How one can Plant, Develop, and Take care of Caladium

I get a little giddy when my local nursery breaks out the caladium bulbs in springtime. They are among my favorite shade plants, and I never can resist scooping up a few new varieties. If you live farther north, you may think of these plants as annuals. 

The good news is that caladiums are perennials, and even in cooler climates, you can grow them this way. They also make stunning houseplants. Let’s talk about these leafy beauties and how to grow them in your climate

Overview

Caladium is a perennial plant belonging to the Araceae family.


Native Area


South and Central America


Exposure


Partial to full shade


Watering Requirements


Low to moderate


Pests and Diseases


Aphids, fungal diseases


Maintenance


Low to moderate


Soil Type


Rich, moist, well-drained

What are Caladiums?

Caladiums are leafy, tropical perennials. Most folks know these for their attractive and colorful, heart-shaped leaves. In addition, they gain attention for their ability to grow in low-light situations. This attribute makes them good houseplants, as well. 

While they are frost tender, there are things you can do to preserve your caladium bulbs. In cooler climates, you can store these bulbs for the winter. Then plant them again in spring. Even if you don’t live in a tropical climate, you can enjoy these plants. Let’s talk about where they came from and how to care for them in your home or garden. 

History

Green caladium leaves featuring pink veins and adorned with small white dots, creating a mesmerizing pattern. They stand amidst a diverse array of plants, with dried twigs scattered on the ground, adding a rustic charm to the scene.Caladiums originated in late 1700s France and later cultivated in the United States.

This history of caladiums has the most to do with their hybridization. The first hybrids saw their cultivation take place in France in the late 1700s. In 1867, we see these hybrids on display at the great French Exposition. The star of that display was a cultivar named ‘Triomphe de l’Exposition.’ This variety is still popular today.

The plants moved westward over the following century. In the United States, several women in Tampa worked on these hybrids. They created many of the most popular varieties that we still grow. 

Native Area

A caladium plant with heart-shaped leaves stands against a backdrop. Each leaf boasts a delicate pink hue adorned with intricate green veins, creating a captivating contrast along the edges, evoking a sense of natural beauty and elegance.They are native to Brazil and parts of Northern South America.

These plants with showy foliage are native to Brazil but grow in many parts of Northern South America. Some varieties are native to Central America, as well. These plants grow in India, Africa, and some tropical islands where they are naturalized. 

Caladiums grow naturally in tropical forests. You will find them growing on riverbanks, in clearings, and even under trees. They are true understory plants, and they tolerate a significant amount of shade. 

Characteristics

A close-up of a caladium leaf showcases its intricate white surface adorned with vivid green veins, creating a striking contrast. In the background, an array of potted plants provides a blurred yet lush backdrop to the focal leaf.These plants are known for their large, heart-shaped leaves in various vibrant colors.

Caladiums grow from bulbs or tubers. These underground systems are rhizomatic. The plants reproduce in this way most commonly. They do produce flowers, but it is not a reliable occurrence and seldom happens in cultivation

The flowers, when they bloom, resemble those of a Colocasia. They are typical for an aroid plant, with a small spathe surrounding a central spadix. These blooms are attractive, but not noteworthy compared to the plant’s foliage. 

The leaves are the main attraction of this plant. The leaves are large and heart-shaped, which would be enough for me to buy it. As if it needed another quality, the leaves are often very flashy. They can appear in many shades of pink, red, green, white, and occasionally a nearly yellow color. 

Some cultivars are bred to have more of an arrow shape to the leaves. The leaves can be narrow or wide, with smooth edges or a ruffled appearance. The veining is commonly a contrast to the color of the leaves. 

In warm climates, caladiums are perennial and the bulbs can be left in the ground over the winter. They will die back and go dormant, but the leaves will return in spring. 

In cooler climates, you will need to dig up the tubers and store them for the winter. You can also grow this as a container plant and protect it from cold weather. Caladiums can also grow inside, but they will go dormant in winter even when kept indoors. 

Uses

A potted caladium plant showcases vibrant pink leaves accented by delicate green veins and edges, adding a lively touch to any space. In the background, blurred manicured grass sets a tranquil scene, enhancing the plant's natural beauty.Caladium bicolor ‘Aiton’ has medicinal uses for treating boils and ulcers.

There is one type of caladium that has a medicinal use. Caladium bicolor ‘Aiton’ is a treatment for boils and ulcers. Otherwise, the use of this plant is primarily ornamental. It makes a beautiful border, or colony in a shaded space. Have I mentioned that they make great houseplants?

Where to Buy Caladiums?

A variety of caladium plants showcasing an array of colors, including whites, delicate pinks, lush greens, and bold reds, creating a captivating display of diversity. Each hue adds its own unique charm to the overall aesthetic.The plants are available at local nurseries in mid-spring as bulbs or tubers.

You can buy caladiums at many local nurseries. They usually show up in mid-spring as the soil warms up. Most of the time, these plants are sold as bulbs or tubers rather than as mature plants. However, nursery starts may become available later in spring. 

If you want a specific variety, your best bet is probably to look online. Since they grow from tubers, it is easy to ship these plants. You can order tubers of many different varieties and have them sent to your home.

Planting

Blue gloved hands delicately cradle a black pot housing a caladium plant, its leaves displaying intricate patterns of red and green. In the background, a larger pot filled with dark soil hints at the nurturing environment for these botanical beauties. The planting time for various tubers and bulbs depends on the climate.

Planting time for these plants depends upon your climate. As a general rule, you shouldn’t plant tubers until the soil reaches about 70°F (21°C). In mild climates, you can put caladiums in the ground in early spring. 

For colder climates, wait until May 1st to plant your bulbs. Dig a hole two inches deeper than your bulb. The rounded tubers tend to come in a tangle of roots. If you can locate the eyes of the bulb, plant with this side pointing upward. 

Make sure that you choose a spot that gets a moderate to low amount of sun exposure. Good drainage is important because the tubers are sensitive to fungal rot. 

How to Grow

Caladiums are not difficult to grow. However, I wouldn’t consider them to be altogether low maintenance. If you plant them properly, they will still need some additional care. They are worthwhile, though, when those flashy leaves pop up. 

Light

Vibrant green caladium leaves, adorned with delicate pink veins, stand out against the blurred backdrop. In the background, a diverse array of caladium plants creates a tapestry of colors, showcasing the natural beauty of these foliage wonders.

Caladiums are tolerant of some morning direct sun but can get scorched by afternoon sun.

Modern cultivars are bred to be tolerant of sunlight. For the most part, though, caladiums are not fans of direct sun. They can tolerate a few hours of direct morning sun. The afternoon sun tends to be hotter and will scorch the plant’s leaves. 

The ideal light situation for these plants, both indoors and out, is bright, indirect sunlight. Like most understory plants, filtered sun is their natural light situation. The dappled sun comes through the tree canopy overhead, with only some light reaching the plants below.

Water

A woman dressed in black stands gracefully amidst a lush garden, her focused gaze fixed on the task at hand. Using an orange garden pump, she carefully waters a caladium plant, nurturing it with tender care and attention.
Insufficient moisture causes caladium leaves to yellow and wilt.

Watering while the plant is dormant is not necessary. When you see leaves begin to pop up through the soil, this is the time to begin watering. Water as often as needed to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. 

If caladiums don’t get enough moisture, their leaves will suffer. Typically they will turn yellow and wilt first, before falling off altogether. The leaves will naturally fall off in fall, as the plant returns to dormancy. At this time, stop watering for the winter. 

Soil

A close-up of rich, dark soil adorned with scattered, small white pebbles. The contrasting textures create an intriguing landscape, hinting at the interplay between nature's elements in this earthy tableau.Optimal soil conditions for caladiums include richness in organic material.

These plants prefer soil that is rich in organic material and slightly acidic. Drainage is important because they need to have consistently moist soil. Soggy soil will cause root rot, so drainage is a must. 

For caladiums planted in the garden, amend the soil with well-rotted compost, leaf mulch, or manure. For potted plants, use a container with proper drainage and high-quality potting soil. Potting soil is usually acidic enough for these plants. 

Temperature and Humidity

White caladium leaves featuring intricate green veins, resembling delicate lacework. The veins meander across the leaves, creating an elegant network that adds depth and contrast to the overall appearance.Expect caladiums to die outdoors north of Zone 9 unless bulbs are stored indoors.

This is not a cold hardy plant in any way. If you grow these outdoors north of Zone 9, expect them to die in winter unless you store the bulbs indoors. Even here on the border of Zones 8 and 9, I have a hard time keeping them going for more than a year or two. 

The foliage will begin to enter dormancy when the air temperature begins to dip below 60°F (16°C). Caladiums like a fair amount of humidity, as it is in their native environment. As a houseplant, you may need to supplement the humidity for this plant. 

Fertilizing

A grimy hand gently holds vibrant yellow fertilizer granules, hinting at the labor of gardening or farming. In the blurred backdrop, the earthy terrain adds context, suggesting the hand's connection to soil and growth.Use slow-release fertilizer once per growing season for potted caladium plants.

Apply a slow-release fertilizer for potted plants. One application will usually be sufficient for the growing season. Otherwise, if using a water-soluble fertilizer, apply it every two to four weeks. Do not fertilize while the plant is dormant. 

For in-ground plants, test your soil to determine the nutrient content. If nutrients are lacking, apply a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer every six weeks. Plants in the ground do not need fertilizer while they are dormant either.

Maintenance

A  hand grasps black pruning shears, ready for action. The sharp blades glint as they hover over a lush, green stem of a potted caladium plant, poised for a precise snip to encourage growth and maintain its beauty.Regularly remove dead or damaged leaves to prevent fungal disease.

If your plants look healthy, don’t worry about pruning them. Remove any dead or damaged leaves as you see them. This habit can help stem the spread of fungal diseases, which are common among caladiums. 

At the end of the season, once the foliage has died back, you can cut the dead growth away. You can also leave this on the plant as it will dry out and fall off on its own eventually. If your plant blooms, feel free to cut off the spent flower stem.

Growing in Containers

A collection of various pots showcases caladium plants, displaying a striking contrast between their lush red and green leaves. In the background, a blur reveals additional potted flora, adding depth to the verdant scene.
Container gardening with caladiums requires attention to drainage in pot selection.

Caladiums make great container plants. Their low light needs coupled with their need for mild to warm temperatures are a good match for indoor environments. When selecting a container for your plant, make drainage a priority.

A good quality potting mix will have the right level of nutrients in it. If you want to mix in some perlite to increase drainage, do so. Just make sure that the soil doesn’t dry out too quickly or you will have more work on your hands. 

Find a spot near a window to grow your plant. Caladiums have similar light needs to orchids. They need about the same amount of humidity as well. If you have a place in the home where orchids thrive, this is a great place for this plant as well. 

Check the soil regularly to ensure that it doesn’t dry out. How often you need to water will depend on light, humidity, air circulation, and temperature. When the top inch of the soil is dry, it is time to water. 

Propagation

A close-up of a hand gently cradling a caladium rootstock, its earthy hue hinting at its vitality. Delicate tendrils sprawl from its base, promising growth and renewal in the nurturing soil, a testament to nature's intricate beauty.Propagate caladiums by dividing tubers in fall for cool climates.

The best way to propagate caladiums is by dividing their tubers. In cool climates, divide your tubers in fall when you dig them up to store them. In warmer climates, leave the task until spring, but get to it before the leaves start to grow. 

When digging your tubers for storage, let the foliage die back and then allow the soil to dry out. You don’t want to store damp tubers as they will rot. Store your dry tubers in a cool, dark space like a garage, as long as the temperature doesn’t fall below 40°F (4°C). 

In spring, before planting, take out your tubers and divide them using a clean sharp tool. Locate the eyes at the top of the bulbs, and divide each section that has an eye from the rest. Leave your divided tubers out to heal and scab over for about a week. 

Spring Fling

Large pink ‘Spring Fling’ caladium leaves displaying intricate green veins and delicate edges, creating a vibrant botanical tapestry. Adjacent foliage adds depth to the lush garden scene, offering a harmonious blend of textures and hues.A hybrid cultivar of caladium called ‘Spring Fling’ boasts vibrant pink leaves.

Vibrant is the word for this variety’s bright pink leaves. The large leaves have heavy veining in a strongly contrasting, deep green color. The stems of this pretty hybrid are black, adding another element of contrast to the plant. The leaves, which can grow up to 10″ long, have lightly ruffled edges. If you love pink, this cultivar is perfect for your home or garden.  

Frog in a Blender

A 'Frog in a Blender' caladium plant stands out amidst lush greenery. Its leaves, adorned with specks of darker green, create a lively contrast against the blurred backdrop of surrounding foliage.This hybrid plant boasts large, sun-tolerant leaves with dark green color.

This is my favorite hybrid, simply based on the name alone. How fun, and also a bit shocking, is ‘Frog in a Blender?’ This variety is more sun tolerant than most and has very large leaves.

The leaves are dark green and splashed with irregular markings in a glowing shade of chartreuse. It comes in a moderate-sized cultivar as well as a giant one. 

Red Flash

A pristine white pot cradles a 'Red Flash' caladium plant, boasting lush green leaves adorned with striking red centers. In the backdrop, a delightful array of potted plants creates a soft, blurred ambiance, enhancing the focal beauty.The ‘Red Flash’ showcases large leaves with bright red centers.

‘Red Flash’ is another hybrid that grows well with more direct sunlight. Full sun may be a stretch, but partial sun will serve this cultivar well. The large, broad leaves are bright red in the center and green at the edges.

The colorful spectacle doesn’t stop there, though. The leaves are also speckled with cotton candy pink, making this one of the most colorful varieties

Carolyn Wharton

 Lush 'Carolyn Wharton' caladium leaves, displaying green hues adorned with delicate specks of pink, reminiscent of a painter's delicate brushstrokes. Deep pink veins traverse the lush foliage, creating an intricate network of natural artwork.
This variety has heart-shaped leaves featuring green edges and candy-pink interiors.

This very fancy, hybrid variety is perhaps the only one more colorful than ‘Red Flash.’ The nicely formed, heart-shaped leaves are green around the edges, but the inside is an explosion of candy pink.

Accenting the leaves are bold red midribs. This is a fantastic variety to grow as a houseplant and will be a real conversation piece.

Common Problems

You may encounter some issues when growing this plant. Most of those issues are likely to be related to watering. There are a few garden pests that may feed on your plant, but for the most part, it is pest-resistant. 

Leaf Discoloration

A close-up captures the intricate details of a brown and dried caladium leaf. It contrasts vividly against the lush greenery of surrounding caladium leaves, evoking a sense of transition and natural beauty.Both overwatering and underwatering can cause yellowing or browning of caladium leaves.

Yellow or brown leaves can both result from overwatering, and underwatering. An overwatered caladium may develop root rot. This will show up above the ground as pale and yellowing leaves. The rot deprives the leaves of nutrients. Soft, mushy leaves are indicative of rot.

If you under water, caladium will suffer as well. These plants need consistent moisture, and when they dry out they tend to droop first. Shortly after this, they will begin to yellow. Ultimately, the leaves of an under-watered plant will become dry and brown. 

Leaf Drop

A close-up of a yellow caladium leaf reveals. The fading hue hints at nutrient deficiencies, manifesting as patches of discoloration across the leaf's surface, a subtle yet telling sign of its health status.Too much direct sunlight leads to caladium leaves falling off.

The most common reason that caladiums lose their leaves might come as a surprise. Leaf drop is typically the result of too much direct sunlight. If you notice leaves are dropping and drooping, you may need to move your plant to a shadier spot. 

Pests

A close-up of a tiny red mite, its intricate details accentuated against the vibrant green leaf it traverses. Illuminated by the warm rays of the sun, the mite's presence on the leaf is a miniature world of activity and color.Use predatory insects outdoors to control pests on caladiums.

There are a few common pests that you may encounter when caring for a caladium. Aphids, spider mites, scales, and mealybugs come after this plant. Outdoors, the most effective way to deal with pests without harming pollinators is predatory insects. 

Attracting insects that prey on these pests will help to keep populations to a minimum. Use plantings of yarrow, dill, feverfew, and other plants to provide habitat for beneficial insects. This is not possible to do indoors, so for indoor plants, treat with neem oil or insecticidal soap. 

Diseases

Against a backdrop of vibrant foliage, a black pot lies nestled in the grass. Inside, a withered caladium plant lies, its once-vibrant leaves now drooping sadly, adding a touch of melancholy to the scene.Fungal diseases like Fusarium and Pythium thrive in moist, shaded environments.

The most common diseases faced by caladium plants are fungal. A combination of moisture and shade tends to be a good environment for fungal pathogens to grow. Fusarium and Pythium are the two most common types, but others can crop up. 

Root rot is the main result of these diseases. The best prevention for fungal disease is to make sure your soil has good drainage. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, caladiums are toxic to animals and will cause severe discomfort, but not death. Eating any part of the plant will cause mouth and gastrointestinal discomfort and pain.

Yes, the tubers will multiply and can be divided and planted separately in between seasons.

Yes, caladiums can be grown exclusively in water, just make sure to change out with fresh water regularly. Use distilled water or water that lacks chlorine. That means no tap water.

Final Thoughts

Caladium plant’s beautiful foliage makes them desirable in the garden and as houseplants. Their often colorful leaves can spruce up shadier spots in the garden. They also thrive in lower light conditions in the home. These tuberous perennials can become addicting when you discover all the stunning varieties available. 

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