Elephant Ear Problems: What To Do With Elephant Ears Taking Over Garden

Large Green Elephant Ear Leaves
elephant ears
(Image credit: Gardening Know How, via Nikki Tilley)

The tropical elephant ear plant is a sight to behold and not one many will forget. The massive leaves and speedy elephant ear growth rate make this a plant that is perfect for maximum impact in the garden. Do elephant ears affect nearby plants? There are no allelopathic properties in the corms, but this can be an invasive plant and the excessive size may pose problems for species that live under the giant foliage. Choosing the right location for the plant and cleaning up after it drops its humongous leave should minimize any issues in the garden and keep your elephant ear garden friendly to all the other denizens of the landscape.

My Elephant Ears are Taking Over!

Fans of foliage plants should be well aware of the elephant ear’s charms. This tropical Arum is an excellent choice for pond edges, lightly shaded areas, and as screens for hiding unsightly items. These massive plants may grow up to 6 feet (2 m.) tall with leaves that span 2 feet (61 cm.) in diameter. In some areas, elephant ears are considered invasive, and some cautions should be taken to keep plants beneath free of debris. Otherwise, problems with elephant ear plants are rare and the statement making leaves are attractive foils for many other foliage and flowering specimens. For northern gardeners, the question, "Do elephant ears affect nearby plants?" is not even asked. That is because we are struggling to keep the plants alive over the winter. Most Colocasia are hardy to zone 9 or 8 with some mulching protection. In zones 7 and below, the corms must be dug up and overwintered indoors. Southern gardeners, on the other hand, will be well aware of elephant ear problems and may even vilify the plant in some instances. As a tropical species, Colocasia will have a rapid growth rate in warm conditions if given adequate water. This means you may have a monster of a plant in warm regions, and it is possible the giant specimen can escape cultivation. Even small fragments of the corms can reestablish and colonize natural areas. The massive plants then may crown out native species, making them an invasive flora.

Other Problems with Elephant Ear Plants

The most important criterion for growing Colocasia is well-drained, nutrient-rich soil. They can tolerate any lighting situation but prefer dappled or partially sunny sites. The huge 4 foot (1 m.) tall, thick petioles have quite a job sustaining the large leaves, so some staking may be required. Without support, the broad leaves have a tendency to droop and cover lower growing plants. They also replace the old leaves as the plant matures. This results in huge, dropped foliage, which can be a problem for any understory plants if left to rot on top of them. Simply cleaning up occasionally and tying up the leaves can remove these potential elephant ear problems. Fungal diseases as well as slugs and snails pose the biggest cultivation issues, but watering the root zone and setting bait can reduce much of the damage.

Running and Clumping Colocasia

Colocasia plant growth forms are something to watch for when purchasing corms. There are both running and clumping forms of elephant ear. The classic Colcasia esculenta, or Taro plant, is a good example of a running form. These plants produce underground stolons, which create new colonies of plants as they root. Disturbed stolons will also send up new shoots. These form dense colonies of plants quickly, an excellent trait in cropping situations but not so wonderful in the landscaped garden. Running varieties can make it feel as if elephant ears are taking over the garden beds. The issues with elephant ears are few and relatively easy to deal with as long as the plant doesn't escape cultivation or take over the garden. The rapid and impressive elephant ear growth rate is easy to control if you pot up the corms. In northern gardens, this also makes it easy to bring the plant indoors for overwintering.

Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.