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How to Grow: Caladiums
Bright indirect light and part shade is best, but some newer selections can take more sun.
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Caladiums are mostly grown for their colorful leaves and rarely flower.
Caladiums are subtropical bulbs that produce colorful leaves. The plants can reach to 3 feet tall, but most selections are between 1 to 2 feet tall and wide. Caladiums are hardy in USDA zones 8 to 11. Like dahlias and canna lilies, these bulbs can overwinter in the ground in frost free climates, but in most areas you’ll need to dig up and store the bulbs for winter.
Caladiums make great additions to shade gardens and containers. Because you don’t need lots of sun to induce flowering, and caladiums grow best with shade, these bulbs brighten up a foliage garden with their colorful leaves. They also grow well in containers and hanging baskets that are placed on a deck or patio to be enjoyed close up.
There are a number of varieties with different colored leaves and different sized plants. Most varieties have more than one color to the leaf. Many have red, pink, white or burgundy colored leaves edged in green or white. Like coleus, the color patterns change by variety with no two varieties, or even plants, looking exactly the same. While the fancy leaf varieties grow best in filtered sunlight, the taller strap leaf varieties are more sun tolerant.
When, Where and How to Plant
Plant caladiums bulbs in late spring after all danger of frost has past and the soil has warmed up to around 60F and dried out. Cold, wet soils can cause caladium bulbs to rot. Plant bulbs in a filtered sun location on well-drained soil. If the soil stays too wet, consider building a raised bed to plant or plant in containers.
Plant bulbs in groups about 2 inches deep and 8 to 12 inches apart. Caladiums like a moist soil, so amend the soil with organic matter and keep well watered. Taller varieties with big leaves should be protected from summer winds by planting near a building, wall or other plants.
When planting in containers or hanging baskets you can plant earlier in moistened potting soil and closer together since the container will be warmer and you’ll be fertilizing more regularly than in the ground.
Caladiums like part shade, moist soil and warm air temperatures to grow their best. They are particularly adapted to the warm, humid Southeast. Fertilize caladiums in the ground monthly with a balanced organic product such as 5-5-5. In containers add a diluted fertilizer with every watering.
Deadhead yellowing leaves. If you have many leaves yellowing, the soil might be too wet in that location. You can also pinch healthy leaves to use in flower arrangements.
Keep caladium soil moist, but not wet. Add mulch in sandy sites to maintain soil water levels.
Come fall, once the temperatures start going consistently below 60F and the leaves start dying back, dig up your caladium bulbs and store them for winter in all but frost free areas. Let the tubers dry for several days out of direct sunlight in a warm room. Then store them in a cool, 35F to 45F degree room in bags or boxes filled with slightly moistened peat moss.
You can also grow caladiums indoors in containers as houseplants in winter. Move them outdoors in summer to rejuvenate the bulb.
Caladiums are relatively carefree plants if not growing in harsh, sunny and windy conditions. Caladium disease problems are usually related to poor soil water drainage. Fix that and the problems often don’t occur.
Some insects and animals may enjoy your caladiums as well. Aphids, caterpillars and slugs may feed on the leaves. Spray insecticidal soap to kill aphids, Bacillus thuriengensis (Bt) to kill caterpillars and beer traps and organic slug baits to control slugs and snails. In containers, use copper flashing around the container edge to thwart slugs from entering the pot.
Deer and rabbit will sometimes feed on leaves as well. Fence out these critters or spray animal repellents that contain garlic, rotten eggs, dried blood and cayenne pepper that discourage their browsing.
Companion Planting and Design
Caladiums are great shade garden plants and beautiful additions to containers. In a shade garden pair them with other shade lovers such as begonias, hosta, ferns, astilbe, elephant ears and coleus.
In containers, mix different caladium varieties together for a colorful combination. You can also mix in painted ferns, asparagus fern, impatiens, Rex begonias and coleus to compliment the caladium leaf colors.
There are hundreds of different caladium varieties available to grow. Try ‘Carousel’ with green leaves splashed with white and red that grows 18 inches tall. ‘Puppy Love’ has red, strap-like leaves on a short plant. ‘Red Hot’ is another red variety with green leaf edges. It grows well in sun or shade. ‘Allure’ has white leaves and green veins. ‘Sweet Carolina’ has red, green and white leaves on plants that stand 3 feet tall.