Growing Caladiums From Scratch
By: Brent and Becky
Caladiums are exactly the type of diva you want in your garden. When it comes to unapologetic and audacious color, the foliage of the caladium alone puts all other flowers around it to shame.
Some people haven’t experimented with caladiums because they are so notoriously difficult to find as starter plants. Growing from tubers gives the best selection, jumpstarts your growing season, and is easier on your wallet.
The secret to adding dazzling colors to your garden with caladiums is heat. They love to soak up as much heat as they can, and aren’t tolerant of temperatures below 60 degrees F. Planting them in cold spring soil, or trying to overnight them while gambling on the weather, isn’t an easy task - but starting them indoors until summer can give you the best results without any headaches.
A healthy plant starts with a healthy bulb. We carefully check all our bulbs before shipment. If you are checking for yourself, the tuber should feel firm. If there are soft parts, that could indicate rot. Your bulb should be smooth and round on the bottom and bumpy on the top, with the eyes of the tuber.
Planting Your Bulbs
Warm soil with good drainage is the key to success here. Anything colder than about 65 degrees will keep them dormant and anything below 60 degrees could cause rot. If you’re planning to plant your caladiums directly outdoors, wait until your soil is above 70 degrees and your plants will spring into action. A container is ideal, either as an option to start your plant inside or to give your caladium a home that maximizes heat all season.
Plant your bulbs, lumpy side up, about 2-3” into the soil. The bulbs should be planted 4-6” away from each other, too, if you measure from the center of each bulb. If you’re starting indoors, placing your container close to a window will give the soil a great heat boost to wake up your bulb, or you can use a seedling heat mat.
These plants are tropical, through and through. Their native homes are steamy jungles with overwhelming heat and shady humidity.
These plants’ beautiful, but dainty, leaves love heat but cannot tolerate scorching sunlight. The hotter you sun gets, the less your caladium can tolerate it. If you live somewhere close to water, with lots of humidity, your caladium can probably handle sunlight into the early afternoon. If your air is on the drier side, it will magnify the sunlight and fry your plant as early as mid-morning.
These divas love the “Goldilocks” treatment: not too much and not too little. While they’re thirsty enough for regular watering, they certainly don’t like to have wet feet. Weekly watering is a good place to start. You might need to water more frequently if your caladium is outside, specifically if you have lots of wind and sun, or if your container is on the smaller side. Drip irrigation is much more efficient than overhead watering. Using some organic mulch--we recommend wood mulch or chips--will slow down evaporation to keep your caladium happy.
In regards to feeding them, you don’t really need to if you have planted them in healthy, well composted soil.
The best thing about caladiums is that you can revive them year after year for an impressive specimen that illuminates your yard.
Once the weather gets too cold (where nighttime temps are below 60 degrees), it’s time to put your caladium to bed inside for warmer temperatures over the winter. There are a few different ways to keep your caladium happy during colder weather:
- If your caladium is an indoor houseplant all year, simply reduce your watering over the winter, and keep it the soil on the dry side. They prefer to sleep in drier soil.
- If your plant was in a container, you can bring it indoors for the winter or trim it down to store the bulb.
- To store your bulb, cut the foliage down to the ground as soon as the mercury is dropping below 60 degrees consistently. Dig out the bulb and don’t try to clean it up quite yet. Put the whole messy thing in a cool, dark place for a few weeks to coax it into dormancy. After it is safely hibernating for the winter, you can cut the foliage off at soil level. Leaving a little soil on the bulb is fine as it helps protect it. Check the bulb for rot before you store it in a dry spot that stays about 60 to 70 degrees. Our recommendation is storing them in sawdust, wood shavings or sand to keep them healthy for the winter and ready to be planted again in the spring.
These beautiful plants are a jewel in your garden. Planting from a bulb will help you get the best start on your season, and keeping your bulbs will guarantee a bigger and better show of color each year.
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