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The Joy of Growing Caladiums

Maria is a master gardener and master of public health. She & her husband, known online as The Gardener & The Cook, live in coastal Alabama.

Pink Cloud

Pink Cloud

Elephant Ears Are Their Relatives

As tender perennials, caladiums (Caladium X hortulanum) are semi-tropical plants. Caladium, Colocasia esculenta, and Alocasia macrorrhizos are all related, and in different regions each is referred to as elephant ears. The three do have some differences, but are similar in appearance.

Caladiums do bloom, but are typically grown for their spectacular colorful foliage that ranges from white to pink, to red, and of course, shades of green. They come with large, showy, heart-shaped leaves, smaller leaves, and even ruffled leaves. Seen from a distance, those flowers can appear to be the flowers of calla lily or peace lily, especially on the elephant ears. A bonus? They are resistant to critters that often like to make dinner from our plants and flowers.

The flower of Red Flash

The flower of Red Flash

Caladiums Are the Perfect Foliage Plants to Brighten Up Shade Gardens

Gardeners who have lots of shade depend on the various colors provided by foliage plants to brighten up those shady spots. Caladiums are just one of the many types of plants used in shade gardens. Others are ferns, impatiens, hosta, bleeding hearts, liriope (monkey grass) as well as mondo and dwarf mondo grasses. Caladiums are one of my favorites, and over the years, I have used many of them.

In most parts of the United States, caladiums must be planted in spring and dug up in autumn to be stored over the winter. Here in coastal Alabama (Zone 8-b) and farther south, they can be left in the ground, but should be heavily mulched. It is recommended that those of us living and gardening south of the I-10 corridor can leave them in the ground over the winter. Caladiums usually begin to emerge from the ground in mid-to-late May. In warmer than usual weather, they can appear as early as mid-to-late April. Lately, as the climate changes, mine are coming up earlier each year.

In this article, I will discuss some of my favorites and how to grow them. We'll look at their needs for soil, water, and light.

Moonlight is a favorite that I have had for several years. It truly brightens up the shadiest part of the garden.

Moonlight is a favorite that I have had for several years. It truly brightens up the shadiest part of the garden.

Potted Caladiums vs. Bags of Bulbs

Let's take a look at the difference between buying potted caladiums vs. just a bag of bulbs.

Buying potted caladiums is quick, easy, and convenient.

For adding instant color and a look of fullness to your planting beds, pots of large, full-grown caladiums are available at most any garden center. They are more expensive when purchased this way, but for instant gratification, they can't be beat.

The black plastic pot they are grown in is often set inside a decorative pot, usually also plastic. For this decorative pot, the price is marked up considerably, making them even more expensive. Because I grow them in the ground, I don't want those pots, and certainly do not want to pay for something I don't want. So, I stay away from those, searching for only the ones not in decorative pots.

Buying bulbs instead saves money, but requires a little patience.

Caladiums are not cheap, and buying bags of bulbs is certainly a good way to extend your gardening budget. They will emerge from the ground as little spears that quickly open to reveal their gorgeous multi-colored leaves. Depending on the type you choose, the daily temperature, and when they are planted, it can take anywhere from two weeks to a month before you see them emerge. Then you should have beautiful foliage until cold weather comes again.

Pink Splash -- Notice the translucency of this one. This is one of my newest caladiums. I am so very enamored by the delicate translucent foliage.

Pink Splash -- Notice the translucency of this one. This is one of my newest caladiums. I am so very enamored by the delicate translucent foliage.

How and When to Plant Your New Caladiums

When to Plant These Bulbs Will Vary By Region.

In colder climates, caladium plants or their bulbs can be planted any time after the nighttime temperatures remain above 65°F.

How Deep Should They Be Planted, and in What Type of Soil?

Whether you buy potted plants or bare bulbs, the tubers themselves should be no more than 2 inches below the surface of the soil. If planted too deeply, the foliage will gradually get smaller and smaller. Over time, as you amend your soil or as rains “relocate” your soil, the bulbs can become deeper. So, if you notice your foliage becoming smaller after a few years, you should lift them by digging them up and planting them a bit more shallowly.

A Lesson Learned

Caladiums will actually sprout roots and send up their first leaves while lying on the ground, but will not survive summer heat without being underground. I learned this a few years ago when I accidentally left one on the ground, thinking I had planted all of them. Opps!

What About the Soil?

These plants need moist, but not wet, rich, well-drained soil.

Which Side Is Up?

When planting bare bulbs, look for little "eyes" similar to those seen on a begonia bulb or a potato that has sprouted. That’s the side that goes up. These bulbs tend to have a smooth, somewhat flat side and a bumpy side. If you don't see any eyes (bumps), just put the bulbs in the ground. Unlike some bulbs, these will take care of themselves, and perform very well for you. Be aware, though, if planted upside down, they will take a bit longer to emerge from the ground.

Sun or Shade?

Some caladiums can take more sun than others. If you’re like me, you will want a variety. I have a shady spot on one side of the house, but the edge of it gets more sun than the rest. In that spot, I have planted some of the newer varieties that can take a little sun.

Just remember, all caladiums need shade from the harsh afternoon sun. Follow the instructions on the label of the type caladiums you choose for your garden, and you can’t go wrong.

Kathleen is a pretty pink with smaller, more delicate-looking leaves. She requires full shade from the afternoon sun, but can take a bit of morning sun.

Kathleen is a pretty pink with smaller, more delicate-looking leaves. She requires full shade from the afternoon sun, but can take a bit of morning sun.

OK, They’re in the Ground, Now What?

Now it's time to enjoy watching these gorgeous plants perform for you. You can't ignore their care, though. They do need moist, but not wet soil. So, if you have an extended time with no rain, be sure they are watered.

White Dynasty -- this one shows up really well at night, so it would be a good choice for a night garden. What's a night garden? Watch for my article on creating a night garden.

White Dynasty -- this one shows up really well at night, so it would be a good choice for a night garden. What's a night garden? Watch for my article on creating a night garden.

Red Flash and our little C.C. She weighed about 10 pounds -- that should tell you how large Red Flash grows.

Red Flash and our little C.C. She weighed about 10 pounds -- that should tell you how large Red Flash grows.

© 2021 MariaMontgomery

Your Comments Are Always Welcome

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on June 26, 2021:

Same here, Peggy. I enjoy watching them come up each spring. Thank you for reading my article, and for your comment.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 26, 2021:

We have loads of caladiums in our yard. I love the fact that there are perennials in our climate. They do die back each winter but emerge again each spring.

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on June 26, 2021:

We're in the middle of new landscaping, too. I know you will enjoy adding caladiums to your landscape. Thanks so much for reading my article, and for your comment, Bill.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 26, 2021:

I don't think I've ever grown these, so thanks for the information. We are just beginning a major landscaping overhaul, so this is handy to know.

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