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 $15.99
    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 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 $13.99
    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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  3. Cannasol™ Happy Julia Canna Lily

    Cannasol™ Happy Julia Canna Lily is a super-compact canna from the vigorous, virus-free Cannasol™ series. It’s deep salmon flowers bloom against spectacular dark foliage and pr...

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    CannaSol™ Happy Julia Canna Lily CannaSol™ Happy Julia Canna Lily Canna CannaSol™ Happy Julia
    $21.98 Sale $16.99
    Per Bag of 2
    Cannasol™ Happy Julia Canna Lily is a super-compact canna from the vigorous, virus-free Cannasol™ series. It’s deep salmon flowers bloom against spectacular dark foliage and provide all-in-one contrast to breathe tropical life into your containers and beds. Hummingbirds love it and you’ll love the island vibe! Full sun to light shade. Moisture lover. (Canna)
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  4. Cannasol™ Happy Wilma Canna Lily

    Cannasol™ Happy Wilma Canna Lily has blooms with velvety salmon shades, for tropical accents with a softer punch. Blossoms contrast beautifully against vigorous deep plum-colored f...

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    CannaSol™ Happy Wilma Canna Lily CannaSol™ Happy Wilma Canna Lily Canna CannaSol™ Happy Wilma
    $21.98 Sale $13.99
    Per Bag of 2
    Cannasol™ Happy Wilma Canna Lily has blooms with velvety salmon shades, for tropical accents with a softer punch. Blossoms contrast beautifully against vigorous deep plum-colored foliage and its super-compact habit makes it a terrific choice for patio arrangements, balconies and small gardens. Full sun to light shade. Virus-free. Moisture lover. (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 Rosette’ Calla Lily, Zantedeschia Captain Rosette, Pink Blooms,

    Captain Rosette Calla Lily brings florist-quality blooms to the garden in a lovely shade of pink. Dramatic vase-shaped flowers fade from light rose-pink to a cream-colored base. Long...

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    Captain Rosette® Calla Lily Captain Rosette® Calla Lily Zantedeschia Captain Rosette®
    As low as $12.98 Sale $9.99
    Per Bag of 1
    Captain Rosette Calla Lily brings florist-quality blooms to the garden in a lovely shade of pink. Dramatic vase-shaped flowers fade from light rose-pink to a cream-colored base. Long, thick stems support the flower above bold, spotted foliage that is deer resistant. A dwarf Calla Lily with full-sized blooms, Captain Rosette is excellent for containers and cut flower arrangements. (Zantedeschia)
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  2. Odessa Calla Lily, Zantedeschia rehmannii violacea Odessa

    '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 $11.99
    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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  3. Nashville Calla Lily, Zantedeschia

    Starting with a blush of green from their stem, 'Nashville' Calla Lily's pale buttermilk blooms are overtaken by magenta-purple, fluted curls. Graceful and extraordinary, this variet...

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    Nashville Calla Lily Nashville Calla Lily Zantedeschia Nashville
    $13.98 Sale $6.99
    Per Bag of 1
    Starting with a blush of green from their stem, 'Nashville' Calla Lily's pale buttermilk blooms are overtaken by magenta-purple, fluted curls. Graceful and extraordinary, this variety grows slightly shorter than other calla lilies, making it a perfect choice for garden edges and patio containers. Bring this beautiful bi-colored flower indoors to show off its stand-alone elegance in a simple vase. (Zantedeschia)
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  4. White Calla Lily Bulb Albomaculata, Zantedeschia, Calla Lily

    The Albomaculata Calla is an elegant white, fluted flower with emerald green leaves that showcase graceful speckles in shades to match their blooms. Complemented by a cigarillo-shape...

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    Albomaculata Calla Lily Albomaculata Calla Lily Zantedeschia Albomaculata
    $14.98 Sale $7.49
    Per Bag of 1
    The Albomaculata Calla is an elegant white, fluted flower with emerald green leaves that showcase graceful speckles in shades to match their blooms. Complemented by a cigarillo-shaped center cone (spadix) in a rich, golden yellow, it's no wonder that this variety is so beloved. At 12-14" tall, plant Albomaculata Callas in full sun (or dappled light if your sun is strong) and expect blooms from mid summer until frost. (Zantedeschia albomaculata)
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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. 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 $17.99
    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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  2. 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 $11.99
    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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  3. ‘Red Flash’ Fancy Leaf Caladium, Caladium Red Flash, Red and Green Foliage

    The large multi-colored leaves of ‘Red Flash’ Fancy Leaf Caladium add lush, long-lasting, tropical color to the shade garden. Each heart-shaped, olive green leaf is painted with ...

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    Red Flash Caladium Red Flash Caladium Caladium Red Flash
    $16.98 Sale $8.49
    Per Bag of 3
    The large multi-colored leaves of ‘Red Flash’ Fancy Leaf Caladium add lush, long-lasting, tropical color to the shade garden. Each heart-shaped, olive green leaf is painted with a burst of red veining and a splattering of pink freckles that respond with vigor as summer’s heat and humidity build. An exotic foliage accent that’s sure to attract attention – particularly in your containers, beds and borders! (Caladium)
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  4. Caladium Bulbs White Queen, Caladium, Fancy Leaf Caladium

    A stunner for any shade garden, 'White Queen' Caladium has creamy white leaves with bursting crimson centers and green trim. A beautiful way to add a little pizzazz to ho-hum beds. T...

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    White Queen Caladium White Queen Fancy Leaf Caladium Caladium White Queen
    $16.98 Sale $11.99
    Per Bag of 3
    A stunner for any shade garden, 'White Queen' Caladium has creamy white leaves with bursting crimson centers and green trim. A beautiful way to add a little pizzazz to ho-hum beds. Thrives in heat and humidity. (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. Hawaiian Punch Elephant Ear, Colocasia esculenta Hawaiian Punch container planting

    ‘Hawaiian Punch’ Elephant Ears is a gorgeous cultivar with deep burgundy stems and veining, with light green, arrow-shaped leaves. If you’re thinking of dabbling in the delight...

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    Hawaiian Punch Elephant Ear Hawaiian Punch Elephant Ear PP#24596 Colocasia esculenta Hawaiian Punch PP#24596
    $34.98 Sale $29.73
    Per Bag of 1
    ‘Hawaiian Punch’ Elephant Ears is a gorgeous cultivar with deep burgundy stems and veining, with light green, arrow-shaped leaves. If you’re thinking of dabbling in the delights of tropical foliage, but want something a relatively compact, ‘Hawaiian Punch’ Elephant Ears is a terrific choice for your containers or garden beds. This deer-resistant plant will give your garden months of foliage color in full sun or part-shade. (Colocasia esculenta)
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  2. Elephant Ear Mojito, Colocasia esculenta, Elephant Ear

    Splashed with chartreuse and rich violet tones, ‘Mojito’ Elephant Ears has large colorful foliage, amazing vigor, and a heat-loving attitude. Stems reveal a beautiful mottling th...

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    Mojito Elephant Ear Mojito Elephant Ear PP#21995 Colocasia esculenta Mojito PP#21995
    $32.98 Sale $28.03
    Per Bag of 1
    Splashed with chartreuse and rich violet tones, ‘Mojito’ Elephant Ears has large colorful foliage, amazing vigor, and a heat-loving attitude. Stems reveal a beautiful mottling that makes this plant a great choice to stand along to to enrich a colorful planting design. Energize your summer garden with deer-resistant arrow-shaped leaves in large containers, garden beds, or nestled against the margins of water features. Bring happy hour to your summer garden, patio or balcony with a few easy-to-grow ‘Mojito!’(Colocasia esculenta)
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