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Caladiums can add that right pop of color

A relative of elephant ear plants, caladiums are smaller with a wider variety of leaf colors.

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White Ghost and White Queen caladiums have beautiful-colored leaves that seem to glow in the evening shade.
John Zvirovski / The Jamestown Sun
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Bold colors that make shady areas pop to life always get my attention. So often our shady areas are left a little neglected as we can’t always find a blooming plant that will work and we tend to strain our imagination on what else we can use. There are large selections of coleus, but varieties today can handle full sun in most cases and have left the shade realm. One plant that I enjoy for shady areas is caladium.

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Most often these are discovered in our shade gardens where we rely on foliage plants to make a statement.

A relative of elephant ear plants, caladiums are smaller with a wider variety of leaf colors. Some are as short as 10 inches while others can grow close to 30. Leaves can also range in size and shape depending on the variety but often are heart or lance-shaped.

Caladiums are an easy-to-grow plant if a few steps are followed. They do not like cold weather or soils, so planting the tubers too early in the season can cause the roots to rot. Caladiums prefer a soil temperature of 70 degrees in order to thrive. Often around our area, it takes a while for soils to warm up that much. An early start inside is preferable to get them going before placing them outside. I like to plant them in containers, the soil temperature seems to warm up faster and remains that way longer in the season. Also, in shady areas, if they remain wet, slugs can be a problem and eat up the leaves. In containers, they are off the ground and do not encounter that problem nearly as easily.

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John Zvirovski, Jamestown Sun garden editor
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

They prefer a moist, well-drained soil that is rich in compost. Since they are heavy feeders, this kind of soil is ideal but can be aided along with a mild fertilizer every two to three weeks to ensure success. One key thing to remember is that caladiums do not like to dry out as their leaves will begin to discolor or brown.

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Most caladium varieties are adapted to full shade, however, there are sun-tolerant varieties that are becoming more popular, but they can only handle up to three hours of direct sun a day. That is preferably a cool east-side sun and not a heat-of-the-day sun. If they are placed into sun stress too often, the plants will begin to fail.

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There are numerous different types of caladiums with beautiful leaf colors that can take your breath away. Here are a few of the most common selections and their great attributes.

  • Red Flash is a medium-sized plant that can reach 20 inches tall. It has red-veined leaves speckled with white and fuchsia and edged in deep green.
  • Fire Chief is a similar-sized selection with bright pink and ivory leaves. The more shade this one gets, the more brilliant the color.
  • Rosebud is a short variety of about a foot tall with pink and green leaves with deep pink veins.
  • White Queen is a selection I tried this year, which is also a medium-sized plant with white leaves that are marked with contrasting green and red veins and deep green edges.
  • Aaron is one of the old-time favorites with white leaves veined in green and accented with green edges.
  • Pink Gem is a foot to a foot and a half high with bright pink sword-like leaves.
  • Florida Fantasy is similar in size with large bright white leaves. There are accented by reddish-pink veins with a slender green edge and pale green markings throughout.
  • White Christmas is another variety I tried this year with large snow-white leaves and distinctive green veins. This one gets about 2 feet in height.
  • Brandywine is a large one with burgundy leaves edged in contrasting green borders.

Although there are many other selections to choose from, these are just a sampling of what awaits you in the market for your own gardens. Keep in mind that these tubers are not hardy for our area, so they need to be dug up in the fall season if you want to save them from one year to the next.
If you decide to save them, take them inside after the temperatures drop below 50 and let them fade off. Once this has occurred, cut off the foliage and root hairs, let the tubers dry for five days and then place them into a container of dry peat moss for dark storage at about 60 degrees. This will keep them healthy till the following spring when you can replant them for a new season of beauty.

Caladiums are a great choice for that pop of color in your shade gardens. Give them a try next year and see what fun you can have with them!

Related Topics: GARDENINGHOME AND GARDEN
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