Colorful caladiums are tailor made for brilliant summer garden borders, long ruffled edgings and big, lush containers. Bright speckles, bold splashes, edge bands and contrasting veining! To care for your caladiums so they look their best from late spring through fall, and to carry them over year after year, here’s all you need to know.
How to Care For Caladiums: a Snapshot
First, choose caladiums that are well suited to your growing site. Some cultivars prefer shady spots while many of the newer varieties are sun resistant and handle full sun beautifully.
Second, watch spring temperatures. Caladiums like soil that’s warmed to 60-65 degrees so wait until the ground has warmed before planting these beauties outside. Third, let your plants’ development stage guide watering. Give little water to just sprouting bulbs and more for full size plants.
Finally, fertilize sparingly if at all. Caladiums are low feeder and those grown from big, healthy bulbs do just fine without fertilizer. Overfertilizing caladiums can result in damage to the leaf structure and overall plant decline.
Who says that for a gorgeous landscape you need flowering plants that require lots of tlc – deadheading, fertilizers and regular trimming? Instead choose the easy, all-season brilliance of caladiums.
Years ago, all caladiums needed shady sites to thrive. While there was a wide range of colors and patterns to choose from, the plants only looked their best when grown in filtered or bright shade. Classic shade caladiums include favorites like: Pink Beauty, Postman Joyner, Freida Hemple and Rosebud. These varieties are proven partners for shade loving begonias, fushsia, impatience, coleus and perennials like hostas, ferns and Lenten roses. For shady site, these varieties are still great choices.
Fast forward a few year and lots of new hybrid caladiums have been developed to expand both color and pattern options, and to extend sunlight ranges. Recent introductions include varieties that can manage full sun even in hot Florida settings. Recommended caladiums for the range of light from bright shade to full sun include Frog in a Blender, Strawberry Star, Spring Fling, Wildfire, Miss Muffet and White Queen.
Sun tolerant caladiums look wonderful mixed with annuals in landscape. Caladiums in containers deliver non-stop color and their wide heart-shaped leaves blend well with full sun annuals such as zinnias, dahlias, salvia, cosmos and celosia.
Are you thinking “Wait, aren’t these colored elephant ears?” Yes, you’re right. That’s what caladiums are called in some parts of the country. They are sometimes also called “angel’s wings”.
Whatever you call them and wherever you choose to plant them, there are now oodles of caladiums to expand your choices and elevate your showy designs!
Tips for Using Caladiums in Home Landscapes
Of course you’ll naturally gravitate to the colors and patterns you find pleasing – brights, soft shade, lively patterns and more. That’s perfect. As you consider solo uses and potential combinations, here are a couple of design guidelines for using caladiums in your landscape with great results.
- Light colored foliage brightens shade and adds depth in the dappled sun beneath deciduous trees. Plant white leaf caladiums in mass along shaded fencelines to draw the eye and make the yard look more expansive.
- White and cream leaves provide strong, pleasing contrasts when placed in front of a dark wall or when backed by deep, dense evergreens.
- Bold, bright colors are outstanding for landscape focal points.
- Textural variations add interest to mixed plantings. Caladiums’ big heart-shaped leaves blend beautifully with lacy foliage and cascading small-leafed plants like Lysimachia/Creeping Jenny, ivies, vinca and silver nickle vine.
- Dark, rich shades pop in front of light colored backgrounds. Deep red and dark pink caladiums are outstanding sited against a light colored house, wall or fence.
Like a bit of visual inspiration? Check out what Rebecca Sweet has done with her caladiums!
Hanging Baskets, Windowboxes and More
Super versatile caladiums are often tapped by designers for endless color in hanging baskets, window boxes, coir lined troughs, wine barrels and stylish wood or resin planter boxes.
Excellent mixers in these containers include asparagus ferns, purple oxalis, frilly euphorbia, cascading variegated ivies and dusty miller. Given all the variations in caladium size, color, foliage design and light needs there are zillions of options for dazzling compositions.
When and How to Plant Caladium Bulbs
For cooler parts of the country, we suggest starting your caladiums indoors in the spring and moving them outside when the weather warms. This give the bulbs time to break dormancy and get growing early so they boost your landscape color for the maximum number of months.
The caladiums we delight in today originated in South America, in the rain forests of Brazil, where temperatures are warm year round. These plants love warmth – in fact, they insist on it – and manage humidity with ease. Caladiums planted out too early in still-chilly soil won’t grow, they’ll sulk. And perhaps rot. Resist the temptation to plant caladiums until your soil has warmed.
A simple timing guide is: if soil temperatures are warm enough to planting tomatoes, caladiums will be happy.
Our detailed Caladium Planting Guide has all the info you’ll need.
Growing Caladiums as Houseplants
No outdoors space for caladiums? These plants make great seasonal potted accents for bright balconies and window sills.
To grow caladiums as houseplants start with a large container, ideally one that’s 10-12″ across and similar in depth. This size pot is perfect for a trio of big bulbs and produces a full, leafy burst of color. A drainage hole in the bottom is necessary so water doesn’t pool and cause root rot. Add a saucer to protect your floor for spills.
Start your bulbs early, indoors – in March or April – to enjoy the longest growing season. The plants will be in their glory all summer and into early to mid fall, when lower light levels will trigger the caladium’s usual dormancy period.
While your caladiums are sleeping through the winter, swap in their counter seasonal partners – amaryllis and paperwhites – to decorate your sunny windows.
How to Care for Caladiums in Summer
During the summer your caladiums benefit from generous moisture – moist but not soggy soil – as the plants’ broad leaves tend to lose water fairly readily to evaporation. This is especially true for plants in full sun locations.
Occasionally caladiums will develop spathe flowers. These aren’t showy and they drain bulb resources which are better directed to produce attractive foliage. Removal of the flowers is recommended.
When Autumn’s Chill Arrives
Wait! While they’re often treated as annuals, we recommend keeping your caladiums at the end of the growing season. The plants will be just as beautiful next year and you can save some hard earned cash by rescuing and storing the bulbs in the fall.
You’ll know when your caladiums are ready to wrap up their show. Their foliage will begin to yellow and flop. There won’t be any fresh new curled leaves pointing up from the soil. The timing of this varies based on your location but it’s typically mid-fall to early winter.
When you see these signs, ease up on watering and let the foliage die back.
Overwintering Caladium Flower Beds
For those who live in the warmest parts of the country, zones 9 and 10, caladiums can be left to overwinter in the the ground. While it’s a good idea to mark the spots where the plants are to avoid accidentally damaging them, there’s no need to dig and store the bulbs inside.
If soil temperatures in your region stay above 45 degrees, it’s safe to leave caladiums in the ground. As a general rule, bulbs can be left in the ground in parts of the Deep South, south of the I-10 corridor. Protect your bulbs with a thick layer (3-6”) of mulch. When temperatures begin to warm in spring, pull the mulch back. This lets your caladiums sprouts unencumbered.
Storing Caladium Flower Bulbs
Caladium fans in cooler regions need to dig their plants and store them inside to avoid freezing. In fall, when the plants are yellowed and limp, carefully dig in a 8″ circle around the crown and lever the plant up out of the soil. Shake off the dirt. Don’t rinse; you’re trying to let the bulbs dry off a bit. Leave the bulbs on some newspaper in an out of the way place for two weeks. Snip of any loose roots and dust the bulbs with a fungicide –powdered garden sulphur works well – to reduce their chances of developing rot while stored over the winter.
Gently pack the bulbs in cardboard boxes in peat moss or coir. Place so they aren’t touching each other. Shoe and boot boxes are the perfect size for a small number of bulbs. We like to pack different varieties in separate boxes to avoid mix ups. And always label the boxes. We’ve learned the hard way that while we’re sure we’ll remember which is which, life gets in the way and we forget.
Make a note on your calendar to check the bulbs mid winter for rot. Trim or discard soft or rotting bulbs as needed.
Overwintering Potted Caladiums
Potted caladiums can be stored in a cool, but not freezing, spot like an attached unheated garage, breezeway or chilly basement. Simply let the plants’ foliage die back in the fall and snip the leaves off. Allow the soil dry and move the containers indoors. The dormant bulbs will sleep through the winter and resprout in early to mid spring.
Mark the pot as to variety so you can be sure come spring. It’s easy to forget.
Move your plants back outside when nighttime temperatures are consistently above 65 degrees.
Caladium Care Questions
Reviewing the most common questions we get about how to care for caladiums, there are two that surface regularly. Both are easily managed.
First, moisture. Caladiums like soil that’s evenly moist but not soggy. Don’t let the soil dry out. A sprinkler or drip system is great for even watering. Or do as one of our friends does and water your caladium pots – hers are glorious mixed plantings with coleus, angel wing begonias, creeping Jenny and more – every morning while sipping that first cup of coffee. It’s a bit of a zen thing for her, a way of easing into the day.
Second, use a light hand with fertilizer. Caladiums aren’t heavy feeders and because they won’t use up much fertilizer, there’s a risk of build up in the soil when too much is added. Excess fertilizer can cause toxicity issues which are most noticeable in white leaf varieties. This manifests as browning of the leaf veins, a condition known as the “windowing effect”.
We fertilize using a liquid houseplant formulation mixed at half strength. Apply once in mid June and again in mid August. The best rule with fertilizing caladiums is: when in doubt, use less.
That’s it! Now you know how to care for caladiums, to savor their vibrant displays this summer and for many to come!