Caladiums make good low-maintenance bedding plants

Richard Bogren, Young, John, Gill, Daniel J., Owings, Allen D.  |  1/4/2011 1:14:59 AM

Distributed 04/01/10

By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists Dan Gill, Allen Owings and John Young

Many Louisiana gardeners enjoy a summer landscape that includes caladiums. These are one of the most popular plants to fill shady gardens, and they thrive in the heat and humidity common in summer.

Caladiums are great low-maintenance bedding plants. They have attractive foliage that is produced from underground tubers. Although we generally refer to them as bulbs, they actually are called corms.

Heart-shaped leaves are 6 to 12 inches across on plants that reach heights of 1 to 2 feet in the landscape.

Foliage color includes combinations of white, pink, rose, red, burgundy, chartreuse or green – often with several colors combined in wonderful patterns. These bright leaves highlight shady gardens with their bold texture from May until October. Tubers go dormant in late fall and normally should be dug up and discarded. But you can dig them, store them and replant them the next year.

Caladiums have no insect or disease problems unless they are abused or planted in the wrong location.

The LSU AgCenter has found that caladiums grow best in shade to partial shade – generally 2-4 hours of direct sun in the morning with filtered or full shade for the rest of the day. Under these conditions, caladiums produce lush growth with large, colorful leaves. Some varieties tolerate sunnier conditions and are successful in beds receiving partial sun to full sun – six hours or more of direct sun. It is, however, essential to avoid planting caladiums in hot, dry, full-sun locations.

You can buy caladium tubers in the spring and container-grown plants in mid- to late spring through summer. The tubers are best planted in April through early May instead of in March because they grow best in warmer soil. Caladiums will provide immediate color in the landscape when planted 8-12 inches apart. They will grow larger and more beautiful through the summer and will have a peak performance in late summer to early fall.

Proper bed preparation will ensure beautiful caladiums. Turn the soil in the area to be planted and then incorporate a 4-inch layer of organic matter such as pine bark, compost, rotted manure or peat moss. Sprinkle the area with an all-purpose fertilizer according to the package directions and incorporate it into the upper few inches of the soil.

As an alternative, a little slow-release fertilizer can be placed around each tuber as it is planted into the bed. During the summer months, a light application of a liquid fertilizer may be added. Plant caladiums so that the top of the root ball is level with the bed. Once they are planted, mulch the bed with 2 inches of pine straw mulch and water in.

Top caladium varieties in landscape trials at the LSU AgCenter the past couple years include Candyland, Moonlight, Red Ruffle, White Ruffle, White Delight, Mt. Everest, Pink Gem, Lance Whorton, Raspberry Moon and Florida Sweetheart.

Caladiums are one of the top performers for shade gardens. Many of us don’t take advantage of this great plant, which works well in combination with more traditional warm-season bedding plants for shade. Try them with impatiens, torenia, begonias and coleus.

Visit LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (Louisiana Highway 30) in Baton Rouge, across the street from the LSU baseball stadium. For more information, go to www.louisianahouse.org and www.lsuagcenter.com/lyn.

Rick Bogren

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