This post shares my elephant ear plant care guide. From Colocasia to Alocasia, Caladium, and Xanthosoma, I’m sharing care tips about all of the elephant ear varieties. They are beautiful plants that will make a stunning addition to your home or garden.
Elephant Ear Plant Care Guide
Elephant ears! All about the stunning elephant ear plants today with a big ol’ elephant ear plant care guide. If you’ve browsed your local nursery, you’ve probably seen an elephant ear marketed as just that—an elephant ear plant.
Despite there being a zillion different types of the plant. They are often marketed as good for pools and patios because they give off a beautiful tropical vibe with their dramatic foliage and ability to grow to very large sizes.
While the many varieties of the plant itself can grow very large—up to 10 feet tall—the most striking part of it is typically its massive leaves. I have one next to the loveseat on my patio, and the leaves are starting to encroach over one side. I like laying on the loveseat under the little leaf canopy and pretending I don’t live in a townhouse. 🙂
They are native to Southeast Asia, where they grow as perennials and love the hot, humid weather year round. In other areas of the world, they do well outdoors in spring, summer, and early fall. Though certain areas of the southern United States can keep them planted outdoors all year round.
If you’re not in one of those areas, you can take them in for the winter because they make great—if very large—houseplants! (Look up your planting zone here.) Or you can chop them down to bulbs and save them for next year.
Although most tolerate temperatures as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit, they’ll go dormant below 45 degrees or with a frost. I’m in zone 7, so I’m planning to bring some of them indoors (specifically Alocasia polly, which I’ll discuss in a bit) before frost.
For more plant care guides, see my pothos plant care guide, string of pearls care guide, rubber plant care guide, and prickly pear cactus care guide. You can also check out my roundup of 15 of my DIY planters you can make to decorate with plants!
What kind of light do elephant ear plants need?
Outdoors, elephant ears are pretty patient plants. They can generally grow in sun or shade and enjoy moist soil. Don’t let these bad boys dry out between waterings, they won’t forgive you like snake plants will. This plant grows from tuberous rhizomes under the soil, and most varieties can grow very quickly.
The many varieties of elephant ear plants enjoy partial shade to indirect, bright sun. Some varieties even enjoy full sun, but they shouldn’t have full sun all day. Most of mine are partially under a deck where they get full sun from about 2 PM on, filtered sun before that.
Too much direct sun can burn their beautiful leaves, especially on some of the smaller varieties like Alocasia polly. Elephant ear varieties with darker leaves generally like more shade. I’ll talk about some of these specifics in the elephant ear varieties section below.
If you have your elephant ear plants indoors, they will do well with bright indirect sun. A diluted run-of-the-mill fertilizer monthly during growing season won’t hurt. I throw a handful of Epsom salts into my elephant ear pots roughly monthly when watering.
Elephant Ear Plant Care Gide: Common types of elephant ear plants?
There are four main types of elephant ear plants, and their watering, soil, and light requirements are all a bit different. Their needs can also be different when grown outdoors in the ground, outdoors in pots, or indoors in pots as houseplants. I’m going to break down the specific needs of the four elephant ear types now: Colocasia, Alocasia, Caladium, and Xanthosoma.
Type #1: Colocasia Elephant Ear Care
Colocasia plants (also referred to as taro plants) are native to hot and humid areas of southeast Asia; their leaves have the traditional elephant ear shape that grows up from a long stem, unwinding itself and then pointing toward the ground once it has its full shape.
There are six species of Colocasia plants. Colocasia varieties can grow very large—up to 10 feet tall and wide—but keeping them in containers can stunt their growth. I have a large variety of Colocasia on the edge of my patio in a pot, and it tolerates full sun from about 2 PM on.
Generally Colocasia varieties do well in full sun to part shade. They like a lot of water and will grow like weeds! Native to swamps, they like moist soil and also make good pond plants. You can propagate Colocasia varieties by dividing the bulbs in the winter.
Type #2: Alocasia Elephant Ear Care
Alocasia varieties, of which there are about 70, are smaller than their Colocasia cousins, growing up to 6 feet high and wide. Popular varieties include the Alocasia macrorrhizos (aka Giant Taro), which gets very large, and the Alocasia amazonica (aka Alocasia polly), which stays smaller.
Here are a few photos of an Alocasia macrorrhizos (aka Giant Taro) in my parents’ backyard. I don’t have one, but I have seen then in some local nurseries in the past few weeks. It’s so stunning, and I wish I had one of these! (Btw, they moved this into their basement over the winter, and it survived just fine!)
When my parents brought their Alocasia macrorrhizos (aka Giant Taro) indoors last, they broke off a smaller baby plant from it for me. It was the end of the season—the worst time to propagate a baby plant—so my goal is to just keep it going through the winter. I was initially really upset when I saw one leaf yellowing and drooping—it had only three!
Thankfully, however, I was able to trim the bad leaf off, and the remaining two leaves seemed fine. Then a few days later I noticed a new leaf winding out! BIG YAY! I’d say it’s adapting just fine and will hopefully make it through the long, cold, dry winter indoors.
Like snake plants, you can propagate the Alocasia polly by rhizome. Simply cut off a piece of the rhizome underground and plant it in a pot separately. Water as normal until new growth sprouts. Yay, more Alocasia plants! Here is a piece I cut off and planted in moist sphagnum moss.
Alocasia Polly (African Mask Plant) Spotlight
You’re likely familiar with the Alocasia amazonica (aka Alocasia polly) it you’re a houseplant fiend, and you might know it by the name African mask plant. No elephant ear plant care guide would be complete without a spotlight on Alocasia polly.
So I’m going to focus on this variety since it’s so popular and it’s what I have. Alocasia polly is an absolutely striking plant with leaves that look less like elephant ears and more like arrowheads. In the right conditions and during its active growing season, this plant grows quickly.
It can produce a new leaf each week, and leaves can double in size in a week. They have absolutely stunning veins that run throughout the leaves, which have a thick, glossy dark green surface.
Growing Alocasia Polly Plants Outdoors
Growing Alocasia polly plants outdoors is pretty painless. I have mine outdoors for the summer right now; they enjoy part-shade to part-sun. Mine gets late afternoon sun, but too much direct sun can burn the leaves.
I don’t worry about overwatering my Alocasia polly outdoors because it’s in a pot and the soil dries out very quickly when it’s hot. I give it a good soak every day, and the Maryland heat zaps that water right out.
They aren’t huge fans of the cold and will begin to suffer when temperatures drop into the 50s (though once I moved mine outside, we have some nights in the 50s, and they were fine). They love humidity, which makes them an ideal plant to move outside in the summer if you get humid weather.
Growing Alocasia Polly Plants as Houseplants
While growing Alocasia polly outside is pretty painless, they are pickier indoors. Probably not the best plant to give a houseplant beginner. They are, however, very popular as houseplants due to their striking appearance, and they are typically grown in small- to medium-sized pots.
You have to control your watering a bit more since they do not like to be soggy or totally dried out. A good rule of thumb is to water these plants when the top few inches of their soil is dry. Water less in the winter months when it isn’t actively growing. Use a well-draining potting mix to help control moisture. While I plant many of my pots in planters without drainage holes and they are fine, I wouldn’t chance it with this picky guy.
Another thing that makes Alocasia polly plants more challenging as houseplants is their lighting needs. They need a good amount of lighting indoors—bright, indirect sun. Close to a big sunny window is best.
When mine is indoors, it does well in only one spot in my house: the top of a shelving unit in my dining area, which gets afternoon sun from several windows from about noon on.
The great thing about this plant is that, while difficult, it can be forgiving. My plant’s leaves yellowed and drooped beyond repair because it wasn’t happy where I had it. I simply cut all of the foliage off, moved it to a different area, and babied it a bit more until new leaves sprouted—good as new!
You can also see why their love of humidity would complicate things indoors. They’d probably be really happy in a bathroom with a large window; unfortunately we don’t have one that would fit a plant this big. This is one reason to move them outdoors during the summer. You can fertilize them during growing season.
Common pests include the familiar houseplant snackers: mealy bugs, scale, aphids, and spider mites. Much like your other houseplants, you can spray your plant with a soapy water solution to control these. Neem oil, which I use in my garden to control Japanese beetles, can also be used to kill off a bad infestation (it won’t harm the plant).
Type #3: Caladium Elephant Ear Care
Caladium, also referred to as angel wings, is a delicate-looking elephant-ear shaped plant with over 1,000 varieties. The most popular ones include a green and white variety with leaves that look almost like tissue paper. Other common varieties include red and pink tones.
There are two main types of Caladiums: fancy-leaf and lance-leaf. Fancy-leaf Caladiums have large heart-shaped leaves with long stems. Lance-leaf Caladiums have smaller, usually ruffled-edge leaves on shorter stems—and they tend to be smaller plants in general.
Caladium plants tend to stay on the smaller side like Alocasia polly plants. Unlike their other elephant ear buddies, they do very well with part to full shade. Mine only gets about an hour of sun and is doing great. They like moderate watering: not soggy. All Caladiums enjoy fertilizer while they are actively growing.
Type #4: Xanthosoma Elephant Ear Care
Native to tropical areas of the Americas, Xanthosoma is less commonly seen in gardens in the United States. They stay on the smaller side—up to 4 feet wide and tall—and enjoy part to full shade and a good watering.
Much like the Colocasia variety, their tubers are edible once cooked. In fact, they are a food staple in some areas of the world. They also produce small edible potato-like cormels.
Want to learn more about propagating plants? Check out my guides for how to propagate pothos from cuttings and propagating prickly pear cactus pads, as well as how to keep tall potted plants from falling over.
How to store Elephant Ear Bulbs over the winter
I have a whole post on this, but I’m also sharing the basic steps here. I’ll be doing it this fall so will update this post next year with details and photos about every step and whether or not I was successful! I’d love to be able to use the same plants again next year.
Storing elephant ear bulbs over the winter is similar to storing bulbs from any other plant. After the first frost, cut down all of the foliage (basically the stuff you can see) and leave only about 3 inches or so above the soil. Then dig up the bulbs and allow to dry for a few days in a cool, dry place like a garage.
Store in an open container or mesh bags over the winter. Again, a garage next to the house wall would be a good place since they like to be kept cool (45ish degrees) and dry. You can always move them inside if you have a frigid cold spell.
In their open container, cover them with a bit of potting soil, but don’t water them. Just let them chill all winter. Once the danger of frost has passed in the spring, replant the bulbs about 2 inches down in rich potting soil. They should being to sprout 1–2 months after planting and will sprout faster in warmer areas.
You can replant them inside a few months earlier to start them off if you’d like, and then move them outdoors once the weather conditions permit. Kind of like starting seeds indoors.
Common Elephant Ear Problems
I want to talk specifically about Alocasia polly (African Mask plant) issues specifically, only because it’s the variety I have had the hardest time with. When I brought my first Alocasia polly home, the leaves began turning yellow and drooping after a few weeks. The leaves yellowed and drooped one by one until the plant looked awful.
I ended up cutting off all of the leaves down to about an inch above the soil and moving the plant to an area where it got more light. I was also careful not to let the plant go too long without water.
It quickly rebounded, sprouted completely new growth from the tubers under the soil, and now has the large striking leaves it’s famous for. That plant is pictured throughout this post looking amazing.
While the smaller varieties of elephant ear plants can be picky and not very forgiving, they can rebound quickly. If your plant’s leaves are turning yellow or drooping, it could be related to sunlight or water. Or, I hate to say it—it could just be the plant throwing a fit from changing its conditions.
When I debugged one of my smaller Alocasia Polly plants to bring it indoors this winter, it seemed fine at first. However, it then seemed to get unhappy. One of the leaves began to yellow, brown, and droop. I normally would have cut this leaf off earlier, but I wanted to let it die off completely so I could get some pictures for you guys.
I’m also updating this post from the original publishing to include ANOTHER spider mite infestation on an elephant ear. Man, I just do not have good luck with these plants indoors. For the cutting my parents gave me (that I mentioned earlier in the post), I made sure to regularly mist it—almost daily—through the winter in my dry house.
However, in late March, I noticed that my plant has some minor webbing in it. I also noticed one of the leaves beginning to yellow. I immediately freaked out and took it downstairs and set it out on the deck.
It was cold, but it wasn’t freezing, and I knew cold and wetness would help kill off spider mites. I ended up cutting away the affected leaves and bringing the plant back inside overnight for a week or so until is warmed up enough to keep this guy outside.
It’s now mid-May, and I’ve got him totally repotted to live outdoors for the summer. No signs of additional spider mite damage. It has been doing great!
Here is this same plant about a month later. I transitioned it to a bigger pot not long after the above pics were taken, and it exploded with growth! The sun and humidity outdoors no doubt helped a ton, and there are no more signs of spider mites.
I also want to highlight the difference in leaf size between leaves grown indoors and leaves grown outdoors in ideal conditions. Each new leaf this plant unfurls is bigger than the last. I left the smaller leaves on for the below pictures so you can see a comparison. Absolutely stunning size on these bad boys!
Yellowing and Browning Leaves on an Alocasia Polly Plant
The rest of the plant seems to be doing fine. I honestly this that this plant is just throwing a bit of a fit from the changing conditions. Everything changed: light, humidity, water. Everything. But it will rebound, just as my other plant did.
This is all to say, if you have problems with your elephant ear plants—even if you have to cut them all the way down to the soil—they can absolutely regrow! The larger varieties are more tolerant. I regularly trim the large colocasia I have outdoors to remove unattractive, yellowing, or browning leaves.
It’s looking really beautiful with just a bit of love. Elephant ear plants are prone to root rot, corm rot, and bacterial blight—with the more common houseplant pests like aphids, whiteflies, and spider mites occurring less often.
Are Elephant Ear Plants toxic?
Like many plants, it’s poisonous if ingested in large quantities. The leaves and stem areas contain oxalic acid, which can lead to serious illness. Keep away from kids and pets since they require a much smaller dose to feel the effects—just chewing on the leaves can be really bad.
Note, though, that cooking negates the poisonous aspects of some varieties—cooked parts of the Colocasia and Xanthosoma varieties have been a diet staple around the world for centuries. I still wouldn’t recommend eating it because I don’t know enough about cooking it.