Are Caladiums Perennials? (+ How To Grow Them)

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The answer to this question is a bit complicated.

Caladiums are not technically perennials, but they can be treated as such.

What are Perennials?

Perennials are plants that return year after year, while annuals die at the end of the growing season. 

However, caladiums can be dug up and stored over the winter, so they can technically be considered perennials in warm climates.

In colder climates, caladiums will need to be replanted each year. 

So, whether or not caladiums are perennials depends on your climate and what you consider to be a perennial plant.

If you’re looking for a plant that will return year after year without needing to be replanted, there are other options besides caladiums. 

Some perennial plants that can be grown in warm climates include hibiscus, Mandevilla, and petunias. In colder climates, some perennials that can be grown are aster, black-eyed Susan, and hosta.

Caladium Annual Or Perennial Growth

Caladium is a genus of flowering plants in the family Araceae, containing about 85 species. They are tropical and subtropical perennial herbs to large shrubs.

The Caladium bicolor (White Butterfly / White Lady) and Caladium X hortulanum (Elephant Ears) are among the most popular ornamentals for houseplants and landscapes in frost-free regions of temperate climates. 

Elephant ears have also naturalized in some regions outside their hardiness range such as Florida and southern California. 

In addition, the tender tuberous geophytes of Caladium Steiermark may be found growing wild along streambanks in rainforests from Costa Rica southwards to Peru and Brazil. Most members of this genus prefer shady conditions and moist, humusy soils.

Some Caladium cultivars have foliage with light or dark patterns on the surface of their leaves. Some cultivars have spots on the leaves, while others have splashes, blotches, streaks, or traces. 

Furthermore, some types of Caladiums are bicolored as mentioned before, having a base color accompanied by one other hue such as pinkish-red veins on a white background or green margins on a purple-maroon background. 

Many hybrids have striking variegation that adds to their ornamental value in cultivation. Under intense illumination from direct sunlight, some plants may bleach out and appear to lack chlorophyll though it is actually just altering its natural colors to suit the lighting conditions.

Caladiums have a synchronized life cycle in the wild – plants go from seed to rosette (a cluster of leaves held close together on a stem), then die, and new plants grow from the tubers left behind after leaf senescence. This is called heteroblasty (differentiated growth). 

In cultivation, many species and cultivars can be grown as annuals or short-lived perennials depending on their introduction into an environment that more closely mimics their native tropical forest habitat.

Most Caladiums perform best in bright indirect sunlight such as under trees, inside buildings with shaded windows; while some species can tolerate full sun if humidity and circulation are increased around them such as with the use of misting systems. 

The ideal soil pH range is 6.0 to 7.0, with organic content high enough to support good drainage but also retain some moisture like loamy soil. Too much or too little nitrogen can result in lush foliage at the expense of flowering, so it is best to fertilize sparingly.

Caladium Species Basic Characteristics

Caladium is a genus of plants that are native to tropical regions of the Americas. There are around 140 different species of Caladium, with many varieties and cultivars. 

The leaves of these plants can be as large as 24 inches wide and are often brightly colored with red, pink, white, or green markings.

The flowers of Caladium plants are small and inconspicuous, but the fruits are interesting. Each fruit contains several black seeds that are surrounded by a bright red aril. This aril is edible and has a sweet, citrusy taste.

Caladium plants grow best in moist, shady areas where the soil is rich in organic matter. They can be grown indoors or outdoors in frost-free climates.

Common Characteristics Of Caladium Plants:

The leaves are one of the most distinctive features of Caladium plants. They are typically between 6 to 24 inches wide, but there are also varieties with leaves that are much smaller or much larger than this range. 

The leaves have a glossy texture and are often vividly colored with red, pink, white, or green markings. Some gardeners love them for their beauty and others choose to grow them because they will help add color and interest to shaded areas in the landscape.

On many varieties of Caladium, the underside of the leaf is marked with two dark splotches which look like eyes. This gives it its other common name: ‘Elephant Ears’. On some species, these “eyes” are red or pink, while on other species they are purple.

Caladium plants have slender stems that are often hidden among the leaves. The flowers are small and inconspicuous, but they produce fruit that is highly prized by many people. 

Each fruit contains several black seeds that are surrounded by a bright red aril (the part of the fruit that you eat). This aril has a sweet, citrusy taste very similar to key lime juice.

Leaf color analysis

Source

Common Caladium Problems:

Caladium leaves may be affected by anthracnose leaf spots if the plant doesn’t get enough water or sunlight. If this disease affects your plant, the leaves will turn yellow at the center and brown along the edge.

Caladium plants are also sensitive to frost. In areas where the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the leaves will likely die back and the plant may not survive.

How To Grow Caladiums:

To grow caladiums, start by selecting a site that has partial shade and moist soil. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the plant’s root ball and spread out the roots. Fill the hole with soil, tamping down as you go, to remove any air pockets. 

Water well after planting and apply a 3-inch layer of mulch to conserve moisture and keep weeds at bay. Caladiums can be grown from tubers or from plants that produce ‘bunches’. 

The plants that produce bunches are often called ‘pups’ because they look like little pups off of the main plant. If you decide to plant from pups, simply dig a hole large enough to accommodate a full-grown caladium in late summer when the weather has started to cool. 

Plant it about 1 foot deep and cover it with mulch. In spring, when new growth starts peeping out above the soil, cut the pup away from the main plant with a sharp knife and replant it.

If you are planting from tubers, wait until the soil has warmed to at least 60 degrees F before planting. Plant the tuber about 2 inches deep and cover it with soil. Water well after planting.

Caladiums need regular watering during the growing season, especially when they are first planted. Once they are established, they can usually get by on natural rainfall. Fertilize them once a month with a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen such as 10-10-10.

In fall, when frost threatens, dig up the tubers and store them in a cool, dark place until spring. If you live in a climate where freezes occur, you will need to bring your caladiums indoors for the winter.

How to Take Care Of Caladiums

When it comes to taking care of caladium, there are a few key things that you need to keep in mind. Below is a detailed guide on how to take care of this beautiful plant.

Watering: Caladium does not require a lot of water; in fact, overwatering can be fatal. In general, they only need to be watered when the top inch of soil feels dry. You can test this by sticking your finger into the soil.

Fertilizing: A little bit of fertilizer goes a long way with caladium. In fact, over-fertilizing can be just as harmful as overwatering. Use a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) at half the recommended strength.

Temperature: Caladiums are not cold-hardy plants. They should be kept at 65°F or warmer. If temperatures fall below this, the plant can go into shock which causes it to wilt and die back. Growth will also slow down as well.

Pot size: The size of the pot matters. When potting alae, use a container that is 1 inch larger than what they are currently in.

You want to allow enough room for growth without crowding them. The potting mix must drain freely from all drainage holes to prevent root rot, therefore avoid using smaller pots. 

A note about mixing soil types:

Never use garden soil with caladiums. Soil mixes should consist of peat moss or other organic matter mixed with sand or perlite for good drainage.

Light: Full sun is best, but partial shade is alright. When keeping caladium in full sun, they should be moved into the shade during peak afternoon heat to prevent leaf burn.

Planting: Caladium bulbs are planted at a slightly shallower depth than traditional flowers (2-3” deep).

The spacing between bulbs will depend on the final size of the plant and how many you want to grow in your container or garden bed. 

For containers, use 1-2 per gallon pot / 3-5 per cubic foot of soil bed. Planting too closely together can result in small plants with few leaves.

If you require more plants than this offers, use multiple containers or group several pots together.

Conclusion

So, are caladiums perennials? It depends on your climate.

In warm climates, caladiums can be treated as perennials since they will return year after year.

However, in colder climates, caladiums will need to be replanted each year.