How to Grow and Care for Caladium

overhead view of a caladium plant

The Spruce / Anastasiia Tretiak

Caladiums are heat-loving perennials that have almost unparalleled foliage and make showy houseplants. The plant's large, 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
Botanical Name Caladium
Family Araceae
Plant Type 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
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Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for Caladium Indoors

Caladium Care

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. Caladium's 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 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 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.

closeup of a caladium plant
The Spruce / Anastasiia Tretiak
closeup of caladium
The Spruce / Anastasiia Tretiak
caladium variety
The Spruce / Anastasia Tretiak
caladium bicolor
Kanchanalak Chanthaphun / Getty Images
caladium variety
MAsummerbreak / Getty Images

Light

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. 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.

Soil

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.

Water

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.

Fertilizer

Fertilize the plant weekly 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.

Propagating Caladium

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:

  1. After the leaves begin to die back in the fall or early winter, 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). Either keep the tubers in the same pot (keeping them dry) or remove them, clean them, and put the tubers into sawdust or sand for storage. Let the tubers heal with a callous to prevent root rot.
  2. Store the tubers above 55 degrees Fahrenheit to minimize the loss of healthy samples.
  3. Plant the tubers outdoors or in pots again (callous end down) when the next growing season begins and soil temperatures are over 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Common Pests

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.
FAQ
  • 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?

    The plants are perennials, which means they can last season to season. However, from sprouting to dormancy, they are showy for about six months out of the year.

Article Sources
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  1. Caladium plant poisoning. Medline Plus

  2. Caladium bicolor. Missouri Botanical Garden

  3. Caladiums. Wisconsin Horticulture.