Caladium: cultivation, care & the most beautiful varieties

Katja
Katja
Katja
Katja

I study landscape ecology and through my studies have discovered a love for plants. Plants are not only beautiful, but also have countless fascinating survival strategies. To bring a bit of nature into my home as well, I nurture my houseplants and herbs on every possible windowsill.

Favourite fruit: rhubarb and all kinds of berries
Favourite vegetables: onions and garlic

The names variegated leaf and variegated root get straight to the point: Caladium is a leafy ornamental plant with variegated and patterned foliage.

Caladium houseplants
There are numerous Caladium varieties, each with differing brightly coloured leaves [Photo: Firn/ Shutterstock.com]

However, it does not come as a single coloured plant because the Caladium has numerous versions in a variety of colours. Find out here how to plant and care for this decorative, tuberous plant.

Caladium: flower, origin and properties

Caladium is a genus of plants within the Arum family (Araceae), which includes 14 species. The Caladium species are native to Central and South America, where they grow in tropical regions. The houseplants known in our country are usually hybrids bred from different species. These are also called elephant ear, variegated leaf or variegated root and are popular mainly because of their colourful and patterned leaves. These are heart or arrow shaped and can be green, red, pink or silver, spotted or plain. The leaves grow up to 20 cm tall and thus sometimes become so heavy that the long petioles break off. The thin stems rise directly from an underground tuber. This shoot tuber serves as a survival organ. In winter, all the leaves die and only the tuber is overwintered, so that next year it can sprout leaves again. The perennial herbaceous plant usually grows to about 60 cm tall. In nature, the caladium forms a cob flower, which is enclosed by bracts. It is rather inconspicuous and unspectacular compared to the patterned leaves. Caladium houseplants usually do not bloom at all.

Green and pink caladium plant
Caladium leaves can reach considerable sizes [Photo: khuruzero/ Shutterstock.com]

The most beautiful coloured species and varieties

Countless Caladium varieties are now commercially available, differing in colour and pattern. Originally, Caladium bicolor was mainly used for cultivation, but now quite a few other species have been incorporated. For this reason, the species name is usually not mentioned at all. We have put together a small selection of exciting varieties for you:

  • Caladium ‘White Queen’: possesses whitish leaves with green edges, with the midrib and some main veins being bright pink in colour.
Caladium 'White Queen' with pale green leaves and hot pink veining
Caladium ‘White Queen’ has pale green leaves with pink and green accents [Photo: Firn/ Shutterstock.com]
  • Caladium ‘Strawberry Star’: has white leaves with green leaf veins and small pink dots.
Caladium 'Strawberry star' with pale green leaves and pink spots
These pink dots are characteristic of Caladium ‘Strawberry Star’ [Photo: Happy cake Happy cafe/ Shutterstock.com]
  • Caladium ‘Miss Muffet’: with light green leaves decorated with pink dots.
Caladium 'Miss Muffet' leaves with pink specks
Caladium ‘Miss Muffet’ also has pink dots on the leaves [Photo: Midori31/ Shutterstock.com]
  • Caladium ‘Pink Symphony’: has bright pink leaves with green leaf veins.
Pink caladium plant leaves with green veining
The base colour of Caladium ‘Pink Symphony’ leaves is pink [Photo: Syaiful Adrin/ Shutterstock.com]
  • Caladium ‘Valentina’: possesses red leaves with dark green leaf veins.
Caladium plant with red leaves
If you don’t like pink, then Caladium ‘Valentina’ may be a better choice for you [Photo: FON’s Fasai/ Shutterstock.com]
  • Caladium ‘Baret’: has bicoloured leaves in red and green with white speckles.
Elephant ear plant with red and green leaves with white speckles
The leaves of the variety ‘Baret’ have very unique colouring [Photo: untungsubagyo/ Shutterstock.com]

Planting Caladium: location, soil and more

When it comes to the right location for Caladium, the first thing that matters is the variety. The lighter the leaf colour, the lighter the place. Direct sunlight, on the other hand, is not beneficial to any of the varieties as it can cause damage as well as greening of the leaves so that leaf patterning is lost. A temperature of 18 to 25 °C is ideal during the growing season. In addition, you should ensure a high humidity, which can be achieved by filling the saucer of the caladium with expanded clay and water. A loose soil that retains moisture but drains excess water well, such as our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost, is suitable as a substrate. It provides the tuber with a slightly acidic pH range, which is ideal for Caladiums. The nutrients contained in our organic compost also reliably supply the Caladiums for at least the first 3 months.

Organic All Purpose Compost, 40L
Organic All Purpose Compost, 40L
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(4.8/5)
  • Perfect for all your house, garden & balcony plants
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£16.99

Be sure to put a layer of drainage under the substrate, on the bottom of the pot. This can be made of coarse materials such as stones, shards of clay or expanded clay and ensures that the watering water drains well from the pot so that waterlogging does not occur. Otherwise, waterlogging will quickly cause the bulb to rot and takes its toll on the tuber.

Young caladium with water droplets on its leaves
Caladium plants require a certain level of humidity in order to stay happy and healthy [Photo: senengmotret/ Shutterstock.com]

Depending on whether you have chosen a sprouted plant or a tuber, the planting process will be different. Sprouted Caladium plants are placed in a pot with a drainage layer and high-quality soil, and placed in the location described above. On the other hand, if one wants to plant a Caladium tuber, proceed as follows:

  • Plant your caladium in fresh substrate in March
  • Remove old soil from the tuber
  • Bathe in lukewarm water for 1 – 2 hours
  • Turn tuber the right way around: below it is rather flat and smooth, above more structured with sleeping eyes
  • Prepare pot with drainage holes and drainage layer
  • Fill two thirds with soil
  • Put the tuber in with the right side up
  • Cover with substrate
  • To finish, water vigorously

Tip: You can also plant the tuber a little flatter, but upside down. This way, the petioles grow shorter and a bushier, more compact plant is created.

Various caladiums houseplants with lightly coloured leaves
Caladiums with lightly coloured leaves require a brighter spot in your home [Photo: mokjc/ Shutterstock.com]

The pot with the tuber is now best placed in a warm place at 25 to 27 °C and keep the soil well moist. Also, stretch plastic wrap or a plastic bag over the pot and air it out once a day to prevent mould from growing. Completely remove the film when the first leaves appear. This usually takes 2 to 4 weeks. After that, the seedling is placed in a cooler place, at around 21 °C. After the first shoots appear, you can prune the top so that the plant will branch better.

Tip: in summer, Caladium may also be placed outside in a shady spot. Even transplanting is then possible, but the plant must be dug up again in the autumn and brought indoors, as common with dahlias (Dahlia).

Caladium care: the main measures

The main part of Caladium care is watering. Caladiums have moderate to high water requirements, so the substrate should always be kept slightly moist. It is best to water directly into the soil at the bottom and remove the draining water from the saucer after about 15 minutes. Slightly acidic, lime-free water such as rainwater is ideal.

Tip: do not water with hard, lime-based tap water, as this can drive up the pH in the root zone. Caladium responds to excessively high pH levels with an inability to absorb magnesium. This results in a lack of nutrients due to the wrong water.

During the growing season, that is, between spring and autumn, caladiums should be fed with liquid fertiliser every 2 weeks. A liquid fertiliser for foliage plants is suitable for this purpose, such as our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food. It is simply mixed into the watering water and applied using a jug. The nutrients are quickly available and can be absorbed by the plant. Do not choose nitrogen-rich fertiliser, as this can cause the leaves to turn green.

Liquid Houseplant Food, 800ml
Liquid Houseplant Food, 800ml
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  • Perfect for a wide variety of houseplants & foliage plants
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£10.99

Towards the end of the growing season, around September or October, Caladium stops growing because only the tuber survives the winter, not the leaves. Initially, only small leaves are formed, before eventually all of them die and the time has come to overwinter the tuber. New leaves then sprout from it in the spring. Caladiums tend to fall victim to root rot in the winter. Therefore, they should be properly wintered as described below.

Why is my variegated leaf drooping? If Caladium leaves droop, it may be due to lack of water. Check that the substrate is dry to the touch. In this case, immerse the caladiums together with the pot in warm water until no more air bubbles appear. After that, allow the soil to drain well. This ensures a water supply for the time being. Ensure more regular watering in the future. Another possible cause is cold drafts. If the caladium is placed in a drafty window, it is best to find it a more sheltered location.

Person pruning withered leaves
It is best to remove all withered leaves before overwintering [Photo: DimaBerlin/ Shutterstock.com]

Propagation

The time in spring, when the variegated tuber is replanted and made to sprout, is used to propagate Caladium. To do this, when the tuber is large enough, divide it into several small tubers. Each section must have at least one dormant eye, that is, a bud plant. Carefully cut apart the mother bulb with a sharp knife. To prevent mould growth at the cut surfaces, coat them with charcoal and leave to dry for a week at room temperature. Afterwards, put the tubers in separate pots as described above.
Very vigorous tubers also form secondary tubers that can be removed when they are large enough.

Several young plants grown from caladium bulbs
Caladium can be propagated through division [Photo: Elsa Cadic/ Shutterstock.com]

Overwintering Caladium

Proper overwintering of variegated foliage is critical to ensure that fresh leaves sprout next spring. However, when overwintering Caladium, it is not the whole plant that is critical, but only the tuber. Overwintering the tuber is essential to ensure that it continues living. However, the dormant phase does not occur by itself, but must be actively induced. In the process, the conditions of the natural location are imitated. Winter dormancy begins around September or October. From this time, the care of variegated leaves is gradually phased out: fertilising is no longer done and watering frequency is reduced so that the substrate dries in between. Watering intervals become longer and longer, until any remaining leaves begin to dry up and die. When all the leaves are dry, they can be removed. The soil should now be completely dry. Now the tuber is dug up, thoroughly cleaned, dusted with a little charcoal powder and dried for about 2 weeks before being stored over the winter in a box with substrate such as pure expanded clay or sand. The storage temperature is about 20 °C. Occasionally, the substrate may be sprayed with water to prevent complete drying of the tuber.
Alternatively, the tuber can be overwintered in its pot – but this makes the appearance of fungal pathogens on the tuber more likely. It is very important to make sure that the substrate is almost completely dry.

Close-up of caladium bulbs in soil
The caladium bulbs are the only part of the plant to survive the winter [Photo: Rayhandi/ Shutterstock.com]

Wintering out Caladium

After overwintering, the tubers are put back into the ground in March. As described above, after a two-hour water bath, the tubers are placed in a pot with a drainage layer and soil, and then placed at 25 to 27 °C and high humidity until they sprout.

Is the variegated leaf poisonous?

Like many other houseplants in the arum family, the variegated leaf contains calcium oxalate crystals that can cause irritation and swelling if they come into contact with the skin. Ingestion of plant parts also causes diarrhoea and vomiting. Caladium is therefore toxic to cats, dogs and other animals, so fallen leaves in particular are best disposed of quickly.

Those with limited space can alternatively opt for the mosaic plant (Fittonia albivenis). Here, too, there are numerous varieties with variegated leaves, all of which are quite easy to care for, but much smaller than the variegated leaf.

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