Caladiums have almost unparalleled foliage and they can make showy houseplants. They have large, arrow-shaped and paper-thin leaves that come in a striking array of colors and patterns. A mass of caladium is an explosion of whites, greens, reds, and pinks that are mottled, veined, and striped. They can easily give you the visual impact of flowers while only being foliage plants.
However, these plants have a few drawbacks. They are tuberous plants that only grow foliage from spring to autumn. They also require very high humidity, and they have absolutely no cold tolerance. Nevertheless, as far as unusual indoor plants go, these are sure to raise a few admiring eyebrows.
Caladiums are a seasonal plant even in the tropics, where gardeners plant them in the spring and summer months when they'll thrive in the heat and wet. In the home situation, they'll do best with lots of heat, bright but indirect light, and plenty of humidity. Even under the best conditions, caladiums will only last a few months before their leaves start to die back and the plant goes dormant again. This is okay—they're supposed to do that. Use masses of them as striking summer accents and conversation pieces. When they die back, save the tubers in a bag and replant next year for another show.
Note that all parts of the plant are poisonous. Use caution when you have caladiums around children or pets.
Use these guidelines to keep your caladium healthy and happy:
- Light: The caladium prefers indirect light or moderate shade indoors. The narrower the leaves, the greater the sun it can withstand.
- Water: When leaves appear, keep the plant evenly moist. Never allow it to dry out. Keep the humidity as high as is practical.
- Temperature: The warmer the better. Aim for 70 F if possible as that is the temperature at which tubers begin to grow.
- Soil: A rich, well-drained potting mix is good for caladium.
- Fertilizer: Fertilize the plant weekly during the growing season with liquid fertilizer or use slow-release pellets.
Propagation and Repotting
Mature tubers can be divided. Make sure that each new tuber section has at least one growing site.
Indoors or out, caladiums are a seasonal plant, with foliage in the summer and a rest period in the autumn or winter. Their rest period isn't determined by temperature or light cycle, but by how long the plant has been growing. After the leaves begin to die back in the fall, either keep the tubers in the same pot (keeping it dry) or remove, clean, and put it into sawdust or sand to store. Store tubers above 55 F to minimize the loss of healthy tubers. Plant them out again when the next growing season begins.
There are literally too many cultivars to keep track of—caladium cultivars are green, red, pink, white, even orange. In many cases, cultivars are sold without names. Almost all cultivars are descended from C. bicolor, which is native to South America. Some books list these plants as C. hortulanum. Choose your variety based on its appearance. They will make a showy border or a single plant.