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
    $19.99 Sale $14.99
    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)
  2. 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 an...

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    CannaSol™ Happy Julia Canna Lily CannaSol™ Happy Julia Canna Lily Canna CannaSol™ Happy Julia
    $19.99 Sale $14.99
    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)
  3. 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
    $19.99 Sale $14.99
    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)
  4. Wyoming Canna Lily, Canna indica Wyoming

    Wyoming Canna Lily sparkles with brilliant orange blooms atop richly colored burgundy and green foliage. From mid-summer through frost, hummingbirds cannot resist these bright blooms...

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    Wyoming Canna Lily Wyoming Canna Lily Canna indica Wyoming
    As low as $21.32 Sale $15.99
    Per Bag of 3
    Wyoming Canna Lily sparkles with brilliant orange blooms atop richly colored burgundy and green foliage. From mid-summer through frost, hummingbirds cannot resist these bright blooms, while gardeners adore Wyoming as much for its striking foliage as its cheerful flowers. Easy to grow in beds or containers for a taste of the tropics in any garden. (Canna indica)

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. Ivory Art® Calla Lilies in bloom

    Ivory Art® Calla Lily is a tall, classic variety that exemplifies the elegance of this remarkable genus. A large container filled with Ivory Art® Callas is a joy to behold. Long-la...

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    Ivory Art® Calla Lily Ivory Art® Calla Lily Zantedeschia
    As low as $13.32 Sale $9.99
    Per Bag of 1
    Ivory Art® Calla Lily is a tall, classic variety that exemplifies the elegance of this remarkable genus. A large container filled with Ivory Art® Callas is a joy to behold. Long-lasting blooms continue for 6-8 weeks, adding romance and luxury to summer plantings. Pure white blooms against deep green foliage plays is a delight, and Ivory Art® can easily add softness and sophistication to containers, gardens, and cut flower arrangements. (Zantedeschia)
  2. Zantedeschia, Fantasia® Calla Lillies in bloom

    Vases, containers, sunny garden beds – Fantasia® Calla Lily will fill them all with luscious rose-pink flowers. Deep green leaves will emerge first, creating a beautiful clump of ...

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    Fantasia® Calla Lily Fantasia® Calla Lily Zantedeschia
    As low as $13.32 Sale $9.99
    Per Bag of 1
    Vases, containers, sunny garden beds – Fantasia® Calla Lily will fill them all with luscious rose-pink flowers. Deep green leaves will emerge first, creating a beautiful clump of white-flecked leaves which then produce eye-catching fluted blooms. A favorite with florists, Fantasia® Calla Lily adorns beautiful bouquets and spectacular container gardens. Long-lasting blooms continue for 6-8 weeks, adding romance and luxury to summer plantings. (Zantedeschia)
  3. Zantedeschia, Outback® Calla Lilies  in bloom

    Outback® Calla Lily adds mystery and sophistication to garden beds with its striking, upright blooms. Softly fluted flowers with a regal tough bloom in a warm red-violet hue with a ...

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    Outback® Calla Lily Outback® Calla Lily Zantedeschia
    As low as $13.32 Sale $9.99
    Per Bag of 1
    Outback® Calla Lily adds mystery and sophistication to garden beds with its striking, upright blooms. Softly fluted flowers with a regal tough bloom in a warm red-violet hue with a deep purple throat. In summer, flowers rise majestically from deep green foliage lightly flecked with white, blooming for 6-8 weeks. Good for sunny, moist sites, Callas are deer resistant and a great choice for containers and cut flowers. (Zantedeschia)
  4. Zantedeschia, Havana® Calla Lilies in bloom

    It’s the saturated, silky color that you notice first in Havana® Calla Lily. Sumptuous and seductive, the fluted blooms are deep orange suffused with a golden yellow glow. A m...

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    Havana® Calla Lily Havana® Calla Lily Zantedeschia
    As low as $13.32 Sale $9.99
    Per Bag of 1
    It’s the saturated, silky color that you notice first in Havana® Calla Lily. Sumptuous and seductive, the fluted blooms are deep orange suffused with a golden yellow glow. A must-have for the sunny summer garden, flowers emerge through spotted, glossy foliage. Long-lasting blooms continue for 6-8 weeks, adding romance and luxury to summer plantings. Good for sunny, moist sites, Callas are deer resistant and a great choice for containers and cut flowers. (Zantedeschia)

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. Pink Cloud Caladium, also known as Angel Wings, leaves close up

    ‚Pink Cloud‚ Caladium is a foliage accent with incredible punch, combining three classic colors to create a mound of heart-shaped leaves that responds to the heat of summ...

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    Pink Cloud Caladium Pink Cloud Caladium, Angel Wings Caladium
    As low as $15.99 Sale $11.99
    Per Bag of 3
    'Pink Cloud' Caladium is a foliage accent with incredible punch, combining three classic colors to create a mound of heart-shaped leaves that responds to the heat of summer with vigorous energy. The large pink leaves display a strong white central vein with green edges and generous rosy splotches that pair beautifully with summer flowers. This fancy leaf cultivar is ideal for adding a burst of color, particularly in containers.
  2. June Bride Caladium, also known as Angel Wings, leaves close up

    As summer’s heat grows, the delicate leaves of ‚June Bride‚ Caladium infuse shady spaces with light, energizing containers and adding striking contrast to surroundi...

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    June Bride Caladium June Bride Caladium, Angel Wings Caladium
    As low as $15.99 Sale $11.99
    Per Bag of 3
    As summer’s heat grows, the delicate leaves of 'June Bride' Caladium infuse shady spaces with light, energizing containers and adding striking contrast to surrounding foliage and flowers. The large white heart-shaped leaves of 'June Bride' are edged with deep green and occasionally blushed with rosy pink, emphasizing the romantic nature of this gorgeous foliage plant.
  3. 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-catchin...

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    Candidum Caladium Candidum Fancy Leaf Caladium Caladium Candidum
    As low as $15.99 Sale $11.99
    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')
  4. Pink Beauty Caladium, Caladium Pink Beauty, growing in a container

    Pink Beauty Caladium provides plenty of contrast and season-long color. Mottled foliage is splashed in bubble gum pink and vibrant green, with dark pink veins accenting each heart-sh...

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    Pink Beauty Caladium Pink Beauty Caladium Caladium Pink Beauty
    As low as $15.99 Sale $11.99
    Per Bag of 3
    Pink Beauty Caladium provides plenty of contrast and season-long color. Mottled foliage is splashed in bubble gum pink and vibrant green, with dark pink veins accenting each heart-shaped leaf. Caladiums add a touch of the tropics to shaded gardens, outdoor patios, and container gardens where they look striking planted in groups. Caladiums can also be grown as houseplants.

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. Colocasia esculenta, Diamond Head Elephant Ear leaf close up

    Named for Hawaii’s famous volcanic landmark, Royal Hawaiian® ‚Diamond Head‚ Elephant Ear provides incredible texture and bold accents to the summer garden. Large, ...

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    Royal Hawaiian® Diamond Head Elephant Ear Diamond Head Elephant Ear Colocasia esculenta
    As low as $22.65 Sale $16.99
    Per Bag of 1
    Named for Hawaii’s famous volcanic landmark, Royal Hawaiian® 'Diamond Head' Elephant Ear provides incredible texture and bold accents to the summer garden. Large, glossy black, arrow-shape leaves and deep burgundy veins and stems provide excellent contrast, especially for light green and white flowers and foliage. Royal Hawaiian® 'Diamond Head' proves that flowers aren’t the only way to make an impact in garden beds and containers! PP#19939 (Colocasia)
  2. Colocasia esculenta, White Lava Elephant Ear leaf close up

    Cruise through summer with the bold and bodacious Royal Hawaiian® ‚White Lava‚ Elephant Ear. This boldly graphic plant unfurls large green heart-shaped leaves with a bla...

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    Royal Hawaiian® White Lava Elephant Ear White Lava Elephant Ear Colocasia esculenta
    As low as $22.65 Sale $16.99
    Per Bag of 1
    Cruise through summer with the bold and bodacious Royal Hawaiian® 'White Lava' Elephant Ear. This boldly graphic plant unfurls large green heart-shaped leaves with a blaze of white veins from top to tip. Sturdy purple stems connect to each leaf with a purple starburst. Plant in tropical-inspired plantings or infuse a shady corner of the garden with energy and spectacular color. PP#24481 (Colocasia esculenta)
  3. Touch Of Drama Elephant Ear Collection

    Make a bold color statement with our Touch of Drama Elephant Ear Collection. Large heart-shaped leaves on tall, sturdy stems bring striking form to the garden and container plantings...

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    Touch Of Drama Elephant Ear Collection Touch Of Drama Elephant Ear Collection Colocasia
    $66.65 Sale $49.99
    Per Collection of 3
    Make a bold color statement with our Touch of Drama Elephant Ear Collection. Large heart-shaped leaves on tall, sturdy stems bring striking form to the garden and container plantings. Place as accents or layer the foliage in clusters to create the feeling of a secluded outdoor room for a lush, luxurious retreat. With plenty of water, Elephant Ears will grow vigorously through the heat of summer. Collection of 3 bulbs.
  4. 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. E...

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    Elephant Ear Elephant Ear Colocasia esculenta
    As low as $15.99 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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