Here’s what to do with caladiums

Richard Bogren, Gill, Daniel J.  |  8/31/2009 8:22:45 PM

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For Release On Or After 09/18/09

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

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 variety), 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 as 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.

Where the growing conditions were not ideal (particularly if they 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 tubers in the ground. Since the ground does not generally freeze in Louisiana during the winter, the tubers should survive the cold and come back up next year. 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 north Louisiana run more of a risk than those planted in the southern portion of the state if we have 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 they 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. So 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 prepare for the new bedding plants.

You may follow both procedures. I have some caladiums planted with a 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 are usually ready to dig sometime from late September to mid-October. Use a shovel or a garden fork to lift the tubers, being careful not to damage them. Leave the foliage attached, 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 storeroom.

Allow the foliage to dry until it is tan and papery. At that time, the foliage will easily separate from the tubers and leave a cleanly healed scar. The tubers can then washed in water to remove any remaining soil. Unless there is a large amount of soil clinging to them, this is usually optional. If you do wash them, they should be air-dried in a well-ventilated place for several days until the moisture has evaporated before storage.

When dry, the tubers are ready for storing over the winter. Throw out any that appear to be rotted or have soft spots. Tubers you may have damaged accidentally 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 and 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 a 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 because this may lead to rotting. Make sure you keep the tubers indoors where temperatures will stay at about 70 degrees or above.

Remember that with poor growing conditions, particularly in areas of heavy shade, caladiums produce small, weak tubers that may not return well, even if they’re 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.

Rick Bogren

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