Saturday, February 12, 2011

Elephant Ears


Taken from our courtyard, elephant ears, or colocasia, make an excellent addition to our Tucson gardens.
Considered a bulb or tuber, the elephant ear is one of the most beautiful plants you can put in pots around your garden.  I've experimented with this plant in a lot of different settings.  I've put it in the ground, in pots, in sun, in shade, soft ground, and hard ground.  There are also other varieties of elephant ears that have large leaves, purple leaves, variegated leaves, and the list goes on and on.  Let me share with you some basic information on how to successfully grow these guys in the garden.  Before you shop, know where you want to place them.  You should also buy a good number of them to put in groupings.  When you see them in the store, they'll look like the pic below.  Asian markets also sell the edible kind, colocasia esculenta.
Edible taro root is delicious.  Not all colocasia are okay to eat.  But if you do want to try it, here's the simple recipe.  Cut the skin off.  Boil the root.  Slice the root into small pieces.  Throw in fryer.  It sounds simple, but it can be quite the process, but the end result is pure happiness.

However, you don't want to eat them because you'd like to create a tropical vista in your yard instead. Simple.  Just don't tell your Asian friends that you have them or you may find their mothers digging in your garden at night when you're not looking.....or so they've threatened me:)  Here are the rules with this plant in the desert.  In some tropical places like in southern Florida, this plant can be invasive so be careful.  For us, however, it will die if not properly cared for.  For starters, this plant loves loose and rich soil.  If starting from the root in winter, water sparingly or none at all. During our cold months, this plant will be in decline and doesn't look so great.  The severe cold snap killed the plant back to the ground.  I just cut the leaves off and move them off the courtyard until summer. You can start watering when our nights get to be around an average of 50 degrees and that usually begins around late March.  The plant, once it starts leafing out, will then require regular watering.  It's very important that you do not overwater these roots when they DON'T have leaves on them because you will cause the root to rot.   Pots and planters are better for these plants and more so if you have a water line going through them.  I love to throw coffee grounds in their direction and they respond well to the extra love.  I have also put these plants into the ground where they come up every year.  They are in shade from the bright hot sun.  The leaves will burn here so find bright shade to morning sun and you will have success!!  Don't put them in total shade.
Spice up your garden with some color.  Black Magic colocasia adds that purple leaf contrast and looks great against caladiums.

There are A LOT of varieties out there and I have not played around with all of them, but every year, I try something different.  They are relatively cheap at around 2-5 bucks for one large root.  The larger the root; the larger the plant.  I even went to an Asian market and purchased several taro roots.  They grew just as well as the garden varieties.  I have another post coming up on Alocasia and Colocasia, which will be published tomorrow.  This is an important read before you buy any of these roots.  It will examine the difference between the two closely related species.  Ordering online is okay, but I have to admit that I was disappointed with this failed experiment.  The roots were too small and failed in our soil.  My recommendation is to not go this route.  Instead head to your local garden center and wait for them to put out the plants.  When you see that these places have them in stock, it's a good indication that it'll be time to start planning your colocasia garden. They will also have the certain varieties that you can grow here in Tucson.
I love this plant a lot and I tend to go crazy with it in my own garden space.  My personal experience with this plant has been positive and it's pretty easy to grow.  However, it's being patient for spring to arrive and waiting for these leaves to fill up that empty garden space. Stay tuned for my post on Alocasia vs. Colocasia. Until next time...... 

1 comment:

~Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

I love caladiums. I had a great display of them in a bucket on our patio last year. I saved the bulbs to replant this spring. Our winter would do them in totally.
I've already ordered some BIG purple ones for this year.