Many gardeners enjoy a summer landscape planting of caladiums. These are one of the most popular plants to fill shady gardens and they thrive in heat and humidity that is common in the summer months. Modern caladiums are grouped under the name Caladium x hortulanum.
Caladiums have attractive foliage. The actual plant of a caladium is foliage that is produced from underground tubers that we generally refer to as bulbs, although they are actually called corms. Heart shaped leaves are six to 12 inches across. Plants reach heights of one to two 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 our shady gardens with their bold texture from May until October. Tubers go dormant in late fall and should normally be dug up and discarded but you can dig them up, store them, and replant next year. Caladiums have no insect or disease problems unless they are abused or planted in the wrong location.
Caladiums grow best in shade to partial shade (this is generally two to four 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 summer 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 hot, dry, full sun conditions.
You can buy caladium tubers in the spring and container grown plants in mid to late spring through the summer. It is best to plant caladiums in April through May instead of in March because they grow best under warmer soil conditions. Caladiums will provide immediate color in the landscape when planted eight to 12 inches apart, and 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 four-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 need to be added. You must plant caladiums so that the top of the root ball is level with the bed. Once they are planted, mulch the bed with two inches of pine straw mulch and water in.
Caladiums are one of the top performers for shade gardens. Many of us do not take advantage of this great plant – they work great in combinations with our more traditionally thought of warm season bedding plants for shade. Try them with impatiens, Torenia, begonias and coleus.
For more horticultural information, contact Chris Robichaux, Ph.D., county agent, St. Martin/Iberia Parishes, at 332-2181 or 369-4440.