Caladiums are tropical perennials that have almost unparalleled foliage and make showy houseplants. They can also be grown outdoors, but unless you live in zones 9 to 10, you should plan to grow them as annuals, or dig up the plants' tubers at the end of the growing season and store them for winter.
Caladiums have large, arrow-shaped, 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 grow foliage only from spring to autumn. They also require very high humidity, have absolutely no cold tolerance, and are toxic to animals and humans. Nevertheless, as far as foliage plants go, these are sure to raise a few admiring eyebrows.
|Common Name||Caladium, elephant ears|
|Plant Type||Tropical perennial|
|Mature Size||12–30 in. tall, 12–24 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Indirect light (indoors), full to partial shade (outdoors)|
|Soil Type||Rich, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer, fall|
|Flower Color||Green, pink, white, red|
|Hardiness Zones||9–10 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Central America, South America|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people and pets|
Caladiums are seasonal plants even in the tropics, where gardeners plant them in the spring and summer months when they'll thrive in the heat and humidity. When grown indoors, they do best with lots of heat, bright but indirect light, and plenty of humidity. Even under the best conditions, caladium foliage lasts only a few months before the leaves start to die back and the plant goes dormant again. This is okay—they're supposed to do that.
Many gardeners use masses of these striking plants as summer accents and conversation pieces. When the plants die back, you can save the tubers in a bag and replant them next year for another show.
Caladiums are grown for their foliage, but they do have flowers, which start in the form of spathes, or spikes. Cut off any spathe as soon as it appears to ensure all of the plant's energy is used for its gorgeous leaves.
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for Caladium Indoors
Caladium plants prefer indirect light or moderate shade indoors. The narrower the leaves, the greater the sun they can withstand. Growing them outdoors in containers gives you more control over light conditions. In some climates, container plants can be grown in full sun, with careful monitoring. When growing them in a garden, give them partial shade to full shade; full sun scorches their leaves.
Plant caladium in a rich, well-drained potting mix, such as a damp mix of soil and peat. Garden soil should be similarly rich and well-drained. The ideal soil pH is slightly acidic, at 5.5 to 6.2.
When leaves appear on the plant, water as needed to keep the soil evenly moist. Never let the plant dry out. Stop watering the plant when the leaves start to die back. Resume watering when the leaves reappear next season.
Temperature and Humidity
The warmer, the better, for caladium houseplants. Aim for 70 degrees Fahrenheit, if possible, as that is the temperature at which tubers begin to grow. Keep the humidity as high as is practical. When planting outdoors, you can transplant potted tubers (or, better yet, simply transfer them in peat pots) after the last frost date for your area. Plants grown this way should be started indoors four to six weeks prior to transplanting.
Fertilize the plant weekly during the growing season with liquid fertilizer or use slow-release pellets.
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.
A few noteworthy cultivars include:
- Caladium 'Creamsicle': This variety can be a vigorous grower. It features large green leaves accented with vibrant red and veined with bright white.
- Caladium 'White Christmas': Large, arrow-shaped green leaves with a heavy "dusting" of bright white make a simple and striking color combination in this variety.
- Caladium 'Miss Muffet': This dwarf variety reaches only about eight inches in height and has lime-green leaves flecked with bright pink spots.
- Caladium 'Puppy Love': This relative newcomer has pink leaves edged in green and can tolerate full sun in some climates.
Tubers of mature caladium 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 it, clean, and put it into sawdust or sand for storage. Store the tubers above 55 degrees Fahrenheit to minimize the loss of healthy samples. Plant them out again when the next growing season begins.