Caladiums are beautiful tropical plants that add colour and flair to gardens and indoor spaces, and look like they are dressed for a party.
They are known and loved for their large, heart-shaped leaves that come in a variety of colours and patterns, from bright reds and pinks to soft greens and whites. Caladiums are originally from South America and are also known as ‘angel wings’ or ‘elephant ears’. They are easy to grow and care for, making them an excellent choice for beginner gardeners.
How to grow caladiums
Caladiums do best in a warm, humid environment with filtered sunlight. Plant in free-draining, peat-free compost with plenty of organic matter. Water regularly.
Where to grow caladiums
These tropical plants thrive in warm, humid environments. They should be grown in a spot that receives filtered sunlight, as too much direct sunlight can scorch their leaves. They do best in temperatures between 21-29°C so their use as outdoor garden plants is limited in the UK, (unless they are in a sheltered location), but they make great house plants.
Caladiums need warm, humid environments with filtered sunlight. A bright but not sunny bathroom would be a perfect jungle setting for your caladium. Pots or containers can be moved outside in summer if desired – but give them a sheltered spot as wind can dry out the compost and damage their leaves.
How to plant caladiums
When planting caladium tubers, choose a spot with free-draining compost that is rich in organic matter. Plant the tubers with the top facing up and covered with about 4cm of compost. Water the compost thoroughly and keep it moist but not waterlogged. Caladiums will begin to sprout in a few weeks, and as the plant grows, it will produce new leaves that can be up to 60cm long.
Caladiums do not require big pots and can be grown in pots or containers of various sizes. However, it’s important to ensure that the pot has proper drainage and is not too small, as this can cause the roots to become cramped and stunt the plant’s growth.
If you are buying an established plant (rather than a tuber), make sure the plant has enough space in its pot. If not, repot it in good, peat-free compost with space around the existing root mass for growth.
How to care for caladiums
Caladiums require regular watering, especially in hot, dry weather. Their compost should be kept consistently moist but not waterlogged, as excess water can cause the tubers to rot, so make sure the pot has drainage holes that excess water can flow out of.
Whether indoors or outdoors, if the air is dry, regular leaf misting is important – this will make them feel like they are back in the jungle.
Fertilise the plants once a month with a balanced, water-soluble (preferably organic) fertiliser to promote healthy growth.
In terms of light, caladiums do best in filtered sunlight or partial shade. Too much direct sunlight can scorch their leaves, so it’s important to provide some shade during the hottest part of the day. They can also be grown in full shade, but this might result in the colours of the leaves being less vibrant.
Caladiums are perennials and can come back year after year if they are cared for properly. However, they’re sensitive to cold temperatures and (if you’re growing them outdoors) should be dug up and stored indoors during winter in areas with colder climates.
As with other pot-grown plants, it’s good practice to repot them and refresh their compost in spring, moving to larger pots if need be.
How to prune caladiums
During the growing season, use scissors or secateurs to remove any dead, damaged, or diseased leaves and stems to keep your caladium looking at its best.
How to propagate caladiums
As your caladium grows, the tuber will create new, mini tubers. You can grow new plants by separating these new, smaller pieces from the main tuber through a process known as ‘splitting’. These smaller pieces will mostly remain intact, except for the portion that was connected to the main tuber. You have the option to leave the small tubers as they are, or you can divide them into smaller portions, provided that each piece contains a growth point or ‘eye’. Plant these in their own pots and watch them grow.
Pests and diseases
Potted caladiums may die for several reasons, including over-watering, under-watering, lack of proper drainage, or pest infestation. To prevent these issues, make sure the soil is moist but not waterlogged, the pot has proper drainage, and the plant is free from pests and diseases.
Common pests include spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects. Red spider mite and scale insects thrive in dry environments so mist the leaves regularly to increase humidity. Mealybugs can be picked off by hand, or large infestations can be treated with insecticidal soap.
Diseases such as fungal leaf spot can be prevented by ensuring proper drainage and avoiding overhead watering. If you notice any signs of disease or pest infestation, treat the plant immediately to prevent further damage.
A decent layer of horticultural grit or gravel on the compost surface will reduce the presence of fungus gnats around house plants and in your home.
Advice on buying caladiums
- When buying caladium bulbs or plants, choose healthy specimens that are free from damage or signs of disease
- Consider the colour and pattern of the leaves and how it will complement the other plants in your home, your choice of pot or container and the colour of your walls and other interior décor
- Look for bulbs that are firm and plump, with no signs of mould or rot
- If buying a potted plant, make sure that it is in a pot with drainage holes and that the soil is moist but not waterlogged