Warm Climate Gardening Tips

 Warm Climate Gardening Tips

 by Tara A. Spears

Views from My Tropical Garden   caladium

The ultimate lazy gardener’s plant is the caladium. It is almost unparalleled for its distinctive foliage that flashes green, white, red, and pink in mottled, veined or striped patterns. The large arrow-shaped, paper thin leaves are stunning in a flower bed or as accents in pots. Grown as an annual in climates that have frost, they are evergreen here in the tropics. A tuberous plant that loves heat and humidity, the one pictured in the blue pot has thrived for four years of non-stop blooming on my covered patio.  Caladiums are native to the Amazon River area of Brazil.

If you want to place caladiums directly into the ground, select a location that is shady, or does not receive any direct sunlight. Direct sun causes burn spots on the leaves and will kill the plant very quickly.  Caladium likes rich soil. The soil needs to be kept moist, but should be well draining. If the soil is poor, (as it is along the Riviera Nayarit coast) add generous amounts of compost and manure. Caladiums are perfectly comfortable in a pot or container which makes it a very popular houseplant or balcony/patio adornment. Caladium grows well with little care or attention.

The Basic Needs of Caladiums:

Light: Indirect but bright light. According to some gardening books, the narrower the leaves, the greater the sun it can withstand, but in the tropics no direct sunlight is the rule. Water: When leaves appear, keep soil evenly moist. Never allow to dry out and keep humidity as high as practical. Temperature: The warmer the better. Aim for 70º (20 C) —tubers begin to grow around 70ºF. Soil: Rich, well-drained potting mix. Fertilizer: Fertilize weekly during the growing season with liquid or use slow-release pellets. Propagation: Mature tubers can be divided; just make sure that each new tuber section has at least one growing site on it.

Repotting: Indoors or out, caladium are a seasonal plant, with foliage in the summer and a rest period in winter (here, approximately January-early March). The two types that I have directly in the ground have a rest period, but not the one in the pot. After the leaves begin to die back in the fall, either keep the tubers in the same pot (keeping it dry) or remove, clean and store in dry sand.



There are literally too many cultivars to keep track of—caladium cultivars are green, red, pink, white, even orange. In many cases, cultivars are sold without names. Almost all cultivars are descended from the C. bicolor, which is native to South America. Some books list these plants as C. hortulanum. Personally, I buy caladiums for their foliage and don’t worry too much about the cultivar or official name.

Grower’s Tips:

Caladiums are a seasonal plant even in the tropics, where gardeners plant them in the spring and summer months when they’ll thrive in the heat and wet. In the home situation, they’ll do best with lots of heat, bright but indirect light, and lots of humidity. But even under the best conditions, caladiums will only last a few months before their leaves start to die back and the plant goes dormant again. This is OK—they’re supposed to do that. Use masses of them as striking summer accents and conversation pieces. When they die back, save the tubers in a bag and replant next year for another show, or as I do, leave the rhizome in the flower bed and amend the soil when the plant emerges from its dormant season.

Although this tropical rhizomatous plant is excellent for outdoor shade gardens and as a potted plant, it also makes a great indoor houseplant.  The easy to grow caladium is a wonderful plant to enliven and brighten up the interior of your home or add the wow factor to your patio with its vibrant colors.


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