Elephant ear (Colocasia esculenta) produces bold, tropical-looking foliage in a variety of shades including green, purple to purplish-black, and variegated with white and green. Gardeners value the ornamental, heart-shaped leaves for adding a touch of the tropics to any partially shaded area of the garden. Elephant ear plant is half-hardy, which means it requires removal from the ground in areas prone to winter freezing. Winter hardy in USDA zones 8 through 11, the plant may remain in the ground year-round in these areas, where it performs as a returning perennial. In tropical climates, elephant ear plant is considered an evergreen perennial.
Plant elephant ear during spring after the danger of frost has passed in your area. Choose a location that receives partial shade throughout the day and consists of well-drained, rich, moist soil. Space elephant ear plants 18 to 24 inches apart.
Spread a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch over the soil surrounding elephant ear to provide insulation, improve moisture retention and prevent the establishment of competitive weeds. Allow at least 3 inches between the plant's base and the mulch to minimize the risk of disease caused by poor air circulation.
Water elephant ear plant once per week during spring, summer and fall to prevent the soil form drying out completely. Increase watering frequency to once every five days during periods of extreme heat or drought. Soak the soil to a depth of at least 3 inches at each application to ensure the plant's roots absorb enough moisture.
Feed the plant once per year during early spring, just as new growth resumes, using a slow-release fertilizer to deposit nutrients into the soil throughout the growing season. Apply according to the instructions provided on the package for the best results.
Cut back elephant ear plants to within 2 to 4 inches of the ground using garden shears a few days after the first frost of winter. Dig up the tubers and place in a warm location to dry for 24 hours. Store in peat moss in a cool location until the following spring, when the tuber should be replanted in the garden after the threat of frost is over.