Difficult to grow Caladiums indoors

By: Sandy Feather 2010
Penn State Extension

Q. Over the past few years I have grown to love caladiums. I have planted them in shady spots in the yard and love tucking the bulbs into pots on the porches, particularly with impatiens. I hate to see the growing season end, bringing the end to their foliage. So here's my question: Can caladiums survive as houseplants? They would make for great holiday decor.

A. Caladiums are also known as elephant's ears or angel wings. It is one of a few plants that is as well known by its botanical name -- Caladium x hortulanum -- as those common names. They light up the shade garden with brightly variegated leaves, easily as colorful as any flower display. Caladiums grow from chestnut-sized brown tubers that resemble stones. They are not winter hardy in our climate, so the tubers must be lifted each fall and stored indoors at about 60 degrees, then planted out in spring after danger of frost has past. The tubers require a rest period of five months or so, usually late fall at least until early spring.

Starting Caladiums

Commercial greenhouses and many home gardeners start the tubers indoors in early spring so they get a jump on the growing season. Caladiums are notoriously slow to get started when first planted. They are often grown for seasonal color in displays at botanic gardens, malls and other commercial buildings for the Christmas season.

All that makes them seem like good candidates for growing as houseplants. However, they can be tricky indoors because they prefer very high humidity, something hard to come by during the winter heating season. They typically die back pretty quickly when you move them indoors.


Increasing Humidity

While there are actions you can take to increase humidity around houseplants through the winter, there is the matter of the rest period the tubers need. Without enough rest, the tubers exhaust their carbohydrate reserves and the plants begin to decline.

Although commercial growers have access to the tubers for seasonal displays, I'm not sure where you would find caladium tubers locally to force in the winter.

white caladium

However, because you already have some growing in pots, bring them indoors and see how long they last. Caladiums grow best in bright, indirect light (full sun would fry them in a heartbeat). Keep the soil evenly moist -- do not let them dry out completely, but do not keep them soggy or the tubers will rot. To increase humidity, group pots together -- even with other houseplants. As the plants lose moisture through the stomata (pores) in their leaves, it increases the humidity around each plant.

Other methods

You can also put the pots on trays of pebbles filled with water. Do not allow the water level to touch the bottom of the pot, or it can keep the soil too wet. Another option is place the caladiums in a naturally humid room, such as a bathroom.

They are likely to start dying back on their own because it is very difficult to maintain the level of humidity they need in a house, especially through the winter. When that happens, allow them to rest. You can store them right in their pots. Just make sure the area stays about 60 degrees so the tender tubers are not injured by the cold. Water them very sparingly -- perhaps once a month to keep the tubers viable. When they show signs of growth in late spring and we are past danger of frost, repot them in fresh potting soil and put them out on the porch to enjoy for summer.


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