Gardening 101: Caladiums

The bright leaves of these easy plants provide easy color any gardener will love.
Gene B. Bussell

Caladium leaves can be shaped like hearts, arrows, or lances in color combinations of red, pink, rose, white, chartreuse, and green. The brilliant foliage of this classic plant is often translucent, which makes them light up your garden. They’ve brightened shady spots for generations, but now you have the option of newer selections that can take some direct sun.

Nurseryman Stewart Myers of Myers Plants & Pottery in Pelham, Alabama, (myersplantsandpottery.com) has been planting thousands of caladium tubers every year for the last 30 years. His secret? Always plant after Mother’s Day, when the soil has warmed.  “If you plant too early, when the soil is still cool, your bulbs will rot,” he says. Caladiums are ideal for both new and experienced gardeners because they are so easy to grow.

“For a big show of color, pick your favorite selection and plant a bunch,” Stewart says. “Larger, fancy-leaf types (heart-shaped leaves) work best for this. Try strap-leaf types (shorter plants with bunches of leaves) or dwarf types (smaller, heart-shaped leaves) for pots and window boxes.” Caladiums are great companions for impatiens, begonias, and ferns.

How to Grow Caladiums
Caladiums originated in South America, so they thrive in warm weather. Like their larger cousins, elephant’s ears, they’re carefree once you cover their basic needs.

Light for Caladiums: All caladiums love filtered sunlight and shade. Some newer selections can take more sun.

Best Soil for Caladiums: Caladiums need well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter, such as mushroom compost or chopped leaves.

How to Plant Caladiums: Buy potted caladiums ready to plant, or grow them from tubers. (Though they’re sometimes called bulbs, they are really tubers.) Plant tubers point side up about 1 to 1 1⁄2 inches deep. Space them 8 to 14 inches apart, depending on the ultimate size of your plants as listed on the tag.

How to Water Caladiums: Always water caladiums regularly. Keep the soil slightly moist. Add mulch, such as pine straw, to help retain soil moisture and conserve water. If you have caladiums in full sun, don’t let them dry out.

How to Feed Caladiums: Use a slow-release fertilizer such as Osmocote Outdoor & Indoor Smart-Release Plant Food 19-6-12 or a liquid feed such as Miracle-Gro Liquid All Purpose Plant Food 12-4-8.

Wintering Caladiums: In the Tropical South, you can leave tubers in the ground year-round. In the rest of the South, you’ll need to dig them up in early fall if you want to replant next year. Remove any remaining leaves and roots. Let tubers dry in a shaded area for a few days. Place them in dry peat moss to store. Keep them in a warm spot (50 to 60 degrees) until it’s time to replant.

Where to Buy Caladiums: You’ll find a good selection of caladiums at your local nursery. For an even wider assortment of tubers you can buy online, visit Classic Caladiums, classiccaladiums.com.