Caladiums are one of my favorite plants for the garden and a big part of that is because of how easy planting caladiums can be. Caladiums are grown for their beautiful, large colorful leaves that pop up in the spring and last until October. Planting caladiums is easy to do and I hope the following encourages you to get some caladiums growing in your garden this year!
Tuber or Plant? Caladiums are purchased in one of two forms: as tubers still waiting to grow, or as plants that already have leaves and will make an instant impact. I almost always buy tubers to plant in our garden. Part of that is because I am cheap and can save money buy buying tubers, the other part is that because our garden is so full of plants, it is easier for me to sneak tubers in among everything else than it is to get full plants in the space. Purchasing plants in pots that are already growing is a good option if you need to have a finished look right away or if you just don’t think you can do tubers (but you can, I swear!).
When to Plant Caladiums: Caladiums can be planted as soon as it is warm outside and the soil is starting to get warm as well. For Central Florida this means early April is a good time. For my dad in Iowa, he starts his inside in small pots in April and plants them outside when temperatures are consistently warmer, closer to the middle of May. Adjust this to your climate but if you aren’t sure, wait a week. Caladiums are just about indestructible to everything except cold weather.
Which Side Is Up? That little point in the bulb to the right is the first growth on this caladium. Plant your bulbs with this little point growing upward. The one that you see here is pretty pronounced, even just a little pencil-tip type of point will point your way. If you don’t see this, don’t worry! Caladiums are very forgiving and even if you plant them upside down they will still grow for you, just taking an extra week or two to find their way. [Sidenote: this is the opposite of tulips! My dad and I once planted an entire garden upside down one fall and never saw a single flower in the spring. Stupid tulips. Well, maybe it wasn’t the tulips’ fault…]
Planting Caladiums in the Ground. If you’ve ever planted bulbs before, you will appreciate that unlike many others that need to be 6-8″ deep in the soil, caladiums will thrive when planted just 1 1/2- 2″ deep. This makes it very easy to eek out little nooks just big enough to get your caladiums in. Planting caladiums can be done without any fancy tools are large shovels and a small trowel will work just fine.
If space is tight or digging is difficult, use your trowel to push back the soil just long enough for you to drop a tuber in behind and then let the soil fall back over as you remove your trowel. If you are planting lots of caladiums, consider even digging a shallow trench that you can drop many bulbs into and then cover all of them again after. If you are planting rows or a border this is very effective.
Once your caladium is in the ground simply cover with soil or mulch. One area that I really like to recommend using caladiums is under large trees. This is often a very difficult area because of the shade of the tree and the dense root system that makes digging holed for planting almost impossible. In this situation caladiums are the perfect solution. Simply set out your caladiums on top of the soil, I like to plant 8-10″ apart for a very dense planting, and cover with 2-3″ of mulch. The mulch will be enough to keep your caladiums covered and moist. This will become a focal point of color from April until October and then return to a nice clean, mulched area for the winter.
Planting Caladiums in Pots. The same ideas apply here as planting in the ground. If you are planting a pot with only caladiums in it (which will be gorgeous!), I would start by filling your container soil until you are 4-5″ from the top. At this point go ahead and set your tubers in the pot and then add soil to cover, leaving a 1″ lip from the top of the pot. This space allows you to water your plants easily because water can soak in rather than just running off and out. If you are planting caladiums in with other plants, go ahead and tuck these tubers in wherever you would like. Again, an inch to two deep will work well and even in an existing container you won’t have to disturb plants very much.
Once you have finished all you have to do is sit back and wait. The time until you see your first leaves will depend on moisture and soil temperatures. Caladiums usually last about three years, so you will be able to enjoy these beauties for several seasons and will be greeted each spring by the newly emerging leaves to add color to your summer garden.