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How to Dig Up Elephant Ears to Store for the Winter

elephant ears image by robert mobley from

Prepare elephant ears for winter when foliage begins to die back in the fall, just before the first predicted frost for your area. If frost catches you by surprise, it’s still possible to save the plants if you dig the bulbs up and store them right away. The sooner you do this, the less likely the bulbs will be to turn mushy and rot. These tropical natives can’t tolerate cold weather, so they must be safely stored for the winter in USDA Zones 1 through 7. In zone 8, it’s possible to leave them planted and heavily mulched in a very well-draining spot if they’re planted in a sunny location protected from frost.

Cut the elephant ear plant’s foliage completely back, leaving a stout stem to serve as a handle for pulling it up.

Dig the elephant ear up. Use a clean, sharp garden spade to cut a ring about 12 inches away from the main stem to avoid damaging tubers or large roots. Shake as much soil from them as you can and rinse well with the garden hose. Drain well, pat dry.

Spread a thick layer of old newspapers out in a warm, very dry spot away from direct light. Set the elephant ear bulbs on the papers with plenty of space in between them to air dry for a few days. Turn them once every day. The idea is to allow as much surface moisture as possible to evaporate from the bulbs prior to storage. Cut the remaining stems from them after they’ve air dried.

Pour 4 to 6 inches of packing material such as vermiculite, peat moss, sawdust or Perlite in the bottom of a cardboard box. Place the elephant ear bulbs on the surface with as much space between them as possible. Cover with another 6 inches of packing material.

Place the box of bulbs in a warm, dark, dry location. They must not be allowed to freeze or they’ll soften, turn mushy and rot.

Check the condition of the packing material and bulbs in 2 weeks. The packing should feel completely dry. If not, replace it. Squeeze each bulb to check firmness. Remove and discard any that are softening or showing signs of rot. Repack good bulbs and return to storage. This is especially important if you’re having difficulty with humidity where the bulbs are stored.

Repeat Step 6 in 2 weeks if dampness concerns you. If all is well, the bulbs will probably be all right if you wait another month before checking on them again. Then change the packing material once more.

Replant your elephant ears in the spring when soil warms up following the last predicted frost for your region. This is the best time to divide bulbs for propagating more plants.

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