Garden Guide: How to put elephant ears to sleep for the winter

These bold tropical plants are starting to look crispy now that our first freeze has passed, but this is the perfect time to prepare them for winter storage so they can grow even bigger next year.

Alex Calamia

Nov 8, 2023, 11:35 AM

Updated 247 days ago


Are you a fan of tropical plants? It is hard to imagine a larger and easier plant than elephant ears for our summer gardens. Elephant ears are a popular plant due to their large heart-shaped leaves that can reach up to 5 feet wide in a single growing season!
Now that we are approaching winter, elephant ears are not looking their best and most of them are already crispy after dealing with our first freeze. However, they are still alive and well. As long as the roots don’t freeze, they can still be dug up and put to sleep inside until spring.

About Elephant Ear Bulbs

Elephant ears are sold as small plants in early summer or as completely bare-root bulbs without leaves in the early spring. The bulbs contain all the plant’s energy, so they’ll get bigger with each passing year even if they start from the ground every spring.
Technically speaking, elephant ear bulbs are called “corms.” Just like bulbs, corns store all the plant's energy underground. The difference is that bulbs are modified leaves that are tightly packed together whereas a corm is a modified stem that is underground.
Plants with true bulbs lose all their foliage above the ground (think daffodils!), but elephant ears can retain some of last year’s stems and resprout new leaves from there.
Plants with bulbs can be cut all the way back to the ground but elephant ears don’t have to be cut to the ground. They will sprout back where the newest leaf emerged or if the stem is damaged, it will produce baby plants along the sides. 

How to store elephant ears in a box

This method will save you space, but it does require a little more work.
After the first frost of the season cut back all the leaves to the base. You’ll be left with the middle stem that all the leaves are attached to. This can be chopped back to the ground if the plant is stored bare root.
Dig the roots up and use your hands to pull away at all the roots and dirt until you find the bulb (more correctly known as the corm).
Store the corn in a cool and dry box with shredded paper in a spot that stays above freezing. Check on the bulbs once a month and pot them up in March inside the house to give them a head start on the growing season.
They will usually resprout in 2 months.

How to store elephant ears (the easier way) 

If space isn’t an issue, I recommend doing a little less work and keeping these elephant ears asleep in containers filled with soil during the winter.
If you’re already growing your elephant ears in a container, then this is very easy! Just put the container in a cool spot that stays above freezing, like a garage, during the winter and cut off any mushy leaves. Make sure to keep it dry. That’s it!
If the elephant ears are in the ground, cut all the leaves back to the main stem, but I like to leave the main stem intact. This is where new leaves will emerge in the spring. They will emerge more quickly if there’s some green intact. Green means photosynthesis is happening!
VIDEO: More tips on how to store elephant ears
Dig the elephant ear up! It’s okay to chop off most of the roots in the process as long as the bulb is dug out in one piece. The bulb is attached very close to the surface of the soil so it should be easy to dig out with a deep shovel.
Pot the plant up in a container with some fresh soil and keep it in a cool or dark spot like a garage. Check on it about once a month and chop off any mushy spots. Keeping these plants dry is key. They can also be maintained over the winter as a houseplant. 

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