Caladiums are heat-loving tropical perennials that have almost unparalleled foliage and make showy houseplants. The plant's large, heart- or arrow-shaped, paper-thin leaves 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 offer the visual impact of having planted flowers while only being foliage plants. Though they are grown mainly for their foliage, they do produce some flowers, which start in the form of spathes, or spikes. Plant these tubers in the springtime after the threat of frost has passed. As striking as they are, caladium plants are toxic to animals and humans.
|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||9–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Central America, South America|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people and pets|
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for Caladium Indoors
Many gardeners use masses of these striking plants as summer accents and conversation pieces. Indoors or out, caladiums are seasonal tuberous plants that grow foliage from spring into autumn, peaking in the summer. Cut off any spathe as soon as they appear to ensure that all of the plants' energies are used for their gorgeous leaves. Caladiums' rest period comes in the autumn or winter. Their rest period isn't determined by temperature or light cycle, but by how long the plants have been growing.
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 they require. Unless you live in zones 9 to 11, 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 the winter.
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, which is normal.
Caladium plants prefer indirect light or moderate shade indoors. The narrower the leaves, the greater the amount of sun they can withstand. Growing them outdoors in containers gives you more control over light conditions. Some newer cultivars can be grown in full sun, but most caladiums need protection from too much intense light. 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 soil in the garden or in potting mix for containers, 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, as leaves may yellow and drop. Stop watering the plant when the leaves start to die back. Resume watering in spring after winter dormancy. New leaves will reappear as temperatures warm.
Temperature and Humidity
The warmer the better for caladium houseplants. Aim for 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, 60-65 degrees at night, 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 every two weeks during the growing season with liquid fertilizer or use slow-release pellets.
Types of Caladium
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 8 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.
When the plants die back in the fall or early winter, you can save the tubers in a bag and replant them next year for another show. Tubers of mature caladium can also be divided using the following steps:
- Allow the leaves to die back in the fall. Let the soil dry out a bit, then lift the tubers from the ground. Store in a box in a cool, dry, dark place, like a basement, with temperatures at about 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In late winter/early spring, use a sharp, sterile cutting tool to cut tubers. Make sure that each new tuber section has at least one growing site (with an eye or a knob).
- Allow the tubers to "heal" for a week, developing a callus on the cut ends.
- Plant the tubers with the "eye" facing up outdoors or in pots again when the next growing season begins and soil temperatures are over 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Caladium are not bothered by many detrimental pests. But, they may be afflicted by caterpillars and grasshoppers that will chew on the leaves and need specific ways to eliminate the activity. Other pests that suck on the leaves and can be eradicated with insecticidal soaps include:
Common Problems With Caladium
Caladium leaves are typically colorful and attractive, so you easily notice if the plants have problems. If your caladium leaves turn unsightly colors, the issue may be easy to fix.
Leaves Turning Yellow
Caladium leaves will turn yellow if the plant is overwatered, underwatered, getting too much light, or experiencing temperature and humidity level stress. The plant may also be experiencing nutrient deficiencies, such as a lack of magnesium, nitrogen, or iron.
Leaves Turning Brown
There could be many reasons your caladium leaves are turning brown, including:
- The plant is too dry.
- It's getting too much direct sunlight.
- It's not getting enough humidity.
- It's over-fertilized.
Is caladium easy to care for?
These plants need warmth and high humidity indoors and outdoors. If caladium gets enough light and humidity, it will be easy to care for.
How fast does caladium grow?
The warmer the air and ground temperatures, the faster caladium will grow indoors and out. However, they are known as slow-growing plants.
How long can caladium live?