The October weather has been strange. There was a moment when it felt like autumn, but then it became more mild and humid — and so I let my tropicals stay in the ground. But how much longer will I be able to get away with that? At some point, it will become cooler and frost will arrive — and these tropicals need to be stored for the winter.
This will be my weekend project — and since I’ll be a bit busy, I thought it was the perfect time to re-visit a previous post that chronicles the process. Up first are the elephant ears.
With frost rapidly approaching, it’s time to remove my tender elephant ears and prepare them for winter storage. My method is something that I have adapted over the years, and it’s based on what I’ve learned after saving dahlias and caladium.
What you will need: garden clippers, a pitchfork or shovel, old clothes, nerves of steel.
Step 1: The first thing to do is cut back the stems. I try to leave about 8″ to 10″ of stem. No matter how many times I have done this, I always feel a little guilty because the leaves have reached their fullest. But, alas, all good things must come to an end. Do not be surprised if there is a gush of water that pours from the stalk after you make your cut.
Step 2: After the stalks are cut, within minutes they begin to “bleed.” If you decide to try this project, be sure to wear old clothes — the brown/red liquid will stain and it does not come out in the wash. I learned this the hard way, and now I have my elephant ear cutting outfit.
Step 3: Using the pitchfork, I carefully work in a circle, prying up the bulb. Once it feels loose, I gently pull the base upward, revealing the bulb and the wild mass of roots. At this point, I’ll shake off the excess dirt. You may notice that your main bulb might have smaller bulbs attached. Do not separate these at this time — that task will be much easier in the spring when you replant your bulb.
Step 4: Here we have pretty elephant ears all in a row. Once the plants are dug, I store them for a little more than a week in the potting shed. It’s warm enough and dry enough for the bulbs to set before they are packed away.
25 thoughts on “Repost: Saving Elephant Ears, Part 1”
Awesome… I have to do this this weekend.. I’ll be following your advice as this is the first time I will have tried this…
Hi Kate. Good luck this weekend. They’re pretty indestructible. I also wanted to remind you that after the plants are dug up, they can’t be stored right away. They have to cure for a couple of days. I’ll have a follow-up post on that step in the process.
I have never cut back my Elephant plant, it is really huge and the main stock is about 3-4 inches thick, then a bunch of babies of that. I’m really nervous about cutting back.
Hi Connie. I saw on the FB page that you have your plant in a large pot. If you’re able to bring it inside and allow the plant to go dormant, that’s great — especially since it works for you. All of my elephant ears are in the ground (plus, I don’t have any room in the house for pots), and so I have to cut and dig. Once the bulbs have cured for a week, I then pack them in peat moss and store in a cool, dry spot (in my case, a cement bunker).
that first picture is awesome !!!!!
Hey Gwennie. Thanks. It kind of reminds me of a big green umbrella. 🙂
I follow a similar process, and store mine in peat in a box in my basement. I cut the stalks a bit shorter tho. Have you see my red banana plant on my blog? I posted a picture – it is 15 ft tall in a huge container I built! I’m so happy but will be taking it down sooonnnn!
Hi Cathy. I just took a little field trip to your site and watched all of the videos. Timber! 🙂 Also, I loved your tip about lining large pots with heavy plastic (with holes for drainage) — a great way to get the whole root ball.
Excellent and informative post!
Hi Lee. Thank you! Also, thank you for the reblog!
Thank you for sharing this post on Hometalk! Appreciate the great advice.
Hi Miriam — and thank you for the encouragement. 🙂
Reblogged this on A Guide to Landscape Design & Maintenance-Long Island and commented:
This is an excellent post from Nitty Gritty Dirt Man on digging up and saving your Elephant Ears for next season.
Lee — Many thanks!
Thanks Kevin for your reply, I was going to transplant my plant and breakoff the babies but now it sounds like I should just leave it over the winter and hope they don’t break the pot. I just store the pot in the garage and hope the temp doesn’t get too cold.
Love the information gained here.
Hi Connie. I’ve been doing some thinking about your potted elephant ears. It sounds like you’ve stored in the garage in the past — and you’ve been pretty successful — so it should survive. I assume that when it’s in the garage, the plant goes dormant (the leaves turn yellow and die, and soon the bulb is alive but underground). It’s probably also a good time to cut back on watering — not completely, but certainly not the amount of water you used during the growing season. In the spring, dig up the bulb and you’ll have an easier time separating the smaller bulbs away from the mother bulb. It’s actually pretty easy to do that — no cutting. They pretty much separate with the slightest effort on your part. I hope it all works out for you.
I guess one could say it goes dormant. It stays with its green leaves. If it gets too chilly in the garage I wrap a blanket around it and tell her it will be ok. We have a large window in the garage so it does get any sunlight that might be.
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It sounds like it should be okay. When you unpot it in the spring, you’ll see the main bulb. Smaller bulbs are essentially where side shoots are coming out of the ground. You should be able to separate these with ease. Another option: repot the whole thing into a larger pot next spring.
We need to store our Elephant Ears here in Oklahoma too. Sometimes we get lucky, not always. So, Okies, start storing now. I’ve lost a few to too much water in spring when they’ve wintered over in place so now they all come up. My question is this: I’ve started to plant in large pots. Do you think I should still dig and store or just move the pots into the garden shed?
Thanks for Hometalk. I read it all the time and find it very useful. Also, thanks for any advise on the Ears!
Hey Karen. I believe Oklahoma has some tough winters — so storing the pot in a shed might be an issue. Potted plants are at greater risk of winter issues because they’re in a pot. It’s more likely the dirt will freeze — and that will kill your elephant ears. I would either bring the pots into your house or dig & store. Glad you’re enjoying the discussion.
What a helpful post! I have a couple I started digging up this weekend, so I hope the next installment isn’t too far off! I want to see how you store them, my method is far less orderly and neat 😉
Hi Bittster. Glad you’re enjoying the post. The Part 2 will appear by next weekend — since I usually wait a week to do the final step. In the meantime, I’m addressing canna storage. Hang in there!
Pingback: Repost: Saving Elephant Ears & Canna, Part 2 | Nitty Gritty Dirt Man
All this talk about digging up elephant ears at the end of the season, baffles me! I live in the mountains in the Kootenays in B.C., and have never dug up my elephant ears. Winter is long here, starting to snow in late October and finally melting in April, which is now. My elephant ears are the first plants up in the garden, but they have this strange stage of growth that looks nothing like an elephant ear. This dies off and then the elephant ear starts to grow proper. Surely someone else must have seen this. I dont think I’m the only one that doesn’t dig them out each year and you are all missing this beautiful first stage of growth on such a wonderful plant. Why don’t you try leaving them in the ground for one year as an experiment. We just had one of the coldest winters in years and right now I have four beautiful elephant ears poking through the snow. I’ll try to post a picture.
Hi Greg. Wow! Maybe there’s a warm microclimate happening there — or you’ve got some pretty happy elephant ears. I have done that experiment and kept a bulb or two in the ground — and in the spring, I didn’t have any growth — just a mushy bulb. I’d love to see a photo of your plant. Thanks for the comment!