Caladiums are known for their unique patterns and vibrant colors. They are fast-growing and bring life to shady areas. Originally discovered in the Amazon River basin, the first commercial caladium varieties made their way to the Americas via European greenhouses. Today over 1,200 acres of Florida land are planted with caladiums for commercial production, most of which are found in the Highland County area.
Caladiums are tropical foliage plants; they catch the eye with their multicolored leaves. You can add them to your landscape in hanging baskets or containers, as borders, and as landscape accent plants. Some can also be grown indoors. They are easy to grow in Florida's warm, humid climate and will provide beautiful color throughout spring, summer, and fall.
Scientifically known as Caladium x hortulanum, caladiums are part of the arum family of plants. The color combinations for this plant include white, pink, rose, red, burgundy, chartreuse, and green. Over 75 cultivars are sold commercially and the variety among these is spectacular. Cultivars are broadly separated into two main categories: fancy and lance-leafed. Fancy-leafed cultivars have large heart-shaped leaves. Lance-leafed cultivars have narrow, elongated leaves.
Caladium plants usually grow between 1 and 2.5 feet tall. The attractive leaves grow between 6 and 12 inches in length. The plants grow from tubers and will mature to full size in one season. All varieties die back naturally and become dormant in the winter.
Most caladiums thrive in partial shade and only need two to four hours of direct sunlight per day. Although some new cultivars have been bred to grow in direct sunlight, morning sun and then partial shade for the remainder of the day is ideal for most. When grown in the shade the leaf colors tend to be more vibrant than if grown in full sun. This makes caladium an excellent option for shade gardens.
The University of Florida has developed a number of cultivars that thrive in our warm climate. Pink and multicolored caladiums include, 'Passionista', 'Summer Pink', 'Tapestry', and 'Fiesta'. For red caladiums, try 'Sizzle', 'Red Hot', 'Royal Flush', and 'Cherry Tart'. For white, seek out 'Cosmic Delight' and 'Icicle'. Dozens more cultivars are available and you can preview some of them in our article, Caladium Cultivars Developed at UF.
Planting and Care
Caladiums can be added to your landscape as tubers (without foliage) or as full-leafed plants. In USDA Hardiness Zones 8-11 caladiums with foliage can be planted at any time of the year, though bare tubers are usually planted in the spring.
Plant caladium tubers in soil that is at least 60-70°F. Cooler soil will result in tuber rot and slow growth. In North and Central Florida, plant caladium tubers in the ground between April and September. In South Florida tubers can be planted between March and September. When planting tubers place them "eye side" up (the puckered, knobby side). Plant them 2 inches deep and 8 to 12 inches apart from each other.
Caladiums prefer soils with high moisture and adequate drainage. The tubers should never sit in dry soil or saturated water, but in soil moist to the touch. Keeping it moist but not soaked may require frequent watering. To retain soil moisture, mulch around the plant after the leaves have emerged. Caladium foliage does not usually suffer from significant pest pressure but tubers are vulnerable to fungal diseases. Appropriate watering helps to avoid fungal issues.
In all but perfect soil and light conditions, caladiums naturally decline as they age. You may need to replace your bulbs if you notice the leaves getting sparse. Unless the foliage is growing denser each year and the bulbs remain undisturbed, do not divide them.
Soils in Florida vary by location. In most of Florida's sandy areas a light application of fertilizer once or twice during the growing season is sufficient. In richer soil conditions you may not need to fertilize at all. For optimum foliage color, choose a slow-release fertilizer that is low in phosphorous.
Excessive fertilization can cause the leaves to become greener, losing the reds and whites that make them so appealing. Caladium leaves can burn if fertilizer is applied directly to them. They may also burn if the plants are in direct sunlight or under watered.
Enjoy the flourishing leaves of the caladium throughout the spring, summer, and fall. As fall temperatures cool, the leaves will begin to decline. Gradually water the plants less and less as the leaves yellow to help the tubers become dormant. They will emerge again the following spring, usually in April. In zone 8a and cooler the tubers should be dug and stored each year before frost. Allow the tubers to dry and then pack them in vermiculite or another low-moisture material. Store the bulbs in 60 degrees or above until it's time to replant in the spring. For more information on storing tubers successfully, reference the EDIS publication linked below.
A word of caution: caladium plants store calcium oxalates in their leaves. These compounds make the plants toxic if ingested. Keep children and pets under closer supervision if you add caladiums to your landscape.
Caladiums are a cost-effective way to lighten up and bring color to shade gardens. For caladium questions related to your specific area, contact your county Extension office.
More on Caladiums at Gardening Solutions
- Caladium x hortulanum, Caladium
- New UF Plant Breeding Introduction--Presentation by Dr. Zhanao Deng (PDF)
- Older Caladium Cultivars Developed at the University of Florida
- Topic: Caladiums