Elephant ear winter

ksokiegonnab(z6, OK)November 16, 2008

I purchased 3 elephant ear bulbs from W-M in the spring.($5/bulb) They were beautiful & huge. They are still in the ground & appear unaffected by the cold--so far. The wind last week shredded the leaves so I guess I won't put it off any longer. I've read lots of posts but haven't found answers to these questions: Can I cut off the stems and remaining leaves or do they NEED to 'die off' attached to the bulb? like daffodils. If the original bulbs are intact should I try to save them, or just the babies? I have lots of ground leaves for mulch/compost, do I risk disease from leaves, or invest in a bag of peat for cold storage of individual bulbs in paper bags? I probably will try leaving some in the ground, well mulched just to see what happens. After all, the total investment was $15 & W-M will have more in '09. Seems to me the more I learn, the more questions I have!! Marcia

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I don't live/garden in zone 6 so I can't give you an answer that is as complete as I'd like it to be.

In zone 7, my elephant ears overwinter in the ground and survive most, but not all, winters. The only time they don't survive is if the weather is really, really wet at the same time that the temperatures are really cold. So, here in southern OK, the elephant ears can, for example, handle really wet weather in Nov. and Dec. when we are still pretty warm, but really wet weather in the Jan.-Mar. (and sometimes April, if it is a cold April) time frame can sometimes kill them.

A lot depends on the type of soil you have and how well it drains. If your soil has a high clay content and drains very slowly, and stays very wet and soggy, the elephant ear bulbs are at risk of rotting. If your soil has a high sandy or sandy loam content and drains well, the bulbs have a higher chance of survival.

Mulching the bulbs well helps protect them from the cold, but also helps the soil retain moisture which would be a problem if your soil stays wet for a prolonged period of time and drains slowly.

I don't know many people who have success overwintering the bulbs indoors in peat moss. It can be done, but you have to make sure they have enough moisture and humidity that they don't dry out too much, shrivel up and die....and yet, not so much moisture that they are too damp and rot. Some people overwinter them indoors in a pot of soil set in a cool dry location like an unheated closet and don't water them at all until the soil almost completely dries out. Even then, you would only water enough to keep the soil a little moist, but not wet. If you happen to have an unheated basement or a tornado shelter, either of those places might be a good place to overwinter tender bulbs and tubers either in pots of soil or in peat moss.

I use lots of chopped-up leaves for mulch (and use bark mulch as well) and have never had disease issues because of it, but I am in a dry area that has only 30-34" of rain in a good year, and as little as 18-26" of rain in a bad year. I think that the likelihood of fungal and bacterial diseases overwintering in the leaves increases in areas with higher rainfall. But, if your leaves came from trees that didn't have foliar disease issues, I wouldn't worry about it.

And, here's a tip about buying elephant ears the next time you need/want some. You can go into an Oriental grocery store or a higher end natural or organic grocery store (like Wild Oats, Central Market, Whole Foods, etc.) and go to the produce section and purchase tubers/bulbs there. They are sold under several names including taro and malanga. I bought a bag of them, sold under the name 'malanga' at a Whole Foods store in Arlington, Texas, several years ago for maybe $3.00 or $4.00 a pound. I got 20 or 30 small (each about the size of a small plum) tubers, planted them, and figured I'd have big plants in a few years. I had huge plants with huge leaves the very first year, which was a very pleasant surprise. So, there's no need to pay $5 each for the larger bulbs unless you just want to.

Here in southern OK, the ones I have in sandier loam in raised beds survive all but the wettest winters. The ones in heavier clay may or may not survive a very wet winter, but we only get a winter like that once or twice a decade here. And, one very, very dry winter, I lost some of them to exceptional drought because it didn't rain and I didn't water that part of the yard.

Hopefully someone who's actually grown these in zone 6 will respond and let you know if they overwinter theirs in the ground or indoors, because my experience is of limited benefit to you since I garden in an area a full zone warmer.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   November 17, 2008 at 7:19AM
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Like Dawn I am in Zone 7, but two hours further north in the OKC metro. I don't have luck leaving elephant ears in the ground. I agree with Dawn's comments about the cold/wet combo. I dig them up, cut off the tops and let them dry a few days so I can loosely brush the dirt off. Every year I lay them in a single layer in a shallow cardboard box (like six packs of soda come in) and set them in an unused upstairs bathroom to "finish drying". I keep mamas and babies. Every year I intend to get back to them to take better care of them, but I never do. Somehow they make it through the neglect, and I put them back out in the spring. The humidity in our house stays in the mid forties.

One year they didn't make it as far as the bathroom and were neglected in the garage instead. The humidity there is in the 30s. They dried out and didn't make it.

Although our climate isn't the same, perhaps you can extrapolate some useful information from my experience.

Good luck,

    Bookmark   November 17, 2008 at 3:13PM
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ksokiegonnab(z6, OK)

I decided to 'press my luck' & leave them in the ground. Actually, my husband helped make the decision. He already had the bed covered with about a foot of ground leaves before I got back out to supervise. Just hope they will not be so warm as to continue growing. They were planted in a new bed with good loose soil & lots of organic material. It's on the side of a slope so I don't think drainage will be a problem.We have composted ground leaves and if they are not turned, the moisture just doesn't get through. We will see what happens. Thank you for your help! Marcia

    Bookmark   November 18, 2008 at 8:52AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I hope they make it.

The one thing I've learned after gardening here in Oklahoma for almost a decade now is that everything here is very unpredictable. I've had plants survive multiple cold snaps that they shouldn't have survived......I've had plants die when I didn't think the weather was "that bad", etc. The weather and its affects on plants seemed much more predictable during the 39 years I lived and gardened in Fort Worth.

Sometimes, it seems the only way to find out for sure if something "will" or "won't" is to try it and see.

I hope you'll let us know next spring if the EEs survive the winter in the ground. Then, the next time someone in zone 6 asks this question, we'll tell them "Marcia's did..." (or didn't, as the case may be) and you'll be our zone 6 EE expert.


    Bookmark   November 19, 2008 at 9:37AM
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barton(z6b OK)

Mine survived two winters by a sunny west wall . I am zone 6b.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2008 at 12:50PM
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