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How to Care for Calico Plant

By Kelly Shetsky ; Updated September 21, 2017

Calico plant, or alternanthera ficoidea, is considered a tropical and tender perennial, but is typically grown as an annual. It grows in states like Texas and Florida but can be very sensitive to harsh sunlight in warmer climates.

Calico grows to an average of 18 to 24 inches high and prefers sun to partial shade or light shade. The blooms range from red to green and may have splotches of red, yellow or orange. The leaves are long and pointy. There are also white flowers but they are inconspicuous. It blooms between the fall and early winter, providing off-season interest to your garden.

Water calico plants regularly but make sure not to overwater them. The have average water needs. Touch the base of the plant and if you feel no moisture in the soil, add water.

Check the soil's pH level with an inexpensive pH test kit purchased at a hardware store or nursery. The plant does the best with a pH of 7.6 (mildly alkaline) to 6.1 (mildly acidic). To make the soil more alkaline by 1.0 point, add 8 ounces of hydrated lime per square yard (see Resources). To make it more acidic, mix in 3.6 ounces of ground rock sulfur per square yard. Adding wood chips or composting leaves will also drop the soil pH.

Plant the calico in a sunny area only if the shade moves in at times during the day. If you notice the leaves drooping, move the plant into a more shaded area. It will revive itself once the sun moves off it.

Keep the soil moderately fertile by adding liquid or granular fertilizer. Liquid goes to work right away and should be applied every 2-3 weeks. Granular should be applied once a month and needs to be watered to activate (see Resources). Follow the manufacturers' instructions.

Make sure there are 4 inches between each plant if you want a carpet effect. If not, plant them 12 inches apart.

Pinch the calico back to keep the plant bushy. To propagate, take 1- to 2-inch-long cuttings and replant them in the bed or pot. They will root quickly.

Pot the plants and bring them inside during the coldest winter months. Take cuttings from them to plant in the beds in the spring.


Things You Will Need

  • Fertilizer
  • Water
  • pH testing kit
  • Hydrated lime
  • Ground rock sulfur
  • Leaf compost or wood chips
  • Gardening clippers
  • Pots

About the Author


Based in New York State, Kelly Shetsky started writing in 1999. She is a broadcast journalist-turned Director of Marketing and Public Relations and has experience researching, writing, producing and reporting. She writes for several websites, specializing in gardening, medical, health and fitness, entertainment and travel. Shetsky has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Marist College.