7 Reasons Your Caladium Leaves Are So Small

Caladiums make for excellent additions to both indoor and outdoor gardens. They produce gorgeous tropical-colored leaves that will surely liven up any garden. Fancy-leaf caladiums are the most well-known type, thanks to those enormous heart-shaped leaves they proudly display.

The main reason your caladium leaves are so small is that the tuber or bulb has become injured during storage. Other reasons for small caladium leaves include issues with watering, nutrients, and sunlight conditions. Small leaves may also be a result of the variety you’re growing.

If you’re interested in having indoor or outdoor caladiums with huge and beautifully colored leaves displayed, make sure to read further. This article will explore why your caladium leaves are so small, so you can improve your care to encourage bigger growth.

Key Takeaways

  • Tuber Health is Crucial: Small leaves in caladiums are often due to injured or unhealthy tubers. Ensure tubers are healthy when purchasing and store them in dark, cool, dry places above 50 °F.
  • Proper Watering: Caladiums require frequent and thorough watering. Check soil moisture every 3-5 days and water adequately, avoiding both underwatering and overwatering.
  • Soil Quality Matters: Use nutrient-rich, well-draining soil with a slightly acidic pH (6.0-6.5). Ensure the soil has good drainage and is not overly compacted.
  • Sunlight Exposure: Caladiums prefer dappled light in shady areas. Protect them from too much direct sunlight to prevent leaf burn.
  • Nutrient Balance: Avoid both nutrient deficiencies and excesses. Use a diluted liquid fertilizer or slow-release pellets appropriately.
  • Variety Selection: For larger leaves, opt for fancy-leaf caladiums, which are known for their large, heart-shaped leaves.

1. Injured or Unhealthy Tubers 

Tubers are like bulbs and rhizomes and are actually commonly referred to as bulbs. A potato is an excellent and the most well-known example of a tuber. Tubers are covered in a thick layer of skin for protection and also have nodes or buds where growth will occur. 

Caladium tubers come in varying sizes, and the larger the tubers, the larger the foliage your plant will display as it grows. So, if you have grown your caladium from a tuber and got smaller leaves, you could have simply acquired the wrong type of caladium.

Otherwise, small leaves from caladiums grown from larger tubers can indicate problems. Stunted growth occurs with injured and unhealthy tubers and could be why your caladium leaves are so small. Tubers can be tough, but they are still vulnerable.

Like regular bulbs and rhizomes, they are prone to rot when in unfavorable growing and storage conditions.

Always Inspect the Health of Tubers

When buying tubers or bulbs from a local or online nursery, always inspect them for injury and health. Tubers can be injured when being dug up for storage or during the drying and packing process in preparation for storage. Tubers must go through a drying stage before storage to prevent rot from occurring. 

As the tubers are stored during the dormant period, they can become damaged or suffer from inconsistent storage conditions. The ideal conditions for storing the tubers are usually found in dark, cool, and dry places where the temperature remains above 50 °F (10 °C).

You can store them in a mesh bag (similar to orange and onion bags) or place them in dry sphagnum moss (peat moss).

Tubers Are Prone to Rot

Rot diseases in tubers are a significant contributor to unhealthy and dying plants. It’s vital always to ensure the soil is well-draining and the tuber is not sitting in soggy soil, or it will develop rot. As mentioned above, tubers should be stored in dry areas with humidity levels below 30%.

The following are the different types of rot that can affect tubers and the growth of your plant:

  • Blight: A disease that causes reddish-brown rot under the top skin of the plant
  • Pink rot: A condition from soil-borne fungi that create pinkish coloring on the plant with an odor similar to vinegar
  • Blackleg: This disease causes a growth stunt in the plant and soft rot in the tuber
  • Dry rot: A rot condition from fungus growth inside the tuber
  • Gangrene: A condition that causes skin lesions on the outside and inside with fungal growth

2. Underwatering 

Caladiums enjoy their growing environment by having nutrient-rich, well-draining soil for growing big, beautifully colored leaves. The ideal soil pH is between 6.0 and 6.5, which is slightly acidic. This growing preference goes for indoor and outdoor growing conditions for your caladium. 

When growing caladiums indoors, it’s easier to control their growing environment and to provide the balance of nutrients, water, and sunlight they need to optimize growth.

If you have added caladiums to your outdoor landscaping, you’ll need to pay more attention to the weather and the soil for healthy growth. Either way, if your caladium lacks something simple, like water, you’ll soon see signs in their leaves.

Caladiums require frequent and thorough watering, especially during hot and dry conditions. The soil should be checked for dryness 3-5 days after the watering session.

To do this, simply follow these three easy steps: 

  1. Use your finger to test the soil dryness by pushing it through the soil about 1-2 knuckles deep. 
  2. You should feel the tuber and roots of your caladium. If the soil is dry, it’s in need of water to regain health and energy for growth and healing.
  3. If it’s too moist, you may have a rotten tuber and will have to dig up your plant to assess the tuber’s health.

Typically, watering them once or twice a week, depending on the weather, is highly recommended to ensure your caladium receives enough water to grow vast and vibrant leaves.

Without enough water, your caladium can’t correctly function to produce the growth of giant leaves with vibrant colors. Water is crucial to overall plant health and can cause a rapid decline in some plants when they aren’t receiving enough or may have received too much. 

Water is absorbed by the root system and sent throughout the plant for storage, respiration, and transpiration. It helps maintain plant cells’ health and is also vital for the growth of roots and nutrient uptake for the plant to feed.

3. Overwatering 

Overwatering any plant is terrible for the plant’s root system and overall health. Most plants don’t prefer their roots sitting in anaerobic soils and end up suffering rot and harmful microbial growth. Soil fungi and bacteria love wet conditions and can contaminate your root system, resulting in decay. 

Plants need oxygen to breathe and function. When overwatered, the root system is basically drowning when sitting in soggy soil because the roots are unable to uptake oxygen for the plant’s survival.

As the plant’s health declines, the color of the leaves may change, and the overall growth of the plant will be stunted. This could be the reason why your caladium has small leaves.

Well-Draining Soil Is Crucial for Plant Health

If your caladium is growing indoors, ensure the potting mix includes amendments that aid in faster drainage.

If you find the roots are suffering from rot forming, trim all the rotten areas of the roots and repot your caladium in well-draining soil that provides plenty of nutrients. But if the bulb has become squishy, it might be too late to save your caladiums.

For outdoor caladiums, ensure the ground they’re planted in drains properly. If you have dense soil like clay, it will take longer for the ground to absorb all the water.

The best way to check the density and drainage of the soil is to water your caladium and check the soil after 15 minutes. If the soil is soggy, water is not draining fast enough through the ground.

4. An Abundance or Deprivation of Nutrients in the Soil

Plants use the nutrients in the soil for food energy and other necessary functions needed for survival. The nutrients are disbursed by the roots and used throughout the plant for different roles, including maintaining and producing foliage. Caladiums thrive in nutrient-rich and well-draining soil

And without the proper balance of nutrients, your plant can’t grow to its full potential. 

Effects of an Abundance of Nutrients

Nutrients can build up over time if you have your outdoor caladiums on a fertilizing routine and the soil doesn’t correctly drain to keep the nutrients balanced. When plants grow in soil that contains excessive amounts of nutrients, they will begin to show signs of being burned.

The following are signs your caladiums show when there’s a nutrient build-up occurring: 

  • The plant’s growth has stunted.
  • The leaves turn yellow.
  • The leaves will appear droopy and sad.
  • The leaf tips will suffer browning and appear burnt.
  • Leaves will die and fall off the plant.

Not Enough Nutrients for Healthy Growth

Caladiums have pretty healthy appetites and need enough nutrients for the energy to grow and display their vibrant colors. Therefore, you’ll need to ensure the soil it’s growing in maintains a healthy balance of nutrients for your plant to feed from.

When you notice your plant producing smaller than normal leaves, it may be telling you there’s not enough food in the soil to create enough energy to produce those large and colorful leaves.

Frequently fertilizing your caladiums can aid in growing large and beautifully displayed heart-shaped leaves.

For caladiums, many experts recommend using a liquid fertilizer that’s diluted to ¼ of the strength the product suggests. You can also use a slow-release fertilizer, like pellets and stakes, lasting up to 6 months.

Avoid fertilizers that contain higher amounts of phosphorus to prevent burning your plant.

5. Too Much Direct Sun Exposure and Sunburn

Outdoor landscaping can be a fun project to take on, especially once it’s completed, and you can step back to admire the beautiful flow of colors and textures from the different types of plants. 

However, plants should be placed according to requirements, like sunlight. Arranging plants in places you think look better can harm their health because they are in less-than-ideal conditions. Most caladiums grow best in locations that are mostly shaded from direct sunlight.

While caladiums do enjoy a lot of bright sunlight, they prefer dappled light in a shady area. Shady locations help protect their beautiful leaves from the intense rays of the afternoon sun but still offer bits of the sun’s rays that trickle through the tree leaves.

A few hours of early morning direct sun exposure is acceptable and will likely not damage your plant. 

If caladiums are exposed to too much direct sunlight, it compromises the health and growth of the plant. Direct sun can quickly burn the caladium’s vibrant leaves, leaving you with a very unhappy plant to care for. It can also quickly dry out the soil, dehydrating your plant.

If you notice brown and even translucent spots on your leaves, that’s sunburn and indicates your caladium may be exposed to too much direct sunlight. 

To help your caladium heal from suffering sunburn, provide a healthier growing environment—shade!

Plant your caladium under a tree or large bush to protect it from the sun’s strong rays. Choose an ideal place in your garden that gets bright but indirect sunlight all day. Moreover, ensure the soil in that area drains as it should to prevent rot during watering and rainstorms.

In-ground caladiums can be challenging to move to an ideal location with adequate sunlight. Transplanting plants outdoors can be tricky because you have to dig up the plant without damaging most of the root system to prevent shock.

To do this, you must dig around the plant about twice the size of the root ball to avoid damaging the tuber and lateral roots. The new hole you place your plant in should also be dug larger to allow dirt to be filled around the roots to encourage healthy growth and spread. 

If roots suffer damage during the transplant, allow time for them to heal before drenching your plant with water. 

6. Unfavorable Soil Density 

As previously mentioned, caladiums flourish in nutrient-rich and well-draining soil, and without proper growing conditions, your caladium’s growth will suffer. The roots need to be able to carry out their daily tasks by absorbing nutrients, water, and oxygen. Along with solar energy, they are a crucial part of photosynthesis and survival.

Soil Density Prevents Adequate Drainage

Again, drainage is vital to the health and growth of your caladium plants.

When the soil is dense and compacted, many issues will arise for this plant during growth. Water is unable to drain in dense soil properly and may remain puddled around the base and roots of your plant. As previously explained above, your caladium can suffer disease and rot.

If you have dense soil, like clay, you’ll need to add amendments to aid in drainage. You should dig a bigger hole around and beneath your caladium to loosen the soil. Mix in the amendments to allow drainage away from the base and roots of the plant. 

Additionally, always water your plant gradually to make sure the water is draining properly, even after mixing your amendments.

Compacted Soils Prevent Proper Root Spread

Excessively dense soil will prevent the healthy growth of the root system. The roots play a wide array of roles in aiding plant health and function. They are the primary source for absorbing nutrients and water and creating plant stability, so your plant can thrive. 

Your plants don’t topple over from the big bushy growth because the root system spreads to keep them balanced and supported while growing. 

So, if you have dense soil creating this problem, you can easily fix it by loosening the soil around and underneath your plant. Adding amendments will also keep the soil loose to allow airflow and room for a healthy root system to form. 

Without proper airflow and soil texture, the overall growth of your plant will suffer and can cause smaller leaves to form.

Dense Soil Can Suffocate Your Roots

Oxygen is vital to plant survival and is limited when plants are growing in dense soil conditions. 

As with overwatering, too much soil compaction will suffocate the root system due to the lack of oxygen available to absorb. Plants require oxygen to breathe, creating energy for cell function and plant growth.  Therefore, if you want your caladium to flourish with big, beautiful leaves, you’ll need to fix this issue quickly.

Without enough oxygen, the plant’s health will slowly decline, showing signs of stunted growth. If left unattended, the issue could lead to plant death.

The same method of fixing dense soil conditions for root spread and drainage also applies to the issue of limited oxygen from low-porosity soil. Loosen the soil around and underneath your caladium and mix in amendments to allow airflow.

7. You May Have the Wrong Type of Caladium

If big tropical-looking leaves are what you were anticipating, you may have bought the wrong type of caladium.

There are two main types of caladiums, and the type with the giant leaves is called fancy-leaf caladium. The other is called strap-leaf or lance-leaf caladium, and this produces smaller leaves with shorter stem growth. 

The Characteristics of the Fancy-Leaf Caladium

If your caladium leaves are collectively small, it may not be a fancy-leaf caladium.

Fancy-leaf caladiums typically grow taller, up to 24 in (61 cm), depending on the variety. Their leaves are the largest of the caladium family and appear heart-shaped. They’re commonly used to complement shade gardens by providing a stunning border of colors. 

These caladiums aren’t fond of direct sunlight unless it’s a few hours of direct morning sun exposure.

The Characteristics of the Strap-Leaf Caladium

There’s a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes when buying caladiums, and the strap-leaf variety is on the smaller side of the caladium family. Strap-leaf caladiums typically grow bushier and shorter with more leaf growth than the bigger fancy-leaf caladiums. The leaves appear shorter, narrower like an arrowhead, and ruffle-edged. 

These caladiums can handle more hours of direct sunlight than the giant fancy-leaf cultivar but still prefer a mostly shaded day.

Dr. Moritz Picot

Dr. Moritz Picot is a horticulture enthusiast and the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com, where he serves as the lead content writer. He established the website in 2022 as a valuable resource for both gardening aficionados and beginners, compiling all the gardening tips he has accumulated over the past 25 years. Alex has a passion for nurturing plants, transforming backyards into inviting spaces, and sharing his knowledge with the world.

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