Richard Bogren, Gill, Daniel J.
For Release On Or After 05/13/11
By Dan Gill
If you asked me about my favorite plants for summer color, caladiums would absolutely be on the list. You won’t find a better plant for reliable color in areas that get some shade. And one investment can provide years of color.
Easy enough for the casual gardener to expect routine success, the caladium’s elegant beauty also makes it a staple in the most accomplished gardener’s landscape. Native to tropical South America, caladiums grow from tubers and thrive in the heat and humidity of our long summers. They are remarkably free from major insect or disease problems.
Caladiums are grown for their attractive foliage. The 6-to-12-inch, heart-shaped leaves emerge from the ground on arching stems that are generally 1 to 2 feet tall but can grow taller. The foliage may be splashed with combinations of white, pink, rose, red, burgundy, chartreuse or green, often with several colors combining in wonderful patterns. These bright leaves with their bold texture embellish our shady gardens from May until October when the tubers go dormant.
Where to plant
Caladiums grow best in shade to part shade (two to four hours of direct sun, preferably morning) or bright, dappled light. In these conditions they produce the lushest growth with large, colorful leaves. Some cultivars are more tolerant of sunny conditions and are successful in beds that get part to full sun (six hours or more of direct sun). But I still think caladiums planted in full sun always seem to look stressed. In any event, avoid hot, dry, sunny locations for best results.
The caladium plants you purchase at nurseries are usually grown in shady greenhouses, and the foliage will often scorch or burn if you plant them into beds that receive too much direct sun. This results in brown areas and holes literally burned into the leaves. If the sunlight conditions are appropriate, however, the new leaves that emerge will adapt to the increased sunlight and not burn.
You can purchase caladiums two different ways. Buying tubers is the most economical way to add caladiums to your landscape. You can plant them directly into well-prepared beds now about 2 inches deep and 8 to 12 inches apart.
You should see growing points or even pinkish-white sprouts on the knobby side of the tuber. That side is planted up. The smoother side is the bottom. Wait until leaves have emerged and grown several inches tall before mulching them.
Caladiums also are available in 4- to 6-inch pots. These will provide immediate color in the landscape. They should be transplanted with the top of the root ball level with the soil of the bed. Plant them 8 to 12 inches apart into well-prepared beds, and they will grow larger and more beautiful through the summer. Once growing caladiums are planted, mulch the bed with 2 inches of your favorite mulch and water them in.
Keep beds of caladiums well watered during summer, especially those receiving lots of sun.
The colorful, tropical foliage of caladiums combines beautifully with impatiens, begonias, torenias, liriope, ferns, hydrangeas, achimenes, gingers and other shade-loving plants. They are generally more effective when a single color or variety is used in a bed or landscape. If several colors are used, they are most effective when masses or groups of each color are combined in the planting.
In late September or early October, longer nights and cooler temperatures encourage caladiums to go dormant. But the tubers you plant this summer can be used to grow caladiums next year – either by leaving them in the ground or storing and replanting them next year.
If the caladium beds will stay relatively undisturbed and if drainage is good so they will not stay too wet during winter, you may simply leave the tubers in the ground.
Or you may choose to dig and store them as this is the most reliable way of making sure they grow another year. Dig caladiums when a number of leaves turn yellow and most of the foliage begins to look “tired” and falls over. Use a shovel or a garden fork to lift the tubers, being careful not to damage them. Leaving the foliage attached, shake and brush most of the soil from the tubers and lay them out in a single layer in a dry location sheltered from rain. A garage or carport works fine. After the leaves become tan and papery, pull them from the tubers and store the tubers in paper bags indoors where temperatures stay around 70 degrees through the winter.
With poor growing conditions, particularly in areas of heavy shade or in sunny, dry locations, the plants will likely produce small, weak tubers that may not return well whether they’re left in the ground or dug and stored. Under the right circumstances and with proper care, however, the tubers you plant this year can provide a beautiful display again next year and for years to come.