Although you might be very familiar with the old-fashioned huge green leaves of Elephant Ears, they have come a long way since their use as a line of green to hide a house foundation.
The secret to success with any of these big-leaved plants is to give them some shade during the hottest part of the day and plant them where the soil will hold water. Betty Crowther, a Georgia Lifetime Master Gardener, grows many of the newest selections in her flowerbeds in Evans, Georgia. She characterizes her garden as “A cross between jungle and cottage, definitely not formal.”
“The lime green elephant ear is Colocasia esculenta ‘Elena,’” Betty says. “This is a fairly new variety that is a hardy replacement for ‘Lime Zinger’ which was not cold hardy for me. ‘ Elena’ has a purple/burgundy marking where it attaches to the stem. I have it planted in front of the burgundy leaf Pennisetum purpurea ‘Princess’. The plants in front of Elena, which also have burgundy leaves, are Amaranthus, which I grew from seeds a friend shared with me. It is my attempt to echo the burgundy in Elena.” From a viewer’s standpoint, the color combination hits the mark perfectly.
“The black elephant is Royal Hawaiian black coral. This is a new one for me,” Betty shared. “It is zone rated as 7b to 10.” (The Augusta area is now rated zone 8a.) “I think I will take a portion of it into my sun room before the last frost for insurance this year, then if it doesn't overwinter in the ground, I will still have it for next year.
“Both are planted in an area of my garden that I know stays fairly moist in the summer. The Black Coral is planted alongside red Cardinal flower and blue Cardinal flower, yellow flag iris, and other moisture loving plants. If we have a prolonged dry spell I do supplemental water them along with the rest of the garden.”
“I don't really have a regular fertilizing program even though they probably would grow even bigger than they already are. I (do) always prepare the soil really well before I plant anything, which I think is actually more important.” Betty occasionally sprinkles a high nitrogen slow release fertilizer around the plants but she relies more on the preparation of the soil than on a feeding program.
Betty really likes the tropical look that elephant ears give to the garden. “I have at least a dozen different varieties; some are tender and live year round in pots and some are totally hardy in the ground.
If the elephant ears are not hardy in the ground where you live (most of the Colocasia esculentas mentioned here are hardy in USDA Zones 7b-10) it is easy to overwinter the bulbs either out of the ground in a cool, dry spot that doesn’t freeze or as potted house plants. If left in the ground in the more northern areas of their range, be sure to add a winter mulch to keep the bulbs from freezing.
Here are a few more colorful elephant ears you might like to try in your garden: Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’, Colocasia esculenta var. antiquorum 'Illustris', Colocasia esculenta 'Mojito', and Colocasia esculenta 'Burgundy Stem'.