How-to Overwinter Elephant Ears
A native of the tropical climate of Polynesia and southeastern Asia, elephant ears are not equipped to survive the winter outdoors in our area. However, there are two options for moving them indoors during the winter. This makes elephant ears a landscape investment that you can enjoy for many years. As a bonus, new tubers will sprout from old ones giving you more plants!
Option 1: Bring Them Indoors
Elephant ears can be moved indoors and grown as a houseplant during the winter months. To give it the best growing conditions place it in a bright, south-facing window. They also need warm temperatures in the 70s and plenty of water. Also, elephant ears require humid growing conditions. This may be problematic if you use electric heat which tends to lower indoor humidity.
Option 2: Storing the Tubers
Some folks, even people in the horticultural industry, use the term “bulb” when referring to elephant ears. They are actually tubers! That being said, it is possible to store the tubers inside during the winter.
Freshly Dug Tubers
The first step in storing the tubers indoors is digging them up. While researching this article, I found differing opinions on when the best time is to dig them. Some gardeners dig them prior to the first frost and others after. Personally, I have never had a problem waiting until after the first frost when the foliage dies back. However, you never want to expose them to a hard freeze.
When digging the tubers, be sure not to damage them. Elephant ear tubers are susceptible to rot which can be caused by damage or bruising. When digging them up start at least a foot from the plant and dig carefully to ensure that they are not harmed.
The second step is cleaning the tubers. Use a bucket of water to rinse them and remove excess dirt. Use only your hands to gently clean them. Using a scrub brush can create small scratches on the tubers and cause rot.
The third step is to remove the excess foliage. I remove the bulk of the leaves before digging them up. Now is the time for a final trim. Cut the stalks about 1-2 inches above the tuber. The remainder will later dry out and may fall off. Also, I take this time to trim off excess roots, and separate new offshoots that are big enough to be planted on their own next spring.
The fourth step is drying the tubers. Drying them allows the outer skin to toughen and help keep rot at bay. To dry them, place the tubers in a dark, warm, and dry place with plenty of air circulation.
The fifth and final step is storage. Wrap the tuber in paper and store them in a cool, dry place. For example, I store mine on a shelf in my basement. Check on them every couple of weeks throughout the winter. Remove tubers with signs of rot to prevent it from spreading to the rest of the tubers.
Following these steps should ensure that you have an elephant ear crop to enjoy for many years to come. In the spring plant them outdoors after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed. Another option is to start them in pots inside toward the end of winter. That gives you some ready-made foliage when planting your summer gardens. I normally do this with a few of my smaller tubers, and plant the others when the ground warms. This gives younger tubers a head start in the spring.