Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Horticulture News
Caladiums - Popular and Colorful Foliage Plants
Caladiums are a popular landscape and container plant grown for their colorful foliage. Selective use of caladiums in containers, beds or borders, can add color and dimension to the landscape year-round long for very little cost and maintenance. Caladiums (Caladium hortulanum) are tropical foliage plants of the Araceae family and are native to tropical America with the majority of them coming from the Amazon basin in Brazil. Two different types of caladiums are available. These include the fancy leaved and lance or strap leaved types. The most popular and commonly seen is the fancy leaved type. These display the large, colorful, somewhat heart shaped leaf typically associated with caladiums.
There are numerous caladium cultivars available in a wide range of colors and patterns, including red, pink, white and green. Caladiums can be purchased as tubers, seedlings, or full size plants from most garden shops and dealers. The size of the caladium plant will be indicated by tuber size; larger tubers will produce larger plants. Tubers should be carefully inspected before purchase. Only firm tubers should be selected; soft or spongy tubers should be rejected as these may be diseased or damaged.
Caladiums add a cool look to the garden and are easy to grow if a few basic guidelines are observed. Caladiums produce larger and vividly colored leaves in partial shade. They should be planted in the landscape where they receive filtered sun or direct morning sun for three to four hours per day. Although full sunlight is not detrimental to caladium plants, growing under full sun most of the day will result in faded colors. Caladiums should not be planted in heavily shaded areas since plants will stretch and develop weak petioles.
Caladiums grow best moderately rich, well aerated soil high in organic matter. To obtain these conditions on most local soils, it is generally necessary to amend sandy soils with organic matter. Good sources of organic material include peat moss, well rotted manure and compost. Caladiums prefer moist soil but not soggy or poorly drained soils. Excess water or poor drainage will cause the tubers to rot. If soils are allowed to dry, caladiums wilt rapidly. Caladiums should never be planted under the eaves of building without guttering. Heavy rains falling from the eaves will seriously damage caladium leaves. Heavy rains will also damage caladium leaves grown on bare soils by splashing water and sand particles onto the leaves. Caladiums should be mulched to prevent rain damage.
Tubers can be planted directly into well prepared beds after the danger of frost has passed. In this area, the chance of frost is minimal after mid February. Caladiums respond well to proper fertilization. A complete fertilizer should be mixed with the soil and organic matter before planting. A minimum of two pounds of complete fertilizer (6-6-6 or 8-8-8) per 100 square feet of bed (one tablespoon per plant) is recommended. Tubers should be planted two inches deep and eighteen inches apart with the growing points facing up. Be sure to pack the soil firmly around the tuber to avoid air pockets. Caladiums should be fertilized monthly after planting with one pound of complete fertilizer per 100 square feet (one teaspoon per plant) for best color. If started from large tubers, caladiums can be grown on poor unimproved soils for at least one season since there is enough food stored in the tuber to carry the plant for a season. Caladiums grown this way will decline rapidly and should be treated as annuals.
It is not necessary to dig and store caladium tubers for winter storage in this area. Cold temperature may cause the death of the foliage, but temperatures usually do not drop low enough to injure the tubers.
There is a wide choice of colors when selecting caladiums for the landscape. The popular Candidium and White Christmas are white with contrasting green veins. These varieties are useful in brightening shaded areas and look particularly good when interspersed with other white flowers such as: white geraniums, white petunias, or variegated vinca. Pink or rose colored leaves are found on a number of varieties including Lord Derby, Pink Cloud, Kathleen, Rose Bud, Carolyn Wharton and others. Red leaf color appears in the Blaze, John Peed, Red Flair, and Freda Hemple cultivars. Dark green veins and borders give an interesting accent to red leaved varieties like Red Flash.
Insects and diseases are generally not troublesome on caladiums. Occasionally aphids and thrips may cause problems. Caterpillars and other chewing insects may feed on leaves making the plants unsightly. Observe plants carefully and if necessary an appropriate insecticide will insure beautiful plants. Nematodes may cause problems in caladiums grown in the same place year after year. If an infestation builds up, the caladium tubers should be dug up and moved to another area. Tuber rot of caladiums may occur if tubers are cold damaged.
Tastefully used, in groups or as a border, this popular foliage plant will provide an exotic color accent to the garden for little cost and upkeep. Good luck and good gardening.
Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service. Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975, e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 863-674-4092 or 863-983-1598. You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle. Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.
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