If you have ever grown Elephant Ears in the garden, you know what a lovely aesthetic they add to the landscaping. We enjoy the tropical feel of these plants and wish they would survive year-round. However, here in zone 6, we have to bring our Elephant Ears indoors for the winter.
If you live in zones 7-11, your plant should survive outside without being brought in. A thick layer of mulch blanketed over the top of the cut-back plant should be enough to keep it warm until the next season.
There are two ways you can save your Elephant Ears for the next season. This process is called overwintering.
- You can cut back the foliage and stems of your Elephant Ear plants and bring them indoors in their pots while leaving the soil intact. However, this method takes up quite a bit of space. You can also leave the plant to grow somewhere indoors, as long as there is warmth and plenty of light. There is a risk of pests with this method, so be mindful of treating the plant before bringing it indoors.
- You can also dig up the Elephant Ear bulbs (which are technically corms), let them dry out, and then save them over the winter to plant next season. This is our preferred method as it saves space and reduces the risk of bringing pests inside.
When to dig up Elephant Ear bulbs
We like to dig up our Elephant Ear bulbs a few weeks before the first frost. This allows us plenty of time to dry the bulbs outside in the sunshine without the temperatures dropping too low.
However, you can dig them up later in the season. As long as you have a place to let them adequately dry (warm and not below 45°F), you can dig them up at any point before the first frost.
In this guide, I will show you step by step how to save your Elephant Ear bulbs for the next season.
1. The first step for saving Elephant Ear bulbs is to choose your plant.
First, you want to make sure you are saving bulbs from healthy plants. If you want to save the bulbs from all of your plants, that is okay too. After digging out the bulbs, you may notice some of them are rotted and not viable. So, it’s a good idea to dig up all your plants and choose the best looking bulbs.
How do you know if an Elephant Ear bulb is rotted? – Rotted bulbs are soft and mushy. If there is a small amount of rot and it is a large bulb, you may be able to cut the rotted portion off and allow the wound to callous as it dries out. However, we recommend discarding bulbs that are fully rotted.
2. Then, you can cut back and remove the plant from the soil.
Cut back all the foliage and stems of the plant. Being very careful not to damage the bulbs themselves as you gently remove the plant from the soil. You will likely have to dig around the plant a bit, digging at least 6 inches from the base. These plants can multiply quite a bit underground and you want to be sure not damage the bulbs.
We like using a pitchfork to loosen the soil. Gently remove the plant and place it on the ground or on a surface that can get a bit messy. A tarp, kiddie pool, or wheel barrow are all great options.
3. Begin the process of uncovering the bulbs
Gently working through the roots and brushing off excess soil, you can begin to uncover the bulbs. Some of the bulbs will fall away naturally, while others may need to be broken off. If you see any bulbs that are soft and mushy, you can discard them.
4. Clean the bulbs and trim the roots
At this time, you can work your way through the bulbs and trim off as much of the root system as possible. If you want, you can also spray them clean with the hose, or just brush off as much soil as you can.
Remove as much foliage from the bulbs as possible. If some is left on, that is okay. During the drying process, the foliage and roots will dry out and break away on their own.
5. Allow the bulbs to dry for 1-2 weeks
Depending on the humidity of your climate, you may need to dry out the bulbs for a longer period of time. Here in Connecticut, it usually takes at least 10 days for the bulbs to dry out.
They should be in a well-ventilated space. You can also dry them outside in the sun if there is no rain the forecast. Just be sure the temperatures do not drop below 50°F.
6. Pack the bulbs away for winter
After the bulbs are firm and dry, you can wrap them in newspaper or store them in a cardboard box with some ventilation. We store our bulbs in the basement where it does not drop below 45°F. If you have any issues with rodents, you may want to consider this as well.
Check on the bulbs once a month to ensure they are not rotting. If they are, you can discard them and try to preserve the remaining bulbs.
It is important to note that this process does not work for all plants. For example, dahlia tubers have a different process for saving. They require a bit more moisture and I would suggest keeping them in lightly moistened peat moss. Elephant Ears do just fine in newspaper or even just an empty box on their own.
If you have any questions about the process of saving your Elephant Ear bulbs, be sure to ask in the comment section below so we can help you out. These are truly one of our favorite plants to grow (and very easy to maintain). They will reward you with new growth for many years to come!