Our Caladium Bulbs Are Here!

Caladiums growing in a shady spot on the deck last July from tubers purchased in 2012, and kept indoors through the previous winter.

Caladiums growing in a shady spot on the deck last July from tubers purchased in 2012.  This whole pot, including the Caladium,  stayed in the living room through the previous winter.

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Finally, our order of  Caladium tubers  arrived on Wednesday.

These 22 pounds of tubers, ordered in February, were supposed to arrive weeks ago.  But Bill Kurek, proprietor of Caladium Bulbs 4 Less in Lake Placid, Florida, promised us that he would watch our weather and ship the bulbs in mid-March when we had a string of warm days forecast.

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The same Caladium in January, now enjoying life in the living room.

The same Caladium in January, now enjoying life in the living room.

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Well, we never had that string of warm days.  And since Caladiums hate the cold, even a cold night en route to their new home, Bill waited to ship.

Our bulbs left Florida Monday evening in safe keeping with Fed Ex.   They were delivered before noon on Wednesday by one of the Fed Ex drivers who makes special deliveries in a family sized mini-van.

The bulbs arrived in perfect  condition,  cushioned with Styrofoam peanuts, toasty and warm.

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April 10 Caladiums 004

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These are huge tubers with multiple eyes.    I was very pleased with the how nice this stock looked as I unpacked it all and repackaged the tubers for friends and family.

A good sized group of us pooled our orders.  We ordered lots of 25  #1 tubers of seven different varieties.   We each then could have a hand selected variety of cultivars in the colors we prefer.

Caladiums are treated as annuals in Zone 7 because they don’t survive our winters.  The instructions for digging, drying and saving the tubers from one season to the next sound straightforward.  But many of us have  had disappointing results with saved tubers the following  spring.

It is critical to keep the bulbs warm.  If a Caladium is potted with another plant while it is dormant in the winter, it is a fine balance to keep the soil moist enough for the plant in growth, but not so wet the Caladium tuber rots.

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Line a large plastic box with paper towels to evenly wick the moisture through the mix. Notice there are no drainage holes.

Line a large plastic box with paper towels to evenly wick the moisture through the mix. Notice there are no drainage holes.

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So most of us just purchase new Caladiums each year in early summer.  Purchased, already in leaf, at a garden center or big box store,  they can be pricey.  They usually retail for $8 to $12  a pot.

Some gardeners purchase bags of tubers at the big box stores or larger garden centers for a  little savings.  This works, but the selection of varieties is very limited.

Ordering from a grower gives you access to a larger selection of varieties.  Not only can you select leaf pattern and color, but also size and sun tolerance.  There are many luscious varieties which never make it to the retail nursery trade this far north as plants or tubers.

If you love Caladiums, you will be amazed at the beautiful plants offered through a grower.  Even with postage, which is considerable; the average cost per tuber will still be under $2.oo each, when you can order in lots of 25 or more of a single variety.

So once the Caladiums arrive, what to do?

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April 10 Caladiums 001

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The first cardinal rule is to keep them warm.  Caladiums, even before they are growing, don’t like to dip much below 60F.  That means that the wisest course is to start them indoors, and then move the growing plants out into the garden when temperatures have settled for the season.

If planted directly into the garden outside, wait until the nights remain in the sixties, and the soil feels warm to the touch.  That is usually around the middle of May here in zone 7B.

I like to start Caladiums in large, lidded, plastic boxes.  First line the box with paper towels to evenly wick and distribute moisture.

There are no drainage holes  in the container, so we will water sparingly until the Caladiums are growing, and  then very carefully until they are planted out.

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Fill the box with fresh, good quality potting mix. Here I've dug the first furrow and labeled the box for the "Florida Fantasy" tubers which will grow here.

Fill the box with fresh, good quality potting mix. Here I’ve dug the first furrow and labeled the box for the “Florida Fantasy” tubers which will grow here.

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Caladiums should be planted about 2″ deep.  So fill this shallow container to within just a few inches of the top.  I used a full 1 cubic foot bag of  Miracle Grow potting mix in each container.

Next, make a planting furrow about 2″ from the side of the container for the first row of tubers.  We can space them closely now, but not touching,  to begin growing.

Examine each tuber for signs of growth.  Some will have begun to sprout, which helps you know how to orient the tuber in the furrow.

In general, the more rounded parts should face up, as stems will emerge from the rounded “bumps”.  The concave or flat side, where roots will grow,  should be down.  If you honestly can’t tell which way to place the tuber, put it on its side .  The stems will still grow up.

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Both of these tubers are eye side up, properly positioned to plant. Notice growth on the right. On the left, I look for the rounded bumps from which stems will grow.

Both of these tubers are eye side up, properly positioned to plant. Notice growth on the right. On the left, I look for the rounded bumps from which stems will grow.

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In the early years, I got them upside down from time to time, and the tuber still sprouted!  I just  sorted it out at transplanting.

Make a second furrow, about 3″-4″ inches from the first, before covering the first one.

Since I purchased specific varieties, I like to plant all of one variety together.   Label each group.

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Florida Fantasy tubers laid in the furrow. I cover them as I dig the second furrow to keep things evenly spaced.

Florida Fantasy tubers laid in the furrow. I cover them as I dig the second furrow to keep things evenly spaced.

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We purchased very long boxes, and managed to get about 25 tubers in each.   The box is heavy, once planted.    You might want to work with smaller plastic boxes, and dedicate an entire box to a single variety.

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April 10 Caladiums 007

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When the entire box is planted, water the bulbs in , and secure the lid. The soil should be moist, but not wet.

The soil should be moist enough to activate growth, but not so moist that the tuber will rot.  The paper towels in the bottom help distribute the moisture evenly through the box.  I used about 2 quarts of water in this very large box to moisten all of the soil.

Caladiums  are fairly thirsty plants throughout the growing season and don’t mind moist soil.  But in the beginning, when they roots are just beginning, too much water can be fatal.

Putting the lids on locks that moisture into the box.  As it evaporates, it will collect on the lid and drip back into the soil.  These boxes won’t need any additional care for at least 2 weeks.  You might check once or twice just to make sure that the soil moisture is holding at a good level, but don’t expect to see growth for a few weeks.

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This box is all planted, and watered in with about 2 quarts of warm water.

This box is all planted, and watered in with about 2 quarts of warm water.

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Place the boxes in a warm room, out of the way.  Ours  are resting in the guest room for the rest of the month.  I noted the day planted, and a date two weeks away to check for growth.

When the leaves begin to emerge, remove the lids, and move the boxes to a location where they can get indirect light.  I hope to move our Caladiums to a shady spot outside during the day, by early May,  and just bring them in at night.

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Finally, cover the box, label with the date planted, and move to a warm area in the house where it won't be disturbed.

Finally, cover the box, label with the date planted, and move to a warm area in the house where it won’t be disturbed.

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When each tuber has a grown roots,  and has emerging leaves, it can be moved to its permanent location.   I grow Caladiums mostly in pots.  I control the soil, and the voles can’t touch them.

Although Caladiums are poisonous, and so are ignored by deer, I have heard from friends that voles and squirrels destroy them in the ground at times.  It may be the last act on Earth for that vole, but that is what I’ve heard.

If you have voles, consider  planting your Caladiums into a plastic nursery pot or a terra cotta pot first.  Use a good quality potting mix, and fertilize with Osmocote or Plant Tone mixed into the soil.  Then dig a hole in the planting bed large enough to hold the pot, with just its rim visible above ground.  The pot protects the Caladium tubers and  during the season, and can be lifted in the autumn to store the tubers indoors.

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"Gingerland" in September 2013.

“Gingerland” in September 2013.

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My best success with keeping loved Caladiums season to season is to keep them growing through the winter.  I transplant in the fall into containers which are coming indoors, or just bring the whole mixed container, Caladiums and all, into the house when the evening temperatures begin to go below 50.

The Caladiums usually die back for a while and take a rest.  But then, in late winter, here they come again!  New leaves emerge, and we enjoy Caladiums indoors for the next several months.

These plants grow larger and more lovely year to year, if you have the space inside to keep them going during the winter.

So this is the perfect time to start your own Caladiums for this season.  There is still time to place your order to get exactly the varieties, or mixtures of varieties, you want to grow this year.  We are still at least a month out here from planting the Caladiums out of doors, and likely many more weeks in colder areas of the country.  That means there is plenty of time to give them a start so you have your own gorgeous crop of Caladiums to enjoy this summer.

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Caladiums and Rex Begonia in late October, repotted to come in for the winter.

Caladiums and Rex Begonia in late October, repotted to come in for the winter.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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July 28 2013 caterpillars 006

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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

5 responses to “Our Caladium Bulbs Are Here!

  1. I love caladiums! We plant them in pots, but my grandmother always planted them in the ground and never had trouble with the squirrels or voles.

    • Your grandmother was very fortunate! I never had problems with voles until this garden. So much of gardening is peculiar to one’s location, and working with both the challenges and blessings of each garden. Hope your day is a beautiful one, WG

  2. Your post is very inspiring! I love your combinations of begonias and caladiums – they are so beautiful!

  3. Oh, this is fantastic information! I do love caladiums and had no idea about growing them from tubers. Is it much like canna cultivation? And I spied a beautiful begonia in the pot. That is a plant i want to grow and learn more about as well. Thank you!

    • You are very welcome, Barbara. That Begonia is one of our favorites, with lovely red foliage and pink flowers. It roots so easily from cuttings. Cannas are far more cold-tolerant than Caladiums, and they can take full sun. Caladiums will certainly grow if you just stick them in the ground, about 2″ deep, in late May. We leave our Cannas out through the winter, and plant them a little deeper. I shopped around for prices and selection before ordering this batch. Bill Kurek runs an excellent Caladium nursery, and I would recommend him to anyone as a supplier. Best wishes, WG

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