How To Tell if Your Caladium Bulbs Are Dead

Caladium bulbs, also referred to as “tubers,” are the bulbs that grow beautiful caladium plants. These bulbs are relatively easy to plant and care for, and if you do it correctly, you can use them for several years. But how do you know if the caladium bulbs are dead?

Here are seven ways to tell if your caladium bulbs are dead:

  1. Dry and brittle bulbs from improper storage 
  2. Overwatered bulbs can be soft and mushy. 
  3. You notice mold. 
  4. Severe bulb rot.
  5. Damaged bulbs from improper handling.
  6. The caladium plant’s shoots are stunted. 
  7. The plant is wilting or discolored. 

The rest of this article will go over the different signs that tell you your caladium bulbs are dead. I’ll also discuss how you can save caladium bulbs from dying and the best ways to care for the bulbs to prevent them from dying.

1. Dry and Brittle Bulbs From Improper Storage

Caladium bulbs, while mostly durable, need to be firm to get the best results. Usually, when a caladium bulb is dry and brittle, it’s because it was stored incorrectly through winter, as improperly storing them can lead to dried-out caladium bulbs.

If you notice your caladium bulbs are overly-dry and brittle when you squeeze them, there’s a good chance the bulbs are dead and unusable.

If you have caladium bulbs that are dry and brittle due to improper storage, read the following section to learn the proper way to store caladium bulbs so you can use them again.

How to Store Caladium Through Winter

To store caladium bulbs through winter, follow these steps:

Wait for the Leaves to Turn Yellow

Wait until the flower’s leaves start turning yellow. When you notice yellowing leaves or a weak-looking plant, it’s time to dig up the caladium bulbs.

Dry the Bulbs

Let the bulbs dry in a well-ventilated area for around ten days. Don’t put the bulbs in direct sunlight, as this can dry them out too quickly.

Pack Them With Peat Moss

After around ten days, place the bulbs in a container with peat moss. When using peat moss, ensure that it’s dry. Additionally, if you’re packing more than one bulb in the same container, refrain from letting them touch each other, and use a fungicide if possible.

Maintain the Container’s Temperature

Put the container where temperatures won’t drop below 50 °F (10 °C). Too cool of temperatures can kill the bulbs.

You can store caladium bulbs for several months if they’re stored the correct way. It’s not guaranteed that your caladium bulbs will be usable next year, even if you follow all the necessary precautions. However, doing so will give the bulbs the best chance of survival.

2. Overwatered Bulbs Can Be Soft and Mushy

On the opposite side, from dry and brittle, caladium bulbs that are too soft or mushy are a sad sign of dead bulbs. When you squeeze a caladium bulb, you want it to be firm but not too dry. A firm bulb is a sign of a healthy bulb.

So, if your bulb is soft or mushy, it could signify that bulb rot is beginning, which I’ll discuss more in-depth later in the article. If this is the case, it’s best to throw the bulbs out rather than try to plant them.

3. You Notice Mold

Unfortunately, caladium bulbs can acquire mold both in the soil and when it’s been stored. If it’s not stored correctly and moisture has access, mold is always possible. And sadly, a moldy caladium bulb is usually a dead one.

As mentioned, mold can accumulate due to improperly storing the caladium bulbs through winter, but it can also occur when the bulbs are in the soil because of overwatering.

However, if the mold on the bulb isn’t severe, there’s a chance that you can save it. Using a fungicide solution to remove the mold may work, but disposing of them might be the better option, especially if they’re already old.

4. Severe Bulb Rot

Bulb rot can be a severe issue. While bulb rot does make the caladium bulb soft and mushy it might still be usable if it’s not completely rotted through. However, a completely rotted bulb is dead and unusable, so it’s a more severe problem than a slightly soft bulb.

Some other signs of caladium bulb rot include:

  • A soft, slimy exterior
  • A foul smell
  • Discoloration on the bulb
  • Mold present on the bulb

When it comes to bulb rot, it’s recommended to discard the rotted bulb and any surrounding soil or bulbs, as the rot can spread to other areas if you’re not careful.

5. Damaged Bulbs From Improper Handling

Although caladium bulbs have a hard, firm exterior, they can quickly become damaged. One of the most common ways these bulbs become damaged is when they’re dug up and transported throughout the seasons. 

Whether you’ve broken the bulbs while using your gardening shovel or dropped them, and they broke in the fall, you now have broken bulbs. Although they’re not technically “dead,” they most likely won’t achieve the results a healthy bulb would.

While some scrapes are okay, if the caladium bulbs are too severely damaged, it can cause them to die and be unusable. So, when handling or digging them up for winter storage, you must be extra careful.

When to Uproot Your Caladium

You should dig up caladium bulbs for winter. It’s ideal to dig up the caladium bulbs when temperatures begin to hover around 60 °F (15.6 °C). However, if you live in a USDA Hardiness Zone of 8-11, you can leave the bulbs in the ground, as the ground won’t freeze in winter.

Only USDA Hardiness Zone levels 8-11 can be left in the ground, as the weather year-round is suitable. Therefore, USDA Hardiness Zones of 7 or below should dig up caladiums and store them through the winter.

6. The Caladium Plant’s Shoots Are Stunted

Although there are many signs you can look out for with the caladium bulbs, if your caladium plant’s shoots aren’t growing or stunted, it’s most likely either unhealthy or dead. 

Unfortunately, stunted caladium growth is expected when the bulb is unhealthy or dies. However, it’s also possible that the caladium bulb is dormant, which can be fixed. 

A dormant caladium bulb indicates that the temperatures are either too cold or too hot, as they’re not hardy plants. Waking up a dormant bulb can be easy, as long as you have the suitable materials. 

Check out this helpful YouTube video by The Thrifted Planter that shows how to wake up dormant caladium bulbs:

7. The Plant Is Wilted or Discolored

If your caladium plant is wilting or the leaves are changing colors, there’s a good chance the bulbs are suffering. 

When cold weather approaches, it’s common for the plant’s leaves to wilt or change colors because they can’t survive through the winter months. However, if the weather isn’t causing the plant to act this way, the bulb is a possible reason.

Your caladium bulb could have died due to mold or rotting, which can happen when it’s overwatered. So, if your plant is wilted or discolored during a season that it shouldn’t be, it’s best to dig the plant up and check on the bulb.

Can Unhealthy Caladium Bulbs Be Saved?

Unhealthy caladium bulbs can be saved. However, the success of saving the bulbs depends on the severity of injury or disease. For example, caladium bulbs that are severely rotted, moldy, or damaged might not be as likely to be saved as bulbs that are slightly too dry or too soft.

There are some instances where it’s easier to save caladium bulbs, including when the bulbs are a little dry, slightly wet and soft, or just beginning to rot. 

How to Save Unhealthy Bulbs

If your caladium bulbs are too dry and brittle, follow these steps to save them:

  1. Check and make sure it’s viable. If you press the bulb and it crumbles, there’s no saving it, as it’s already dead. However, it can be rehydrated if it’s a little dry but not easily crushed.
  2. Fill a container with warm water. Ensure the container is completely sterilized and the water isn’t too hot.
  3. Soak the bulbs in the water for up to 12 hours. Don’t leave them in the water for any longer than 12 hours. The goal is to rehydrate, not drown.

On the other hand, if your caladium bulbs are too soft or showing the beginning signs of rot, follow these steps:

  1. Check and make sure they’re viable. As with bulbs that are too dry, wet, or mushy, bulbs can be past saving. If the bulbs are excessively wet and rotted, they must be thrown out. If they’re only slightly wet and mushy, they can be saved.
  2. If there’s evidence of rot, carefully cut the rot away. This will only work if there’s a small section of rot, not if most of the bulb is rotted.
  3. If the bulbs are soft and wet, set them out to dry for around ten days. Ensure the bulbs are kept in a well-ventilated area and sheltered from any possible rain.

Although these steps aren’t guaranteed to save your caladium bulbs, they can help if they’re not already dead or too far gone.

Final Thoughts

Knowing the difference between a healthy and unhealthy (or dead) caladium bulb is essential, as using a dead bulb won’t do anything for your plant or garden. There are many ways to tell if your caladium bulbs are dead, most of which have to do with feeling or observing the bulb.

The bulbs should be firm, so if they’re any of the following, they’re most likely dead or unusable:

  • Dry and brittle
  • Soft and mushy
  • Moldy
  • Rotted
  • Badly damaged

Additionally, caladium plants with stunted growth or wilting leaves are a good indication of a dead bulb.

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.

Recent Posts