Elephant ear plants or Colocasia are herbaceous perennial plants with huge leaves. They grow from a corm or tuberous bulb underground. In certain places, Elephant ear plants cannot survive the winter. In that situation, we must store their bulbs for the winter to enjoy them the next year. Let’s learn how to store elephant ear bulbs.
Elephant ears are native to Asia. They have been naturalized in many tropical and subtropical areas. That means you’ll find them growing in the wild wherever it is hot.
They are valued for their large arrowhead-shaped leaves, which remind people of elephant ears. You can grow them both indoors and outdoors.
These plants cannot survive the winter.
If you only have light frost where you live, only the leaves will die, and the tuberous bulbs will survive underground. However, the bulbs perish when the hard frost hits and freezes the ground.
In this situation, you must store the bulbs indoors for the winter. Some people save their elephant ears by moving them to pots and growing them indoors.
Not everyone can afford to supply the plants with enough sunlight and warmth throughout the winter. That’s why we prefer storing the bulbs for the winter.
Corms and Bulbs?
Corms are considered the same as a true bulb but differ. If you cut a corm in half, it will look solid like a potato. A potato is a tuberous root.
If a true bulb like amaryllis or tulip is cut in half, it resembles an onion. An onion is a bulbous root.
Technically the corm of the elephant ear plant is a tuberous stem. However, it serves the same purpose as a bulb. That is to survive the winter and grow again.
We can avoid using the terms interchangeably since we aren’t professional botanists but home gardeners. It’s good to know the difference, though.
Can you Store All Elephant Ear Varieties?
Some varieties of elephant ear store better than others. That is because some types grow very good healthy corms while others do not.
Colocasia esculenta, or the Taro Elephant ear plant, is an example of elephant ears that grow nice bulbs. You should be able to store them over the winter without an issue.
Cultivars like “Mojito” or “Coffee Cup” Elephant ears do not form proper bulbs, and you must store them as houseplants with plenty of warmth and humidity.
When Do You Store Elephant Ear Bulbs?
When you dig up your elephant ear or colocasia corms depends on where you live. If you live up north like in Oregon or Washington, where it gets colder earlier in the year, you will dig it up much earlier.
In contrast, you would let it sit outside a few weeks or months longer, depending on where you live. If you live in California, there’s no need to dig up your elephant ears at all.
Generally, you can aim to store elephant bulbs in early or late October before the frost hits where you live.
You can dig it up earlier or later, at your discretion. Since you know the climate where you live best, the choice is up to you. Keep it out as long as possible before storing elephant bulbs for the winter.
Should I Cut the Leaves Before Digging and Storing the Bulbs?
Some people cut the leaves before storing the bulbs. That doesn’t harm the bulbs at all. We recommend you dig the plant with the leaves intact. That way, you can let the leaves dry out, and nutrients can return to the bulb. The roots also dry out and become easier to remove from the bulb.
All in all, we find that bulbs last better this way. The bulbs themselves also dry a little before you store them away. That helps them keep better.
Pros and Cons of Storing Elephant Ear Bulbs
Every choice we make for our indoor and outdoor gardens has advantages and disadvantages. We prepared a list to help you make an informed decision before storing your elephant ear bulbs.
Pros of Storing Elephant Ear Bulbs
Here are the Pros of Storing Elephant Ear corms throughout the winter.
1. Saves the Plant From the Frost
Storing the plant this way protects it from frost completely. Elephant ears are tropical plants. They were not made to survive harsh winters. They are used to a constantly warm climate all year round.
2. No Care or Maintenance Is Needed
Caring for elephant ears indoors during the winter is challenging since you must maintain a warm, humid environment with plenty of natural light. You have to water and care for the plant more than you would outdoors. Storing the bulb requires no maintenance.
3. Save Space
Everybody doesn’t have enough room for a huge elephant ear plant in their house. Will you be able to walk around it for the entire winter? Compared to a huge plant, a bulb takes up very little space. The perfect solution for a small home or apartment.
Cons of Storing Elephant Ear Bulbs
The lost growth is the only con of storing the elephant ear or colocasia bulbs instead of keeping the plant indoors for the winter. If the plant is allowed to grow continuously throughout the winter, it grows tremendously more leaves in the summer. We get to enjoy an established plant as early as July.
Alternatively, it takes a lot of heat to activate when we grow a plant from the bulb the next year. We might have to wait until June to see a single leaf.
But how can you store a huge plant indoors during the winter? You start by removing leaves from the plant while it’s still outside. When you need to move it indoors, you should be left with only two to three leaves.
When that happens, you only need to help them survive the winter to enjoy explosive growth as soon as it becomes warm outside.
How to Store Elephant Ear Bulbs
Here’s how to store elephant ear bulbs:
1. Uproot the Elephant Ear Plant
Using a shovel, gently coax the ground around the base of the plant. Then start digging the earth around it without touching the plant. Once the plant loses its hold and falls, then use your hands, wearing gloves, to remove the plant.
If much soil is attached to it, that’s not a problem. We can remove that later. The objective is to uproot the plant without causing the bulb any injury. That is why we avoid bringing the shovel directly into the plant.
2. Remove the Soil
Now while the plant is still whole, use your fingers to remove the soil from the bulbs and roots. Do this carefully so that you don’t damage the roots. We will remove the roots in time but keeping the plant as intact as possible benefits us in the long run. Take your time doing this right.
If you notice some small “babies” ready to separate, remove them carefully, leaves and all, from the parent plant. These babies will not survive the winter as a bulb. If you want to save these, you can plant them indoors.
3. Dry the Plant
Find a place with ample sunlight and let the plant leaves and roots dry out for a week or two. Letting the leaves and roots dry this way makes them easier to remove from the bulb.
In nature, when a plant becomes dormant on its own, its leaves would dry out similarly. This practice keeps the bulbs healthy and stays better.
4. Remove the Leaves and Roots
Now that the leaves and roots are dry, you can remove the leaves and roots from the bulbs. They should come off easily. Since the bulbs are a little dryer, they aren’t injured so easily. Be careful not to squeeze them, or you’ll introduce soft spots where they can rot.
5. Store the Bulbs
You’ll need a cardboard box and a piece of cloth. Many people report success with storing their elephant ear corms alone in a cardboard box and covering it with a thick piece of fabric.
However, to be extra safe, you can fill the box and cover the bulbs with vermiculite or peat moss. That way, you can be certain they will store well.
You must place the box in a warm, dry place that gets no light. We need to trick the bulbs into thinking they are still underground. If they get any light, that will ruin the illusion. You can keep them in the basement somewhere warm.
Ensure the temperature in the room you keep them doesn’t drop below 20°F. Now you can forget about them until next spring. Plant them as soon as the temperatures outside rising again.
Now you know how to store elephant ear bulbs for the winter. No need to buy new plants next year. Elephant ears are a perennial plant and should be enjoyed despite the frost. Save your elephant years to plant again next year.
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Hi! I’m Sophia, and I love plants – especially an expert in growing house plants. I stay in Chicago, United States of America, and through my blog and social media platforms, provide tips and tricks on how to grow healthy, vibrant plants indoors. Check out more here.