculenta.
Some plants are edible and used in many popular Pacific recipes, including the Hawai’ian classic dish poi.
You’ll want a large, sturdy container to plant your elephant ear plant in, as they can grow quite large very quickly.
Even though they won’t reach their full height, you can expect a new leaf as often as every week, with mature leaves sometimes being as large as 3’ feet long and 1’ foot wide.
Depending on the species or cultivar, this plant could also be a good 6’’ feet tall, so you’ll need a pot that won’t tip over easily.
Colocasia is adapted to swampy conditions, but Alocasia hates having wet feet.
Thankfully, you can still make both happy using a well-draining, organically rich soil.
Aroid mixes work great, or you can make a soil-free medium using 5 parts orchid bark, one part perlite, and one part peat moss.
The plant will need repotted annually to replace the potting medium.
If you see signs that the plant is root-bound, this is also the perfect time to give it a slightly larger pot or divide the plant for propagation.
These plants have such huge leaves because their native habitat is on the forest floor, where the forest canopy filters light.
As a result, you’ll want to avoid direct exposure to the afternoon sun.
Instead, aim for bright, indirect sunlight.
A sheer curtain or spot beside a south-facing window is perfect, but you can also place the plant in an east or west-facing window where it can get direct exposure to the more mild morning or evening sun.
Elephant ear plants can tolerate humidity levels of 40% percent but will grow bigger and fuller if they have levels of 50% percent or more.
Because of their large size, a humidifier is the best solution, although you can surround the pot with smaller plants to naturally increase humidity levels.
Avoid misting, as this doesn’t actually help the plant, and wet leaves can result in fungal infections.
Interestingly enough, the ideal growing temperature for elephant ears is 65° to 75° degrees Fahrenheit – the average temperature range for most homes.
Be very careful exposing the plant to temperatures below 55° degrees Fahrenheit.
Food and Water
Give your elephant ear plant a dose of 20-20-20 NPK liquid houseplant fertilizer every month from spring through August.
Be sure your fertilizer has micronutrients to ensure healthy growth, although you may need to add a teaspoon of Epsom salts once per month to ensure enough magnesium.
Watering elephant ears can be easy and painless when using the soak and dry method.
Stick your ringer into the soil and water if it feels dry 2” inches down (this depth works for both colocasias and alocasias).
The trick is to pour water slowly enough that the potting medium absorbs as fast as you’re pouring.
Use distilled or natural rainwater, pour slowly and evenly, working your way around the pot.
Avoid getting the plant itself wet, as this can increase the risk of fungal infections.
Stop watering when you either see moisture beginning to seep from the drainage holes or the surface can no longer absorb as fast as you’re pouring.
Remember to cut back on water and fertilizer during autumn and winter, as the plant will be in its dormant period.
Grooming and Maintenance
You may find the need to prune the plant for shape occasionally or to remove damaged and diseased leaves, but be careful not to overdo it.
Additionally, the leaves will need to be wiped 1 to 2 times weekly to ensure no dust buildup.
If you use a neem-based leaf shine for wiping, it can also help prevent pest infestations.
The primary method of propagating elephant ear plants is through division.
Risks and Concerns
Colocasia esculenta is highly invasive in the swamplands along the Gulf coast, and there may be restrictions on owning this species within that region.
The plant is at less risk of problems indoors but can still become infested by:
- Spider mites
Fungal infections such as powdery mildew and sooty mold are often side effects of an infestation but can also occur if the leaves get wet.
Other, more serious risks caused mainly by overwatering include leaf spots and root rot.
As with all aroids, elephant ear plants contain calcium oxalate crystals.
While considered only mildly toxic to healthy adults, ingestion of large quantities can increase the risk of kidney stones.
Children and dogs risk multiple symptoms, ranging from nausea and vomiting to serious side effects.
Cats and toy dogs are at the highest risk, and ingestion could potentially prove fatal at their size.
As a result, it’s best to keep this plant away from any curious mouths.