Elephant Ears and Storing Fall Bulbs

A Danish, the reason Dumbo can fly and a show-stopping tropical plant. What do these three things have in common? Elephant Ears, of course.

This mighty plant can grow up to 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. The magnificent leaves can each be 3 feet long and 1 foot across. That is a big leaf, and you guessed it, it looks like it belongs on the side of an elephant’s head.

The bulbs — or in this case, tubers — are planted in the spring after the ground begins to warm. Pick a spot that will accommodate the plant’s mature size and provide filtered shade. Full afternoon sun can be too much for the huge leaves. Plant the bulb four inches deep in loose, organic soil. Elephant Ears are tropical and need frequent watering and monthly fertilizing.

As we move into October and cooler temperatures, now is the time to think about how to save the plant for next year. Well, that’s a bit misleading. You can save the tuber but not the foliage, unless you have a tropical indoor greenhouse or live in Zones 8-11.

Close to, or after the first frost, trim the foliage back near to the ground. Then begin digging about a foot from the stems. Delicately find the tubers/bulbs/roots and lift them from the ground.

Clean any soil off the tubers and cut stems to about one inch long. After they are clean and trimmed, let them air out on newspaper for a few days. Letting them dry will help reduce the chance of mold or bacteria developing during the winter months.

Pick a storage spot that is dry and cool, but not freezing. You can store them in a paper bag or an open crate with peat moss. Do not use plastic bags. Sealed plastic will cause moisture and the bulbs will rot.

The bulbs should be fine until time to plant in the spring, but it’s not a bad idea to check on them occasionally and toss any tubers that have become mushy.

This same process works for calla lilies, cannas, dahlias and caladiums. All of these bulbs and tubers can be dug, stored and replanted in the spring. As an experiment, I left my calla lilies in their outdoor pot last winter. I know, totally against my own advice, but that is what experimenting is all about. This spring I had beautiful stems and leaves (remember calla lilies have that glistening sliver thread running through their leaves) but no blooms. I’ll try again this year, and will fertilize the plant a bit more than I did this summer, and just maybe I will get flowers next year.

You may be thinking that fall is the time to plant bulbs, not dig them up. Well, that’s true too. Spring flowering plants such as alliums, crocus, daffodils, snowdrops and tulips are planted in the fall to give them the necessary cold environment to bloom in the spring.

Anyway you think about it, gardeners are digging and working with bulbs in the fall — putting them in or taking them out. If you haven’t planted tropical plants this year, add them to the list of garden must-haves for the spring, enjoy them during the summer and plan to over winter the bulbs for years to come.