Ultimate Elephant Ear Plant Guide

18 Sep 2021

Elephant ear plants are prized for their generous luscious, luminous green leaves. They’re prized for their ability to add a tropical feel to any space.

Main Features

Elephant ear is a general name used for many plant species belonging to three groups: Colocasia, Alocasia, and Xanthosoma. However, the most widely grown of the three is the Colocasia esculenta, generally known as taro. This is the plant we will focus on taking care of throughout this guide.

Colocasia is a swamp plant native to Southeast Asia and Southern India. They form a resistant root system beneath the water, making them excellent landscape plants for areas near or around water. Their leaves have pronounced veins and are heart-shaped.

The most common color is green, but it can also be crimson, purple, or even black. Not only is it a decorative plant, but the taro, also known as dasheen, is edible. It’s the most cultivated elephant ear species because of its importance as a food staple in the Pacific.

The taro bulb, grown for over 6,000 years, can be used in various tasty dishes. Plus, its leaves can also be eaten when cooked in a specific manner, as they contain oxalic acid that needs to be removed first.

How Big Do They Get?

Mature taro can grow up to 3 to 6 feet (91 – 183 cm) tall and wide. Their leaves can also grow to be about 2 to 3 feet (61 – 91 cm) long and 1 to 2 feet (30 – 61 cm) across.

How Long Does It Take for Them to Grow?

They can grow relatively fast; however, depending on how dormant it is, it can take a few weeks to several months for them to grow. They mature very slow, requiring at least 200 days (about 6.5 months) to reach full maturity, but can take up to 9 to 12 months depending on the climate it’s grown in.


The elephant ear is perennial herbaceous, meaning it dies into the ground every winter, but regrows again during the spring. Because of this, it’s able to complete its lifecycle in less than a year.

Depending on how dormant it became during the winter, the taro may be regrown again until harvest. Because of this, the complete lifespan of the Colocasia depends on the plant itself.

Are They Poisonous to Dogs and Cats?

If you have a dog or cat, make sure to keep it away from them as it is very toxic to animals. Taro contains insoluble calcium oxalate crystals like the genus monstera and many other houseplants from the Araceae family.

The crystals are released into the mouth when eaten and can rip through the soft tissue in your pet’s mouth, throat, and stomach, which can cause them to experience significant pain.

Before placing it in your home near your pets, make sure you have somewhere safe to keep it where you know your pet can’t reach it. If your pet happens to ingest the plant or you notice they’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, immediately take them to the veterinarian.

Symptoms in Dogs

The symptoms and severity in dogs may vary depending on what part of the plant the dog chewed and the dog’s overall health and age. The most common symptoms include:

  • Red skin and eyes
  • Inflammation, blistering, and burning of the skin
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Drooling
  • Pawing face and mouth
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Appetite loss

Symptoms in Cats

If your cat bites any part of the plant, it’s likely to experience any of these symptoms immediately:

  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Irritation in the oral cavity
  • Burning sensation in the mouth


Knowing exactly how to care for your taro is essential in ensuring its growth! Following this guide will help you do so.

How Often to Water

Because the taro is native to swamps, it needs plenty of water to thrive. The soil should be kept consistently moist, so you should check on it every 1 to 2 days to see if it needs more water. Make sure to water often, especially in dry weather.

If you’re not sure that you’re watering enough, try to consistently give it about 2 to 3 inches (5 – 8 cm) of water every week. It’s best to water at the base of the plant near the root to keep water off the leaves, as this can cause disease.


The Colocasia esculenta grows best in water, but similar to the African Violet, it requires proper drainage. Make sure the potting mix is well-draining and that its container has drainage holes.

How to Prune

Good trimming habits are essential to keeping a healthy Colocasia. Ensuring you prune at the proper times will encourage your Colocasia to grow more by allowing light and nutrients to reach younger leaves.

You should prune during the winter (its dormant season) if you’re keeping it outside or whenever it begins to overgrow. Follow these steps for the best pruning habits:

  1. Sterilize your pruners by using a rag to wipe them down with rubbing alcohol.
  2. Locate the leaves that are dead or dying. They will usually appear yellow or brownish.
  3. Make clean cuts through the stem, cutting close to the base of the plant. Be careful not to tear the leaves or stem.
  4. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) of space above the soil.
  5. Compost or discard the leaves.

If your plant is indoors and doesn’t have any dead or dying leaves but has overgrown a bit, follow the exact instructions but just cut back on a few leaves near the base instead.


The best time to transplant the taro is in late winter or early spring since this is the time that new growth appears, similar to the Christmas cactus. In frost-free areas, you can transplant elephant ears at any point during the year, but transplanting while the Colocasia is still small is easier.

Planting in early spring will also allow the plant to recover from the stress of transplanting before the hot summer. To transplant, choose a wide and stable container that’s at least 16 inches (41 cm) deep and 18 inches (46 cm) wide, as the Colocasia esculenta tends to grow very big.

You’ll want to place the bulb in a hole twice as wide as it, so make sure the container is large enough for this. Mixing compost or manure into the soil for added nutrients before transplanting will also help the Colocasia grow. The steps to transplanting the taro are very straightforward:

  1. Fill the container you chose to repot the esculenta in nutrient-rich, well-draining soil. Make a deep and wide hole in the mix to hold the entire corm (its root system).
  2. Using a hand spade, remove the soil about 12 inches (30 cm) from the stem. Keep your gardening tool away from the roots and make sure not to damage or cut them.
  3. To not damage the roots, slide a burlap beneath the root base carefully and remove the Colocasia. If the plant is too large, you may need assistance from someone else while removing it.
  4. Set the Colocasia in its new container and carefully slide the burlap from underneath it. Water it until the soil is moist.
  5. To ensure the plant retains moisture, you can spread mulch across the top of the soil.

Make sure to place the Colocasia in a partially shaded area and check the soil’s moisture daily.


Colocasia’s environment is vital to ensure optimum health and growth.

Do They Need Full Sun?

No, elephant ears grow the best in bright, but indirect sunlight. Leaving it in direct sunlight can cause the leaves to burn, but not allowing it to get enough sunlight can cause them to turn yellow.

Best Soil

As with water, the health of elephant ears relies heavily on the soil it’s planted in. It should be kept in nutrient-rich, moisture-retentive, and well-draining soil. They prefer slightly acidic soil that’s consistently kept wet or moist.

You can mix peat moss and rich compost for the best growth and allow the elephant ear to grow in the mix. Adding mulch or pebbles to the top of the soil will help it retain more moisture.

You can similarly use commercial potting soil made for containers as these typically contain vermiculite or perlite, which encourage proper drainage. You should never use soil from your garden bed to fill your containers because the soil is too compact, and you could be transferring bacteria.


It would be best if you fertilized taro with a slow-release fertilizer such as a 20-20-20 blend. It should contain equal amounts of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium (NPK).

When fertilizing, mix one tablespoon of fertilizer with a gallon of water. You should fertilize it once every month. Stop fertilizing during its dormant season in the winter.

Pot Size and Type

The Colocasia usually needs pots at least 16 inches (41 cm) deep and 18 inches (46 cm) wide, as they tend to grow very large. Containers made with plastic, fiberglass, or glazed clay are ideal because they help retain moisture.


Your elephant ear should be kept in temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 – 24 Celsius). They can’t survive in cold temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius).


If you’re growing the Colocasia indoors, it requires high humidity, at least 60%. You can use a hygrometer to check the humidity of the room you’re keeping it in.

If it’s not receiving the right amount of humidity, you can use a humidifier in the room that you choose to grow the Colocasia. Adding a layer of pebbles between the pot and the saucer will allow more humidity to reach the Colocasia.

Indoors vs. Outdoors

You can grow the Colocasia indoors or outdoors. If you’re growing taro outdoors, it grows best in USDA zones 9 – 11. It needs to have the same amount of indirect, bright sunlight. During colder weather, you can bring it inside and enjoy it as a houseplant.

Taro can also be grown indoors as long as you provide it with the right growing conditions. It will still grow indoors, but depending on how similar the conditions are to its native growing conditions, it may not grow as large as they usually do.

Elephant Ear - care, water, sunlight, pot, temperature, fertilizer (infographics)

Do They Bloom?

It is very uncommon and unlikely that the taro will bloom, just as it is for the ZZ plant. Instead, they are typically grown for their tropical foliage.

Growing Indoors

Propagating a fully grown taro can be a little difficult and messy because it gets so large. Nonetheless, after you get it out of its container, the steps that follow are quite simple.


If it doesn’t look like much more is happening with your taro (it’s stopped producing leaves), this could be a good time to propagate.

In Soil

To propagate your taro in soil, follow these steps:

  1. Prepare your container with the appropriate soil mix (located under the ‘soil’ heading).
  2. Dig out the plant with a hand spade, being careful not to damage the root system.
  3. Cut the stems of the plant, leaving about 6 to 7 inches (15 – 18cm) of stem above the root ball.
  4. There will be small parts of the root shaped similar to an acorn. Gently, break off these pieces. There may be around 3 to 5 root pieces depending on how grown your plant is.
  5. Make a hole in the soil deep enough to cover the root piece fully.
  6. Insert the root in the hole, cover, and thoroughly water until the soil is moist.

If you dig out the root a day before propagating, keep it in a shaded area with indirect sunlight and make sure it stays moist until you plant it.

In water

Some people choose to grow taro in water because it helps limit their growth and keep the leaves small, which is more ideal for a houseplant. Propagating elephant ears in water is simple and requires just a few steps.

  1. Divide the tubers as described in step 1 of the soil propagation.
  2. Place the root ball in a glass with shallow water, covering just above the roots.
  3. Leave it on a windowsill or an area that receives bright, indirect light.
  4. Change the water daily.

Use a liquid fertilizer once a month to encourage growth.

Planting Bulbs

Elephant ears make a great houseplant, and planting them is super simple! Luckily, they do well in containers as long as it’s the right size with the proper soil and adequate sunlight. Here are the steps for planting a taro bulb:

  1. Choose a large container with proper drainage holes.
  2. Fill the container halfway with the proper potting soil. You can add compost if you choose for extra nutrients and to encourage drainage. You should also add fertilizer as elephant ears are heavy feeders and require many nutrients to maintain their growth.
  3. Plant the bulb with the root end pointed down. The top of the bulb should be about 4 inches (10 cm) deep into the soil. Cover the rest of the bulb with the mix.
  4. Place the pot in an area that receives bright, indirect sunlight. You will need to water it regularly and frequently check that the soil is moist. Growing in a pot with drainage holes means the water will seep out quicker, so checking the mix frequently will prevent it from going dry.

Things to remember when planting taro indoors:

  • Fertilize it once every month with a balanced fertilizer for it to receive the proper nutrients.
  • Make sure to use a soil mix specifically for containers to encourage growth.
  • Elephant ears thrive in humidity, so placing a humidifier in the plant’s room is essential for growth.
  • Keep the temperature consistent between 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 – 24 Celsius).


Seeing something wrong with your Colocasia can be scary and disheartening, but don’t worry. You can easily save your plant with these simple steps.

Leaves Turning Yellow

Yellowing leaves are common with elephant ears, just as they are with the fiddle leaf fig. There are a few possible reasons for your taro turning yellow.

Watering Issues

One of the most common causes is watering issues. Yellowing leaves can be a symptom of watering too much or not enough. You will have to figure which one it is on your own, but it should be pretty straightforward. Your Colocasia should be receiving about 2 to 3 inches (5 – 8 cm) of water per week.

A lot more than that could drown it. It’s tricky because they need a lot of water to maintain their growth. Too much water, however, could eventually kill them. Stay consistent with watering and check on it regularly, and that should resolve any watering issues.

Inadequate Sunlight

Elephant ears need quite a bit of sunlight to maintain their health. Make sure it’s in a spot that receives bright indirect sunlight. If the leaves are yellowing, they may not be getting enough sunlight, so move it to an area where it can soak up more light. Placing it in direct sunlight can burn the leaves, so be careful of this.


During the fall and winter seasons, the plant will start to go dormant. The leaves will begin to yellow and then eventually fall off. You can either cut back on the yellowing leaves or let them go through their natural stages.

They should grow back in the spring. However, if it’s too early in the season for it to be experiencing dormancy, it could be related to another reason.

Requires Transplanting

If none of the other reasons seem to be causing the leaves to yellow, it could be that the plant needs a larger pot. If it has outgrown the current pot it’s in, the leaves will turn yellow and eventually fall off.

If you think this may cause of the issue, check if the roots have enough room in the pot. If it seems crowded and has grown too large for the container, you will need to transplant it into a larger pot.

Leaves Drooping

Let’s go over common causes of leaves drooping.

Watering Issues

The causes for leaves drooping are very similar. Overwatering and underwatering are two of the main reasons. If the soil stays wet and soggy rather than moist, this is a sign that you’re overwatering.

If it consistently feels dry, this could be because you’re underwatering. As previously mentioned, it should be getting about 2 to 3 inches (5 – 8 cm) of water per week.


Elephant ears must receive enough nutrients to maintain healthy growth. They are heavy feeders, so ensuring they receive the proper amount of fertilization is essential. You should be using a slow-release fertilizer about once a month. If you’re overfertilizing, the plant will appear burnt and droopy.

Temperature & Humidity

Another possible and common reason for drooping leaves is chilling, freezing, or high temperatures. A sudden temperature change can shock the plant, so make sure it’s not sitting next to a draft or vent.

Unless you live in an area that experiences heavy winters, humidity is likely not the cause. However, if this is something you’re worried about, invest in a humidifier and hygrometer to monitor the humidity in the room.

Broken Stem

If you find that your elephant ear stem is broken, you can resolve it in two ways. The first and easier solution is to cut the stem from the base and remove it.

The other option is to tie a stick or pencil on the part of the stem that’s broken to provide it with some support until it heals itself. However, if the stem is completely broken, it won’t heal on its own, but you can completely remove it, and it will grow back.

Bringing It Together

Caring for an elephant ear can be tedious in some areas, but it’s super simple once you get the hang of it! The most important thing to remember to ensure your taro is happy is to give it an adequate amount of indirect light, water regularly, and keep the temperature steady.

If you follow all the steps in this guide, you’ll have a healthy and vibrant elephant ear growing in no time! Good luck and happy planting.

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