Overwintering Alocasia 2022

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This is part one – showing my process of disassembling my largest elephant’s ear plants from containers or planters. I purchased the tubers in 2019 for this Alocasia, which I refer to as an “upright elephant’s ear” because the leaves point upwards towards the sky. It is often referred to as a Giant Elephant’s Ear, Giant Taro, or Upright Jumbo). Official name is A. macrorrhiza. They grow from 71 to 96 inches (6-8 feet tall) from summer to frost and prefer partial shade. The leaves are very dark green, glossy, and impressive! It prefers partial shade but will do well in more sun with appropriate moisture. In my zone, it must be stored, but warmer zones, I suspect you may keep them outdoors or protected somehow.

2022
Cathy Testa holding two of the leaves

As you see here, I’m peaking behind two of the leaves. The leaves are at least 3 feet long with the stem an additional 3 feet as well. They tower above me in my planters and put on quite the big tropical show in summer. Now, on to how I disassemble them in preparation for our Connecticut winter months:

Definitely Wear Gloves

TOOLS

Gloves: Definitely wear garden gloves. These plants release a sap that will make your hands itchy – believe me, I regret when I don’t wear them. Even digging around the soil, I found my hands will itch later.

Hori hori knife: I really like this tool, heavy duty, serrated edge, perfect for cutting the roots in the soil around the base of the plant to release it. I find this to be one of my most useful overwintering tools.

Bin: A clean bin to put all the tubers and root bases in to let dry outside if it is pleasant weather, or inside if it is rainy.

A Large Kitchen Knife or Machete: I couldn’t find my machete, so a long, clean, sharp knife is a great back up.

Clean Up Tools: A leaf blower works to blow away dirt that will fall everywhere.

Ruler: Yes, measure those babies!

Large Knife

Cut away all the foliage by using the knife to slice each stalk off individually at the base of the plant. The main thing is to cut away from the plant so the angle of the slices are able to drain away excess moisture. At least that is how I do it. I’m also very careful to not nick surfaces with my knife tip – always avoid any damage while I work.

Slicing off each leaf at the base of the stalk (petiole) – stem – whatever you wish to call it!

As you slice off each petiole at the base, be sure to do a clean cut, avoid tears or anything which would allow entrance of mold or insects later on. A clean cut is recommended. If you mess it up, cut it again below where you just cut it.

Measure the leaves cause it is impressive!

I always measure so a ruler is handy, or measuring tape, and then take photos. Because sharing is caring – LOL. Everyone loves to see how massive these leaves get. It is fun to Instagram the photos!

Here are two of the biggest leaves above. It is too bad I am not set up to make leaf castings of these babies, they would make impressive art for the garden!

Close up of Slice

As you can see, the slice is downwards and away from the center of the plant. I slice each stalk individually and pile the leaves to the side.

All leaves removed

After removing each stalk, I use my Hori hori knife to cut around the base of the “stump” in the soil. As I push the knife around in the soil, I hear the crack of the roots being cut. Then I will push on the stump back and forth to help loosen it. Once I feel it is ready to be “delivered” from the soil, I start to pull it out – It always makes me feel like I’m a doctor delivering a baby – hahahaha. I have quite the imagination at times!

Cutting a circle around the base of the plant to cut the roots below
Out with more top sliced off

I will put it in the clean bin and trim the roots with clean sharp pruners or cutters, and slice the top off a bit if it still too big to fit into the bin. Leaning it upside down, or on the side to help drain excess moisture is helpful as well. Some folks may recommend not trimming the roots but I always have. New roots grow when it is replanted. My theory was less “fleshy” material the better. Fleshy material has the tendency to rot sometimes over the winter months.

After I got the massive big base out and laying out to dry, I worked on the planter next to it which had more off sets from the same type of Alocasia. I then let this dry in the house for about 6 days. Oh, I also removed as much soil as possible from the tuber areas. I used my gloved hands and kind of just rubbed or pushed off the soil. You may use a garden hose with water blast but that will only make the tuber wetter, so I didn’t do that. In the past, I have used a soft painters type brush to get soil off.

TIMING

In Connecticut (my planting zone is 6b) you may do this process either before or after we get a fall frost which could happen anytime now, but sometimes I like to start this while things are dry and temperatures are not too difficult to work in, so I started on these two planters last Thursday (9/29/22). It was a cool, breezy, day with little sunshine but that would be better than the rainy cold days expected the days following. The date if this post is 10/4/22 and no frost yet, but there are some talks it could happen this weekend, I hope not, cause I have lots more to do!

I placed the bin in the house for a few days and then moved it to a table in my basement. The next phase is storing them. For years, I stored all my tubers, rhizomes, corms in peat in bins with air holes drilled on the tops. But this past spring, I had rot on portions of my tubers. This year, I plan to store them dry in paper bags for some at least. I will most likely test the paper bag process and see the results. I will post photos of this soon. I also saved some mesh netting bags (like those used for Avocado’s in grocery stores) to put some tubers in.

Oh, when I took these apart last week from the gray planters, they had NO ROT anywhere on the tuber areas (brown area at the base) which is good news. No rot means they won’t have rot as they dry for a few more days. When I store the tubers, I will share it here as well.

The tubers need to be sored in a cool, dry place. I use my basement which does not drop below freezing but is unheated so it stays cool. It is recommended that you do not store them in plastic bags which would only trap moisture. If stored in a paper bag, make sure it has holes for vents. Again, for years, I stored them in peat moss in bins, but had rot issues this year in spring, and I didn’t want to loose these tubers of this super big Alocasias, now that I’ve regrown these plants each year. These particular tubers were from 2019 so it has been replanted 4 times now. A definite pay back from the investiment!

PLANT IN SPRING

Next year, after all danger of spring frosts, I will replant these Upright Elephant’s Ear tubers to grow again. Many tropical loving plants may be handled this way, such as Canna Lilies. For years, I stored my big red banana plant, Ensete, the same way as shown above. In fact, here is the link to the Ensete post if you are searching for it on my blog site: https://containercrazyct.com/2013/10/31/storing-my-big-red-banana-plant/. Unfortunately, I lost my big red banana plant this year in 2022. It was the first time it rotted too much.

NEXT OVERWINTERING PROJECT

Ack, I have to dig all of these up soon – anyone want to come help me?!

Canna Lily on ends with Upright Alocasias in the centers

Cathy Testa
Connecticut
A Container Garden Designer
Also make custom orders, grow tomatoes in spring time, make succulent pumpkins now in fall season, wreaths during the holidays! Thank you for visiting and your support.

DIASSEMBLY ALOCASIA QUICK STEPS:

Get your tools ready (knife, gloves, bin, hori hori knife, cleanup tools, etc.).
Cut away each leaf stalk at base cleanly.
Cut around base of plant in the soil area to break free roots with hori hori knife.
Pull out stump (base with the tuber) out of the planter, and let dry for several days to a week.
Store in an unheated, dry, cool area that does not go below freezing in winters.

Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Magic’ has alluring powers…

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Can a plant possess alluring powers, so insatiable, the yearning for more overwhelms your ability to resist?

“I want some more,” says Claudia, the fictional character in the movie, “Interview with the Vampire.”  She is completely seduced from her first taste of blood offered by the devious vampire, Lestat.  And although his immortal companion, Louis, witnesses the transition with regret, he does nothing to stop Claudia’s unthinkable awakening.

Maui Magic Front Ear

Yes, a plant can also possess similar powers that lure you into its plan of seduction. And…, “Of course, you want some more.” After you have experienced its offerings, your senses awaken, the desire to achieve the same feeling or response is sought out, and you ultimately thirst for more of the same, as much as a vampire thirsts for blood.

This is how I felt about Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Magic’ last season as I witnessed this plant grow long stems and big leaves as rapidly as Claudia’s hair grew right before she opened her eyes.

Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Magic’

This tropical plant, commonly referred to as an elephant ear or elephant’s ears, drew me into its clutches deceptively, then captured my desire to always want more as it grew into an impressive size while maintaining its beautiful attributes from the beginning of spring to early autumn.  If I didn’t decide to order it last minute, I may have missed out on its powers to grow quickly, create a climactic effect in a container garden, and arouse with its dark-sided hues.  It started with admiring its abundant ornamental leaves, followed by adoring its long stems.  Each held their ears up like a trophy on their tips, making it stand out in the container garden.

August photo; back of 'Maui Magic' leaf

August photo; back of ‘Maui Magic’ leaf

Dressed in a cloak

The heart-shaped leaves of ‘Maui Magic’ snuck-up out of the soil like a vampire appearing from the dark alleys of the streets.  Before I knew it, the leaves grew to two feet long and about half as wide in the center.  The leaves wavy-edged margins are soft and subtle, and provide an elusive cloaking effect as it gently moves by the wind.  The leaf stems, or more appropriately stated, the petioles, grew to three feet tall, lending to an upright exotic thriller bobbing above the container garden’s companion plants.  The mid-ribs were very visible on the backside of the leaves.  By the time August arrived, this plant, started from a small plant in mid-May, was substantial enough to draw me into a complete trance, and kept me there. I couldn’t keep my eyes or hands off it.

Rain drops on the leaves

Rain drops on the leaves

An unnatural pale complexion 

The plant’s foliage coloring starts off as a dark plum-purple, and then fades into an olive green with purple tones.  Having less color is not a sign of ill health as with a vampire, but a transition to maturity.  This did not create a lack of appreciation; the color was still stunning. The leaf stems carried a deep purple tone all the way down to the base of the plant throughout the season.  The look was visually stimulating, but you also wanted to touch the stems.  It sounds weird, but there is a soft texture to the plant, making it smooth to the touch.  I found this irresistible, charming, and as I said, “alluring.”  Taking it down for the fall was as difficult as chopping the head off a vampire in rest, but it had to be done and with good timing.

Yard Stick with Ears

Not harmed by the sun

Unlike vampires, the exposure to sun does not harm this cultivar, so long as you keep it well-watered.  Water to this plant is like blood to vampires; it thrives as it receives more.  But for my container garden, I decided to place it in a shady location, on the north side of my house, where it received more shade than sun.  However, this did not deter it from growing large and showy.  The plant can take either exposure. The leaf stems extended as if reaching towards the edges of the steps in search for the afternoon sun, adding more drama to its presence.  This shady exposure also helped to keep the soil moist, appreciated by many types of elephant ears.  Birds perched on it occassionally, and it never failed to produce new leaves.  When the wind caused some movement, it startled me from time to time because it was as tall as a person and could be seen from inside the house.

The lure of wanting more

The lure of wanting more

Its mysterious origin

As many ponder the true origin of vampires, you may ponder the growth habit of this plant. Whatever you choose to call the base of this plant, a corm, cormel, bulb, tuber, rhizome, or root, the leaf stems arise from the base of a root-like structure.  Even its circumference amazed me, as it reached a good size and produced potential divisions or cormels from the mother plant.  This plant is treated like a tropical in Connecticut; it is not hardy to our zone and requires storage in a cool, dark place, like the coffin of a vampire.  So get out your tools of destruction, chop of its heads, clean of the base, and create its resting place for a return next season when you certainly will “vant some more.”  If handled appropriately and according to specific procedures, this plant will have immortal life in your container gardens.

Tubers at base of stems

Tubers at base of stems

Container Crazy Cathy T
http://www.cathytesta.com
860-977-9473

Pronounced:  Koal-oh-KAY-see-uh  ess-kyou-LENT-uh; sounds like some weird vampire language.

Zones:  9-11, tropical and subtropical tuberous perennial.  Used as a tropical plant and stored for winter in CT Zones.  Can be used as an aquatic plant in containers.

Size:  3-4′ tall, rounded form up to 6′ size all together under warm growing conditions. Big, tall, showy, and overpowering.

Exposure:  Full Sun, part sun, part shade – flexible.  Easy to grow, and grows quickly.

Introduction: 2008 by John Cho and the University of Hawaii breeding program.  Propagation is prohibited.

Color combinations:  Try this plant with contrasting vibrant colors since the plant’s tones are on the darkside.  Use different leaf textures, from fine to medium against this coarse and bold statement in your container or garden.  (Shown in this post are a Coleus, Astilbe, and Rodgersia for a shade combination.)  For a sun combination, try Canna with bright, golden yellow, or chartreuse leaf colors, add a blooming annual, like Zinnia or Verbena, for some pops of color.  Select a bright colored spiller, like Lysimachia nummelaria ‘Aurea’ (Creeping Jenny) or Ipomoea batatas (Sweet Potato Vine) annuals.

Container/pot size:  Be sure to use a very large container or pot for this elephant ear due to its size, and to provide adequate soil volume, helping to retain moisture, and nutrients.  And don’t overlook – this plant can make a wonderful statement in the garden too.

After Care:  To learn how to overwinter tropicals, sign up for Cathy T’s fall class, which is hands-on, and held on a dark, gloomy evening with a full moon – just kidding.