Gardening: Caladiums move from ho-hum to show-stopping

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News
Heart to Heart™ 'Scarlet Flame' Strap Leaf Caladium
Caladium hortulanum
Caladiums are generally divided into two different types - Fancy and Strap or Lance leaf types. Fancy forms have heart-shaped leaves, while Strap forms have narrow foliage. 'Scarlet Flame' has vivid red, strap shaped leaves are liberally marked with pink and white speckles and handsomely finished with a bright green margin. It works well in patio planters or the landscape. It works especially well in borders. It will tolerate morning sun. Caladiums are also generally considered to be houseplants where they prefer bright light or a sunny window.

Several weeks ago, I was on the hunt for a replacement plant for a colorful flowering annual to take the place of a “centerpiece” plant that wasn’t doing its job. I needed a feature plant –  in Proven Winners terms, a “thriller.” Not that it's a good time to be looking for fabulous flashes of color that would produce until frost.

 Most garden centers were filled to overflowing with mums. Great color, but in the crazy heat of late summer the flowers would only last for a few weeks and I needed a plant that would color up a planting until Jack Frost threatens.  

After a bit of a hunt to a half-dozen garden centers, I found the perfect specimen plant at English Gardens:  Caladium hortulanum Heart to Heart ‘Scarlet Flame,’  a member of a new family of  caladiums from Proven Winners due to make their grand debut in spring of 2020. The new Heart to Heart series of strap-leafed caladiums produce stunningly colored leaves that can thrive in full sun (6 hours or more ) to part sun (4 to 6 hours)  as well as shade (up to 4 hours of sun). The leaves come in dynamic displays of green, white, red and pink. 

Trust me, these are not your grandmother’s caladiums. Previously I slotted caladiums in the ho-hum category of plants – nice additions to shade plantings and pots, but nothing to get excited about.  However, the new Heart to Heart series produces a large selection of vibrant colored leaves that can take sun and the best news is they are low maintenance. They have vibrant season-long color with no dead heading and little if any dead leafing. And these plants are good-sized, ranging from 15- to 18-inches tall and spreading up to 10 inches. 

According to Proven Winners, these Heart to Hearts also make nice houseplants, however, my research says the bulbs require a 4-month rest period, so they may need some down time.

 In the garden as well as the home, caladiums require moderately moist soil at all times and if they dry down, the gorgeous leaves will yellow and drop. In the house, the plants should be placed in a bright location out of direct sun, which may scorch the leaves. Indoors they require humidity and a pebble tray; a large tray of small stones filled with water placed under the pot is the perfect solution.

Caladiums are cold sensitive, so I’ll pot up my Heart to Heart ‘Scarlet Flame’ shortly and move it indoors. I’ll let you know how it does. 

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at