If you want quick, easy-care color in your flower or container garden, plant caladiums. The plants don’t produce flowers, but their leaves are attention-getters. Shaped like hearts or arrowheads, the large leaves come in a variety of vibrant colors that range from blood red to translucent white. Caladiums are the smaller and more colorful cousin of the tropical elephant ear plant, both of which originated in South America and thrive in warm weather.
Caladiums do their best in shady locations that receive filtered sunlight, but some new varieties will thrive when planted in locations that hit them with direct sunlight for part of the day.
Loose, well-draining soil is where caladiums like to put their feet. Add enough organic matter, like chopped leaves, to outdoor soil to make a 50/50 mix of soil and organic matter before planting caladiums in-ground. When planting in a container, mix potting soil with a organic matter for a 75/25 mix. Mix in a little slow-release fertilize to the soil before planting.
Caladiums can be purchased already growing in pots or as tubers (these are usually called bulbs, but are actually tubers). Set plants in larger containers or plant in-ground at the same soil level in which they were growing in the purchased pot.
Plant tubers one inch deep with pointy side up. Space them about 8-12 inches apart, depending on their mature size.
Food and Water
In addition to the slow release granulated fertilizer you mixed into the planting soil, feed caladiums a dose of water soluble fertilize mixed at one-half the recommended rate every week.
Caladiums hate dry soil, so water regularly and keep the soil moist at all times. Add a layer of mulch to help retain soil moisture and keep soil cool.
Only in zone 10, which is the very tip of Florida along the Miami coastline, can caladiums be over-wintered in the outdoor soil in which they grow. In all other zones the tubers must be dug up, dried and stored to survive the winter.
Wait until early fall and dig up the tubers. Remove any remaining leaves and roots. Place tubers on a newspaper in a dry, shady location for a few days so they can dry out. When dry, place the tubers in a container of peat moss and store them in a location that remains between 50-60 degrees all winter. Replant the caladium tubers when the soil warms up in spring.