I’ve started seeing Caladium tubers for sale in the garden centers. Unless there’s a specific variety that you’re looking for, resist the urge to buy them unless you are willing to hold them in a warm spot, or pot them up until it’s time to plant them.
Caladiums are warm season foliage plants with tropical foliage that livens up even the deepest shade and provides textural interest and height. They provide constant color in the garden because you don’t have to rely on flowering. The first Caladium described, ‘Caladium bicolor’ was a green and white plant collected in 1773 in Brazil. Today, there are over 1,000 named varieties and come in a dizzying variety of leaf shapes, sizes, and colors, with some displaying interesting texture, splotches, freckles or colorful veins.
There are basically two types of Caladiums: ‘Fancy Leaf” varieties typically have a larger, broader leaf and are best suited to shady parts of the garden. ‘Strap Leaf’ varieties have a narrower, more pointed leaf and are considered more tolerant of sun (morning sun and afternoon shade is ideal).
Caladium tubers are sold by grade (or size) which determines how many eyes (leaf buds) are on the tuber. And yes, bigger tubers yield more foliage.
No. 2: 1” to 1-1/2” in diameter
No. 1: 1-1/2” to 2-1/2” in diameter
Jumbo: 2-1/2” to 3-1/2” in diameter
Mammoth: 3-1/2” to 4-1/2” in diameter
After purchase, unpack the tubers and store them in open trays with good air circulation in a room with temperatures no lower than 70 degrees. Exposing tubers to cold temperatures will cause them to sprout slowly and erratically and may produce stunted plants.
If you want to get a head start on the season, consider potting up the tubers and keeping them in a warm place until it’s time to put them in the ground. Use a good quality potting mix and fill 6” pots. Use a dowel to open a hole large enough to place the tuber in the pot. Tubers have a smooth bottom and slightly knobby top. If they aren’t oriented correctly, the tubers will still sprout, but will take longer. Cover with soil and water lightly. Cover the entire flat with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot, preferably on a heat mat. When the leaves begin to emerge, remove the plastic wrap, but continue to hold the flat in a warm place and keep slightly moist until ready to plant out.
Caladiums thrive in well amended soils that are rich in organic matter. They prefer a slightly acid soil, but will perform well if the soil is not heavy clay. After loosening the soil and adding organic matter, work in an organic fertilizer before planting.
I can’t emphasize enough that the soil should be thoroughly warm before planting out Caladiums. If planted in cold, wet soil, the tubers will rot. In North Texas, Mother’s Day (early-May) is usually a safe time to plant.
In the landscape, plant smaller bulbs 6-8” apart and Jumbo bulbs 12-18” apart. Evenly space 4 each of #2 bulbs, 2 each of #1 bulbs, or 1 each of Jumbo bulbs per square feet. To determine how many bulbs you need to fill an area, multiply the length and width of the planting area. For instance if the planting space is 2’ x 10’, (2 x 10), that space is 20 square feet. It will take 80 #2 bulbs (4 x 20), 40 #1 bulbs (2 x 20) or 20 Jumbo bulbs (1 x 20).
Throughout the summer, keep Caladiums consistently moist. Once a month sprinkle Bone Meal (or 6-6-6 fertilizer) around plants and water in. An occasional watering with Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) will provide micronutrients and keep them healthy and growing vigorously.
At the end of the season, when temperatures are consistently 60 degrees or lower, dig up the tubers. Let them dry for a week, then trim off the tops and store the tubers in a warm (70 degree) ventilated space for planting the following spring. Some gardeners recommend packing in shredded newspaper or peat moss.
There are lots of varieties of Caladiums to choose from. These are some that Southern Living has listed as their favorites:
1. ‘Pink Symphony’ - a strap leaf with pink leaves, with green veins and some leaves are edges in green.
2. ‘Iceburg’ - a strap leaf with marbled green and white leaves.
3. ‘Rose Glow’ - a fancy leaf with a center of rose, surrounded by white and with green edges.
4. ‘Carolyn Whorton’ - a fancy leaf with a marbled green and pink leaf with bright pink veins.
5. ‘Miss Muffet’ - a dwarf variety that is green with red freckles.
6. ‘Postman Joyner’ - a fancy leaf with a deep red center with dark green edges and a quilted appearance. Grow only in the shade.
7. ‘Candyland’ - a strap leaf with a white center punctuated with pink freckles and a dark green edge.
8. ‘Red Flash’ - a fancy leaf has a red center with a green edge with white freckles.
Some new varieties from Classic Caladiums (classiccaladiums.com) include:
1. ‘Allure’ - a fancy leaf with an all white leaf and every vein is highlighted in green.
2. ‘Berries n Burgundy’ - a fancy leaf with burgundy background and pink veins.
3. ‘Flatter Me’ - a fancy leaf with with and green splotches and pink veins.
4. ‘Freckles’ - a fancy leaf with a pink center freckled with green and a green edge.
5. ‘Monument’ - a fancy leaf with white background freckled with green and a green edge.
6. ‘Posey Pink’ - a fancy leaf with a mottled pink background, darker pink veins and mottled green edge.
7. ‘Red Glamour’ - a fancy leaf with a puckered pink center and green edge.
8. ‘Southern Charm’ - a fancy leaf with a white background, red veins and green edge.
9. ‘Waters Edge’ - a fancy leaf with a white center, white veins and wide green edge.
Surely there is a Caladium that you will love and enjoy throughout the summer! And don’t forget, if you miss the opportunity to plant the tubers, you can always purchase started plants at your favorite garden center.