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Caladiums showing out after summer rainfall
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
The past few weeks of plentiful rain have made everyone wish they had planted caladiums. They are showing out with unbelievable beauty. Earlier you might have planted tubers, but you still can get started by purchasing nursery-grown transplants.
These colorful-leafed tubers give a lush, cool, tropical feeling to both sunny and shady parts of the landscape. The wide variety of colors can make selections seem mind-boggling.
The caladium is known botanically as Caladium bi-color and is in the family Araceae, with well-known relatives philodendron, aglaonema and dieffenbachia. They are native to tropical America.
Caladiums will produce their colorful foliage until late fall in fertile, organic-rich soil. Fancy-leafed types produce larger elephant ear-shaped leaves and are very striking.
If you haven't tried the strapped-leaf types, you are missing what just may be the best. I admit at first I was reluctant to try them because their leaves were so different than the fancy-leafed types. The strapped-leaf caladiums produce smaller leaves, but they have many more of them per plant and hold color four to six weeks longer. Dwarf strapped-leaf selections are perfect for mixed containers.
In late spring, plant smaller tubers 5 to 6 inches apart and larger ones 8 to 10 inches apart. Plant them shallowly in a well-drained, organic-rich bed. Container-grown caladiums that are available now can be planted 10 to 12 inches apart and at the same depth as the container soil line.
Caladiums can add bright spots of summertime color in front of green shrubbery or light a shady area. They even work great in planters. To achieve the best landscape effects, bed many plants of the same cultivar together.
I also have seen some good displays where many varieties were massed together for a really colorful show. They are especially striking when grown around pools or water gardens where the water reflects their bright colors.
Try planting complementary colors of caladiums and impatiens together. For instance, try White Queen caladiums, which are green and white with red margins, combined with red impatiens. They also can be planted with groundcover under large trees to give an attractive display. If you have pink-flowered crape myrtles, choose a caladium that has that same color in the leaf and plant it around the tree.
Even though many varieties are sun tolerant, I prefer to plant caladiums in partial shade or areas with morning sun and afternoon shade.
Research done years ago at the Dallas Arboretum proved that many varieties are much more sun tolerant than previously thought. Some sun tolerant varieties are Red Flash, Fire Chief, Candidum and White Queen.
You will have the best success by planting in raised beds rich in compost and organic matter. Your goal is to produce colorful foliage, so clip any flowers as they start to develop.
Mother Nature has supplied us with an abundance of rainfall as of late, but when we hit the inevitable dry spells, water the caladiums deeply and often throughout the summer.
It is possible to save the tubers for next year, but it takes some effort. Once the short days of fall begin and the leaves start to droop, clip the vegetation and dig up the tubers. Let them dry for a week and then dust them with a fungicide. Store the tubers in dry peat, sawdust or kitty litter until the following spring. It is best to keep the tubers from touching each other.
Caladiums are an exceptionally good value for the long season of color they provide. Get some this weekend.