It’s always interesting to see new ideas in the plant world, and of course, one caught my eye recently. It is a planter preassembled with elephant’s ear tubers, boxed up for easy handling, and ready for the consumer to just water and wait for growth.
How I’ve Stored Tubers and Grow Them:
I’ve grown elephant’s ears from tubers over the years. I typically store them (the tubers only) over the winter in my unheated basement in bins with some peat to wait out winter until spring time. Because the plants are not hardy here in our winter planting zone (CT Zone 6b), I can not leave them in the ground or in pots outdoors over the winter. I dig them out of my planters (the tubers that is), clean off the soil from the tubers, and store them. Usually I am successful with opening the box in spring time to find them in tact. I’ve blogged about my process many times, search the word “overwintering” for more on that.
When I’ve Started Them:
I typically start them indoors around end of April or early May as spring is approaching. For years, I started them in my house by planting the tubers in pots with potting mix and setting them by my kitchen glass slider door. It was sufficient to get them started. Within a few weeks or so, a growing tip would appear above the soil and start to grow. When all chance of frost passed, out they went into larger planters and containers in my yard or on my deck, etc. These plants reach huge sizes (4 to 6 to 8 feet tall), so larger pots are always my aim to show them off in the right places.
Tried to Start Them Earlier:
However, last year, I wanted to try to start them earlier. I attempted to start some in March in my greenhouse (years ago, I didn’t have a greenhouse). It didn’t really work out as I had planned. My greenhouse is heated only to about 45-50 degrees F in the winter (to over winter other plants). It is a low temp because heat is a huge expense (especially this year), and elephant’s ears (Colocasia) require warmer soil temperatures (65 degrees F or warmer). They didn’t take off any faster than they would in my home, in fact, it was probably a bit slower going. They weren’t popping out of the soil and when I inspected them under the soil, some rot had started as well on part of the tubers (or bulbs if you prefer that wording). I learned a lesson, the soil needs to be warmer. I somehow overlooked a fact I knew due to being anxious to start them.
I considered maybe it was too soon to even attempt growing them earlier. What ended up happening is the potting soil remained too cold (because it was too cold in the greenhouse) and too wet because the tubers weren’t actively growing yet. Cold temps + damp soils leads to rot of the tubers. In fact, storing them is usually at a temp of 40-45 degrees F so the whole situation was it was just too cold still in my greenhouse, despite those rapid warm ups during winter days when the sun is out – the evenings were still a bit chilly.
How they Do This in the UK:
I’ve seen posts by people in the UK (via the wonderful sharing of posts on various tropical pages) usually start their elephant’s ear tubers in what they refer to as a propagator or cupboard. Terms we don’t use here in CT. From what I can tell, many of them put the tubers in plastic bags and place them in a warm spot (a cupboard or propagator) until they see some growth coming from the tuber – and then they put them into soil mix – or the ground perhaps (I’m not sure). Makes sense, they give them a head start but don’t subject them to cold wet soils. I remember asking someone one day via a comment on a post about this, what is a cupboard? If I recall, it is like a warm cabinet you have in your home somewhere to serve as a place to start tubers, or perhaps some seeds. I have some places like these (over the fridge I have a small cabinet that stays warm) or a cabinet in a corner near our heat source, which actually, I did use that cabinet to start sprouts years ago and that was one of my things then – starting and eating sprouts. Maybe this will be a location to kick start the tubers first – I may give this a try this year.)
Anyhow, I think the message here is if you start them too early in the wrong conditions, it could lead to issues, which was the case for me last year. Thus, when I saw those pre-planted tuber pots at the local big box store (just yesterday), I had some initial thoughts. I like the idea but I also know of what could go wrong with them, but I’m not saying it would go wrong (see disclaimers below!). And I also thought about what was right about these pre-planted tuber pots.
I have always been somewhat addicted to elephant’s ears because of their large showy heart shaped leaves which point down (or up as in the case with many Alocasias). They give a wonderful vibe to a space and I have used them everywhere in planters. I even hired a photographer a few years back to take photos (check her out at jmsartandphoto.com).
Elephant’s ears are just so very cool. And grow large and tall. The wave around in the wind, they create shade for plants below them, and they look good from the tops or bottoms and are relatively easy care. I just have to share another photo here of them. I typically plant some around my big red banana plant (Ensete) as well in this massive concrete planter at my home. Over time, it becomes lush and dramatic looking. I find they work in sun or shade, if more sun, more watering is required. They also make excellent thriller type plants in pots. They can even be grown in water – they are versatile plants for a tropical look and you may propagate them too.
Cathy Testa’s Large Cement Planter with a Mix of Elephant’s Ears and Other Tropical Plants
Digging them up for storing them is a fall gardening chore, but re-growing them in spring time is not so much of a chore, but I did take notice of those pre-planted tubers in pots with soil at the big box store yesterday. I didn’t see a price tag on them, and believe they were freshly delivered to display and sell so the price was not on there yet, I was curious about how much they cost.
My Take On the Pre-Planted Pots Seen Just Yesterday – Just my opinion!
Pluses: Talk about convenience. All was so well packaged and boxed up, it would be very easy to plop into your store cart and go. The pot size was good; usually I start my tubers in a one-gallon nursery pots. These black pots were bigger and nice enough to use for the summer as your planter, basic black color. The plant care information on the side of the packaging was decent, indicating they should not be planted outdoors until frost has passed (true), and to “water sparingly” and to keep the mixture “moist, not wet.” But they didn’t say why on the moisture, nor was there any botanical information on the packaging. Since I could not see the inside, not sure if more details are provided. They do not give Latin names for example, but did indicate there are 2 plants (bulbs) inside pre-planted, or that is the impression I got.
The Minuses: What are you getting inside? The top of the pot is closed off with more cardboard, and I wondered, hmmm, how big are the tubers in there? How much soil, is it half full or filled all the way, are the tubers in the soil or do you have to plant them, what does the soil look like but I bet the soil is perfectly fine as they are produced by bulb or plant producers, most likely but I kind of wished I could peek inside. And the price tag wasn’t on them yet, and I’m curious on that part as well. How much does this whole package cost?
The Timing: It depends what you have for getting these started? If you have a warm home with some place to set them down where the soil will be warm enough (see noted above), you could start to water them and see them pop up over time. But it is still February, so you would be maintaining them perhaps as a house plant all the way until the end of May when all chances of frost outdoors are passed. I did consider the “what if” you just moved them as is (don’t unpack the box, don’t water them) and keep them in your basement. Will they be okay? They probably put the tubers in there with dry soil, so nothing will happen until moisture is provided, usually. I guess I pondered that because what if you just wanted to get it but not start them just yet.
Another plus, you don’t have to go buy a whole bag of potting mix soil if you want to grow these from these planters. Everything is all set for you. Another minus, what if they get wet at the store while they sit there waiting for the purchaser? They shouldn’t but if they did, then the soil gets wet and they may start to grow, or if the soil gets wet, it could lead to soil problems, if they are not in the right temperature conditions. And another minus, it is not technically supporting the local small businesses, but we all go to these big box places from time to time, don’t we? In fact, I feel like anytime someone creative comes up with a cool plant idea, these big box places are very quick to copy it – which is good or bad, depending on who you are supporting, a local small business or plant passions overall – I won’t go there, but any how, perhaps a minus is buying this is not supporting a local grower who takes the time to grow it themselves to a proportion and health readily available at the right time. It is just a matter of opinion, give or take. A matter of timing. A matter of preference, but anyhow, innovations and new ideas are cool overall. Maybe this is not a new idea either. It was the first time I saw it though.
Anyhow, I’m sharing it cause I spotted it, and thought I’d give my thoughts! What do you think??
Owner of Container Crazy CT
A Container Gardener
Location: Broad Brook, CT
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I just bought one, zone 7b, at big box store for $19.99 and I am nervous about the minuses but worth a try. Reasonable price for a container and two tubers. One is Basic Elephant Ear (no name) & the other is a black magic which is mainly why I purchased it. I’ll let you know:)
Hi Heidi, Yes, please do – send me photos too when it is growing, love to see. They did package it all very well, I thought! Enjoy, Spring is coming! Cath
How do I send a picture? They’re doing wonderful. I did have to make some wholes for drainage but beautiful and surprised me!
Hi Heidi, send me a few pics via email if you can – my email is containercathy at gmail.com. I’d love to see – and good to know the info of providing drainage holes – a very needed thing with container and patio pots for air in the soil. I appreciate you commenting on all. Enjoy your beautiful plants! Cathy T.
Hi Heidi – Send to me at my email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sorry I think I miss this comment earlier this season. Thank you – I’d love to see! Cathy T.