If you integrate the evergreen elephant ears (Bergenia crassifolia or Bergenia cordifolia) into your garden design, dreary corners in low-light to shady locations will be a thing of the past.
Instead, the perennial sets eye-catching accents with charming spring bloom. The rest of the year, the mighty decorative leaves stage themselves in wonderful, shiny metallic hues.
You’ll do a good job in elephant ears care if you take the following measures to heart:
- Water the perennial repeatedly during summer droughts, alternating rain and tap water.
- Fertilize monthly from March to August with compost, plant manure, guano granules or bark humus.
- Fertilize potted elephant ears every 2 weeks with liquid fertilizer.
- Cut out withered flower stems and unsightly leaves.
- Cut back the leafy perennial close to the ground, preferably in late winter.
- Protect the flowers with garden fleece or foil in case of late frost on the ground.
Winter protection is advisable for elephant ears only in the year of planting and in a pot.
Therefore, the root disc should be covered with autumn leaves or coniferous twigs. Give planters a sheath of weather-resistant fabric or bubble wrap.
Planting Elephant Ears
When the leaves fall in autumn, the planting season for elephant ears, also known as heartleaf bergenia or elephant-eared saxifrage, begins.
At that time of the year, it is important to prepare the soil properly so that the ornamental perennial takes root quickly and blooms for the first time the very next spring.
In a sunny, semi-shady, or shady location, loosen the soil to a fine crumb and add leaf soil, compost, horn shavings, and some expanded clay.
The planting pit should be 1.5 times larger than the root ball. Place the root ball in water before potting out until no more air bubbles rise.
Preserve the previous planting depth as much as possible when you put the roots in the ground. Finally, water generously and mulch with leaves or bark mulch.
Which Location is Suitable for Elephant Ears?
There is a persistent rumor that elephant ears only like to be in the shade. But the fact is that the roots reach their optimum in sunny to half-shady locations.
The vitality of the flower and leaf ornamental plant suffers only under the blazing sun. While other perennials lose beauty in a low-light place, the elephant ears retain their floral radiance.
The Right Planting Distance
Since elephant ears grow quite wide over the years, we recommend a planting distance of 14-16 inches (35-40 cm) for common species and varieties.
If the perennial is a ground cover, plant 6-8 plants per 10 sqft. An exception is the dwarf varieties, which are arranged at a distance of 10-12 inches (25-30 cm) from each other.
What soil does the plant need?
In the nutrient-rich, humus soil bergenia finds ideal conditions. It likes to stretch its roots in freshly moist to moderately dry soil. Wherever neither waterlogging nor desert-like dryness dominate, the leafy ornamental plant will remain faithfully devoted to you. This applies to the rock garden and the perennial bed as well as to the edge of your private water world.
When is Flowering Time for Elephant Ears?
From April to May, the colorful flowers are enthroned on fleshy stems above the basal leaf rosettes. Newer cultivars even have the potential for an autumn after-bloom.
Therefore, cut off the wilted flower stalks to make room for re-sprouting. A well-measured portion of compost after this cut will give the post-bloom additional energy.
Pruning Elephant Ears Properly
Lovingly tended, elephant ears take on formidable dimensions. To maintain a neat appearance and keep girth under control when needed, repeated pruning is essential.
Here’s how to do it right:
- Cut off wilted flower stalks before the energy-sapping seed growth begins.
- Pluck out or cut individual yellowed or withered leaves from the cluster.
- Cut off the entire perennial close to the ground in January/February.
The strong flower stems and shapely decorative leaves are also wonderfully suitable for long-lasting vase decoration.
Watering Elephant Ears
The fleshy flower stems and succulent heart leaves belie the fact that elephant ears are surprisingly tolerant of brief drought, as long as this condition remains the exception.
Ideally, water the perennial whenever the thumb test indicates dried soil. Alternating between soft rainwater and normal tap water meets the requirements in an exemplary manner.
Fertilizing Elephant Ears Properly
To fertilize elephant ears organically, apply compost, horn shavings, guano, bark humus, or nettle manure to the root disc every 4 weeks from March to August.
Cultivated in a container, the nutrient requirement increases as supplies are used up more quickly. In this case, administer a liquid fertilizer every 14 days during the above period.
Alternatively, press fertilizer sticks with a long-term effect into the substrate according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Overwintering Elephant Ears
Adult elephant ears calmly accept normal winter weather with temperatures down to -19 °F (-28 °C).
It becomes problematic for the ornamental perennial when the snow fails to fall in freezing cold. In addition, early flowering is always threatened by late frosts on the ground.
Consequently, you should take the following measures into account:
- In the year of planting, cover the root ball with autumn leaves and coniferous branches.
- If ground frost threatens at flowering time, put a fleece or foil over it.
- In case of bare frost, water the plants on mild days.
Planters should receive a covering of jute ribbons, bubble wrap, or fleece every winter. Unless the container is on a plant roller anyway, slide a block of wood underneath.
Propagating Elephant Ears
The passion for collecting elephant ears awakens in many amateur gardeners once they learn the numerous advantages of the plant.
Therefore, it is good to know that there are no hurdles to overcome for breeding.
The following methods have proven to be most effective:
- Division of the rhizome ball in the fall or spring.
- Cutting off runners to root them as 2 inches (5 cm) long root cuttings in the pot.
- Sowing the seeds on the windowsill.
While direct sowing will most likely give you a headache, sowing behind glass is straightforward.
Spread on seed-soil or peat sand, germination progresses rapidly at 68-74 °F (20-23 °C) and uniform humidity.
Are Elephant Ears Poisonous?
If you have children and pets in your garden, elephant ears are an ideal planting.
Since the majestic ornamental perennial has no toxic ingredients, it can be cultivated in the family garden with a clear conscience.
- Oeschberg: A premium variety with dark red, glossy decorative leaves under pink flowers with the potential for repeat blooming.
- Bressingham White: Captivates with white and pink flowers, red-green heart leaves and bronze fall foliage.
- Baby Doll: Magnificent dwarf variety that adds picturesque accents all year round in a small garden. The height of growth is 10-12 inches (25-30 cm).
- Admiral: A splendid genius with pink flowers on dark red stems and upright leaves that turn red in winter.
- Abendglocken (Evening Bells): Elegant hybrid with unusual, dark red bell flowers above fresh green heart leaves.