Caladium: One of the Best Shade Plants for Container Gardening

Caladium (sometimes called “angel wings”) is one of the best types of flowers to grow when you’re container gardening, especially if you have a shade garden.
They really love low-light conditions and a rich, well-draining planting soil, though you can find some types that will grow in sunnier sites. (But you shouldn’t consider them full sun plants.)

There are two leaf-shapes most often found in shade gardening. Usually, you’ll see garden planters filled with heart-shaped caladium (as here) or types that have a narrower leaf and are more triangular.

And though they aren’t considered for their flowers (quite minimal if they appear at all), these shade plants really light up dim corners with variegated colors ranging from green and red, to rose, or cream, white, and pink.

Caladium are easily grown in those ubiquitous, plain clay flower pots, terracotta, or other garden pots (they’re pretty adaptable) if you make sure the planting soil stays evenly moist. This is why potting soil (as opposed to soilless mixtures, which dry out more quickly) is a good choice for them.
Caladiums are foliage plants, of course, and tropical in origination. This means if you live in Florida, or other zone 10 locations, these shade plants are hardy. But that shouldn’t stop you no matter where you live!

If you’d like to view lots of examples or order these easy-to-grow corms, there are many lovely caladiums (such as the ones pictured below), available from Nature Hills Nursery, Inc. You can search for your favorite caladium by clicking here and searching the Nature Hills website now.

Caladium – Complete Collection

Grown from corms, once caladium sprout the leaves grow very quickly. Even in colder zones, you can enjoy them in your shade garden all growing season, then pull them up and winter over for next year.

But there’s a caution to note—all parts of the plant are poisonous. In fact, even if not ingested, the leaves can irritate sensitive skin.

I want to come back to the moisture issue. It can’t be stressed enough. Which, if you think about it, makes sense. Tropical conditions are typically humid with rich soil, and often with a canopy of taller leaves to shade them.

So the closer you come to creating these conditions, the better your caladium likes it. If it dries out and wilts, that can spell the end of your showy beauty. They don’t handle water deprivation easily.

And—they like a soil on the acid side, around 5.5 to 6.5 is best. This can be achieved easily in containers because with such a limited area, you can control the your potting soil easily. Osmacote is a recommended fertilizing option since its slow-release in the planting soil over the course of the growing season ensures your caladiums will prosper.

Planting

The corms have little nodes on them where the leaves will emerge. Plant in a loamy, rich warm (65 degrees is minimum—remember, they’re tropicals) planting soil about 1 ½ to 2 inches below the surface. Make very sure your planting pots are well-draining. A very important issue for these shade plants.

Why? Because they love moisture and humidity, but if the soil doesn’t drain well, the amount of water in the soil may lead to tuber rot. So even if you need to add sand to the bottom, or a bit more perlite to your planting soil, do it. You’ll be repaid with healthy plants through the season.

A note on planting the corms. I have very good luck planting these corms on their sides, that is, edge-side upward. It’s tricky to figure out how to plant them because the roots emerge in the same places as the sprouting leaves. If you plant them on their sides, you’ll safely guard that the roots don’t emerge above the soil.

Caladium Care
Try to keep the soil evenly moist, but not waterlogged. You can also spray the leaves with water (but not when the sun might hit them) or set your outdoor planter on a tray of rocks to which you add water to aid in the humidity.

They’ll grow to between 1 1/2 to 2 feet, and prosper in partial to full shade. However, I’ve grown them in sites with morning and strong afternoon sun, and they’ve done just fine. Just look for more sun-tolerant varieties if you don’t have complete shade garden conditions.

Wintering Over

Caladium is very easy to lift in the fall (prior to the first freeze) and store over the winter. Just clean off the dirt, label the boxes they’ll rest in and make sure their winter site doesn’t get really cold. Also don’t seal the tubers in plastic as this may cause condensation and tuber rot.

One more note on wintering them over. If you live too far north and have a really short growing season, or if you grow your caladiums in full shade, they may not develop viable tubers for next growing season. In these situations, it’s best to purchase new ones. I’ve gardened in zones 5 and 6 and I simply purchase new tubers each year.

Dividing Caladium

If you live in a very warm climate or successfully winter over the tubers, you can divide them in the spring by using a sharp, clean knife and slicing through the tuber making sure some nodes or eyes (the growing sites) are present in each section. Plant up about 8 weeks prior to the last frost date in your region, water and move into indirect light as the shade plants sprout.

My experience is it takes a while for Caladium to get started. I’ve waited weeks and weeks for them to sprout leaves above the potting soil. So don’t be concerned if it takes more than a little while for your plants to appear. They will!

If you’d like more information about cultivating this shade plant, visit the Missouri Botanical Garden page (where you’ll see all the photos on this page, provided at their courtesy) to find more about growing caladium.
Here are some you might look for at Nature Hills Nursery, Inc..

Red and Green Colors
Caladium bi-color ‘Florida Sweetheart’ (red with green edges) is popular.
‘Florida Cardinal’ has lots more green (than ‘Sweetheart’) at the leaf edge.
‘Freida Hemple’ also has wide green edges.
For a sunnier location, try ‘Florida Calypso’ or ‘Florida Fantasy.’

Pink Colors
‘Florida Sweetheart’ is lovely if you want a lance-shaped leaf. It has green at the leaf edges.
‘Pink Beauty’ has pink smatterings and green edging.
‘Summer Rose’ is also pretty and has a smattering of white just before the green edge.

White Colors
‘Florida Blizzard’ and ‘Florida Fantasy’ (which has red veining) are pretty white selections.
‘Florida White Ruffles’ have, perhaps the most pronounced white face.
‘White Christmas’ is my very favorite (white with green veins)!
If you’d like information about what types of flowers you might use in your shade garden, consult the list of sun and shade plants.

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