Some things are worth the wait. The stars have to align and summer has to heat up to its steamy, sultry best before that familiar, happy satisfaction fills my heart as I walk around our garden admiring the Caladiums.
I love Caladiums. I love their pure colors, their intricate patterns, their tough beauty, their easy way of popping out leaf after gorgeous leaf from early summer until deep into fall. I love them enough to care for them through the coldest months of winter and early spring, all to watch them live to grow another year.
When I dug and dried our Caladiums late last year, as nights grew chilly and days grew short, I was a little overwhelmed with our harvest. I had crate after crate of plants drying out in the basement. By the time they were dried and I was ready to pack them up for the winter, it was time to prepare for the holidays.
But no, I was more interested in putting the Caladiums properly to bed. Each bulb needs its own TLC to clean it up and pack it gently away. I pack mesh bags with bulbs graded by size and cushioned with packing material, stack them together in a paper grocery bag, and then store that bag in a warm dry spot in the house to rest for the next several moths.
By early March, I’m dreaming about our Caladiums again, itching to bring them out of storage and plant them in flats to sprout. And we had so many bulbs packed away that I didn’t order any new ones, for the first year in several.
I waited, this year, about two weeks later than usual to start our Caladiums, and they were eager to grow. We knew we had a cool, late spring coming, and so I waited until late March. Most already had little sprouts when I brought them out of storage.
I planted the tubers in large plastic boxes, watered them in, put the lids back on, and then stacked the boxes indoors until the Caldiums rooted and began to grow.. This year I had 8 big storage boxes planted densely with Caladiums.
It was so cool in April, that I tried to keep them indoors in their boxes even later than usual. One day I glanced at my stack of plastic boxes and saw some leaves reaching out, lifting the lids, in their bid to escape and find the light. What strong leaves! I almost waited too long.
It was time to open up the boxes to give them space to grow, ready or not. Our nights were still in the 40s, which is much too cool for Caladiums. So I began moving the boxes out to our sunny garage in hopes I could keep them growing, but protected for a few more weeks, out there.
It was Mother’s Day before it was warm enough to move our Caladiums outside, and I moved the boxes out into some sheltered shade. By then many of the first leaves had stretched tall and lanky. But after a day or two outside, their colors developed and I happily greeted many favorite varieties from years gone by. They were growing too large for their boxes, and so I spent several days lifting them and potting them individually to grow on.
I’ve spent June potting and planting Caladiums throughout the yard in all of our shady or partly shady beds. I’ve sorted them more by color than by variety, sometimes guessing from a first little leaf or two what the plant might be. Often the first leaf or two to open isn’t true to the mature coloration of a variety. It takes a bit of time, and heat, and light for the leaves to grow into the fullness of their potential.
Older Caladium bicolor varieties were strictly shade plants. Many of the newer hybrids can stand full or partial sun. Finding the right spot for each variety is a little like working a very complicated puzzle. This year, I’ve planted mostly in pots to make the autumn operation a little easier. I lost track of some last fall that lost their leaves before I got around to digging them up. These tropical beauties can’t take our winters out of doors.
But bringing the whole pot in has its advantages, too. I was surprised and delighted to find Caladiums sprouting in several of the pots that I overwintered in our garage, with other tender plants, like ferns and Begonias. When I bring potted Caladiums into the living areas of our house, they will often begin to grow again by January or February, and we enjoy them indoors as houseplants. Those left undisturbed are growing lush, and full again now.
Finally, this first week of July, our Caladiums are all growing vigorously and filling in with their spectacular leaves. The hours invested in their care have given a rich return in beauty.
You might think that I’d be growing tired of the Caladiums by now, and my attention would turn to other things. But no… an email from Classic Caladiums broke my resolve to grow only our saved tubers this year.
There was this newly introduced variety that caught my eye, and they are all marked down for the end of season clearance. I just had to try something new, and so ordered a bag. When the tubers arrived just a few days later, I eagerly planted them into pots wherever I thought they would grow. We’ll soon see what new beauty they bring.
Caladiums will brighten our garden through the hottest, most humid days of summer, until the seasons turn yet again. Each leaf is a bit different, endlessly fascinating and lovely.
Woodland Gnome 2020
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That is a lot of work for caladiums, and probably why I do not grow them. In coastal Southern California, they do not need to be dug, but do not last more than a few years either.
I wonder whether they would last longer if dug and divided every few years. There isn’t much work to be done while they are actively growing. Taking care of the tubers through winter is the main effort. Most folks in our area just treat them like annuals and buy new ones each spring.
Can you do that? I mean, would they just be annuals, like they are for others in your region, if you left them out? Or, do you mean you would consider leaving them potted for a few years?
If I plant Caladiums in a pot, and then bring that pot indoors before frost, I can keep the Caladium tubers alive in my basement, garage, or home from one season to the next. If people pot them or plant them into a garden bed, and then don’t bring the pot in or dig the tubers and bring them in, they generally die over winter because of our cold winters. That said, a friend of mine planted some in a half whiskey barrel and didn’t dig them. She did pile mulch in the barrel in fall and swears to me that her Caladiums came up again the next summer.
The research team at Classic Caladiums is working on cold hardiness along with improving disease resistance, size, sun tolerance, etc. in their hybridization program. I believe they would like to introduce a Caladium that is hardy to Zone 7 for gardeners who aren’t willing to take the extra trouble to dig and save their tubers year to year, but don’t want their Caladium investment to die out, either. Progress, huh?
I use too many Caladiums in my garden to consider replacing them all each year. Because they are easy, bright, and mostly deer resistant, I like to use A LOT of Caladiums, and so make the effort to save them.
With all that effort, you likely know which ones are more reliable and appreciative of the effort.
In Coastal California, there are not many who are willing to dig bulbs anymore. We all want to put them in the ground and leave them. Although there are many bulb and bulb like perennials that survive like that, there are many that do not. What is funny, is that some people dig dahlias, which do not necessarily need to be dug here. They perform better if dug, but like bearded iris, can go for a few years before they actually need to be dug.
I rarely get around to digging and storing Dahlias, always full of hope that ‘this year’ it will survive. I lost a gorgeous one last winter by crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. Funny what we decide to spend time and effort doing, and what we want to let slide….
I found a dahlia that someone had dug TWO winters prior, and planted it. It somehow survived, and started to grow, only to be clobbered by a fallen black locust. It did not survive the trampling from those who removed the tree.
Fate? I admire the tenacity of plants. That it survived so long without growing for a season is remarkable. I have one growing in a plastic shoebox right now that I planted from a package in early March to use it for cuttings. You are inspiring me to find a place to plant that mother plant today!
Is it halfway through the season for them? It might be best to leave it in the box if putting it in the ground would upset it.
That’s a good point, Tony. And I could store it in the box…. As it grows, I harvest cuttings, so it isn’t the most attractive Dahlia you’ll see…. Ours will bloom through October, here. So they have a few more good months.
You have such a lovely collection!
Thank you, Eliza 💗 we certainly enjoy them.