ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN
A small coleus shares the pot with this Elephant Ear.
I like to try new plants — new to me at least — in my garden and the plants I try are often inspired by those I have seen in other people’s gardens the previous year.
This potted Elephant Ear is positioned near a water feature. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Elephant Ear tubers are solid and the roots make it easy to determine which is top and which is bottom. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
I was going through my picture files the other day and came across photos that I had taken of Karen’s garden south of Neepawa a couple of year ago when I was writing up her garden for a magazine article.
Many interesting plants were present in this wonderful garden but when I looked at the photos, one jumped out at me — the huge leaves of the many Elephant Ear plants that Karen had planted in containers and in some of her borders.
Elephant Ear is a big, architectural plant grown for its unique foliage.
The plant will grow anywhere from one to two metres tall — its height will depend on the amount of moisture and the amount of sun the plant receives — so it is a large plant that will take up some space wherever it is located. Its large leaves can be a metre in length and almost that wide, creating a stunning focal point in the landscape.
Just after I had resolved to give this plant a try, I was in The Green Spot and as luck would have it, they had a whole box of Elephant Ear tubers on display, so I bought one. The tubers are very solid and about the same size and shape as a medium-sized russet potato.
I potted the tuber in a one-gallon nursery pot in soilless mix and put the pot in the sunroom to encourage it to break dormancy and start to grow. I want the plant to be a good size when I finally am able to move it outdoors and I had been told that it would be a good idea to start the plant indoors. I planted mine April 4.
Elephant Ear is native to tropical Asia; it is a heat-loving plant that will not tolerate frost. I will not put it outside until fear of frost has passed and I will bring it in for storage before frost occurs in the fall — although I may protect it outdoors from the first light early frosts so that I can enjoy the plant for as long as possible.
The variety that I was able to buy is called "Black Stem Elephant Ear" and it is reputed to have green leaves and dark purple stems. I was hoping I could get a more exotic variety, such as "Black Magic", which has almost black leaves, or "Jet Black Wonder", whose leaves are almost black but with white veining.
There is also a variety called "Yellow Splash" which has green leaves splashed with gold blotches.
I will have to keep my eyes open for an opportunity to obtain these more exotic looking varieties, but for this year, I will see how the one I was able to get performs in my garden before I invest in any more tubers.
I use the word invest purposefully as the tubers are not inexpensive. However, they are easy to store so I consider such a plant to be a long-term investment that will multiply (pay dividends?) as the years go by.
The tubers are stored in the same way as cannas — either in the pot, which has been allowed to dry out and is kept in a cool, dark, frost-free location for the winter, or stored in peat moss in a cardboard box in like conditions. The peat moss can be somewhat damp but too much moisture might encourage rot during the winter so check periodically to ensure that the tuber is storing well.
In her garden, Karen used Elephant Ears in both beds and containers. The container must be quite large to look in scale with the size of the plant, and because the stems come out on an angle there isn’t much room for companion plants in the container.
I might try a few sprigs of creeping Jenny around the perimeter of the pot, but the Elephant Ear will be able to stand alone as a display plant and really doesn’t need companions. Because it is what I call an "architectural" plant, adding companion plants may very well detract from its impact in the landscape.
I have also seen Elephant Ear used in beds and borders where it surely acts as a focal point. Because it likes lots of water, it is a good plant to use in a bog garden, along a stream or near a pond.
Besides craving water, Elephant Ear is a heavy feeder and the plant will need to be fertilized regularly during the growing season. This will particularly be true if the plant is grown in a container, which will limit the nutrients available to the roots because of the confined root space.
Because its leaves are so large, it is best to locate an Elephant Ear where it is not exposed to strong winds that may cause leaf damage. The leaves are the reason for growing the plant so you so not want to have them damaged.
Partial shade is recommended on the label although some people grow the plant successfully in full sun — it must have lots of water in such an exposure — and Elephant Ear will even grow in full shade, although it might get a bit leggy.
I am looking forward to growing this unusual plant in my garden. I will grow my Elephant Ear in a container so that I will have more control over its environment. Time will tell how this experiment turns out.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 12, 2012