Heart to Heart™ 'Bottle Rocket' (Caladium bicolor). Photo by: Proven Winners.

With lush multicolored leaves, some larger than the palm of your hand, caladiums have become one of the most popular foliage plants for shady or semi-shady gardens. Each leaf seems to be hand painted with striking combinations of green, white, pink, and red. Although these tropical South American natives thrive in hot, humid weather, they can be grown as summer bulbs in more temperate climates, or even as houseplants given the right conditions. With a little pampering, these exotic shade dwellers create a glorious display rivaling that of any flowering plant.

On this page: Basics | Planting | Care | Growing Indoors | Caladium Varieties | Design Ideas

BASICS

Botanical name:

Caladium bicolor, syn. Caladium x hortulanum

Common names:

Caladium, angel wings, and elephant ears (a name shared by several different species of large-leaf tropical plants)

Plant type:

Tuberous perennial

Zones:

Perennial in zones 9-11; can be grown as an annual or houseplant elsewhere.

Height:

18 to 24 inches; dwarf forms under 12" are also available.

Season of interest:

From June until frost.

Leaf types:

Caladiums are divided into two main leaf types:

  • Fancy-leaf caladiums generally have large heart-shaped leaves, sometimes growing to more than a foot long.
  • Strap-leaf varieties typically have narrower arrow- or lance-shaped foliage. Plants are more compact and a bit more cold tolerant.

Although the leaves of both types tend to be thin and fragile, some newer varieties, such as Proven Winners’ Heart to Heart™ line, have been bred to have thicker leaves, making them more sun tolerant and resistant to tearing.

Toxicity:

All parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested. Keep out of reach of pets and children. Sap from the leaves or stems can also cause minor skin irritation.

PLANTING INSTRUCTIONS

What to plant:

In late spring, you can buy potted caladiums at local nurseries or grow them yourself from tubers. Tubers generally come in three sizes: medium (No. 2), large (No. 1), and jumbo. Larger tubers typically produce more leaves and reach maturity faster, which is an asset if you have a short growing season.

Where to plant:

Filtered sun or shade, with the exception of newer varieties that can tolerate more sunlight. The leaf colors are often more vibrant when grown in shade. Because of the large leaves, locate plants in a spot sheltered from strong winds to avoid damage.

Soil:

Plant in a moist, rich, well-drained soil amended by compost or other organic matter.

When to plant:

Because caladiums are natives of the tropics, they crave heat and will only flourish in warm air and soil temperatures. Wait until daytime temperatures are 70° to 85° F and nighttime temperatures stay above 60° F. Depending on your growing zone, this can be as early as mid-March (zones 9-11) or as late as mid-June (zones 3-4). In northern areas of the country, caladiums often do best in containers because the soil warms up faster.

How to plant:

If growing from tubers, plant them in garden beds about 1½ to 2 inches deep with the pointed end (stem) pointing up. Space plants about 8 to 12 inches apart, based on their size at maturity. In cooler climates, you can start tubers indoors in early spring, using methods similar to those recommended for tuberous begonias.

If planting potted caladiums, acclimate them to outdoor conditions before putting them in the ground.

CALADIUM CARE

Watering:

Provide enough moisture throughout the growing season to keep the soil evenly moist. If you allow the soil to dry out, the leaves may yellow and drop. Apply a layer of mulch around your plants to help retain moisture.

Fertilizing:

Caladiums don’t need a lot of fertilizer, and using too much can burn the leaves. The horticulturists at Proven Winners recommend using only a quarter of the strength you normally would for flowering plants and apply weekly or every other week.

Overwintering:

In warmer climates, caladium tubers can be left in the ground year-round. Otherwise, you must dug them up in the fall before frost if you want to replant them the following spring. When the leaves die down naturally in the fall, allow the soil to dry out, then dig up the tubers and store them in a dry location no cooler than 55° F.

Propagation:

Divide tubers in spring after bringing them out of winter storage. Cut each tuber into smaller pieces that contain at least one “eye" or knob from which new growth will start. Allow the cut pieces to dry for a few days before planting.

GROWING INDOORS

Where to grow:

This is the perfect houseplant for warm rooms with sauna-like conditions, such as bathrooms, sun rooms, and solariums. Avoid exposing to drafts and temperature fluctuations. When summer arrives, you can move your pots outdoors to a shady porch or patio.

Light:

Provide at least 4 hours of filtered sunlight from a bright south, east, or west window. Too much sun exposure can cause scorched leaves.

Water requirements:

Keep the soil evenly moist, but allow it to dry out when the leaves start to die back in fall. (Even indoors, caladiums will enter a winter dormancy period.) You can resume watering when new growth starts.

Temperature and humidity:

Between 55° to 60° F at night and 70° to 75° F during the day. Grow in a high-moisture environment or use a humidifier to increase moisture levels. Frequent misting can also help boost humidity.

CALADIUM VARIETIES

Swipe to view slides

Photo by: Proven Winners

Heart to Heart™ 'Bottle Rocket'Buy now from Proven Winners
Caladium bicolor

Height:

15 to 20 inches

Spread:

10 to 14 inches

Exposure:

Sun or shade

Why we love it:

A sun-tolerant variety with showy reddish-pink veining, white panes, and green margins.

Good companions:

The dainty white flowers of Euphorbia Diamond Snow™ (see this container recipe from Proven Winners).

Photo by: Proven Winners

Heart to Heart™ 'White Wonder'Buy now from Proven Winners
Caladium bicolor

Height:

15 to 20 inches

Spread:

8 to 10 inches

Exposure:

Sun or shade

Why we love it:

An award-winning strap-leaf form with elegant white foliage outlined with green edges. Makes an excellent border plant in the landscape.

Good companions:

Combine with Heart to Heart™ 'Heart and Soul' caladium, Persian shield, and snake plant for a colorful foliage combination (see this container recipe from Proven Winners).

Photo by: Proven Winners

Heart to Heart™ Dawn to Dusk™Buy now from Proven Winners
Caladium bicolor

Height:

15 to 20 inches

Spread:

10 to 14 inches

Exposure:

Full to partial shade

Why we love it:

A fancy-leaf form with red and green foliage set off by bright white veining. Makes an impressive “thriller" in container plantings.

Good companions:

Heart to Heart™ ‘Chinook', Croton ‘Excelente Rushfoil’, and Kimberly Queen fern (see this container recipe from Proven Winners).

Photo by: Proven Winners

Heart to Heart™ 'Snow Drift'Buy now from Proven Winners
Caladium bicolor

Height:

15 to 20 inches

Spread:

10 to 14 inches

Exposure:

Full to partial shade

Why we love it:

Simple and elegant, with snowy white leaves and distinctive dark green veining. The perfect choice for illuminating shady corners.

Good companions:

The neutral color scheme is a good foil for other caladiums as well as the multicolored foliage of tuberous begonias and coleus.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Heart to Heart™ 'Tickle Me Pink'Buy now from Proven Winners
Caladium bicolor

Height:

15 to 20 inches

Spread:

8 to 10 inches

Exposure:

Sun or shade

Why we love it:

Beautiful pink centers with white speckles and green margins, what's not to love?

Good companions:

Pair with Sunstar™ Red Egyptian star flower for a pink and green explosion of color. (see this container recipe from Proven Winners.)

Photo by: Proven Winners

Heart to Heart™ 'Heart and Soul'Buy now from Proven Winners
Caladium bicolor

Height:

15 to 20 inches

Spread:

8 to 10 inches

Exposure:

Sun or shade

Why we love it:

Another strap-leaf variety, that brings a big punch of color and contrast to sunny or shady beds, borders, and baskets.

Good companions:

Heart to Heart™ 'White Wonder', Persian shield and snake plant (see this container recipe from Proven Winners.)

Photo by: Botanic World / Alamy Stock Photo

'White Queen'
Caladium bicolor

Height:

18 to 24 inches

Spread:

10 to 12 inches

Exposure:

Full to partial shade

Why we love it:

A true drama queen, flaunting large white leaves and bright red veins that bleed to dark pink, creating a unique smudged effect.

Good companions:

Looks striking when planted alongside annual impatiens with red or pink flowers.

Photo by: Khairil Azhar Junos / Shutterstock

‘Miss Muffet'
Caladium bicolor

Height:

10 to 12 inches

Spread:

12 to 14 inches

Exposure:

Sun or shade

Why we love it:

Like its namesake, this dainty dwarf caladium is small in stature but full of charm, with lime green leaves adorned by burgundy speckles and creamy white accents.

Good companions:

Great in containers combined with the greenish-yellow foliage of Goldilocks Creeping Jenny or as an underplanting to taller caladium varieties.

Photo by: Monique Dumas-Quesnel / Millette Photomedia

‘Red Flash’
Caladium bicolor

Height:

20 to 24 inches

Spread:

12 to 14 inches

Exposure:

Sun or shade

Why we love it:

Especially showy, with huge dark green leaves accented by vibrant red midribs and veins and light pink speckles. More sun tolerant than most.

Good companions:

Plant with Heart to Heart™ 'Snow Drift' or ‘White Queen’ caladiums to create a breathtaking and harmonious mix of red, green and white.

Photo by: Barbara Kalbfleisch / Shutterstock

‘Moonlight’
Caladium ‘Moonlight’

Height:

12 to 24 inches

Spread:

12 to 18 inches

Exposure:

Full shade to partial sun

Why we love it:

‘Moonlight’ features luminescent white leaves that brighten any shady spot in your garden. Delicate green veins are understated against the creamy white leaves.

Good companions:

Bred especially for use in small containers, can also be used in the garden in contrast with the vibrant colors of wax begonias.

DESIGN IDEAS

In the garden:

Plant as a groundcover, border, accent planting, or in containers, especially in shady areas of the garden that need an infusion of color. The oversized leaves capture attention even from a distance. They are ideal plants to tuck into dark corners or to use as a dramatic backdrop for other shade-loving plants, such as impatiens and begonias.

In cut flower arrangements:

As an alternative to growing caladiums in pots indoors, leaf cuttings taken from the garden will last as long as two to three weeks in a vase or floral arrangement.

WHERE TO SEE CALADIUMS

Most of the world’s caladiums are grown right here in the United States in Lake Placid, Fla. An annual festival is held during the last weekend of July to celebrate the plant and provide an opportunity to tour the caladium fields.

RELATED:
Elephant Ears
20 Great Shade Plants
Tropical Gardens

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