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General Caladium Plant Care — A Friendly Guide

General Caladium Plant Care — A Friendly Guide

Caladiums have gained immense popularity with their large leaves and bright colors. Even if you have not grown one, you have definitely seen one somewhere around you. 

Caladiums have other names in the horticulture world, such as Angel Wings or Elephant Ear. 

This classical plant has been grown in gardens since the 1700s, mainly for the foliage because the flowers are of little interest. 

The variegated leaves on Caladiums can give tough competition to any flowering houseplant. This frost-sensitive plant can decorate the summer and spring gardens. 

After reading this article, you will be convinced that Caladiums are not only beautiful but also the easiest plant to grow as a houseplant. 

 

General Caladium Plant Care

Caladiums require a peat-based soil mixture that is free draining. They will thrive in a shaded location with filtered sunlight. The optimum temperature for these tropical plants is 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 to 23.8 degrees Celsius). Keep humidity between 50-70%. Fertilize monthly in spring and summer using a complete fertilizer.

 

Soil

Excellent soil is the first requirement of any houseplant; everything else comes later. If your plant is not growing in the right soil, the light, temperature, and watering won’t help. 

But what soil is best for growing a Caladium? The answer is anything that is rich, moist, and well-draining. 

I would recommend creating the mixture using potting soil and peat. You can add organic matter to the potting soil using compost

Most gardeners prefer compost because it has a good soil pH and nutrient content. You can also add shredded leaves as mulch on the soil surface. 

You can either buy a potted Caladium or grow them indoors. If you want a long season of Caladiums, I would recommend doing the latter by starting the bulbs 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. 

Each bulb should be planted at a spacing of 8-12 inches (20.32-30.48 cm). 

The bulb should be 1-2 inches deep in the soil. Avoid planting them in heavy soil. Either amend the garden soil or grow them in containers. 

Caladiums are grown from bulbs that are sold in three sizes at local nurseries, garden shops, or online stores; medium, large and jumbo. 

If you are planting them late in the season, I would recommend buying the larger bulbs as they grow faster and produce more leaves. 

These bulbs need protection from cold even the young Caladium plants will not grow well in cold weather. 

 

Water

There is no fixed quantity or time for watering a Caladium. The watering schedule will vary for each gardener based on the light, temperature, and humidity their plant receives. 

Caladiums need evenly moist soil to grow the best leaves. You can either install a moisture meter in the pot or keep checking the topsoil with your finger. 

The ground should remain mois, but not to the point of oversaturating it. Overly saturated soil for extended periods will encourage diseases, fungus, and rot issues. 

Stop watering the Caladium once it’s dormant in winter. Watering should be resumed when you notice new growth in the coming spring season. 

Avoid watering Caladiums with overhead sprinklers. But in case you’re doing overhead watering, do it in the morning to allow ample time for the foliage to dry throughout the day. 

 

Light

Understanding the light requirements is essential because all the light absorbed by the plants is converted into nutrients. 

Absorbing more light than needed can damage not only the physical appearance of the plant but also the critical proteins within the plant system. 

All Caladium varieties generally fall in the category of shaded or partially shaded plants. 

So whether you grow them as an outdoor garden, landscape plant, or indoor potted plant, look for a location with shade or filtered sun. 

Indoors, these plants will love growing in a bathroom or sunroom. Indoor Caladiums need at least four hours of filtered sunlight. I would recommend keeping them in the south, east, or west windows.  

If your garden receives full sun for most hours of the day, you should try new variants of Caladium that can handle more sunlight. 

These sun-loving variants can also handle direct sunlight for about three hours. 

You can create shade or protect your plant from harsh sunlight in the following ways: 

  • Use shade cloths, lattice, or mesh screens for the plants growing in the garden.
  • Use garden umbrellas for potted Caladiums on the patio or garden.
  • Use blinds, sheer curtains, or any other piece of cloth to diffuse the sunlight coming from the window.

 

Temperature

Caladiums are native to the tropics, so they demand similar temperatures when grown as a houseplant. 

The average daytime temperature for the majority of Caladiums should be 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 23.8 degrees Celsius). 

The nighttime temperature should be around 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 to 18.3 degrees Celsius). Caladium bulbs need a soil temperature of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. 

For cold regions, Caladiums should be grown in pots as the potting soil can warm up faster compared to the ground soil. Potted Caladiums are also easier to move. 

In warm tropical climates, leave the bulbs in the soil year-round. But if the temperature drops and there are chances of frost damage, it’s best to dig the bulbs for overwintering

The bulbs should be cleaned and stored in a location where the temperature does not drop below 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius). 

Mulching will help in avoiding high soil temperatures. A soil temperature higher than 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4 degrees Celsius) will impact the leaf color. 

If your Caladium is droopy and shedding leaves, it is hinting that the temperature is too cold. 

Your Caladium is ready for overwintering when the soil temperature at night is 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12.7 degrees Celsius). 

The dormancy of Caladium is considered as the rejuvenating period for the plant. These varieties will rest for about five months and start fresh in the spring season. 

 

Humidity

Optimal humidity levels for a caladium are 50-70%.

Growing Caladiums indoors allows you to experience a longer growing period, but it is slightly challenging because, in addition to high temperature, it also needs high humidity. 

In nature, the Caladiums grow best in the warm, rainy season, so they naturally need lots of humidity. 

Caladiums do not enjoy sitting next to a heating vent or air conditioner because both of them blow dry air, which makes the overall atmosphere dry. 

 

Fertilizer

A dash of fertilizer in the growing months will help the Caladium plant grow well. Too much fertilizers can lead to leaf burn. 

For colored varieties, use low nitrogen fertilizer because a high amount of nitrogen can result in green leaves. 

Caladiums can be fertilized with a complete fertilizer, or you can utilize a bulb fertilizer. Make sure the fertilizer is diluted at ¼ strength recommended by the manufacturer. 

Young Caladium plants need light feeding compared to mature ones. 

Caladiums experience little growth in fall and enter dormancy in winter, so do not feed them from fall to winter. 

 

Repotting

You have to repot your Caladium every 2 or 3 years (in spring), depending on the root growth. 

A common indication for repotting is when the roots start circling around the topsoil. Another indication is when you see the roots peeking through the drainage hole. 

Repotting your plant at the right time will give it plenty of room for root and shoot growth.

I would suggest getting a container that is slightly larger than the old one. Get rid of any diseased or unhealthy bulbs before moving your plant to the new container. 

 

Pruning

Prune the Caladiums at the soil line to get rid of any yellow or damaged foliage. 

Refrain from trimming or pruning a Caladium on a hot day, as the plant becomes vulnerable to heat stress. 

You will also need to prune all the foliage before winterizing the bulbs. 

 

Propagation

Caladiums are propagated via the bulb division method. This propagation method should be performed in an open area to avoid damaging your plant. 

You can use any sharp tool such as a pruning shear or knife to separate the stems or petioles. Start by cleaning your tool with isopropyl alcohol to remove any fungus or bacteria. 

Plants are often infected with disease and pests during propagation, so this step should be performed before and after completing the propagation. 

Then, take the plant out from the pot. It is better to avoid watering your Caladium on the day of propagation; otherwise, you will struggle with the soil. 

Skipping the watering means your potting soil is compact, and it’s easier to remove the plant from the pot. 

Gently tap or press the sides of the pot for soil loosening. Once you see the soil has started separating from the edges of the pot, turn your pot upside down. 

Tap the pot’s bottom to get the plant and root system out of it. Make sure the foliage is not damaged during this process. 

Now you have to divide the Caladiums in such a way that each clump has a group of stems. You can use any gardening tool, but I prefer doing this with my hands. 

There is no fixed number of stems to be included in each clump. You can start a new plant even from a single stem. 

Each clump should have its own roots. Caladiums will not survive after propagation if the separated clump does not have its own root system.

Inspect the roots for any damage or signs of growth. Any diseased or damaged root fibers should be removed at this point. 

One of the reasons I prefer propagating my houseplants with this method is root pruning. This ensures the new plants have a healthy root system. 

You can also inspect the foliage for any pests. If you find any pests, immediately treat the new Caladiums with horticulture oil. 

Now you can plant each clump in a separate pot. The size and number of pots will vary based on the clumps you have.

Fill your pots with soil suitable for growing Caladiums. If you notice the stems are always bent, your plant needs more sunlight, so relocate to a brighter spot.

If the foliage keeps drooping, you can use a wooden stick to help the leaves stay upright. 

While performing the propagation, you will also come across Caladium bulbs in the soil. You can collect these bulbs and keep them in pots filled with the soil used previously. 

Half of the bulb should be under the soil and the remaining half above. These bulbs will soon develop individual plants. 

Propagation can stress your Caladiums, so take good care of them by watering the new plants regularly. 

If you own a greenhouse, it’s better to place the pots and bulbs there. This will help the Caladium plant establish itself faster.

Remember, these new plants need a stable growing environment; otherwise, they will struggle with growth.

 

Blooms

Caladiums are famous for their dramatic leaves, so the blooms receive little attention. Another reason is that the blooms are difficult to achieve in the average household environment. 

Even if the flowers show up, gardeners trim them to dedicate the energy to grow large leaves. 

The arum-like flowers on these plants have a white spadix and a pinkish green spathe. These flowers also have white berries that contain multiple seeds. 

 

Growth

The leaf shape, color, and pattern depend on the variety you’re cultivating. I have noticed most varieties come in shades of red, pink, green, or white. 

Traditional Caladiums have colorful but fragile, thin leaves. However, newer variants have thicker leaves which make them sun tolerant. 

The midribs on each leaf are colored. The leaves also have interesting patterns such as stripes, mottled, or veins. The edges or margins of the leaf have a contrasting color. 

You can use the attractive leaves in flower arrangements or vases. The leaves can easily last for two or three weeks. 

The leaves emerge from bulbs and rest on the petioles, so these plants do not have any stems. June till frost is the most crucial time for the Caladium’s growth. 

 

Famous Caladium Varieties

 

Fancy Leafed Caladiums

These varieties grow giant heart-shaped foliage. 

Each leaf can be about 12 inches (30.48 cm) in length. 

 

Strap Leafed Caladiums

These varieties grow narrow leaves that are lanced or arrow-shaped. These plants have a compact appearance. 

They can also tolerate cold. The petioles on these are 12 inches (30.48 cm) or short. 

 

White Wonder

It has strap-shaped leaves in white, green, and pink. 

Most of the foliage is white, but the leaf margins are green, and the leaf veins are bright pink. 

 

Scarlet Flame

This is a common variety with bright pinkish-red leaves and green edges. 

These vivid leaves also have white spots. 

 

Miss Muffet

The lime green leaves and burgundy red speckles make this a charming foliage plant. 

It’s a dwarf variety that reaches a maximum height of 12 inches. 

 

Heart to Heart Lemon Blush

This one has a rose-colored center and green margins. It can reach a maximum size of 20 inches. 

 

Moonlight

This is one of the most unique-looking Caladium with white leaves and green veins. 

 

Dawn to Dusk

This is a fancy leafed variety with dark green, pink and white foliage. The white veining on this one is unique. 

 

Common Problems for Caladiums

 

Pests

The two garden pests that might bother your Caladium are aphids and caterpillars. Both of them will feed on the flowers, leaves, and shoots of the Caladiums growing in your garden. 

The aphids will also feed on the sap, which weakens the plant.

The leaf-feeding will damage the beauty of your Caladiums, so it’s important to remove these pests. Start by collecting the aphids and caterpillars seen on the leaves. 

Dump them in a mixture of soapy water. 

These two pests also lay their eggs on the foliage. So treat the upper and lower surface of the leaves with neem oil to kill the eggs or adult pests remaining on the plant.   

You can read our article about aphids to get rid of them completely. 

 

Tuber Rot

The tuber or bulbs for Caladium can rot in dormancy or growing stages. Rotting of winterized bulbs can be avoided with proper storage.

I would recommend checking the newly bought bulbs for any bacterial or fungal infection. 

Maintain adequate soil temperature during the growing season close to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius) to prevent the bulbs from rotting. 

Another reason behind tuber or bulb rot is overwatering. It creates a perfect atmosphere for harmful bacteria growth in the soil. 

The first step is to plant in well-draining soil. Then make sure the container or pot has a drainage hole. Lastly, water your Caladiums when the top few inches are dry.  

If you protect the bulbs from rotting, you can replant the same bulb for several years. 

 

Tips for Growing Beautiful Caladiums

  • Do not fertilize a Caladium in hot weather or harsh sunlight. The heat and sun already make the roots or bulbs vulnerable to damage. Fertilizing in such circumstances can immediately burn the roots. 
  • The large Caladium leaves need protection from the wind so locate them away from strong winds. 
  • The central bud on the bulb will produce the biggest leaves, but it also dominates and prevents the small buds from growing. I would recommend removing the central bud to have multiple leaves from a single bulb. You have to do this carefully with a sharp, clean knife without damaging the small buds. 
  • Avoid planting Caladium bulbs in cold soil; otherwise, they will rot. 
  • You can bring your potted Caladiums inside when winter arrives. Let the potting soil dry out before storing the pots in a dry and dark location. 
  • If the Caladiums bulbs are planted in garden soil, make sure the top 8 inches of the soil are raked, and grass or stones are removed. 
  • Starting the Caladiums indoor means you have better control over temperature. If your bulbs are still struggling with growth, you can keep heat mats below the pots to encourage growth. 
  • If the overwintered bulb produces a short plant, it means the bulb was stored at cold temperature. Next time maintain the correct temperature for the bulbs during winter. 
  • The pointy end of the bulb should be faced upwards, and the flat side goes down while planting in soil. 

 

Frequently Asked Questions about General Caladium Plant Care

 

Are Caladiums poisonous for you or your pets?

Everything on this plant is poisonous for human or animal consumption, so it’s better to keep a Caladium plant away from your pets. Some growers have also reported skin irritation or allergies from the sap in the foliage. So handle the plant wearing gloves and wash your hands afterward. 

 

How many hours of direct sunlight can a Caladium tolerate?

Caladiums are shade lovers, but they can still handle one or two hours of direct sunlight. 

 

How will mulching help a Caladium?

Mulching will cool down the soil during heat waves. It will also discourage weed growth near Caladiums.

 

Which Caladium varieties have dense foliage?

 The lance or strap-leafed Caladiums have more leaves compared to the fancy leafed Caladiums. 

 

Can you grow Caladiums in full shade?

Caladiums are famous as shade-loving plants but avoid growing them in full shade because the plant will struggle to achieve the original leaf color. 

 

How to store Caladiums for dormancy?

Dig the plant and remove the soil around the bulb. Now let the bulb dry for one week before trimming all the leaves. The bulbs should be kept away from direct sunlight during the drying period, but they need good air circulation. The bulbs can be winterized in a paper bag or sphagnum moss. 

 

Conclusion

The pattern, color, and texture on each Caladium variety are so unique that it seems as if they are hand-painted. 

Caladiums are used as accent plants, ground cover, border, or container plants. 

You can grow them in a shady area of your garden that needs a boost of color. They can prove to be good companions for the Begonias in your garden. 

Although Caladiums make a powerful appearance alone, an interesting approach for growing Caladiums is to mix and match them with shade-loving irises and ferns in pots. 

You can also mix them with impatiens. 

Check out our detailed plant care guides for Sweetheart Caladium, Moonlight Caladium, White Queen Caladium, Caladium Thai Beauty, Caladium Blaze, Caladium Kathleen