How to Overwinter Elephant Ears (Complete Guide)

So, winter’s coming and you’re panicking over protecting your precious elephant ears.

You’re freaking out. You don’t want to see those big green leaves go to waste.

What can you do to save them? Or at least regrow them next season?

You overwinter it! AKA: WINTERIZE.

Let’s learn about how you can preserve your elephant ears until next season, so then you can enjoy them once more!

These plants are made to be enjoyed multiple times- that’s why they’re perennials by nature.

So let’s learn how to overwinter these plants.

Can elephant ears be overwintered?

Elephant ears can definitely be overwintered. Yes, that’s right!

You don’t need to painfully watch your precious big green leaves go poof because you can save the bulbs

Then you can plant them again next season. Plus, you don’t need to waste your precious money on buying a new elephant ear every season simply by storing them correctly.

Overwintering elephant ears doesn’t get any easier. Let’s dive in!

Elephant ears can irritate the skin

Elephant ears contain a compound (oxalic acid) that can cause some skin irritation in people with sensitive skin.

Use protective clothing, gloves, and shoes (or any other PPE you need) when handling these plants. Use common sense and proceed with caution.

Do elephant ears go dormant?

Similar to creeping thyme, bluebells, or bird of paradise, they’re set to go dormant so they can conserve their energy for the cold season until spring comes around once again so they can show off those big green foliage for you.

What do you do with elephant ears in the winter?

It depends where you live. If you’re in a lower hardiness zone, you’ll likely have to cut them back then store the bulbs for the winter.

If you’re in a warmer zone, you can either leave them outside if temperatures don’t dip too far.

These plants can only handle so much cold before you need to do something. Higher zones may even get away with just putting a few inches of mulch and calling it a day!

Those growing in pots can simply move them inside their homes for the cold season and give it some water here and there.

So it’s nuanced. There’s no clear solution.

It depends on your local conditions, as you’d expect. But as usual, the points go to those in moderate zones. Less work for those people.

How cold can elephant ears tolerate?

Elephant ears should only be exposed to temperatures above 50F. If the temperature dips down to 40F or so, it can kill your plants. A single night of frost won’t do much.

But if it’s consistent, or the cold is just too much, then your elephant ear will be damaged.

How to overwinter elephant ears

Elephant ear leaves.
Look at those dark green pretties.

This section covers how you can winterize your elephant ears.

It depends on whether you grew it outside, or in a pot. This will then change the steps to properly winterize it.

But don’t worry- it’s pretty easy regardless.

First, let’s talk about how you grew your plant!

Did you grow it as a potted plant?

If you grew it as a potted plant, you’ve got it made.

Simply bring it indoors to save it from the cold. Bring it in and move it somewhere that gets plenty of humidity since it likes high moisture content.

Some good places are your bathroom, kitchen, or other humidity-controlled room in your house.

If you don’t have anywhere to put it, or your air is constantly dry, consider getting a humidifier and locking it in a room until the winter is over, such as your bathroom.

As a last resort, you can spritz it often with a spray bottle and keep it wet.

So for those that have it potted, bring it indoors for the winter and you’re set! It doesn’t need to be removed from the pot

It can be overwintered in pots. If you don’t need to disturb it, then don’t. Uprooting it for no reason will just shock it.

Or how about a houseplant?

If you grew it as a houseplant, meaning it’s accustomed to the indoor environment, then you don’t need to do anything.

You may need to add some grow lights during the winter because of shorter days, but otherwise, it should be pretty consistent in terms of care.

How to overwinter elephant ears planted in the garden

If you grew your elephant ears in your garden, then it becomes slightly more difficult.

But don’t worry- it’s nothing to fret over. This will require you to dig up the bulbs, store them, and then save them until next spring.

The process is straightforward, even if it sounds scary. Just commit to it and go forth!

Digging up your elephant ears

First, we’ll need to dig up the elephant ears to get their bulbs. You’ll be saving the bulbs for next spring when the frost is over.

Get your favorite pair of gardening gloves, a small spade, and a disposable toothbrush you don’t need anymore.

The right time to dig them out is in the fall before the cold comes. If you wait too long, then they may already be scared by the first few dips in temperature.

The latest you can go after the first frost is when the leaves start to fade on their own. This won’t kill it but can damage it. Do not wait any longer than this point of no return.

When digging them out, be extremely careful. If you damage the bulbs, they may end up with flesh wounds. If this happens, they can rot or grow fungus in storage.

They’ll be no good anymore next season, so you need to be careful to not make any accidental slits in them.

You may end up bruising them if you dig too close.

If you’ve never unearthed a plant before, you should watch some videos that demonstrate it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSxPf41y9Tg

Start by digging around the soil about 10 inches away from the base of the plant.

Dig in a circle, with each full revolution inching closer to the bulb. Use a blunt spade to dig it up. If the soil is tough, wet it by fully soaking it.

When you get to the bulb, be careful not to cut into the roots or the bulb itself.

Do NOT pull on the bulb. The only way to get it out is to dislodge the soil around it. When it’s loose enough, it should just come out on its own with no force from you.

If you accidentally cut into the bulb, you can either dispose of it or store it anyway in its own separate container. Don’t put it with the uncut bulbs.

Next, clean it. Spray it with water to loosen dirty clumps and debris. Use the brush and gently scrub the bulb. Clean it up as much as you can.

Getting a pair of pruners can cut off the excess foliage. You can remove the biggest leaves before you start digging. When you get to the bulbs, trim off the smaller leaves.

Cut the stalks about 2” from the bulb. You can also cut off excess roots or offshoots.

If your bulb has big offshoots, it can be saved for replanting on its own.

Put the bulbs on a sheet of newspaper and let them dry.

When they’re completely dry they should be good to go. Don’t store them wet- this increases the possibility of a fungal infection down the line.

Wrap each bulb in paper. Then put them in a cardboard box. The reason I suggest using a box is that you can easily see if there’s moisture on the edges.

If so, you may have a fungal infection. Keep the box somewhere dry, cool, and dark.

Check on the bulbs every week or so. Look for bugs, rot, or fungus. If you see anything, dispose of the bulbs that are infested.

When winter is over, it’s time to break them out!

Gently unwrap each bulb from their newspaper while checking for signs of infestation.

If they’re good to go, then you can replant them in the garden once again. Enjoy those big greens right away.

For a head start, you can unwrap them during the winter.

Plant them in pots inside your home until the spring comes. Then you can move them outdoors when the temperatures pick back up next season.

Something interesting to note: The bulbs of elephant ears aren’t actually bulbs. They’re tubers. Elephant ears don’t grow bulbs, but it’s a common confusion.

Commonly asked questions

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nBmL7TNyOE

Here are some other questions asked by readers that you may find helpful about the overwintering process.

Can I overwinter elephant ears in pots?

You sure can. And that makes it easier.

With a planter, you can move them indoors during the cold and then back out in the spring. It doesn’t get any easier.

Can I bring my elephant ears indoors for winter?

Yes, if you grew it in a container, you can bring them indoors for wintering. Ensure that the ears get enough water during the winter.

Reduce feeding during this period. Light isn’t as important as it can be grown as houseplants anyway

If you grew them outdoors, then they won’t be accustomed to the indoor light. But this shouldn’t kill your plants.

Supplement with a grow light if needed. Yellowing or wilting is to be expected.

Do elephant ears need to be dug up for winter?

If you planted them in your garden soil, then yes.

If you’re in a cooler zone where the temperatures dip down to 40-50F in the winter, then you’ll have to dig them up to store the bulbs.

If you planted them in containers, then you got it made, friend.

How to start mulching elephant ears for winter

If you’re in zone 8 or higher, you can just leave them alone during the winter if temperatures remain above 50F. For lower zones, cut it back until it’s 2-3 inches above the soil line.

Then put some 4-5 inches of organic mulch. This can help save the bulb from nighttime snaps in temperature.

Be sure to put something there so you don’t trample it. Use a plant marker or something so you or your dog don’t step on it.

When to dig up elephant ears?

Dig them up in the late fall or early winter. The first frost is the maximum you can wait before you either cut them back for mulching or bulb storage.

If you have them in pots, then move them in beforehand. No point in waiting around and risking it!

When can you replant elephant ears?

Elephant ears should be replanted up when the last frost is over

If you’re storing bulbs indoors, you can get a head start by planting them indoors first, then transferring them outside when spring comes.

Otherwise, planted ones can be moved out when the temperatures pick up once again. Be sure there’s no sign of random snapbacks to cold dips before you move them out.

Do elephant ears come back year after year?

Elephant ears are perennials in the warmer parts of the US.

They will regrow on their own after the winter. In colder zones, they’re treated as annuals, unless you overwinter them correctly.

These big green leafy plants are one to enjoy for multiple seasons, friend.

How do you revive elephant ears?

You revive them by replanting them in the spring, of course!

If you’re using a potted plant, you can slowly move them outside for a few hours each day.

This will reduce plant shock and is known as hardening off or acclimating.

Can you leave elephant ears in the ground over winter?

It depends. If you’re in USDA zones 8 or higher, then yes, you can.

If not, then you can cut them back then mulch them for the winter. Or you can get the bulbs and store them. It’s up to you.

Further reading/references

Now you know how to overwinter elephant ears for good

Dark green leaves of elephant plant.
Preserve these leaves for next winter.

Overwintering elephant ears is pretty easy once you do it once.

It can be scary when you uproot those precious little bulbs, but just be careful and you’ll be able to overwinter them until the spring comes. Then you can enjoy your big green foliage.

Do you have any questions about overwintering these plants

Post your comments below and ask. If you have any tips or advice to give to other readers, feel free to drop a comment as well.

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