Caladium tubers are one of the stars of a shade garden because of their brightly colored tropical foliage and rare flower appearance. These tips for the care of caladium plants will help you get the most out of them.
If you have a shady patio location, caladiums can be grown in pots or containers. In the garden, mass plant them in garden beds for a dramatic show of tropical color.
Why Grow caladiums?
If you enjoy lots of color and wonderful patterns on the foliage of plants, caladium tubers are for you. They are very fast growing and have non stop foliage color for months on end.
Caladium plants can take the high heat and humidity well, since they are a tropical plant. They are relatively low maintenance, but when they get the ultimate plant care, you may be rewarded with caladium flowers.
The leaves of caladiums make a wonderful backdrop for any cut flower arrangement and look wonderful surrounding a garden bed.
Caladium Plants Information:
- Genus: Caladium hortulanum
- Family: Araceae
- Common names: “Angel wings”, “elephant ears” and “heart of Jesus”. The common name elephant ear is shared with other closely related plants Alocasia, Colocasia, and Xanthosomaplant
The plant is native to South and Central America. In their natural habitat you will find caladiums in open areas of a the forest and along the banks of rivers.
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There are numerous varieties of caladiums. The two most common types are the fancy leaf and lance leaf varieties (also known as strap leaf cultivar.)
Caladium varieties have large arrowhead shaped leaves with brilliant markings and patterns in all sorts of colors from white to pink and red.
Fancy leaved varieties are the most commonly seen in gardens. A few popular caladium types are:
- Aaron Caladium
- Caladium Blaze
- Dwarf Gingerland Caladium
- Pink Beauty Caladium
Caladiums make a wonderful addition to any shade garden, as this image from the Springfield Botanical Gardens in Missouri shows. We visited last year and were very impressed with the color and texture that they added to the shade garden.
Care of Caladium Plants
It is not uncommon to see caladiums for sale listed as Caladium bulbs. But, in actual fact, caladiums grow from tubers. (see the differences between tubers and bulbs in this article.)
You can purchase the dormant tubers and plant them in your garden, or wait until some nurseries have them for sale as potted plants.
Tubers have a large bud surrounded by smaller bubs. When they grow, you’ll get several arrowhead shaped leaves from each whole tuber. These tips for caladium plant care will help you get a magnificent show of foliage each year.
Planting caladium tubers
One of the most important things to remember in the care of caladium plants is that the tubers do not like the cold. If you plant them too early, the entire plant may rot.
It is best to wait to plant until the soil is at least 70 degrees. You can also start the tubers indoors with bottom heat about 4-6 weeks before the last average frost date for your area.
They do not mind being transplanted, so starting them indoors gives you the best chance of getting an early show in your garden.
Plant caladium tubers 4-6 inches deep and about 6 inches apart to give them a bit of room to spread. The tubers should be planted with the eye buds facing up, if possible.
They are lovely grown as mass plantings on the edge or border of a garden bed.
A note on tuber size: Caladium tubers are graded by size. #1 tubers measure 1.5-2.5 inches in diameter. Tubers graded #2 or #3 are smaller.
Larger tubers have more eyes, and will produce larger and more full plants. Look for tubers that are plump and not bruised.
Sunlight needs for caladiums
While caladiums can take some morning or late afternoon sunlight, most of them are happier in partial shade. For plants that grow in more sunlight, watering is especially important.
If you don’t mind the extra watering requirement, growing caladiums in more sunlight will give you more options for planting caladiums in your garden and landscape, since you will be able to combine them with other sun loving annuals, perennials and bulbs.
Soil and moisture needs for Caladium plants
Caring for caladium plants means having them planted in moist and well draining soil. Adding some compost or other organic matter to the hole at the time of planting will help to add nutrients to the soil and to help it drain better.
Caladiums need to be watered regularly, especially in the hot, dry part of the summer. Adding mulch will help to conserve water and also to prevent weeds.
Fertilizing will also help to strengthen the plants and to give them nourishment for the following season, if you plan to try and save them over the winter.
Use a slow-release fertilizer such as Osmocote Outdoor & Indoor Smart-Release Plant Food 19-6-12 to make fertilizing easy.
Caladiums do best in humid conditions which makes them an ideal plant in the South Eastern part of the USA.
The foliage of caladiums is large and heart shaped with amazing color combinations. The beautiful leaves look great beneath trees, dotted around shrubs, in window boxes, in borders and as patio plants.
The combination of colors in caladium plants is amazing. From pure white varieties to those splotched and spotted with shades of pink, red and green, the foliage gives a pop of color wherever it sits.
Do caladiums bloom?
With such gorgeous foliage, one would think that caladium flowers might be insignificant, similar to other showy shade garden foliage plants such as coral bells or hostas have. This is not actually the case.
Caladium plants that do produce blooms grow a thick spike called a spathe. It is just gorgeous.
While spectacular to look at, it’s also rare to see! I had one caladium flower this year out of about 20 caladiums growing in my garden!
Caladium blooms are impressive and dramatic just like their foliage. When the bloom opens, to me, it looks like some sort of jack in the pulpit!
Caladium flowers are more commonly seen in plants with larger tubers which is why fertilizing is a must. Larger tubers have more energy to sprout blooms.
Flowering time varies from mid spring to early fall.
In much the same way that you divide daylilies or other bulbs, caladiums can be propagated by dividing their tubers to get plants for free.
Cold Hardiness of caladium plants
Caladiums are considered a tender perennial. They are hardy only in USDA plant hardiness zone 9 and above. In colder areas, they are typically grown as annuals or in pots as indoor plants.
Even though the tubers cannot take the cold of winter in colder climates, it is still possible to save them for the next season by storing them indoors or in a protected shed.
I do the same thing here in NC with my dahlias.
Is Caladium Poisonous to Pets?
According to the ASPCA, caladiums are considered toxic to dogs, cats and horses. The plant contains insoluble calcium oxalates.
If ingested, the toxins can cause swelling of the mouth and pain because of burning tongue. Signs of poisoning are drooling, difficulty swallowing and, in dogs and cats, vomiting.
Be careful with the plant around young children, too, since chewing on it can cause swelling of the mouth and throat.
Care of Caladium Plants: Overwintering Caladiums
It seems a shame to have such a showy plant only give one season of color. Fortunately, it is possible to enjoy the same plants next year if you remember to dig up the tubers and bring them indoors to store for the winter.
I say remember because, in the same way that you must wait to plant them in the spring till the ground is warm, you also have to dig them up in the fall before the temps go below 55 degrees.
I learned this from experience. I had a few lovely clumps of caladiums that were just gorgeous and I knew I would need to get them out of the ground early in the fall.
I got busy and forgot about them until after the temperatures had dropped below 50 degrees for a few weeks. I went out to dig them up and there was not a caladium to be found…not a shriveled leaf…not a shriveled stem. No evidence whatsoever – just a plain patch of ground.
If, unlike me, you do happen to remember the plants before frost, you can store them with this process:
- Wait till the leaves start to fall over and go yellow. Dig up the whole plant.
- Wash off the soil to expose the roots and tuber.
- Store in a garage or shed to cure for about two weeks.
- Remove the leaves and place the tubers in a pot of peat moss or sphagnum moss and cover well.
- Label the variety if you have several and store in a cool, dry room at about 45-50 degrees until spring.
The one thing I learned – when gardening experts say that 50 degrees is the lower limit for temperatures for caladiums, they really do mean 50 degrees!
In zones 9-12, caladium tubers are hardy and will not need digging up to survive the winter. Just leave the tubers in the ground and wait for the plants to grow again in spring.
As long as the ground does not freeze, the tubers will overwinter and return to give you another great show next spring.
Overwintering Caladiums in pots
For plants that are grown in containers, you can overwinter indoors right in the pots. Hold off on watering and fertilizing in the winter, when the plant is in a dormant stage.
Admin note: This post for the care of caladium plants first appeared on the blog in December of 2012. I have updated the post to add many new photos, additional care tips and a video for you to enjoy.
Pin these caladium care tips for later.
Would you like a reminder of these tips for the care and overwintering of caladium plants? Just pin this image to one of your Pinterest gardening boards.
- Peat Moss
- In the fall, before the temperatures drop below 50 degrees F, look for signs of drooping and yellowing in the foliage of caladiums.
- Dig up the entire plant including the roots.
- Use a hose to wash off the soil and store the plant in a cool, dry place for two weeks for the bulbs to "cure."
- Remove the foliage and place the tubers on a bed of peat moss.
- Cover the tubers with more peat moss and store in a cool and dry room that will be between 40 and 50 degrees F.
- Plant again in the spring when soil temperatures are above 70 degrees.
- You can also plant indoors in a pot over bottom heat about 4-6 weeks before the last frost to get a head start on spring.