Elephant ears grow fairly easily outdoors in a large garden space but this plant can be cultivated just as easily in a large container kept indoors. As an outdoor plant and an indoor plant elephant ears are easy to look after. But with such big leaves many people wonder how often they should be watering their plant and how much water they should give it.
Elephant ears require regular watering especially throughout the growing season. Both indoor and outdoor elephant ears require about 2 – 3 inches of water per week. In the winter you can reduce this to about 1 inch of water to ensure you keep the soil moist.
Elephant ears origins and care needs
The elephant ear plant, also commonly referred to by its botanical name Colocasia, is a tropical plant that can be grown in pots indoors and outdoors and directly in the ground in gardens. It can be cultivated from tubers (bulbs) or from rooted plants.
Elephant ears are best known for their very large heart-shaped leaves that resemble the ears of a large African elephant, hence the name. The leaves of an elephant ear plant will usually grow to be about 1 foot tall and 6″ wide.
These large ear-like leaves hang from equally large stalks that can grow to up to 3 foot tall although some elephant ear plants will grow as tall as 5 foot.
Although the colors of an elephant ear plant’s foliage can vary from a dark purple/black color to a white/pink/green or a green/white color, the most common varieties found in gardens and home pots across the country will be a rich green.
The elephant ear plant is naturally a swamp plant so it loves water. In swamp areas it will grow a resilient and strong root system even when fully submerged under water.
Being a water-based plant elephant ears are the perfect garden plant when planted close water features or ponds in the garden. However, elephant ears are also very popular as an indoor plant especially in climate zones where they are not normally suited.
How much water to give elephant ears
Elephant ears require a good deal of water. This means you will need to keep an eye on the amount of rainwater your outdoor elephant ear plants are getting. For indoor pots, the elephant ear plant’s love of water means you will need to keep an eye of soil moisture levels and water your plant more often than most of your other houseplants.
Elephant ears are high water plants meaning they require a lot of water.
Elephant ears are water-thirsty plants. Outdoor plants require at least 1 inch of rainwater per week while indoor plants will require at least 2 – 3 inches of water per week.
Elephant ears require more water during the growing season so they can develop high stalks and large leaves. The more water you give to the plant, without saturating it, the bigger it will grow. This means a daily watering routine is best.
Indoor elephant ear plants must be watered once daily during the warm summer months as they will drink a lot of water during that period. The soil should be kept moist and not allowed to dry out.
The key to ensuring your elephant ears are getting enough water is to keep the soil moist without saturating it.
Although elephant ears are thirsty plants, just like any other plant you can give it too much water.
Over-watering your elephant ears may be much harder to do than it is with other plants, like perennials for example, it can still be done. And all the same problems that come with over-watering any other plant will be applicable to your elephant ears.
So how do you know if you are over-watering your elephant ears?
You will know that you are over-watering your elephant ears if the leaves start to weep and you see water dripping from the tip of the leaves.
If you see signs that you have been over-watering your plant allow the plant to go one day without watering it then reduce the amount of water you give it rather than reducing the frequency of your watering i.e. still water the plant every day but give it much less water. Remember, you want the soil to be moist but not saturated.
Maintaining moisture for elephant ears
Soil moisture is important for elephant ears. As a heavily water-dependent plant, dry soil is not good for elephant ears. Too little water will lead to elephant ears with stunted growth and poor foliage or may even cause the death of the plant.
Always ensure the soil around your plant is kept moist. There is no need to saturate the soil but it should be moist enough that if you place your fingers gently on top of the soil some of it will stick to your fingers.
Using mulch to maintain good soil moisture
Mulch is a great way of retaining water in the soil, especially when it comes to outdoor plants that are susceptible to water loss from evaporation via direct sunlight or high dry heat in the summer months. Likewise, mulch can also protect against water loss from evaporation from high temperatures and dry air in the home, when home heating is engaged during the colder months.
What is the best mulch for elephant ears?
The best mulch for elephant ears is shredded wood. Shredded hardwood, pinestraw or similar mulch, works well. Wood based mulch will keep the soil moist in the summer and protect the elephant ears tubers during the winter.
Although you can use any type of mulch on elephant ears I find that wood-based mulch works the best. Heavy wood chip or shredded mulch, of say 3 inches, can really help to protect your elephant ears tuber during very cold winter months if you leave them in the ground or in an outdoor pot. However, leaving this amount of mulch on your plant can also cause problems as the winter passes.
Leaving a large amount of mulch on your plant as winter passes into early spring can lead to plant disease and it can act as the perfect environment for many plant pests. So don’t leave it on after winter.
If you do need to apply heavy mulch to your plant during the winter months, in order to protect the tuber, be sure to remove a large amount of it, or all of it, come spring or you will inhibit the growth of new seedlings. Many gardeners will simply remove the tuber and keep it in a dry environment with a moderate temperature over the winter months. Obviously if you grow your elephant ears as a houseplant removing the tuber is not necessary.
A good quality wood chip mulch is perfect for both indoor and outdoor use as it is both cheap and mess-free making it easy to apply and easy to remove.
Other considerations for good elephant ear hydration and care
Keeping your elephant ears plant hydrated is very important. As you have already learned, elephant ears require regular watering and moist soil if they are to grow tall with healthy with large leaves. But, hydration doesn’t just come from a good watering routine. Hydration must also come from a controlled environment.
Let’s look at how to best keep your elephant ears plant well hydrated through proper care of its environment.
The importance of humidity
Humidity is important to elephant ears especially if you have an indoor plant.
Humidity represents the amount of water that is in the air. Being a tropical plant Colocasia requires a certain amount of humidity to thrive as this replicates its natural environment.
Keeping humidity high enough for your indoor elephant ears plant is as easy as placing the plant container on a large saucer filled with pebbles and water. Alternatively you can use a mister to ensure humidity levels stay high around the plant by misting the foliage regularly.
Elephant ears are not just water-thirsty plants, they love to feed as well. Elephant ear plants, especially indoor plants, should be fertilized once per month.
No matter what you read, please do not use coffee grounds as a fertilizer for elephant ears.
Although coffee grounds do have some beneficial uses, such as adding nitrogen to the soil, they can cause much more harm than good. I never use coffee grounds on any plant that I am responsible for. Likewise, I avoid using tea for all the same reasons.
By far the best type of fertilizer you can use for your Colocasia elephant ear plants is one with a 20-10-20 ratio, like this one from Amazon which has been formulated specifically for elephant ears or this one from Master Blend which would work well too. These type of fertilizers ensure the soil has the correct amount of nitrogen while maintaining the ideal percentage of nutrients for the growth of a healthy plant.
Best USD zones for elephant ears
Elephant ears can be grown anywhere and with correct care they will be grow to be sturdy and hardy plants. However, they will thrive best, and naturally, in zones 8 – 11. If you are unsure which zone you live in check out our article on climate zone gardening.
In the chillier northern areas an outdoor elephant ear plant should be treated as an annual. This means you will need to dig up the tubers and store them somewhere dry that has a more moderate temperature in the winter months. If you live in the much colder Northern States, or Canada, don’t be tempted to leave the tuber in the ground or in an outdoor pot, even if you use mulch. It is much too cold during your winters and the plant will likely not survive if left outdoors.
Stored tubers can be replanted in the spring and will produce healthy elephant ears if treated properly once planted.