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colocasia ‘mojito:’ keeping our love alive in winter

colocasia esculenta mojito
IFELL IN LOVE AGAIN, AND I WANTED IT TO LAST. The object of my affection a few years ago: a variegated elephant ear called Colocasia esculenta ‘Mojito’ that I adopted that spring at a local garden center, despite the fact that he was no cheap date. I feared the coming winter may be the end of us, though—he’s Zone 7B, and I’m a mere 5B. How could we keep our love—and this spectacular plant—alive? I sought counsel from the most experienced person I could think of, in the hopes of doing just that.

Colocasia ‘Mojito’ (Zone 7b-10), like all its cousins that we call elephant ears or taro, is a heat-loving plant that’s also hungry and thirsty. I grew it in a bright spot in a potting soil with lots of compost, and stood a big, deep saucer underneath—something I wouldn’t do with most other plants outdoors for fear of rotting them off. I don’t use chemical fertilizers, but I mixed in some all-natural organic formulation at planting time and occasionally added fish and seaweed emulsion to the water I gave it.

In food production, prevalent in Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean, it’s the starchy tubers that are the thing—bigger is better. In ornamental horticulture, the above-ground portion is where it’s at, and here’s where the tricky part comes in about overwintering some of the most spectacular new taros—including ‘Mojito,’ and the better known ‘Black Magic.’ They don’t produce big tubers that can be lifted, like you might a canna or some of the elephant ears, and stashed dry in the cellar.

I appealed to Tony Avent of Plant Delight Nursery, who has an unrivaled selection of Aroids (including Colocasia and their close cousins Alocasia and more) to tell me how to work around this no-big-tuber overwintering obstacle.

“This entire group of new elephant ears tend in that direction,” he said, “hence they will never be sold as dormant tubers by most bulb firms. These are best if kept potted through the winter under one of two regimes…actively growing at over 60 degrees F and in good light, or semi-dormant at 45-50 degrees and kept fairly dry and as such, light is not as critical.”

Tony agreed that ‘Mojito’ is one handsome plant—“one of my favorites,” he said—and tipped me off to another that forecast would be the next year’s mad, indulgent fling:

“Have you tried C. ‘Black Coral’ yet? Simply unreal.”

Uh-oh.

more

  • My overall overwintering regimen for tender things here
  • Elephant Ears: a great article from Plant Delights’ website
  • The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization quantifies the global importance of taro.
  1. Bernie Wong says:

    I too was seduced by a Mojito elephant ear this year and was just debating this morning when and where I was going to stash it for the winter, along with a couple other varieties. I have been pleased with the “Mojito” plant. We’ve had crazy heat this summer and it grew to 4 feet.

  2. Tkelly says:

    So is it into semi dormancy or struggeling to keep it growing indoors? Which ever method you choose, good luck. It is a beauty (or should we call it a good looking guy?).

  3. Peter says:

    I have managed to overwinter my black coral beauty a couple of winters in a row – hungry little creature. Must admit it struggled through last spring and, by Memorial Day, it landed upside down in the compost bin. By July, it had risen from the dead and had more than one very gigantic leaves. So I plopped it in a big old urn – where it thrived all summer. Hungry – and tenacious!

  4. Margaret K. says:

    I brought two elephant ears home from Florida to Wisconsin…yikes, talk about a zone differential! I love them too and figured I’d give it a go! I will try to keep it going as a houseplant. Last year I tried to overwinter a tropical in our sunroom but my husband let the temp get too low and it was not happy. Good luck with yours…keep us posted!

  5. Jenny says:

    I like this plant to, I grew it in water this year with a water lily, it did great, although the leaves stayed smaller than usual. I was fortunate, through a fluke, I found a bunch a our local farm store cheap.

  6. Dennis says:

    Great info…I’m received a lot of Colocasias this year and they’re perfect growing behind my fishpond and look good in containers too…I had been wondering how to overwinter them and now I know…semi-dormant, cool and fairly dry in the basement. thanks for the info!

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Dennis. Mine is too big for the “houseplant” treatment — I don’t have a spot where I can squeeze it in that’s bright enough, I fear. So into the basement it will go. Fingers crossed!

  7. Kevin says:

    Margaret, Some of the more unusuall Taro roots don’t form tubers that keep well over the winter. I sometimes have better luck over-wintering some of the small offsetts in water on a windowsill and then potting them up in the Spring. The secret is keeping an eye on the water quality and rinsing the roots so that the young plants don’t rot over winter . Kevin

  8. Kevin says:

    p.s. Can’t Wait to try Coral Beauty! I have been growing ‘Diamond Head’ for two seasons and can’t believe there is another cultivar darker than it ! Looking forward to trying it ! Kevin

  9. Linda Pastorino says:

    I purchased this culitivar and several others this year first time. I too love mojito. It never filled out like the others i have that went in earlier nor did I realize that it liked so much moisture. I had no chance to read about them and used them as annuals to fill in. I’ll try the suggestion of digging out and keeping up in a warmer room.
    From some of the other bloggers seems if it is up and around, it has to be fed and kept moist so I will try the fish kelp feeding and putting it in a pot in earth with another water dish on the bottom to see what happens. I love Plant Delight Nursery, one of the first places I started buying from, they have so much good information.

    Linda

  10. Linda Pastorino says:

    Hi Margaret,
    I’m curious, you mention using fish emulsion and wondered if you have every tried worm tea on anything? I did for one season sparingly, didn’t keep to a routine, and wondered if you had and what the outcome was. I know at some botanical gardens they swear by it and hose it in from large drums. I would be interested in this topic. I have always used kelp or fish tonics and I just went through about two dozen bottles this year and wondered if there is an easier cheaper method besides good compost in home made varieties of things.

    Linda

  11. Donald says:

    I live in Texas – Zone 8. I don’t chance it with my ‘special’ colocasias and bring them in to the house for the winter. I’ve left some out that are supposed to be hardy to zone 7 and they never return. Mojito is one of my favorites as well. In the heat of this HOTTTT Texas summer, it faded a bit, but now that cooler days (90s) and cooler nights (70s) have arrived all its fabulous markings are back to normal. btw- my house is a virtual forest in the winter. I’ve come to enjoy all the elephants in the house!

  12. Jane in CT says:

    I have an insulated, unheated garage in which I over-winter my Canna Pretoria–that’s another story–and Black Magic elephant ears [BMEA]. Knowing the BMEA were tropical, I put them [in their containers] in a plastic kid’s toboggan to catch water drainings along with some other tender guys, and tented the whole thing withclear dry cleaner clothing bags. I’d water them only when they seemed to be getting dry. The bags kept the frigid air from them when bringing cars in & out, and they never lost their leaves. The garage door has a row of frosted-glass windows which gave them filtered light. It’s worked for 2 years so far.

  13. Arlene says:

    I am very envious of your Mojito, Margaret. Right now I have 4 different elephant ears under lights in my basement because of the threat of frost a couple of weeks ago in my zone 4 garden. I have kept them going under lights for 3 years in the winter and they are already attractive when I put them outside after spring frosts are no longer a threat. However, I keep mine potted year round and divide them in the spring to pass on to gardening friends. They never become huge like those in more favorable climates. Also, looking forward to any new varieties that come on the market in the future, because I love the exotic foliage.

  14. Mb says:

    Hi Margaret Love your site! And garden. I too am gardening obsessed. I overwinter all my houseplants in front of my windows. The largest area (a south facing bay window) fits alot of them! I do get bug problems by the end of the winter though. Had to chuck a beautiful, large Schefftlera this spring was sooo infested with scale I gave up! My ginger always gets it also, but not too bad -I can wipe them off.

    My other options are the basement (which is actually not real cold (the pipes are not covered/insulated so they let off heat….no garage… so shed??? too cold right?
    Or we have a root cellar which is accessed from outside and is almost as cold as outside. will any of these areas do?

  15. Mariann says:

    Thank you, Margaret, for such a timely post. My garden is a huge estate garden so I buy my plants in bulk. This year I purchased 3 different colcasias (in lots of 20-25) after seeing them last summer at the Atlanta Botanical Garden-and falling in love. I planted them in my pond and used them in the biofilter we constructed this spring in hopes of reducing the floating algae mays that have plagued our 1/4 acre pond. They (and other things) appear to be working marvelously. My colcasia have been planted in the clay bottom of my pond and in pea gravel, covered with 2 inches of water. Our water source for the pond was potentially high in nutrients so the colcasia were intended to pull the nutrients out of the water entering the pond. They have grown spectacularly! I have been pondering the best method to overwinter (zone 5)- you have given me fodder.

  16. Even though we’re having a warm September, I’m making plans to overwinter plants. Don’t want to be dashing around like a crazy gardener when the first frost if forecast. I have a caldium I want to save too. Was looking for some good advice on what to do. Thanks.

  17. paula says:

    Margaret, I love your blog. You have an uncanny ability to anticipate my questions. Not many people have written about overwintering elephant ears – so your post is greatly appreciated. i’m going to move one potted elephant ear into the sunroom/dining room and am preparing for a “Little Shop of Horrors” effect. BTW, I was just over at the Kew Gardens website. Have you heard of Marianne North? She was a fascinating Victorian traveler/botanical painter – bet she would be of interest to you and your readers.

    1. Margaret says:

      Thanks, Paula, for the tip about Marianne North. Off I go to have a peek. And thank you for your kind words! See you again soon.

  18. stevieray says:

    Tony from Plant Delight Nursery is correct — they don’t have tubers. I had a light frost last night, and this morning I went out to dig up and save the tubers… but much to my surprise, there weren’t any! I hope I can find this variety again next spring; it looked really good out there by the pond.

    1. Margaret says:

      You are so right, Stevieray. I won’t make that mistake again–saving them in their pots from now on, or by digging up a big clump and potting it on in earlier fall.

  19. Lisa says:

    Margaret – I am loving your blog! Was wondering though – aren’t elephant ears poisonous to cats? There are so many plants I would love to grow, but with 3 cats ruling my life, I’m afraid to plant so many. Elephant ears and Angels Trumpet to name a few.

  20. Kim Jessen says:

    I grew my Mohitos outside in the ground last summer and then dug them up and put them in our unheated garage in a bag of peat moss to overwinter. Hopefully they will be ready by Memorial Day to go back into the ground by the backyard pond.

  21. Steve says:

    Mine is still sleeping peacefully in our attached unheated garage. It gets a drink about once a month. No sign of growth yet. That’s a good thing.

  22. Kathleen says:

    I’ve had really good luck overwintering my Colocasia’s in my basement. Been doing it for ten years now, water them about once a month ~ just enough to keep them alive then bring them up to a bright, warm spot in the house to get them going before putting them outdoors again. Good luck with ‘Mojito’ ~ it’s definitely worth keeping!

    1. margaret says:

      You just display lots of natural talent, Kathleen. :) Yes, a keeper to be sure. I am watching now to see how it shapes up once we heat up a bit and get into steadier weather so it can be back outside. Fingers crossed!

  23. Linda Pastorino says:

    Hi Margaret
    remember last year I asked about keeping them goind inside my conservarory instead of going dormant. I would like to report that they are leafed out (smaller than they were ) but alive and well. I wil now start fertilizing again. They had leaves but not as strong as when first planted and never grew large leafed again during winter or stayed as my other plants, vigorous , but never quite went dormant. It is my first season room was ready to do this so I’m still experimenting. this year will be trying Black Coral as well outside so now that building is done which it was not fully done when I first dug them out, maybe they will stay large during the whole year. I love Mojito coloring best of all so far.

  24. Marie says:

    Has any one tryed leaving the Mojito out all winter long in zone 8 Washington State.
    Just covering them to protect them?.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Marie. The most complete info I have read is from Tony Avent of Plant Delights, and you can read it here (it’s about all “elephant’s ears” so you will have to compare to others he mentions in his catalog listings under “Aroids”on the site elsewhere. About ‘Mojito’ he says specifically in the catalog: “Although winter-hardy in Zone 7b, the central tuber will often die in the low teens F, so to get larger-sized plants, mulch well in winter to save the central tuber.”

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