Caladiums are tropical plants that develop colorful leaves that can add radiance and glamour to any setting. They’re one of the more popular plants grown by indoor or backyard gardeners and are frequently used as ornamentals. One question that pops up quite frequently is whether or not caladium bulbs need to be soaked before planting.
Soaking caladium bulbs in water before planting is a great way to start the growth process. You should soak your caladium bulbs for 30 minutes to an hour. However, the water needs to be warm or lukewarm at the very least. Water that’s too cold can damage your caladium bulbs.
In this article, I’ll discuss why you should soak caladium bulbs before planting, what benefit it has, and whether it’s necessary. I’ll also provide you with pointers on how to plant your caladium bulbs for the perfect start.
Why Soak Caladium Bulbs Before Planting
So you’ve just got your first batch of caladium bulbs and are ready to plant away. But you vaguely recall hearing that caladium bulbs must be soaked in water before planting. So do you go for it or plant it directly into the soil? And if soaking in water before planting is a common practice, why so?
The short answer is that it can be beneficial to soak your bulbs in warm water before planting. There are two distinct reasons for this:
Caladium Bulbs May Dry Up During Storage
Firstly, caladium bulbs are stored for weeks before the right time for plantation comes around. During the storage period, the bulbs aren’t entirely dormant. They are very much alive and can still dry out and perish due to dehydration if left unattended in a hot and arid setting for too long.
For this reason, some gardening experts recommend lightly misting the bulbs from time to time, even while they’re just being kept in storage.
If you got your caladium bulbs from a reputed seller, you probably don’t have to worry about dehydrating them. Your seller will have either stored them in an appropriate setting or misted them when needed.
However, just on the off chance that the seller did not religiously hydrate the bulbs, you can soak the caladium bulbs before planting to allow them to get all the water they need.
You can think of it as a best practice. One which can be put to good use when you feel like one of your bulbs is noticeably drier than the rest.
Caladium Bulbs Are Sensitive to the Cold
Secondly, caladiums are very vulnerable to the cold, especially when they’re just bulbs. So if you plant them into the soil when it’s a little too cold, they can take ages to germinate. Worse yet, some caladium bulbs may succumb to the cold and may not germinate at all.
Soaking your caladium bulbs in water before planting can help. However, there’s a caveat. As I mentioned earlier, the water needs to be warm for this to be effective – around 49°C or 120°F.
Water at this temperature is perfect for letting your Caladium bulbs get a nice start on their germination process before they’re planted in the soil and have to fight off the cold on their own.
Put simply, soaking Caladium bulbs in warm water increases the likelihood that they’ll survive the germination process. It also noticeably decreases the total time required for germination, which typically takes between 2-12 weeks.
This means that it can take a while before you start seeing the fruits of your labor. And it’s natural not to want to wait that long.
If you decide to go for it, soak them for at least 30 minutes to an hour to make it worth your while. You can keep them in the water for longer – some anecdotal evidence even suggests that it’s okay to leave the bulbs in water overnight.
However, you’ll have to ensure that the water remains at or above room temperature for the entire duration of the submersion.
If water temperature falls way below 65-70°F (18.3-21°C), you may, in a few weeks, realize that you ended up doing more harm than good. So I’d advise against leaving your Caladium bulbs submerged overnight unless you’re in a hotter region where residual temperature rests comfortably above that margin. It’s not worth the risk.
Remember that soaking caladium bulbs doesn’t make them immune to the cold. It just makes them slightly more resilient and improves your odds of having successful germination.
If you plant them too early and when it’s too cold, they’re still at major risk of being killed off by the low soil temperature or an unfortunate nighttime frost.
Is It Necessary To Soak Caladium Bulbs Before Planting?
It may not have been what you expected, but the answer is no. You don’t have to soak Caladium bulbs before planting. Don’t get me wrong. The abovementioned benefits are still very much real.
The thing is, these benefits are not very significant in magnitude. Soaking caladium bulbs before planting increases the likelihood and speed of successful germination, but it doesn’t make a world of difference.
You can probably get the same results by simply:
- Planting your Caladium bulbs at the right time.
- Being extra diligent with your watering routine for the first few weeks after planting.
So what’s the verdict, then? Should you soak your caladium bulbs before planting or not?
Definitely go for soaking your Caladium bulbs. There’s no harm in it when done correctly. Even if the benefit is minor, it’s still there. And you’d want to speed up the germination process as much as possible and improve your chances of having successful growth.
Caladium Bulbs Can Be Grown in Water
Also, here’s a fun fact: You can grow your caladium bulbs in water only. You don’t even have to plant them in the soil! In fact, water growing may be your best bet if the soil and weather outside are currently too cold for successful germination, but you can’t wait to start.
It’s a little more difficult and technical than traditional growing, though. You’ll have to clean or change up the water regularly and get some water-based fertilizer. You’ll also have to beware of mold, algae, and fungus. These three tend to be an issue, particularly regarding hydroponics, because you can’t chlorinate the water.
How To Plant Your Caladium Bulbs for the Ideal Start
Regardless of whether or not you preface the planting with an hour-long water submersion, some nuances in the planting process can make a world of difference.
Before planting, you need to make sure the time is right. You want to wait until the soil temperature exceeds 20°C or 68°F. This is usually sometime around late spring. You can grow the bulbs earlier indoors, especially with the help of a heating mat. If you’re looking to learn more about when to plant your caladium bulbs, you can refer to my other article: Is It Ever Too Late to Plant Caladium Bulbs?
More importantly, when you plant the bulbs into the soil while the temperatures keep fluctuating, apply a layer of mulch. It helps reduce water loss due to evaporation and moderates the soil temperature near the plant.
Choose the ideal location. Most varieties of caladiums thrive under partial sun. Some varieties can withstand the full sun, but they’re rarer. The edges of your garden near a wall or indoor window sills that receive both sun and shade are perfect candidates.
Proper Position of the Bulbs
There is a correct way to plant the caladium bulb. A correct orientation, to be more precise. Caladium bulbs have a regular, smooth side and a jagged, bumpy side. The bumpy side will have “eyes.” These eyes are what the entire plant will eventually grow out of.
As intuition suggests, you want to ensure the eye is facing upwards when you plant the caladium so that it has easy access to the surface and can come out as soon as possible.
If you plant it upside down by accident, as many newer gardeners do, don’t worry. The bulb will have to find its way around the soil and hence will take a little longer to show on the surface.
Once you’ve figured out the correct orientation, plant your caladium bulb at least 2 inches (5.08 centimeters) deep into the soil. Gently cover them up after planting.
You also want to plant the bulbs at least 4 inches (10.16 centimeters) apart. Planting the bulbs too close can result in the caladiums competing for water, sunlight, and nutrient resources. And tidy, orderly plants are generally more pleasing to the eye than those that are cramped and overcrowded.
Water the soil until it’s moist. You can be generous with the amount of water you provide, but don’t go overboard. Stagnant water kills even the most water-demanding plants. So stop once you see that the soil is well-hydrated.
As a general guideline, water once a week. However, you’ll likely need to adjust based on temperature, humidity, and rainfall. Essentially, you want the soil to stay damp and moist but never waterlogged.
That’s about it! Caladiums are beginner-friendly plants, and they won’t give you too much trouble. They’re perennials but tend to succumb to the winter frost. No worries, though! You can always repeat the cycle by using bulbs.
Soaking caladium bulbs in water before planting sets them up for a better start once they’re planted into the soil. Soak your bulbs for 30 minutes to an hour, but make sure that the water you use is warm – well above room temperature.
While the soaking isn’t necessary, it is beneficial. It’s practical and convenient, so there’s little reason not to go for it.
Lastly, be wary of the winter frosts when planting outdoors. Caladiums are very vulnerable to the cold, so you only want to plant them outdoors when temperatures are above a stable 20°C or 68°F.