You’ll find elephant ears in Africa, South America, Central America, Australia, and Asia’s tropical regions.
Creating an environment that resembles its native tropical habitat is essential for a healthy, long-lasting plant. However, can your taro survive the winter?
Elephant ears can’t tolerate temperatures below 50°F (10°C) in the winter or freezing conditions. As a result, they will enter dormancy and die during the winter unless they are protected or brought indoors and grown as houseplants in bright locations. Removing their corms or tubers and storing them for the long winter months is also possible.
How Is Cold Too Cold for Elephant Ears?
Plants in the elephant ear family, such as Xanthosoma and Alocasia, originate in the tropical wetlands of Malaysia, Vietnam, and other parts of South-East Asia.
These regions have a humid and warm climate throughout the year, with plenty of rain and little chance of snow.
Elephant ear plants are not suited to environments with temperatures near or below freezing.
Foliage, roots, and stems, among other structural elements, are adapted to thrive in the hot and humid climates of their native lands.
This allows their biological processes to run as efficiently as possible.
As long as humidity levels remain high, a healthy, well-established elephant ear can withstand temperatures of 90°F (32°C) or even higher.
Temperatures must be above 70°F (21°C) for your elephant ear leaves to remain green and thrive.
But, at the same time, this means that your tropical beauty is not hardy or tolerant of cold, drafts, or frost.
The elephant ear’s toughness is, at best, tender. When temperatures reach around 68°F (20°C), it will suffer a cold-induced injury.
When the thermometer reaches this point, I strongly advise you to bring your plant indoors for the winter.
Your plant’s exposure to the elements can be significantly damaging on a patio or balcony, where the weather can directly affect it.
A temperature drop below 50°F will cause the elephant ear plant to falter and suffer.
In addition, these cold snaps, frost, or freezing temperatures will kill the leaves and may worsen other cultural and care issues like overwatering, pest infestations, diseases, etc.
Keep your elephant ears in the 70-86°F (21-30°C) range for best results. This makes it more likely that they will have beautiful, long-lasting leaves and a robust root system.
Elephant Ear Plant Hardiness Zones
Even though elephant ears are not native, they grow fast and do well in USDA Hardiness Zones 8B through 11.
These warm zones, including zones 8, 9, 10, and 11, can be planted and left in the ground as garden plants or grown in outdoor containers as planters year-round.
These plants grow quickly in these zones, reaching up to 10 feet (3 meters) in both spread and height.
In ideal conditions, the foliage will be impressively green, heart-shaped, and massive, measuring up to 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long.
However, in colder zones (those below zone 8), the leaves will be impressive but much smaller in length and width.
Then, when the cold winter weather arrives, the real trouble begins. Frost or cold damage will cause the leaves to become stunted, yellow, and die.
What are the Signs of Cold/Frost Damage on Elephant Ears?
The freezing of water in the plant will occur due to the cold snaps accompanying winter weather.
Frozen water expands and slices through the leaf tissue, causing irreversible damage to your plant.
Fortunately, there are some early warning signs of cold or frost damage on your elephant ear that you should be aware of:
Green pigmentation loss is usually an early sign of something wrong with your elephant ear.
One of the first signs of frost and cold damage is a sudden color change that occurs almost out of nowhere.
You may notice a slight yellowing of the foliage. This usually begins at the leaf tips and edges.
Larger brown or dark blotches may eventually appear across the leaves.
If the leaves on your plant look strangely bright or shiny and are soft and wet, this could be frost damage
Frozen liquids within the leaves cause the gleaming leaf surfaces. When pressed, the foliage may feel spongy, and fluid may emerge.
Frayed or Tattered Leaf Margins
Frost damage to leaves frequently begins (and is extensive) at the margins of the leaves.
The edges of the leaves will develop minor frays, splits, or tatters. They appear to be fringed because of this.
Drooping of Leaves
Frozen water within the leaves can also severely damage the support features that keep the elephant ear’s large, heart-shaped foliage upright.
As a result, the herbaceous tissue becomes soggy, weak, and soft, causing the leaves to become limp.
The tender growths and foliage show the most signs of cold/frost damage. Discolored flower buds and soggy tissue may accompany a drooping appearance.
What Do You Do with Elephant Ears in the Winter?
Elephant ears, like most tropical plants, will likely be dormant when winter weather arrives.
Therefore, they typically consume fewer resources, and you should modify your care routine accordingly:
 Reduce Watering And Fertilizing
Tropical plants, such as elephant ears, will dormant during the winter. This holds for both indoor and outdoor plants.
Your plant isn’t actively growing during this time, so its water consumption is drastically reduced.
As a result, it’s best to stop or reduce watering during the cold winter months.
If you continue to water your plant, the soil will become too wet, promoting root rot.
In addition, Overwatering exposes your elephant ear to pests and diseases.
During dormancy, elephant ears consume fewer nutrients and minerals. As a result, you must reduce feeding.
If you continue to feed it fertilizer, excess fertilizer salts will accumulate in the soil and burn the roots. Fertilizing late in the season is also unwise.
This is because fertilizer, especially with a lot of nitrogen, encourages soft growth, making your elephant ear more likely to get hurt by cold.
 Bring Your Elephant Ears Indoors
Outside USDA Hardiness Zones 8 through 11, elephant ear plants are not wintered hardy. Most choices will perish if left outside in the winter cold.
There are two options here:
- Dig up the corms or tubers and store them somewhere safe until the end of the cold season, or
- Take your elephant ears inside.
The second option is viable for the majority of gardeners. This is highly convenient if your elephant ears are already potted in portable containers.
Bring them inside and place your potted plants in a cool, humid location with temperatures ranging from 60-65°F (15-18°C).
 Protect Your Outdoor Elephant Ears
While elephant ear plants can withstand mild winters outdoors, particularly in warmer zones 8b through 9, the leaves will bear the brunt of any frost or cold snap.
Fortunately, you can overwinter your elephant ear outside with proper protection. How so?
Even the hardiest tropical plants require protection from the elements in exposed or cold-prone areas such as open gardens, patios, or backyards.
For example, potted elephant ears are especially vulnerable and require special care when soil temperatures fall below 68°F (20°C).
The first line of defense is to ensure that your plant receives some winter direct sunlight.
Container elephant ears, for example, should be placed in east-facing or south-facing terraces, porches, and so on.
These areas have the potential to heat up quickly. The next step in protecting your plant is to place it in a thick-walled pot.
The thick wall will reduce heat loss and cold penetration, covering the roots from damage caused by the cold.
A thick layer of mulch should be applied to the growing medium. In my experience, four inches of mulch is ideal, but the more, the better.
Mulching is essential for protecting the roots and insulating the growing medium.
Compost, sterilized leaf mold, seed-free straws, and sawdust are all excellent mulching materials.
Wrap your plant in row coverings or horticultural fleece in wet, cold weather to protect it (Check the latest price on Amazon here).
Wrap containers/pots in straw or bubble polythene to keep roots from freezing. Keep in mind that your garden can create its microclimate.
So, it’s essential to put your elephant ear at the base of a south-facing wall, where it will be protected from drafty winds. Avoid north-facing areas because they are usually wet and cold.
 Potting-Up to Bring Indoors
If you live in USDA hardiness zones one through six, you must bring your elephant ear indoors for the winter.
However, to give it a home and ensure that your plant is ready for the next growing season, you must first pot it up to the tubers.
Potting up your elephant ear for the winter is a simple process. Gather everything you’ll need: a sterile cutting tool, gloves, a pot, and potting soil
- Allow the first winter frosts to kill the foliage naturally. You don’t have to cut off the leaves and risk an infection.
- After the leaf die-back, trim the stems to around 6 inches tall.
- Dig up the corms or tubers and place them in a pot or bulb rate.
- Cover the corms/tubers with a well-draining potting mix made up of soil and peat moss
- Irrigate the soil lightly and place the potted plant in a cool place where temperatures don’t dip below 45°F (7°C). For optimal over-wintering conditions, ensure ideal temps of 60-65°F (15-18°C).
- You can replant the tubers once the warm spring weather smiles on your garden.
If your elephant ear is already potted, find a suitable location in your home for it to overwinter. Ensure it gets plenty of bright, indirect light to avoid root rot and fungal infections.
 Prune Elephant Ears to Survive Winter
Elephant ears benefit significantly from regular pruning. These tropical evergreens produce new foliage throughout the growing season.
Pruning off old foliage is an excellent way to keep it tidy and vibrant.
Furthermore, if you live outside zone 8 and expect cold weather, pruning will ensure that your darling survives the winter. It’s pretty simple:
Snip back your plant’s leaves 2-3 days after the first frosts appear.
Then, when the leaves start to turn brown, it is the right time. Wear clean gloves and sharp, sterile pruning scissors/shears as a rule of thumb.
Make sure to cut the foliage near the elephant ear’s base.
There should be about two inches of space above the ground. Clean cuts are essential for avoiding tears and rips.
 Avoid Repotting Elephant Ears During The Winter
Repotting can be a physically stressful experience for your plant. The roots are usually the first to suffer from any mishap.
In addition, pathogens such as fungi and bacteria can enter through wounds, tears, or other damage.
Repotting can also shock your elephant ear, making it more susceptible to disease and pests, which are expected during the winter.
In addition, damage to the root system during repotting can also lead to root rot. As a result, you should avoid it in the winter.
Can Potted Elephant Ears Survive Winter?
Elephant ears in pots can survive the winter, especially in temperate zones 8 through 11.
However, the leaves will die due to the frost and cold.
You can protect your plant by bringing it inside or covering it with mulch. To avoid root rot, keep the soil relatively dry throughout the winter.
Do Elephant Ears Come Back After Winter?
The base of an elephant ear will sprout ears once the cold winter season is over.