All About Tropical Bulbs

by Charlie Nardozzi

Charlie Nardozzi
Charlie Nardozzi

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 20 years bringing expert gardening information to home gardeners. He speaks around the country at flower shows, master gardener groups and horticultural trade shows on gardening topics from roses to tomatoes.

You don't have to visit the subtropics this year to get a taste of the lush foliage and beautiful flowers. Bring the tropics into your yard this summer by planting some unique tropical bulbs. My favorites are what I call the three Cs; calla lilies, canna lilies and caladium. Each adds not only beautiful flowers to the landscape, but attractive foliage as well.

Canna Lilies:

Gardeners in warm summer and mild winter climates know these tropical bulbs well, but even gardeners in cold climates can enjoy them, too, planted in warm spot in your yard or in a container.

Canna lilies are fast growing bulbs that produce up to 5- to 6-foot tall plants with large, banana-like leaves and stalks of colorful flowers. 'Black Night' has stunning, dark red flowers that contrast well with their black foliage. 'Corsica' features delicate, salmon colored flowers with yellow edging. 'Pacific Beauty' jumps out at you with its bright orange colored flowers. If you don't have room in your garden for a tall canna, try some dwarfs. They only grow 2- to 3-feet tall, so fit well in your flower garden or container. 'Golden Lucifer' features yellow flowers with red spots. 'Rhodos' has bright pink flowers that are show stoppers in the garden. 'Madeira' has red flowers with yellow edging.

  1. Cannasol™ Happy Cleo Canna Lily

    Cannasol™ Happy Cleo Canna Lily is an excellent choice for patios and small spaces where you want huge tropical impact. A self-cleaning canna with ultra-compact habit, it produces ...

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    CannaSol™ Happy Cleo Canna Lily CannaSol™ Happy Cleo Canna Lily Canna CannaSol™ Happy Cleo
    $21.98 Sale $14.29
    Per Bag of 2
    Cannasol™ Happy Cleo Canna Lily is an excellent choice for patios and small spaces where you want huge tropical impact. A self-cleaning canna with ultra-compact habit, it produces large amounts of clustered orange flowers with rich golden undertones. Foliage is deep green, well branched, and virus-free. Full sun. Moisture lover. (Canna)
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  2. Cannasol™ Happy Carmen Canna Lily

    Cannasol Happy Carmen Canna Lily is compact, fiery and full of punch. This canna is a versatile, heat and humidity tolerant addition for borders, containers or ponds edge. Clusters o...

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    CannaSol™ Happy Carmen Canna Lily CannaSol™ Happy Carmen Canna Lily Canna CannaSol™ Happy Carmen
    As low as $21.98 Sale $14.29
    Per Bag of 2
    Cannasol Happy Carmen Canna Lily is compact, fiery and full of punch. This canna is a versatile, heat and humidity tolerant addition for borders, containers or ponds edge. Clusters of red flowers attract hummingbirds, and with deep green tropical foliage thats bred to stay very compact, Cannasol Happy Carmen Canna Lily provides a vertical accent without too much legginess. Full sun moisture lover. Virus-free. (Canna)
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  3. Cannasol™ Happy Emily Canna Lily

    Cannasol Happy Emily Canna Lily brings bright sparks of tropical color to beds, borders, containers and water gardens with a super compact habit and hummingbird-attracting blooms. S...

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    CannaSol™ Happy Emily Canna Lily CannaSol™ Happy Emily Canna Lily Canna CannaSol™ Happy Emily
    As low as $21.98 Sale $10.99
    Per Bag of 2
    Cannasol Happy Emily Canna Lily brings bright sparks of tropical color to beds, borders, containers and water gardens with a super compact habit and hummingbird-attracting blooms. Stunning yellow blossoms are suffused with deep orange flecks and are self-cleaning. Cannasol series canna are certified virus-free. Full sun, moisture retentive soil. (Canna)
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  4. Cannasol™ Happy Isabel Canna Lily

    Pink and punchy, Cannasol™ Happy Isabel Canna Lily is a compact canna with an island vacation feel. Bring tropical drama to your containers or borders with large clusters of bluis...

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    CannaSol™ Happy Isabel Canna Lily CannaSol™ Happy Isabel Canna Lily Canna CannaSol™ Happy Isabel
    $21.98 Sale $14.29
    Per Bag of 2
    Pink and punchy, Cannasol™ Happy Isabel Canna Lily is a compact canna with an island vacation feel. Bring tropical drama to your containers or borders with large clusters of bluish-pink flowers and blue-green foliage. Happy Isabel prefers a full sun or light shade site with good moisture retention. Virus free. Hummingbird magnet. (Canna)
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Calla Lilies:

If you're looking for the tropical feel, but want a low growing plant, try the calla lilies. Calla lily bulbs only grow 1- to 2-feet tall, have attractive spotted foliage, grow well in part shade and produce colorful, cone-shaped flowers for cutting, containers or the perennial border. If you can't decide on the color calla to buy, check out the 'Purple Rain Mix'. This calla lily variety features purple, white, and pink flowering bulbs all in one mix.

  1. Captain Reno Calla Lily, Zantedeschia Captain Reno

    ‘Captain Reno®’ Calla Lily boasts elegant burgundy blooms and broad speckled foliage for a stunning display in gardens and containers. Elegant chalice-shaped flowers stand on lo...

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    Captain Reno® Calla Lily Captain Reno® Calla Lily Zantedeschia Captain Reno®
    As low as $12.98 Sale $7.99
    Per Bag of 1
    ‘Captain Reno®’ Calla Lily boasts elegant burgundy blooms and broad speckled foliage for a stunning display in gardens and containers. Elegant chalice-shaped flowers stand on long stems, perfect for cutting. This florist favorite blooms mid-summer through frost. Showy foliage adds tropical flair to the garden. (Zantedeschia)
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  2. Calla Lily Bulb Picasso

    A unique bicolor Calla Lily, 'Picasso' is truly a delight to check in with, as the creamy white flowers open up to reveal stunning violet centers. Beautiful in bouquets, be sure to i...

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    Picasso® Calla Lily Picasso® Calla Lily Zantedeschia Picasso®
    As low as $14.98 Sale $9.74
    Per Bag of 1
    A unique bicolor Calla Lily, 'Picasso' is truly a delight to check in with, as the creamy white flowers open up to reveal stunning violet centers. Beautiful in bouquets, be sure to include a piece of its charming, spotted foliage. Easy to grow and deer resistant. (Zantedeschia)
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  3. Calla Bouquet Collection

    Our Calla Bouquet Collection features a selection of florist favorites with magnificent curved blooms in romantic white, pink, and pale purple. Calla lilies are unmistakable and are ...

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    Calla Bouquet Collection Calla Lily Zantedeschia
    $99.98 Sale $64.99
    Per Collection of 7
    Our Calla Bouquet Collection features a selection of florist favorites with magnificent curved blooms in romantic white, pink, and pale purple. Calla lilies are unmistakable and are beloved for elegant flower bouquets. Grow in full sun to part shade and expect abundant flowering throughout the summer – an excellent choice for containers and locations where you can admire your Calla Lilies up close. Plant plenty of these deer resistant, rabbit resistant, and easy to grow flowers for a garden overflowing with classic beauty.
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  4. Calla Lily Bulb Odessa, Zantedeschia rehmannii violacea

    'Odessa' Calla Lily blooms in a rich, dark, almost-black purple, yet shines and glows in the summer sun. When you pair the blooms with its bold, speckled leaves, this variety has the...

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    Odessa Calla Lily Odessa Calla Lily Zantedeschia rehmannii violacea Odessa
    As low as $13.98 Sale $9.09
    Per Bag of 1
    'Odessa' Calla Lily blooms in a rich, dark, almost-black purple, yet shines and glows in the summer sun. When you pair the blooms with its bold, speckled leaves, this variety has the bones to be an eye-catching focal point in the landscape, though it's much more popular when cut for the vase. Grown as an annual in colder zones but hardy in zones 8-10. Deer resistant. (Zantedeschia)
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Caladiums:

If you have a real shady spot, but still want to jump on the tropical bulb bandwagon, think caladiums. These bulbs are grown primarily for their colorful foliage. The plants grow 12- to 18 inches tall and are well-suited to growing under large shrubs, in a shady spot, or in a container. When growing varieties such as 'Rose Bud', that features bright red leaves with green edging and pink centers, you can brighten up even the darkest spot in your flower garden.

  1. Candidum Caladium in container

    With green and white heart-shaped leaves, 'Candidum' Caladium is perfect for brightening up a shady spot. Its rich foliage thrives in containers and its moonlight-catching leaves can...

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    Candidum Caladium Candidum Fancy Leaf Caladium Caladium Candidum
    As low as $16.98 Sale $11.04
    Per Bag of 3
    With green and white heart-shaped leaves, 'Candidum' Caladium is perfect for brightening up a shady spot. Its rich foliage thrives in containers and its moonlight-catching leaves can help define walkway borders after sunset. (Caladium 'Candidum')
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  2. Caladium Bulbs Mix, Caladium, Fancy Leaf Caladium

    This Caladium Mix includes 5 different varieties of colorful caladiums that will create a dazzling display in any shady area. Try planting together in a pot, or nestling into a shady...

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    Caladium Mix Fancy Leaf Caladium Mix Caladium Mix
    $23.98 Sale $15.59
    Per Bag of 5
    This Caladium Mix includes 5 different varieties of colorful caladiums that will create a dazzling display in any shady area. Try planting together in a pot, or nestling into a shady garden bed. Right at home in hot, humid areas. (Caladium)
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  3. Tropicalismo Shade Collection

    Our Tropicalismo Shade Collection will transform your garden with rich, textural, foliage. Layers of tropical greens have white and pink highlights and deep purple shading. Caladiums...

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    Tropicalismo Shade Collection Elephant Ear & Caladium Colocasia & Caladium
    $86.98 Sale $59.99
    Per Collection of 8
    Our Tropicalismo Shade Collection will transform your garden with rich, textural, foliage. Layers of tropical greens have white and pink highlights and deep purple shading. Caladiums and Elephant Ears (Colocasia) range from 12” to 60” tall, creating a perfectly graduated display in gardens or containers. Plant this easy-to-grow collection as a backdrop for bright flowers, or create a lush living wall that’s deer-resistant and rabbit-resistant.
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  4. Caladium Bulbs Tapestry, Caladium, Fancy Leaf Caladium

    'Tapestry' Caladium is a unique addition to any garden! Gorgeous heart-shaped leaves are deep green with vibrant pink veins and cream-colored centers. A hybrid of the popular Christm...

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    Tapestry Caladium Tapestry Fancy Leaf Caladium Caladium Tapestry
    As low as $16.98 Sale $11.04
    Per Bag of 3
    'Tapestry' Caladium is a unique addition to any garden! Gorgeous heart-shaped leaves are deep green with vibrant pink veins and cream-colored centers. A hybrid of the popular Christmas and Red Flash varieties, this Caladium is easy to grow in outdoor containers, or even inside next to a sunny window. (Caladium)
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More About Tropical Bulbs

Because cannascallas, and caladiums are all tropical bulbs, wait until the soil has warmed and all danger of frost has passed before planting in spring. Find a spot that's protected from cool winds. For canna lilies, full sun is best. Calla lilies can grow in sun or part shade, while caladiums prefer the shade.

Keep the plants well watered and fertilized all summer. In cold climates, cannas and callas may not flower until late summer, but the show is worth the wait. Also, you can enjoy the colorful foliage in spring and summer. In fall, before a frost, dig up and store the bulbs indoors for replanting the following spring.

Happy Gardening

  1. Elephant Ear Thailand Giant, Colocasia gigantea

    'Thailand Giant' is the largest variety of Elephant Ear, creating a giant, light-green canopy of gently-ribbed leaves in the summer garden. Just spectacular! Your visitors won't be a...

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    Thailand Giant Elephant Ear Thailand Giant Elephant Ear Colocasia gigantea Thailand Giant
    $25.98 Sale $19.99
    Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
    'Thailand Giant' is the largest variety of Elephant Ear, creating a giant, light-green canopy of gently-ribbed leaves in the summer garden. Just spectacular! Your visitors won't be able to stop measuring themselves against the enormous leaves. (Colocasia gigantea)
    Learn More
  2. Tropicalismo Shade Collection

    Our Tropicalismo Shade Collection will transform your garden with rich, textural, foliage. Layers of tropical greens have white and pink highlights and deep purple shading. Caladiums...

    Learn More
    Tropicalismo Shade Collection Elephant Ear & Caladium Colocasia & Caladium
    $86.98 Sale $59.99
    Per Collection of 8
    Our Tropicalismo Shade Collection will transform your garden with rich, textural, foliage. Layers of tropical greens have white and pink highlights and deep purple shading. Caladiums and Elephant Ears (Colocasia) range from 12” to 60” tall, creating a perfectly graduated display in gardens or containers. Plant this easy-to-grow collection as a backdrop for bright flowers, or create a lush living wall that’s deer-resistant and rabbit-resistant.
    Learn More
  3. Elephant Ears, Colocasia esculenta green foliage

    Plant this Elephant Ear bulb, stand back, and in no time at all you’ll be watching the huge leaves unfurl to create one of the most dramatic foliage plants you’ll find. Extremely...

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    Elephant Ear Elephant Ear Colocasia esculenta
    $15.98 Sale $11.99
    Per Bag of 1
    Plant this Elephant Ear bulb, stand back, and in no time at all you’ll be watching the huge leaves unfurl to create one of the most dramatic foliage plants you’ll find. Extremely easy to grow and ideal for containers. (Colocasia esculenta)
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  4. Black Magic Elephant Ear, Colocasia Black Magic growing in the garden

    Love the dramatic, huge foliage of Elephant Ears but don’t have a sunny spot to plant them? 'Black Magic' creates a striking look in partial shade, with purple-black leaves that ap...

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    Black Magic Elephant Ear Black Magic Elephant Ear Colocasia Black Magic
    $25.98 Sale $19.49
    Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
    Love the dramatic, huge foliage of Elephant Ears but don’t have a sunny spot to plant them? 'Black Magic' creates a striking look in partial shade, with purple-black leaves that appear velvety from a distance. Excellent in a containers, this plant is a great choice for lending a dark backdrop to your favorite bright blooms. (Colocasia)
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