Summer Love: Caladiums

'Florida Sweetheart' Caladium growing in a basket with Begonia 'Richmondensis' offers the perfect summer Valentine.

‘Florida Sweetheart’ Caladium growing in a basket with Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ offers the perfect summer Valentine.

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I love the bright, bold Caladium leaves of summer.  These huge tropical beauties, often called ‘elephant ears’ for both their size and their shape, remind me of living Valentines.   Their form, their red and pink coloring, and their wild patterns remind me of February’s little expressions of love, grown huge summer’s muggy heat.

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C. 'Gypsy Rose' was among the first Caladiums we planted out in early May.

C. ‘Gypsy Rose’ was among the first Caladiums we planted out in May.

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Ours got a late start this year.  It was too cold to put them outside until well into May.  Caladiums love heat!

Plant them out too early and they will sulk along, and maybe even rot before rooting and sending up their beautiful leaves.  Growers counsel us to wait until it is 65F outside at night, consistently, before planting them in the ground.

That is why I start them indoors, in potting soil, and have them ready to go outside when the weather has warmed enough to grow them.

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These 'Florida' series Caladiums, developed at the University of Florida, can take more sun than many other varieties will tolerate.

These ‘Florida’ series Caladiums, developed at the University of Florida, can take more sun than many other varieties will tolerate.

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I planted out the last of our sprouted tubers just last week, believe it or not!  These last were some of the tiniest tubers which came with our order, and they were planted in a plastic box, waiting in the garage for me to decide where they were to go.  (Sometimes small pieces break off of larger tubers during shipping.  Though they are small, they will still root and grow!)

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These are the last stragglers of this season, planted out about a week ago. Their tubers are the size of grapes, but I expect them to fill out in the coming weeks.

These are the last stragglers of this season, planted out about a week ago. Their tubers are only the size of grapes, but I expect them to fill out in the coming weeks.  The largest is C. ‘Florida Red Ruffle.’

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These were the last to finally grow leaves.  I planted them in the shade of some shrubs, where we’ve not had Caladiums in years past.  They are near the top of our drive, planted in a shallow layer of compost, where we can see and enjoy them every time we come and go.  With this new bed started, I’ll begin adding companions after the Caladiums establish, to fill it out.

The Caladiums I ordered last February, from a grower in Florida, arrived huge and healthy.  I was amazed to unpack them and discover a few  Caladium tubers the size of baking potatoes!

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C. 'Florida Fantasy' remains one of my all-time favorite Caladiums. They are surprisingly sun tolerant to have such a delicate, white leaf. This one grows in full shade.

C. ‘Florida Fantasy’ remains one of my all-time favorite Caladiums. They are surprisingly sun tolerant to have such a delicate, white leaf. This one grows in full shade.

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But some from a ‘starter pack’ we also ordered from the grower, weren’t that large at all; maybe the size of a large grape.  Not to worry.  The tuber size doesn’t affect the leaf size or height.  This is a genetic thing.  The tuber size determines how many leaves will grow from the one plant.  And of course, the tuber expands over the course of the season.

I also picked up a pack of C. ‘Florida Moonlight’ tubers at the ‘end of season’ sale from a local nursery.

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C. 'Florida Moonlight' grows here with hardy Begonia.

C. ‘Florida Moonlight’ grows here with hardy Begonia grandis.

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These were about the size of a half dollar, and it was warm enough to plant them directly outside.  After nearly a month in the ground, they are just beginning to send up leaves now.  I have high hopes that they will fill out and look stunning by August.

The earliest tubers to go out, in May, all survived, despite our cool nights lasting well into early summer. After a slow start,  they are responding to our heat and making lots of new leaves.  Watching each huge new leaf unroll brings its own pleasure!  Our hot, humid summers offer the tropical climate these lovely beauties crave.

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This is a single plant from one of those 'baked potato' sized tubers. The photo was taken after 6 this evening, and you can see how bright the sun remained even late in the afternoon.

This Caladium  is a single plant from one of those ‘baked potato’ sized tubers. The photo was taken after 6 this evening, and you can see how bright the sun remained even late in the day.

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Grown in dappled shade, Caladiums never scorch or wilt.  Deer and rabbits rarely touch them, as their leaves are mildly poisonous to eat.  Their color is as bright as any flower, and far more long lasting and reliable.  They beautifully fill a pot or bed.

They are neat and require very little care, beyond keeping them watered when there is a break in the summer rain.  Caladiums are raised on sandy soils in Florida, but they appreciate compost in their soil, and a little feeding to keep them going strong.

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Here is the same plant, photographed a few hours later.

Here is the same plant, photographed a few hours later.  I love these wildly patterned leaves of C. ‘Lance Wharton’!

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New Caladium varieties are introduced each year.  Some of the newer ones are the “Florida” series, bred at the University of Florida after 1988, to give better leaf production, larger tubers and to tolerate more direct sun.  Look for those Caladiums with ‘Florida’ in their name, such as C. Florida Red Ruffles and C. Florida Fantasy if you want an improved, relatively sun tolerant Caladium plant.

Dr. Robert Hartman, CEO of Classic Caladiums in Zolfo Springs and Avon Park, FL; is introducing several exciting new, improved Caladium varieties each year.  Most of these new varieties can tolerate full sun with proper hydration.  I am looking forward to growing a few of these varieties in the coming months, and will post photos as they grow.  One in particular, a 2016 introduction called C. ‘Desert Sunset’ has piqued my interest for its beautiful salmon and copper coloring and ruffled form.

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July 7, 2016 Evening garden 013

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I like to mix Caladiums with ferns and Begonias.  I tend to use them as an accent plant in a pot or bed.  Others may prefer to grow a solid bed of Caladiums for a massed effect.  Use low ferns, Ajuga, Oxalis, Vinca, or other low ground cover plants to fill in the bed.  You can select Caladium varieties by size, with heights between just a few inches and several feet.  As with most plants, they tend to grow taller in the shade, and more compact in the sun.

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July 7, 2016 Evening garden 014

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Two other plants, often confused with Caladiums, are also called ‘elephant ears.’  Also tropical, Colocasia and Alocasia have similar leaf shapes, but different coloration and texture. All three of these bloom, but those blooms are insignificant.  Many gardeners simply cut them away.  ‘Elephant ears’ are all grown for their beautiful leaves.

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Alocosia have a thicker, waxier leaf than Caladium. Often, their leaf tips point up towards the sky.

Alocosia have a thicker, waxier leaf than Caladium. Often, their leaf tips point up towards the sky.

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All ‘elephant ears’ love warmth, and nearly all must be brought inside before frost.  They may be dug up and the tubers stored, or they may be kept in pots indoors through the winter.  But only a few cultivars of Colocasia are hardy in our Zone 7.

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Colocasia generally have the largest of the 'elephant ear' leaves. This is C. 'Pink China,' and has proven hardy in our Zone 7 garden. This prolific plant spreads each season and may be easily transplanted.

Colocasia generally have the largest of the ‘elephant ear’ leaves. This is C. ‘Pink China,’ and has proven hardy in our Zone 7 garden.  C. ‘Mojito,’ behind, is supposed to be hardy here, but overwintered in our basement.  These prolific plants spread each season and may be easily transplanted.

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These gorgeous tropical plants, with their heart shaped leaves, are one of my true loves of summer.

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C. 'White Queen'

C. ‘White Queen’

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Big, bold, surprisingly beautiful; elephant ears fill the garden with mass, texture, and movement as they swish and sway in the breeze.  Carefree and attractive, rely on them to look great during the heat of summer.

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July 7, 2016 Caladiums 011

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Woodland Gnome 2016
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July 7, 2016 Evening garden 011

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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

8 responses to “Summer Love: Caladiums

  1. Love your caladiums! I’ve been killing them regularly each year while trying to overwinter but then had a breakthrough this past year. Of course I’ve already expanded the collection and if they make it through next winter I may be in for some trouble…. except they’re so easy, how can that be trouble!?

  2. These are exceptional! You clearly have the touch for growing them. 🙂

    • Thank you for such kind thoughts, Eliza, but they grow themselves if you give them what makes them happy 😉 We take such pleasure in them, and they are so easy to grow if you have HEAT and the summer humidity which makes them thrive. (D0es your sister grow them?) Hope you and yours are all well ❤ ❤ ❤

      • Thank you, very well. Finally getting some rain at last (yay!)
        No, I don’t believe my sister does grow them. She recently moved to a condo, so all I’ve seen is a clematis that she revived. My impression is she doesn’t have much more than a patio. Hugs!

        • Hugs back to you, Eliza. I hope she is happy in her new space. Rain is cause to celebrate… when it comes in moderation! Always nice to not need to stand there holding a hose and swatting at mosquitoes! ❤ ❤ ❤

          • Yes! It was a good 24 hrs of the light misty rain that goes right into the leaves, not the heavy kind that runs off and away. Still cloudy and cool in the low 60s today. I’m loving it. 🙂

  3. Love folks who love caladiums! We would be happy to send you some of our caladiums to field trial. Our company has introduced over 30 new caladium varieties in the past 8 years or so.

    • Don, that is exceptionally generous! I would be thrilled to trial some of your introductions. Please write to me at woodlandgnome@zoho.com. There is a whole community of Caladium lovers in our neighborhood now. I ordered about 250 tubers this spring, and shared them around the neighborhood. Thank you so much!

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