Caladiums are not as difficult to care for as many people think, and they make a beautiful addition to any home or garden.
To enjoy the colorful leaves year after year, it’s important for gardeners to understand their life cycle and how to create an environment where they can thrive.
This complete guide is designed to teach you everything you need to know about caladium care.
It includes information on light, soil, water, fertilizer, temperature, pruning and so much more, so you’ll feel confident each step of the way.
Quick Caladium Care Overview
|Angel Wings, Elephant Ears
|Green, white, pink, or red, blooms spring-fall
|Full to partial shade, medium light indoors.
|Keep soil evenly moist, do not overwater
|General purpose plant food, spring-summer
|Rich, fertile, well-draining
|Slugs, aphids, caterpillars, mealybugs, whiteflies, thrips
Information About Caladiums
Caladiums, also known as angel wings or elephant ears, are a tropical perennial native to the rainforests in Central and South America.
They’re known for their varied, striking foliage which can present in different shapes, sizes, and colors. Hues of green, white, red, and pink are the most common.
Thin stems sprout up from underground tubers (aka bulbs) and end in showy, leafy foliage that can reach up to 30” tall.
The natural life cycle of a caladium plant involves a period of dormancy in the fall or winter, then the growth of new foliage in the spring and summer.
Different Caladium Types
There are over 1000 different caladium cultivars available these days, each with different appearances.
The leaves can be heart, lance, or arrow-shaped, with colors that appear in stripes, spots, or variegation.
No matter which variety of caladium you choose, each one requires similar care. Here are a few of the most popular options.
- Caladium ‘Frieda Hemple’ – This 18” cultivar has deep red foliage with dark green leaf margins.
- Caladium ‘Florida Fantasy’ – White leaves with deep pink veins and dark green borders are characteristics of this 24” variety.
- Caladium ‘White Cranberry Star’ – This cultivar reaches up to 22” tall with pink bespeckled white leaves that have striking green veins.
- Caladium ‘Florida Moonlight’ – The vibrant white, nearly translucent leaves on this variety are delicately veined with pale green, and reach sizes up to 18”.
Caladium flowers are rare, especially on indoor plants, but they can appear anytime between the spring and fall.
The blooms are spathe-type flowers with a central spike, or spadix. Depending on the cultivar, the blossoms can be white, red, pink, or green.
According to the ASPCA website, a caladium plant is toxic to both cats and dogs if ingested.
So it’s a good idea to keep them out of reach of both pets and children if you’re concerned about that.
How To Grow Caladiums
Before we dive into how to care for caladiums, first we need to discuss where to grow them. Choosing the best location will help encourage healthy, colorful foliage.
Caladiums are not cold hardy. They’re perennials as long as the tubers stay above 50°F (10°C) during dormancy. But anything below 45°F (7.2°C) will damage and eventually kill the plant.
This means they can only stay outdoors year round in zones 9-13. In cooler regions, you’ll need to keep them indoors during winter and replant them in the spring when temperatures return to 60°F (15.5°C) and above.
Where To Grow Caladiums
The best place to grow caladiums is somewhere that is sheltered from direct sun. In their native environment they thrive underneath the rainforest canopy, so partial, dappled, or full shade locations are best.
They do very well in containers as well, and are popular mixed with other seasonal flowers or foliage. Any pot needs to have ample drainage to avoid issues of rot.
Indoors they’ll need bright, indirect light, such as an east or west-facing window, or a sunny area filtered by a sheer curtain.
They are also sensitive to cold or dry air. Find a space that’s sheltered from wind, cold drafts, air conditioning vents, or heaters.
Caladium Plant Care & Growing Instructions
Now that you have the perfect location in mind, it’s time to talk about caladium plant care. The tips here will help you create an environment in which they can thrive.
Caladium plants like bright light but do not like direct sun. Some morning exposure is okay, but the afternoon sun can quickly fade or burn the foliage.
Outdoors choose a spot that’s shaded from mid-morning on. Inside you can place them near a bright window.
Understanding when and how to water at different times of year is an important component in successful caladium care.
In the spring and summer they need moist, but not soggy, soil. Give them a deep, thorough drink when the top 2-3” is dry. Always drain the excess water to prevent root or bulb rot.
In the winter you should not water them at all. If you have trouble finding the right balance, use a soil moisture gauge to help you understand when they need it.
Tropical plants like caladiums need high humidity to thrive. In very arid environments, grouping plants near each other or misting lightly can help.
The ideal temperature range for caladiums is between 65-80°F (18.3-26.6°C). Anything below 45°F (7.2°C) can damage and kill the plant, and eventually the tuber too.
It’s important to keep dormant bulbs in an area where it’s at least 50°F (10°C) or above.
In very high heat, ensure they’re protected from the sun, and keep an eye on water levels to prevent them from drying out.
Another important part of caladium care is the occasional feeding. It helps stimulate new, healthy growth after dormancy.
As soon as the leaves begin to die in the fall, signaling the approach of dormancy, stop feeding altogether until the following spring.
Caladiums aren’t too picky about their soil, so a good quality, general purpose one will work.
But their ideal mix is something rich with organic matter and well-draining, with a pH of 5.5-6.5 (which you can check with a probe meter).
Amend garden soil with compost to improve drainage and fertility before planting bulbs in the spring.
Transplanting & Repotting
Moving or repotting your caladium is very easy. Wait until the tuber has fully entered dormancy in the fall then dig it up and store it somewhere dry.
In the spring, place the bulb in rich, well-draining soil in its new garden location or container and resume regular care.
Pruning your caladium can help it look its best all season long, but it’s not really required unless the foliage is damaged or begins to naturally die back.
Pest Control Tips
Healthy caladium plants are not often bothered by pests, but occasionally they can be affected by caterpillars, slugs, aphids, mealybugs, thrips, or whiteflies.
Hand pick large insects and drop them in a bucket of soapy water. For smaller pests, use neem oil or an insecticidal soap. I make my own by mixing 1 teaspoon of mild liquid soap with 1 liter of water.
Winter dormancy is a natural part of the caladium life cycle, even for indoor plants. It’s triggered by shorter days and cooler weather in the fall.
The signs include slowly dying foliage. You can remove the leaves as soon as they’re completely dry.
There are lots of details in my overwintering caladiums guide, but it’s most important to know that the bulbs need to be kept above 50°F (10°C), in a dry, sheltered location.
You can either leave them in the pot, or dig them up and store them in a box until spring.
Caladium Propagation Tips
Caladium plants can only be propagated by dividing the tubers. Stem or leaf cuttings will not work.
You must have a mature bulb that contains two or three knobs, or eyes. Use a sharp knife and cut the tuber into pieces, each containing one eye.
Let the pieces callous for a few days, then plant in lightly damp, well-draining soil and place them in indirect sun.
Troubleshooting Common Problems
Once you get the hang of it, caladiums are pretty easy to grow and care for, but no plant is without problems. If you run into one of these more common issues, my tips can help get you back on track.
Yellow leaves can be caused by any environmental stress, dormancy, or lack of nutrients.
If just a few leaves are yellowing, it’s a sign that dormancy is beginning, and there’s nothing to worry about.
However if several leaves turn yellow at once, check for changes to the environment. Drafts, cold exposure, improper watering, and dryness are common factors.
If all of these are normal, then try feeding with an all-purpose liquid fertilizer to reinvigorate your plant.
Caladium Plant Dying
Many beginners can misunderstand the signs of dormancy and worry their plant is dying. It’s a normal process for the foliage to begin to wilt and die when the days grow shorter and temperatures cool.
As long as this happens gradually and you have a firm, healthy tuber when the foliage is gone, overwinter it and resume care in the spring.
If all the foliage dies rapidly, or the bulb is soft, your plant may have tuber rot from overwatering or the temperature may be too hot or cold.
Drooping caladium leaves can be a sign of improper watering practices or dormancy, depending on how many are affected.
Stems and leaves will slowly start to wilt at the beginning of dormancy, which is normal.
If many are affected at once, check the soil to make sure it’s not bone dry or water-logged. A moisture gauge is a good tool to use if you struggle with watering.
Brown Spots Or Leaves
Brown spots or leaves on your caladium plant could be caused by improper watering, temperature issues, lack of humidity, over fertilization, or sunburn.
If the leaves are soft, check for cold temperatures or soggy soil. Allow them to dry more between drinks and keep them above 65°F (18.3°C) for optimal growth.
Dry, crispy brown leaves are the result of too much direct sun or fertilizer, dry air, or drought stress. Increase humidity by misting, ensure the soil isn’t bone dry, and provide shade.
Here I’ve answered some of the most commonly I get asked questions about caladium plant care. If yours isn’t listed, please add it to the comments section below.
Do caladiums come back every year?
Caladiums can come back every year as long as the bulbs are kept dry and above 50°F (10°C) during their dormant period.
What is the secret to growing caladiums?
The secret to growing caladiums is understanding their needs and life cycle. Give them proper water and light exposure during the active growth periods in spring and summer, and protect the bulbs to help them survive winter dormancy.
Are caladiums hard to care for?
Caladiums are not hard to care for once you understand their intolerance for cold and direct sun. With shade and moderately warm temperatures, they’re easy and fun to grow.
How long do caladium plants last?
A caladium plant will last for about 6 months out of the year until it enters a dormant state to store energy. With proper care, you can regrow them from the same bulb for many years.
Do caladiums do better indoors or outdoors?
Caladiums do very well as both indoors or outdoors. Outside they can thrive in a shaded, well-drained location, while indoors they benefit from consistent temperatures, indirect light, and high humidity.
If you want to learn all there is to know about maintaining healthy indoor plants, then you need my Houseplant Care eBook. It will show you everything you need to know about how to keep every plant in your home thriving. Download your copy now!
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Share your caladium plant care tips in the comments section below.