On Gardening: Let your artistic nature flourish with fancy leafed caladiums

A container with Aaron caladium and Red Carpet alternanthera creates a showy contrast in color and texture. (Norman Winter/For Savannah Morning News)

This year it seems the caladium has appeared in both landscapes and as component plants in mixed containers including baskets. The caladium has been a little cyclical in popularity over the past couple of decades, but innovative designers have shown us we just haven’t pushed the envelope with the artistic opportunities.

 

In 2017 it’s been extraordinary to see the caladiums mixed in the landscape with flowers, and foliage never before considered. At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, one of our designers partnered Red Flash caladium with Blue Glory thunbergia for a delightfully tropical appeal.

Mixed containers in upscale shopping complexes have become almost unbelievable. Some four-foot tall containers that are 3-feet wide are flowing with color. Carolyn Whorton caladiums, Sidekick sweet potatoes, Big begonias and Supertunia Bordeaux petunias create an incredible showy look.

Caladiums in mixed hanging baskets, however, that’s a stretch for an old geezer. But imagine pink caladiums echoing the color of Mandevilla that were climbing the chain, Snow Princess lobularia and Techno Heat lobelia all made for a dazzling display that only an artist could create.

Like their cousins the elephant ear, the colorful caladium leaves originate from tubers and give that lush, relaxed tropical feeling to the landscape. Choose varieties correctly, and you can have them for both sun and shade. The choice of colors and variegation can seem mind boggling when making a selection, but they are oh so fun.

Caladiums will produce their exotic foliage until late fall making them a very wise selection for the dollars spent on summer color. Fancy leafed types produce larger elephant ear shaped leaves and are very striking while the strapped leaf types produce smaller leaves but many more of them per plant.

I like to plant caladiums in partial shade or morning sun and afternoon shade. Research at the Dallas Arboretum several years ago proved that many varieties are much more sun tolerant than previously thought, Red Flash and Aaron are two we are growing in the garden. But I also love Fire Chief, Postman Joyner, and White Queen.

No matter where I travel it seems the most beautiful caladiums are growing in raised beds rich in organic matter. This also points to the reason why caladiums do so well in potting soil in mixed containers. If you find yourself plagued with tight, compacted clay, by all means, loosen with compost or humus. Planting in raised beds comprised of a prepared landscape mix can also be successful.

Since the goal is to grow pretty foliage there is no use in letting the plant use energy to produce flowers, so clip these as they start to develop. Water the plants deeply and often during the growing season. Try to avoid using high nitrogen fertilizers as this will encourage excessive greening of the foliage.

Even though it is late summer you could still get weeks of great color should you find a good buy on them at your local garden center. Your garden center might still have both tubers and potted growing plants. If you are buying tubers, select those that are plump and firm. Plant them about two inches deep with the point up. Most likely, however, you will be planting a gallon or six-inched sized container; set these in the ground with the top of the root ball even with the soil surface.

If you have been growing caladiums and cool weather is closer than those of us in Georgia, it is possible to save tubers for next year. Once the short days of fall start and the leaves begin to droop, clip the vegetation dig the tubers. Let them dry for a week, and then dust them with a fungicide. Store them at room temperature in dry peat, perlite or kitty litter. Try to keep them from touching each other.

Regardless of where you live there is a season for enjoying the fancy foliage of the caladium. This may be a good time to evaluate whether or not you are trying all of the artistic possibilities.

 

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