Elephant Ear Gives Birth — LIVE!

A close-up of one of one of the original Elephant Ears in the garden.

This post has been a long time in the making – months, as a matter of fact.

At the start of the growing season, I was strolling through one of the big box stores and found a corm for a red/purple/black leafed variety.  I had seen this same plant in many of the seed catalogs – but in this store, the price was more than right.  It was an elephant-sized bargain.

Once the plant began to grow, however, the only thing true about the advertised color was the stems – strong and purplish black.  The leaves, on the other hand, were greener (and smaller, by the way) – not the same bright green as my other Elephant Ears, but green with hints of darker tones.  In other words, they weren’t the red/purple/black on the packaging.

A close-up of the new arrival. It may not be as green as the original, but it still has its charms.

Although slightly disappointed with the result, I soon found myself drawn to my new plant, especially the glossiness of the leaves.  They were so shiny, in fact, that they looked fake, as if they stepped right off of the Munchkinland set in The Wizard of Oz.

And then I witnessed the miracle of an Elephant Ear leaf birth – the agonizingly slow unfurling of a new leaf emerging from the purple/black stem.

Over the next few weeks, I stood in the same spot to document the debut – like a proud papa tapping on the nursery window.

Weeks since it first emerged from the stem, the leaf is still stretching and growing to to its full size.  Whoever said they grow so fast these days, never had an Elephant Ear.

Happy gardening!

100th Post: Water For Elephant Ears

Attractive, aren’t they?

The last time I saw my Elephant Ears, they were clipped back, packed into peat moss, and stored in a cement bunker.  With the very warm April temperatures, I couldn’t resist opening up their winter palace.  But unlike Geraldo Rivera and Al Capone’s vault, I found my treasure.

 1. After a long winter’s nap, the stems, leaf remnants, and roots have withered from tropical green to paper bag brown.

2. To clean each bulb, I shake off the excess peat moss and dirt.  Then, it’s time to husk the dead leaves, stems, and roots. 

3. It takes a little effort, but once cleaned, there is usually a pinkish shoot at the heart of all that brown – the promise of new growth.

4. Some bulbs may still have healthy looking roots.  These I leave on – might as well give the bulbs a head start once they’re planted. 

 5. This Elephant Ear collection began years ago with the purchase of one bulb. Over time, smaller bulbs developed, like the one pictured here (toward the right), and these can eventually be separated, either manually or on their own.  I’ve also learned that the bigger the bulb, the larger the leaf.  But the smaller bulbs also have value – they can be kept in pots and moved around the garden as filler.

6. To plant the bulbs, the toughest part is choosing the right sized pot.  I add some potting soil to the pot, settle the bulb into place (shoot side facing up, of course), and then fill until the crown is just below the surface. 

7. I’m sure I make more work for myself by first potting the Elephant Ear bulbs.  With the pots, however, I feel I have more control over the plants.  If there should be a frost, I can move the collection indoors.  If a bulb fails to bloom, I won’t have an empty area in the garden.

8. Once planted, I place the pots in a sunny location and water daily.  These are tropical, and they thrive on heat and moisture.  Once they develop leaves, it’s into the garden they go – usually to a partial shade location.

A special thank you to Elaine from Ramblings from Rosebank for suggesting that I post a few photos of Elephant Ears in their glory days of summer.  


Next Post: I Canna Believe It’s You

Flora Fan Finds Flora Fun In Florida

We should have known that when we signed the papers for the house, that cluster of thunderstorms would have grown into a monster.

For twenty years now, I’ve been making a list.  One month before Hurricane Andrew slammed into South Florida, Joe and I purchased our retirement home – and ever since, I have worked on my list, editing it, adding to it, rethinking it. 

The list has to do with landscaping our retirement yard, which is pretty much a blank slate.  Over the years, we’ve planted palm trees – thereby giving us the basic garden structure.  But how do I fill in all of the open areas?   How do I adapt my very basic Long Island gardening knowledge to a subtropical zone? 

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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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