How to Grow and Enjoy Caladiums
Holla if you like flashy foliage, zingy colors, and tropical flair! If that’s you and you don’t have caladiums in your garden, we need to have a talk. Caladiums are one of the quickest ways to add color and drama to your shady garden without being dependent upon flowers. We love flowers—don’t get us wrong!—but sometimes some well-placed foliage plants are just what your garden needs. So let’s talk about how to use and grow them (plus a few design tips to get you motivated).
These tropical beauties provide months of nonstop color by way of brilliant foliage—while there are some variations, most have heart- or arrowhead-shaped leaves in shades of pink, red, white, and green. The patterns on the leaves are pretty striking, too—from subtle veining to lavish speckles, spots, borders, and striping. And because they grow up to about 25” tall, caladiums can be supporting characters or stars depending upon where you plant them (more on that below)!
How to Grow Caladiums
Caladiums are fairly easy to grow, having just a few requirements. That’s so unusual, actually, to have a low maintenance diva in the garden, isn’t it? Here are the basics:
USDA Hardiness Zones: 9–11 or as a houseplant indoors
Sun: Part Shade to Part Sun (although some are a bit more tolerant of sunnier conditions, particularly morning sun)
Soil: Rich, well-drained
Water: Moderate—aim for moist but not soggy soil
Flowers: Caladiums do flower, but they are insignificant—many gardeners remove them altogether to keep energy in the leaf production
Uses: Landscape beds, hanging baskets, container plantings, mass plantings, border plantings
What to Plant with Caladiums
Caladiums pair beautifully with other tropicals like elephant ears, cannas, begonias, various ferns, coleus, lysimachia, euphorbia, tradescantia, and colorful annuals. When you’re combining caladiums with other plants, you’ll want to keep balance in mind. Caladiums have very strong color and large leaves for relatively small plants—so look for ways to add giant foliage or smaller foliage/flowers with them, echo their colors in the surrounding plants, and search for contrasting textures to bring out their beauty. Here’s a few of our favorite combos:
- Landscape Beds: Even though they’re so eye-catching, caladiums tend to play supporting roles in the landscape beds, mostly because of their size. Try planting them underneath elephant ears—the foliage of both plants is a similar shape, but their sizes and colors are very different.
Pattern Tip: Let the intricate patterns of the caladium leaf take all the attention. Any other coordinating plants should be more subtle patterns or simply solid—including too many plants with zany foliage tends to compete rather than complete.
- Container Plantings: Containers give caladiums a stage to be front and center, the star of the show. Place them in the middle of the container, then ring them with coordinating annuals like impatiens. Add some ivy tumbling over the edge and you’ve created a simple, stunning combo.
Color Tip: If you’re using green or green/white caladiums, any color flower will contrast beautifully with them. If you’re planting caladiums with pink or red, consider pulling that color and matching it with pink/red annuals.
- Mass Plantings: Nothing’s more dramatic than massed caladiums! That’s what we always say, anyway. To create the biggest impact, choose one variety of caladium and plant a lot of it. Or, alternate two different types—a pink and green next to a green or a green and white, for example.
Storing Caladiums for the Winter
Because they’re tender tropicals, caladiums will not make it through frost or freezing conditions. If you want to keep them for next year’s garden, dig up the bulbs before you expect frost. Don’t remove the soil or the upper growth just yet—simply bring them indoors, out of direct sunlight, and let them dry out. Now it’s safe to remove the leaves (they’ll easily come away from the bulb), shake off any remaining soil, and store below 60 degrees in peat moss, perlite, or vermiculite. If you have a garage or basement, that should work perfectly. Next spring, after all danger of frost, bring them out and replant in your garden.
But, hang on, here’s another tip! Because caladiums emerge only when they are thoroughly warmed up, they tend to really start growing in late spring or even early summer. So if you want a bit of a head start (who doesn’t?), simply remove them from storage about 6 weeks before your last frost and plant them in containers 1” deep in good quality potting soil, keeping the soil evenly moist but not soggy. Want to speed things up even faster? Pop a heat mat underneath.
- Katie Elzer-Peters