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How to Grow Caladiums Indoors or Outdoors

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

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I have a friend who has a shady deck. He likes to decorate it with mixed plantings in large containers. He always has at least one caladium to add color to his container.

What are Caladiums?

Caladiums (Caladium bicolor) are tropical perennial plants that are native to Latin America. They are only hardy in zones 9 – 11. The plants have naturalized in tropical areas such as Malaysia, southeast Asia, India and Africa. They have become invasive in the islands of the Pacific such as Palau, Micronesia, the Philippines and Hawaii.

Outside of the tropics, caladiums are grown either as houseplants or as annuals. It is possible to treat them as perennials in colder climates if you dig up the tubers in the fall and store them indoors during the winter.

Always wear gloves when handling caladiums. They are toxic and can cause skin irritation. They are poisonous to both people and animals when eaten. In humans, symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea. In animals, their mouths, tongues and lips swell causing excessive drooling and difficulty swallowing. Vomiting is another symptom.

The flowers grow in a spathe similar to calla lilies and Jack-in-the-Pulpits.

The flowers grow in a spathe similar to calla lilies and Jack-in-the-Pulpits.

Caladiums grow from tubers. The plants grow 18 – 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide. There are dwarf varieties that stay small, only 8 – 12 inches. The leaves are arrow shaped and colorful. They can be bicolored or have contrasting veining. The most common colors are red, pink, white and green.

The plants do flower, although most gardeners grow them just for their colorful foliage. The flowers grow in spathes looking like calla lilies or Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

How to Grow Caladiums Outdoors

Caladiums can be grown outdoors either in the ground or in containers. Choose a shady spot in your yard for these beauties. They can be grown in either partial or full shade. When grown in full sun, the leaves will scorch.

Caladiums grow from tubers which are bumpy on one side and smooth on the other. The bumps are “eyes” from which the plants will grow. Always plant the tubers with the bumpy side facing upwards.

Caladiums grown as an edging.

Caladiums grown as an edging.

In Your Garden

In the ground, plant the tubers 1 – 1 ½ inches deep and 8 – 14 inches apart depending on how large the plants will be. You can plant your tubers outdoors when the soil has warmed. In my zone 6 NJ garden, I plant my tropicals during the last week of May/first week of June. Caladiums grow best in rich well-drained soil that is slightly acidic, pH 5.5 – 6.2.

Water your plants regularly to keep the soil moist. Don’t let them dry out. You can apply a thick layer of mulch which help keep the soil moist and prevent weeds from growing which will compete with your plants for water and nutrients.

Use a slow-release fertilizer to keep your plants growing and looking their best.

In the fall, the leaves will begin to die in northern climates. If you live in a tropical area, you can leave your tubers in the ground over the winter. They are dormant in the winter. They will begin growing again in the spring.

In colder climates, you can dig up your tubers and store them indoors during the winter. Use a garden fork to gently dig up the tubers. Brush off the soil and remove the foliage and roots. Allow them to dry in a dark, airy place for a few days. This is known as curing.

After your tubers have cured, store them in peat moss somewhere that will remain 50°F - 60°F throughout the winter.

Caladiums can be grown in containers.

Caladiums can be grown in containers.

In a Container

You can grow caladiums in containers. Plant them, bumpy side up, 1 – 1 ½ inches deep in rich, well-drained potting soil that has peat moss mixed in to help with drainage and lower the pH of the soil. Caladiums prefer slightly acidic soil that is pH 5.5 - 6.2.

Water your plants regularly to keep the soil moist. Don’t let them dry out. I water my containers every day in the summer because they dry out faster than my garden. Use a slow-release fertilizer. Fertilizer is important when you are growing in containers because every time that you water, nutrients wash out of the soil through drainage hole. You have to constantly replace those nutrients to keep your plants healthy.

In tropical areas, you can leave your tubers in their container year-round. In colder climates, you will need to remove the tubers from their container and store them indoors. Gently dig them up and brush off the soil. Remove the foliage and roots, then let them dry out somewhere that is shady and has good air circulation. This is known as curing.

After your tubers have cured, store them in peat moss somewhere that will remain 50°F - 60°F all winter.

White is my favorite color.  The leaves glow in the shade.

White is my favorite color. The leaves glow in the shade.

How to Grow Caladiums as Houseplants

Many northern gardeners grow caladiums indoors as houseplants. They grow best in filtered light rather than direct sunlight. I have found that a north facing window is perfect for indoor shade lovers. Caladiums prefer warm temperatures, 70°F minimum.

Plant your tuber bumpy side up 1 – 1 ½ inches deep in rich, well-drained potting soil that is mixed with a little peat moss. The peat moss adds more drainage and helps to lower the pH of the soil. Caladiums prefer soil that is a little acidic, pH 5.5 – 6.2.

Water your plants regularly to keep the soil moist. Don’t let them dry out. Use a slow-release fertilizer. Fertilizer is important for houseplants because every time you water, nutrients wash out of the soil through drainage hole. You have to replace those nutrients to keep your plant healthy.

Caladiums go dormant and stop growing in the fall and winter. You won’t have to water as often during these times of year.

If you want to move your plant outdoors during the summer, wait until the nighttime temperatures are above 50°F. Place it in a shady or semi-shady spot. In the fall, bring it back indoors when nighttime temperatures fall to 50°F.

Leaves with contrasting veining are striking.

Leaves with contrasting veining are striking.

How to Divide Caladiums

Caladium tubers can be divided. Division is best done in the spring before you plant your tubers. The tubers have a bumpy side and a smooth side. The bumps are where the plant will grow from like eyes on a potato.

Cut the tuber into pieces making sure that each piece has at least one bump or eye. Then plant the pieces, bumpy side up, 1 – 1 ½ inches deep in your garden or container, maintaining the proper spacing of 8 – 14 inches apart in your garden. Water well and then mulch.

© 2021 Caren White

Comments

Caren White (author) on February 27, 2021:

I'm happy to introduce you to a new plant. I hope that you will consider growing it either indoors or outdoors.

RoadMonkey on February 26, 2021:

What an interesting article, I have never seen those before, though the leaves look similar to a plant I had as a student, many years ago.

Caren White (author) on February 26, 2021:

You're welcome! I hope that you will be able to include these colorful plants in your garden.

Caren White (author) on February 26, 2021:

All of us in the Northeast have been praying for Texans. I hope that you and your plants survive the extreme cold this year.

Caren White (author) on February 26, 2021:

They are perfect for a tropical garden! So glad that you have included them.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on February 25, 2021:

Very well presented. Thanks.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 25, 2021:

In our climate, they can stay in the ground year-round. They do die back in the fall and winter months, emerging again each spring. It will be interesting to see if they survived our extremely cold weather event in Texas this year. We will soon know the answer.

Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on February 25, 2021:

Caladiums are beautiful flowers. I have some of them in my tropical garden. Thank you for sharing the information.

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