When the night temperatures start to drop as we enter fall and winter, you will notice your caladiums beginning to wither and look sad. The cool temperatures trigger the bulbs to go into dormancy for the winter. This is perfectly natural and expected. Caladiums need a growing season and a dormancy each year.
The key to overwintering your caladiums is the temperature. We have to remember that caladiums are from the Amazon, where they thrive in the warm climate.
Caladiums grown in south Florida and other areas where the winter temperatures rarely drop to freezing for more than a couple of hours may typically remain in the ground or containers for the winter. Since the temperatures don’t get cold enough to affect the bulbs in the soil, they are content to remain dormant in the planting medium or soil. However, they may be lifted for the winter if the owner prefers. It’s just not necessary, and it is much easier to leave them in the ground. (I’m sure our customers up north wish they had that option.)
In north Florida and most other states that experience longer durations of cold temperatures, it is crucial to lift your caladium bulbs before your first hard frost and store them in an area that is well ventilated and 65 degrees F above.
If the bulbs are planted in pots or containers, you may store the entire container with the dormant bulbs in it at temperatures of 65 degrees or above. You could stack the pots on top of each other and put them in a closet or the corner of the basement if you choose. Once the temperatures warm, in the late spring/early summer, to a consistent 65 degrees F or above at night, you may move the pots out and start watering them.
Many customers ask if it’s essential for the bulbs to be kept in the dark for the winter. No, light is not a factor. It is important is that they are not stored in an airtight container like Rubbermaid or plastic buckets with lids. The bulbs will create their own heat inside the container and thus sweat, mold and rot.
Monica, one of our long-standing customers, from Tyler, TX, was happy to share photos and a brief description of her caladium bulb lifting and storage process.
Before her leaves start to wither and fade in the fall, Monica puts a marker in the ground signifying the variety. Once she’s ready, she lifts the bulbs while they still have foliage on them, so she can find each bulb. She uses plastic knives as her markers, which she then stores with the bulbs for the winter. It’s great to be creative and thrifty when gardening.
After digging her bulbs and being very careful to keep the varieties separated, she washes the bulbs with clean water. You’ll notice that her husband built her these great washing/drying frames with a metal screen. As I mentioned before, be creative. You could use old window screens or chicken wire. You could also wash them off on the driveway or sidewalk and lay them in the sun to dry. The bulbs won’t be picky.
These photos are great to show how the roots of the bulbs look when they are actively growing. The roots are the white “strings” coming from the top of the bulbs. As the bulbs dry out and go dormant, these will shrivel and look like brown hairs on the bulbs. The areas where the bulbs get cut or broken will scab over and heal. Something important to remember is that even the smallest piece of a caladium bulb will grow. So, save them all.
Monica reminds us that it’s important to get them nice and clean and to make sure that the bulbs are very dry before they are packed up and put away for the winter.
Keep in mind that if you are drying your bulbs in the yard or outside, you will need to watch the night temperatures. If the bulbs get too cold during this time, they may rot or be damaged. The drying process will take a week or so. Here in our packing house, we dry the clean, wet bulbs in a highly ventilated drying room with temperatures over 90 degrees for 10 days or more. Once her bulbs are dry, Monica stores them in cardboard boxes with shredded paper.
You’ll notice that she also has some stored in a box of shredded paper that has been covered with an old t-shirt. All of her boxes are kept near the water heater for extra warmth.
This next photo shows how happy her bulbs are when she peeks at them during the winter.
We wish you great success in overwintering your bulbs. We know they are an investment and hope you will get as much longevity out of them as possible. Keep in mind that it is normal for the bulbs to get smaller each year and even under the best circumstances, most people find that the life of their bulbs is 3 years at most. For this reason, we recommend supplementing your plantings with a few more bulbs each year to keep your beds and plantings looking fresh, vibrant and full.