What Should You Do With Caladiums?

Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.  |  4/19/2005 10:28:54 PM

Get It Growing News For 09/24/04

Plantings of caladiums are getting past their prime now, and it’s time to decide what you want to do with them.

Your choices are pull them up and throw them away; leave the tubers in the ground to resprout there next year; or dig them up, store the tubers and plant them again next year.

Caladiums tolerate heavy shade and even do reasonably well in full sun (with proper selection of cultivar), but they are at their best when planted where they receive part-shade to part-sun in beds enriched with organic matter and kept evenly moist.

If you have provided them with the growing conditions they prefer, your caladiums should have produced nice sized tubers by this time (as big or bigger than the ones you planted). These tubers can be used to grow caladiums next year, either left in the ground or stored and replanted.

When the growing conditions were not ideal (particularly if your caladiums were growing in heavy shade or dry conditions), the tubers may be too small to perform well next year. If that’s the case, you may choose to discard them and purchase new tubers next year.

If the bed where the caladiums are planted will stay relatively undisturbed, you may simply leave the caladium tubers in the ground. Since the ground generally does not freeze in Louisiana during the winter, the tubers should survive the cold and come back up next year. But it would be a good idea to keep the area well mulched this winter to protect the tubers – just in case it is unusually cold. Plantings in northern Louisiana run more of a risk than those planted in the southern portion of the state when it comes to unusually severe cold.

A bed that is not well drained and tends to stay wet over the winter may cause the tubers to rot. Caladiums enjoy abundant moisture when they are growing but prefer to be dryer when dormant. If the area where the caladiums are growing tends to stay wet for extended periods, this can be problem, and it would be best to dig and store them.

If you intend to replant the area with cool-season bedding plants, such as pansies, the tubers also should be lifted and removed to allow you to do bed preparation for the new bedding plants.

You may follow both procedures. I have some caladiums planted into ground cover under oaks where the beds remain undisturbed and are well drained. I leave caladiums in those beds over the winter, and they have reliably returned for many years. In other areas, I lift and store the caladium tubers to get them out of the way for new plantings of winter bedding plants.

Caladiums should be dug when most of the leaves have turned yellow and the foliage looks "tired" and begins to fall over. Do not wait for all of the foliage to turn completely yellow or brown. Caladiums usually are ready to dig sometime between late September and mid-October.

Use a shovel or a garden fork to lift the tubers – being careful not to damage them. Leave the foliage attached to the tubers, shake and brush off most of the soil and lay them out in a dry location sheltered from rain (in a garage, under a carport or in a storage room).

Allow the foliage to dry until it is tan and papery. At that time, the foliage will separate easily from the tubers, leaving a cleanly healed scar.

The tubers then can be cleaned by washing in water to remove any remaining soil adhering to them. Unless there is a large amount of soil clinging to them, this usually is optional. If you do wash them, however, they should be air-dried in a well-ventilated place for several days – to be sure that the moisture has evaporated from the surface of the tubers before storage.

When dry, the tubers are ready for storing over the winter. Throw out any tubers that appear to be rotted or have soft spots. Tubers that you may have accidentally damaged when digging them can be saved if they have healed well and feel solid.

Gardeners sometimes have a hard time deciding which end is up when planting caladium tubers. If you like, use a felt-tipped pen to mark the top while it is easy to see where the leaves were removed – to save yourself confusion next spring.

Place the healthy tubers in an old nylon stocking, a mesh bag (such as an onion sack), a paper bag or cardboard box. The idea is that the container should be able to "breathe." Do not store the tubers in a plastic bag or airtight container, since this may lead to rotting. Make sure you keep the tubers indoors where temperatures will stay at about 70 degrees F or above.

Remember that with poor growing conditions, particularly in areas of heavy shade, caladiums produce small, weak tubers that may not return well either left in the ground or dug and stored. Under the right circumstances and with proper care, however, the tubers you planted this year can provide a beautiful display again next year.

Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com.  A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.

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Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu 
Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or tmerrill@agcenter.lsu.edu

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