Saving Elephant Ears & Canna — Part 2

For the sake of saving time, I thought I would combine the final packing practice for Canna and Elephant Ears.  Besides, I don’t think I can actually type the words Canna and Elephant Ears one more time.

The process is pretty much the same for both plants.  You will need peat moss, some kind of storage container (like brown paper bags), a shovel, and a room that stays relatively dry and evenly cool so that the plants can be lulled into a deep sleep without freezing.  If the final storage location is too damp or warm, the plants never get a chance to rest and they are at risk of rotting away — and after so much work getting to this point, that would be a shame.

Step 1: Where Canna are concerned, I double up two brown paper bags and label the outside.  I then put a shovel or two of peat moss in the bottom of the bag so the corms have a nesting area.

Step 2: I then place the corms (stem and all) into the bag.

Step 3: I tend to really pack the bags.  I’m not sure if this is correct, but it’s likely that I do this for the sake of space, since I have so many corms to pack away.  Once the bag is full, I then add more peat moss to the bag, shaking the bag so that the peat moss settles and covers the corms.

Step 4: Finally, I have something that looks like this.

Now for the Elephant Ears.  Last year, I stored the Elephant Ear bulbs in a plastic crate lined with a plastic bag.  I’m not sure if this had to do with my loss of energy and wanting to finish the task, needing to save space, or just running out of bags.  Either way, it worked.   By the way, don’t be surprised if your Elephant Ears have continued to grow since you dug them up.

Step 1: Once the crate is lined with a plastic bag, add a few shovels of peat moss into it to give the bulbs a place to rest.

Step 2: Load the Elephant Ear bulbs (stem and all) into the peat moss-filled crate.  Again, I tend to pack a lot in there.  Then add peat moss to cover the bulbs.

Step 3: Ultimately, this is what I am left with.  All that’s left to do now is carry everything into its Safe Room.

The Final Step: Here is the Safe Room — a cement bunker/bomb shelter hidden behind Joe’s  closet in the bedroom.  Now, anyone who knows me or who has read previous posts understands that I have an active imagination.  As my summer plants continue to live, enclosed behind the closet, my mind races back and forth between Edgar Allen Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher and the classic sci-fi film Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  So far, the Safe Room is protecting Joe and me.  So far. . .

Saving Elephant Ears — Part 1

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 will 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 lined up 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.

Stay tuned for a future post on the final step.

Book Review: 1493

When children recite, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” perhaps a more appropriate question would be, “From where does your garden grow?”  That’s the question I ‘m asking myself this Columbus Day weekend after reading the best-selling new book 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles C. Mann.  This meticulously researched book examines the world after Columbus set foot in North America. 

While Columbus certainly has his critics, there can be no mistaking that his arrival in the New World placed the entire world on the globalization frontier.  The author’s position is that much of what we enjoy today can be traced back to what he calls the Columbian Exchange, a means of moving plants and seeds and animals from one part of the world to another part.  It is why, for example, that tomatoes arrived in Italy and citrus arrived in Florida.  So much of what we take for granted wasn’t always so; and much of it would not be if Columbus had not set the process in motion. 

I myself am a bit of a mutt: English, Scottish, German, French, and Italian.  My paternal ancestors arrived in North America in 1675; my maternal great-grandfather entered through Ellis Island.  While this is my gene pool, I wonder just how diverse and worldly is my garden? 

Thanks to the Internet and Google, I learned that what I plant has traveled a long way to be planted.  In fact, my garden could be a lesson for world leaders seeking peace.   Although it heavily favors Asia and Central and South Americas, there is little conflict in plants from many lands successfully sharing common ground.   (Note to self: bring Australia into the mix, but wait until full-out global warming for Antarctica to come into bloom.) 

And to think my melting pot only took 518 years — and still counting — to plant. 

Happy Columbus Day — and enjoy the weekend in the garden.

Not-So-Wordless Wednesday: My Roots Are Showing

This is the end result of a day spent digging and removing Elephant Ears and Canna from the garden, and preparing them for their long winter’s nap.

It’s probably my least favorite day in the garden, and each year, I dread its arrival.  The chill in the air is my signal that, “It’s time.”  Armed with a pitchfork, clippers, and nerves of steel, I apologetically approach each plant.  I want to say, “Believe me, this is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you.”  I want the plants to understand that my actions are for their own good, so that they may live to see another summer.  But in the end, I fear that they’ll see me as a Viking, pillaging and ransacking their cozy beds.

Gardeners, I think, must have a bit of masochism in their blood.  Who else would try to trick Mother Nature by planting wrong-zone plants, nurturing them into blooms, and then hacking them down, ripping them from the ground, and storing them over the winter — only to start the process all over again in the spring?  Oh, to be content with zone-appropriate material!

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10 Reasons I Love Elephant Ears

Have you ever sat under an Elephant Ear leaf?  I’m not sure what made me even think to do this, other than my curiosity to see one of my favorite plants from a whole other perspective, but as I looked at the leaf’s underbelly, I reflected on all of the reasons that make me love Elephant Ears.

1. Well, there’s the simple fact that I can lay on the ground and look up at the leaf.  It’s a great place to take an afternoon nap, enjoy the shade, and look at the play of sunlight hitting the leaf’s upper surface.  From below, it glows, much like stained glass does when its illuminated.

2. The color.  Look carefully at an Elephant Ear leaf, top or bottom, and see the swirls of shades of green.  It looks as if it’s painted, and the greens always look refreshing.

3. They’re waterproof.  Each morning it’s a treat to see pearls of dew gathered in the folds of the leaves, or perhaps what’s left from an overnight rain.  When the morning light hits the beads, they look like drops of mercury or silver.  I often think that if I find myself on “Survivor,” I would roof my shelter with Elephant Ear leaves, or at least use one as an umbrella.

4. Size matters.  As the season progresses, leaves unfold larger and larger.  One leaf can measure 3 feet.  I have found that when I keep the plants in a pot, they remain stunted.  Plant them in the ground, and they let their presence be known.  Similarly, one large leaf placed in a vase can be just as dramatic in the house.


5. Taste of the tropics.  As a Zone 6 or 7 gardener, depending on the specifics of the Cold Hardiness map, I like to create a tropical feel in the yard.  Elephant Ears are more than able to create the illusion that my Long Island garden is in South Florida.

6. Easy care.  As much as I dislike fall clean-up, it’s necessary when it comes to Elephant Ears.  Right around the first frost, I’ll cut back the leaves, dig up the bulbs, and let them cure for a few days.  I’ll try to shake out much of the excess dirt.  The dug bulbs are then placed in paper bags and covered with peat moss.  Lately, I’ve also tried plastic bags, and this also seems to work, as long as I keep the bag open.  Either way, I place the bag in a cool, dry place, such as the cement bunker that is behind a bedroom closet and under the front steps.  In the spring, I’ll bring out the bulbs, pull off the dead roots and tops, plant them in pots with the tip just below the soil (maybe even peaking out slightly), place them in a sunny location, and give them lots of water.  Once they sprout, in the ground they go.  Elephant Ears are slow to start, but with water and heat and humidity, they take off. 

7. They bleed.  I learned this the hard way during my first fall clean-up of Elephant Ears.  After cutting the stalks, I noticed that my clothes became stained with a rusty red color.  I then noticed the ends of the stalks with the same color.  The stains are permanent, which means that I now have work clothes specifically for Elephant Ear cutting, and they are stained with memories of previous prunings.

8. They multiply.  I started with a single bulb, and now I have enough to fill one bed, and more to intersperse with hydrangeas that have not reached full height.  In fact, I was so overwhelmed with babies, that I brought the extras to work and shared some Elephant Ear love.

9. They’re fun.  The leaves almost bounce in the wind.  I will often walk by them and tap each leaf like a drum to make them bounce.  Besides, visitors will always smile when they see them, especially the larger leaves.

10. Have you ever seen a new leaf?  They emerge from the stalk of an older leaf, like a tightly wound sword.  And then they open, like a sail unfurling.  The larger the leaf, the greater the opening.

 That’s it for now.  Happy Gardening!

Bloomin’ Update 4: Surprise!

Generally speaking, I don’t like surprises.  I tend to get embarrassed by the effort that people put forth, not to mention having to be the center of attention.  As a kid, I would duck under the kitchen table when my family sang “Happy Birthday” to me — a moment my family will still remind me of no matter whose birthday it happens to be.

There are, though, only two surprises that I can take.  The first is a Joe surprise, one where he plans out a day-long adventure.  I am only told to be ready to leave by a certain time, and then off we go to our destination.  I think Joe has as much fun giving me clues as I have trying to guess the destination.

The second surprise comes from my plants.  I imagine them putting their colorful heads together and coming up with creative ways to entertain me and keep me on my toes.  

A few posts ago about gardening quotes, I credited my friend and co-worker, Alisa, with this one: “Gardening is like a natural suprise party.”  Although we laughed when she uttered this about 15 years ago, I catch myself saying it over and over, sometimes weekly, sometimes daily.  It has become a mantra of sorts, something to keep me from stressing out when I spot something growing that I never planned.

If you would like to see a few pictures from this year’s surprise party, just click on the “Continue Reading” link.

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Morning Glory

For all of my life, I have been a morning person.  As a kid, I loved being the first person awake in the house — especially on a Saturday morning.  That was prime television watching time, and I didn’t have to share the clicker.  As an adult, my favorite morning is Sunday — it’s designed for pre-crowd food shopping, breakfast, a leisurely read of the newspaper, a crossword puzzle, and a nap — all before 11:00 a.m. 

Drops of rainwater on an Elephant Ear leaf look like beads of liquid silver in this morning's light.

Now that I’m on summer vacation, mornings are even more special.  You see, I love my garden in the morning — and there are some times when morning almost feels like a religious experience.  The light is soft.  The air is fresh.  As the sun starts to warm the air, the dew evaporates, so that the few rays of light are like beams.

But it’s the human silence that I appreciate.   For many of us, this is the closest we can come to feeling alone, as if we were the first person to set foot on this land.  There are no lawnmowers revving.  No cars and sounds of traffic.  No voices.  Just a non-stop soundtrack of songbirds — sparrows, robins, doves, cardinals — all stirring to greet the day alongside me.

Yes, the garden changes throughout the day, and volumes of poetry could be written about the garden and the play of light and shadows as the day goes on.  I just think there is more of an intimacy in the morning.  The plants seem to agree with me.  They appear rested and alive and alert, as if they are determined to put on their best show.

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Friends Reunite In The Garden

This weekend, I hosted a reunion of sorts — removing  tender bulbs out of storage and reintroducing them to the garden.

Newly planted elephant ears. They started to sprout while in storage.

Each fall, right before the first frost, I cut back my tender plants, dig them up, cure them, and place them  in paper bags along with peat moss to cover.  It’s actually a tough thing to do.  The plants are still full of life.  We’ve spent so much time together.  And then I have to be the mean girl, decimating the friendship just when they thought they could trust me.  Cold and heartless doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.

Once hacked and packed, I carry them into the bomb shelter.  My house was built in the ’60s, and behind a closet and under the front steps, there is a cement crawlspace, a bunker which we refer to as the bomb shelter.  It’s cool and dry all winter, conditions that allow the tenders to go dormant.

My effort to trick nature and turn Long Island into a summer tropical paradise began several  years ago when a friend gave me a brown paper bag with canna rhizomes.  She said just keep them in the garage and plant them in the spring.  That didn’t work.  The garage was too cold and too damp, and when spring arrived, I had a bag of smelly and shriveled canna. Continue reading