Snow may be on the ground, but that shouldn't keep us from dreaming of our summer gardens. Now is the time to plan for a beautiful caladium display.
Caladiums are colorful members of the Araceae family. They were first discovered in western Brazil along the Madiera River in 1773. This was in a time when wealthy collectors funded expeditions to the New World to obtain new and unusual plants. It wasn't until about 100 years later that horticulturalists were actively breeding these plants to obtain larger and more colorful foliage. The flowers aren't important to gardeners who grow caladiums; it is the colorful leaves that brighten up shady areas where flowering plants struggle.
Since they are tropical plants, many gardeners treat them as annuals or lift the frost-sensitive tubers when cold weather threatens. Caladiums are warm weather plants and their splashy color and exotic appearance give the most humble display a lush and tropical feel. I generally treat mine as annuals here in west Kentucky. The bulbs are inexpensive and I'd rather replace them each season than try to store them.
Most of the world's caladiums are grown in Florida and there are a number of mail order vendors that will happily ship tubers to most any address. I order my caladiums in early spring and my vendor is always attentive to the weather reports, shipping my tubers after all danger of frost has passed. We have a number of excellent caladium vendors listed in the Garden Watchdog, so there are many choices when it comes to these easy to grow plants.
The images are my own caladiums in containers on my front porch and the garden caladiums at the top of the article are the ones I helped my cousin plant at his Bed and Breakfast. He hosts destination weddings and the brides just adore the lush beds full of the tropical foliage. We're in Kentucky, so it is unusual to see caladiums used like this, but they do well in shady alcoves and under dense shrubbery. Further south, it is quite commonplace.
Plant caladiums after all danger of frost has passed, or in containers indoors for an earlier show. Most tubers will have an ‘eye' or two starting to emerge to show which side is up. Even if they are planted upside down, caladiums will eventually figure out which way to grow. All they ask is shady or dappled sun conditions, moist, rich soil and a place out of the wind. (Strong winds tend to shred the large leaves)Caladiums prefer soil with a PH of 6.0 to 6.5 and soil amended with potash and phosphorous. They're heavy feeders and will appreciate application of an 8-10-10 fertilizer about every 4 weeks. Fertilizer high in nitrogen (the first number on a fertilizer package) will result in leaves with more green than color, so remember to limit that element.
If you live in an area with cold winters, lift your caladium tubers after they have been knocked down by frost. Keep them dry and store in an area where the temperatures do not drop below 50 degrees. When spring rolls around, discard any mushy tubers and replant in your favorite areas. They will soon send up shoots for another spectacular show. Many northern gardeners treat
caladiums as annual plants and simply purchase new tubers each season. They're quite inexpensive and it saves them the trouble of storing their tubers each winter.
My east-facing front porch is an excellent place to grow caladiums. It receives early morning sun and bright light throughout the day. During the hottest part of the summer, I make sure that I water each container deeply every morning and again in the afternoon if needed. Coleus is another plant that enjoys similar conditions and they are quick to wilt when water levels run low, so they are both beautiful and useful in containers where you grow caladiums. My mixed containers of caladiums and coleus brighten up my front porch and they are an elegant and easy way to spotlight my entryway.
Gardeners in more tropical conditions can plant their caladiums right in the ground and leave them there all year. They make excellent landscape plants and are especially attractive in beds around trees. Their only enemies are slugs, so if your garden is prone to those villains, make sure you have taken countermeasures to prevent their feasting on your colorful leaves. Caladiums only ask for plenty of moisture and well-drained soil during their growing season and soil that is somewhat dry during their dormant period.
Caladiums are easy to grow for gardeners of all skill levels and even beginners can put on a spectacular show that will impress their friends and neighbors. There are hundreds of varieties and many color combinations, so there should be some that are perfect for you.