Pacific Northwest

August, 2008
Regional Report

Favorite or New Plant

Elephant Ears
Of the more than 200 plants that grow in my garden, not one garners more comments, compliments, questions, and discussion than elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta). This handsome plant has velvety, heart-shaped, oversized leaves that can be 3 feet wide and 4 feet long. The plant can reach a height of 8 feet in one season. When the slightest wind blows, the leaves ripple gracefully, as do the ears of an African elephant.

I like to use elephant ears as a foundation planting in front of my home, where the vibrant green of the leaves glows against the light gray color of my house. In the back of a border, it provides a tropical look, and its size makes it seem as though it has been growing in one place for years. For an instant effect, pots of elephant ears can be placed just about anywhere in the garden. Finally, its foliage is a delight in flower arrangements. If you cut off the leaves at ground level, they will quickly be replaced by new ones.

Although elephant ears is perennial only in climates with winter temperatures warmer than 20 degrees F, its lush foliage is not just for the tropics and greenhouses. In colder climates such as ours, start the tubers indoors in early spring and you'll have plants ready to set out by the last frost. Dig up the tubers in the fall and store them indoors for the winter. Elephant ears multiply fast, and after a year or two you'll find you have enough to share with your gardening friends -- just one more way this attention-getting plant will reward you for your effort.

Clever Gardening Technique

Disinfecting and Cleaning Pots
Pots can be reused indefinitely, but with each use they accumulate mineral deposits and other debris inside and out that can harbor disease. So for the plant's sake, clean and disinfect your old pots each time you plant in them.

Mineral salts can be unsightly and can damage plants. Minerals, which are dissolved in water, leach through the walls of clay pots, forming a white film. They can also accumulate around the rims of both clay and plastic pots. This white, crusty film is merely unsightly when deposited on pot walls, but when it encrusts the rim of a pot, the mineral salts can dehydrate plant stems that rest there. To remove, first disinfect, then scrub used pots.

To disinfect clay pots, soak them in a solution of 1 part household bleach to 9 parts of water for ten minutes or more. Next, dip them into a solution of water and dish detergent.

Lift the pots from the soapy water and scrub away as much of the dirt and mineral deposits as you can, inside and out, using steel wool or a wire-bristle brush. Scrape any remaining mineral deposits from the rim of the pot with a knife. When clay pots are clean, rinse them off and soak them in a bucket of clean water until you are ready to use them. (Dry clay pots can wick moisture from the potting medium, dehydrating newly potted plants.)

Plastic pots can be disinfected and cleaned in the same way as clay pots, except you can easily remove salts and debris with a scouring pad. If any mineral deposits cling to the rim of a plastic pot after it has been scrubbed, simply scrape them off with a knife and smooth the pot edges with steel wool. Rinse the pot clean, and it's ready to use.

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