Native to tropical America, Caladium is a genus of plants in the family Araceae, which includes popular groups such as Philodendron, Dieffenbachia, Aglaonema, Syngonium and many others. These tuberous plants that share the common name “Elephant Ears” with their close relatives Alocasia, Colocasia and Xanthosoma, are prized for their beautiful foliage. The large, stunning, arrow-shaped leaves that grow on long, slender leaf stems that arise from the underground tuber are paper thin, beautifully marked and brightly coloured. Green foliage is covered by speckles and blotches of red, pink, white or silver shades in varying combinations.
Although the foliage is dazzling, it’s temporary, lasting only from late spring to early autumn. In the fall, the leaves turn yellow and gradually drop as the plant enters a period of rest. This rest period is critical and must be encouraged if you are interested in growing your Caladium for more than one spring and summer season.
First, let’s take a look at care requirements during the active growing season:
Caladiums enjoy a moderately well-lit spot that is bright enough to sustain the variegation of their leaves. In areas that are too dark, the foliage will lose a good deal of its beautiful colouration and revert to mostly green shades. And in areas that are too sunny, the delicate foliage can be damaged. Choose a location that offers bright, indirect light. An ideal spot is in front of a window that offers bright light filtered through a sheer curtain. The thin leaves will burn to a crisp in strong sunlight so keep the plant out of the direct path of the summer’s midday sun.
If your plant’s leaves become soft and collapse the most likely reason is that the temperature is too cold. Caladiums like to be warm and are very sensitive to chilly drafts. Their leaves die quickly if they’re exposed to rapid temperature fluctuations, so place them in a draft-free area of the house and keep them away from air conditioners and frequently opened windows or doors. If possible, grow your plant in a room where the temperature is above 21°C (70°F); never expose it to levels below 16°C (60°F) while in active growth.
Use a fast-draining, airy medium and keep it evenly moist during the period that the plant is actively growing. Good watering habits are extremely important to help prevent rot; if the tubers are grown in compacted, consistently waterlogged soil, they will literally turn to mush and end up in the trash. Never allow the medium to dry out completely. Caladiums can be grown effortlessly in hydroculture. Pot the plant in clay pellets instead of soil and keep the water level below the tubers.
Caladiums require above average levels of humidity to grow happily. If the air is too dry, the leaves become dry and shriveled. If humidity is too low in your home, remedy the situation by adding a humidifier nearby, by placing the plant on a pebble tray filled with water, by double-potting and filling the spaces in between the containers with moist peat, by grouping plants together to form a microclimate with higher humidity or by growing the plant in a room naturally higher in humidity. If the plant is healthy and actively growing, feed with half strength food for foliage plants every 2 – 4 weeks. You can clean the foliage every now and then to keep it dust and pest-free, but be careful while grooming; the leaves are delicate and can be torn. Wipe the top and bottom of the leaves gently with a damp cloth or sponge, or rinse them under a running faucet. Be gentle.
Now let’s take a look at the dormancy period:
Towards the end of the growing season (anywhere from late summer to mid fall) – or after six or seven months of steady growth - your plant will start to look tired and its leaves will begin to die back. Don’t be alarmed; this is perfectly normal. During this time, your plant is preparing for dormancy, which is essential to its health. When your Caladium starts showing these signs that signify it’s ready for a rest period, move it into a shadier area and gradually reduce watering; stop altogether when all the leaves have faded. Remove the dead foliage and stems, leave the tubers in the dry medium and store the pot in a shady, dry area, preferably where temperatures are slightly cooler, between 13°C (55°F) and 16°C (60°F). Caladiums need to rest for about five months, so forget about the tubers until early spring.
In mid to late March, move the pot back into brighter light where the temperature is warmer, begin watering and resume normal care. New sprouts will begin to appear fairly quickly. Sometimes new growth appears before you’ve moved the tubers into a brighter, warmer location. If this should happen, don’t hesitate to move the pot into it bright light and warmth, even if it’s only late February or early March; your plant is clearly stating that it’s waking up and ready to take on the (plant) world.
Caladiums can compete against almost any flowering plant with their dozens of different leaf patterns and colours. The light shining through their thin, translucent leaves makes for a remarkable display in any space they occupy. While they may be slightly temperamental if their needs are not met, they’re beauty makes up for the added effort required to keep them happy. You can find them for sale in containers in late spring or early summer, fully grown. However, it’s much more economical to simply purchase tubers when spring arrives and plant them yourself.