Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Perennials
by Barbara Pleasant
Big and exotic leaves of caladium add a tropical flair to gardens.
Any garden with a shady location has a perfect spot for caladiums. These tropical tubers, most of them varieties derived from Caladium bicolor, are grown for their dramatic summer foliage. They are naturals in beds with ferns or coleus, in pots to accent shady spots, or indoors as knock-your-socks-off houseplants.
But caladiums have their limitations, particularly when it comes to temperature. A primary requirement is soil warmed to above 65° F, no surprise for a plant native to tropical South America. In cool climates, you certainly need sun to attain that level of warmth. Fortunately, several of the best varieties tolerate full sun beautifully as long as they get plenty of water.
Tall, Short, and In-Between Varieties
Until fairly recently, caladium varieties could be neatly divided into tall fancy-leaved and shorter lance-leaved types. Each has special talents and uses. Tall kinds such as white 'Candidum' and pink 'Carolyn Whorton' put on a beautiful show, but since each tuber has but one to three active buds, the leaf count is low. De-eyeing tubers (removing the terminal buds on the tuber when it first spikes to encourage side buds to develop) before planting will increase leaf numbers. Lance-leaved types, including 'Rosalie' and 'White Wing', produce many more leaves from multiple buds, but the leaves are thinner and not as long.
At the University of Florida's Gulf Coast Research Station in Brandenton, Gary Wilfret has spent 25 years breeding caladiums that combine the best of both types and are custom-made for growing in containers. Of the eight varieties released so far, pink-and-green 'Florida Sweetheart' is his runaway hit, with red-and-green 'Florida Red Ruffles' poised to enter the big time as soon as growers accumulate sufficient stock. Besides its vigorous leaf production, 'Florida Red Ruffles' may have a slight edge in terms of cold tolerance. Wilfret's long-term goal? To extend caladiums' growing range into climates where nighttime temperatures drop below 55° F.
Because 80 percent of caladiums are now grown in containers, which can be moved about as needed to expose the plants to the warmth they need, give them a try no matter where you live.