Celebrating Caladiums, and Remembering Their Growers

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We’ve spent much of the weekend glued to news reports from Florida, watching the progress of Hurricane Irma on radar on our tablets, and checking the National Hurricane Center’s updates.  We have weathered a hurricane or three here in coastal Virginia, and have a pretty good idea what our neighbors in Florida are going through.

Of course, they are facing off with the biggest, strongest hurricane to hit the United States in any of our memories.  And hurricane force winds and rain have swept across the entire state.

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Caladium ‘Desert Sunset,’ a 2016 introduction from Classic Caladiums. C. ‘Sweet Carolina’ is peeking out to the left.

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Our thoughts turn to friends and family in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.  We appreciate all that local governments have done to prepare, and marvel at the can-do spirit shown by even political rivals in the face of this catastrophe.  Let’s hope that more than a little of that pragmatic, cooperative spirit lingers once the flood waters clear and the clean-up and re-building commence.

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Calaldium ‘White Delight’ was introduced in 2015 by Classic Caladiums.

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Our Caladium suppliers all live and work in central Florida.  Classic Caladiums is based in Avon Park.  Another supplier is based just to the south in Lake Placid.  This part of Florida produces tons and tons of Caladium tubers each summer.

In fact, Florida produces a large percentage of the plugs and plants sold through nurseries on the East Coast.  I hope these hard working, largely family businesses, can weather a storm of this magnitude.  I certainly hope their crops and infrastructure can bounce back.  I would surely miss them.

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Caladium ‘Gingerland’

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I try to keep in mind the small businesses that feed my gardening addiction.  It is only through their dedication and continued hard work that such an amazing wealth of plants is brought to market each year.  These folks love the plants they raise and sell.  They work hard to educate the rest of us and to support the thousands of gardeners, like us, who turn to them each season.

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Caladium ‘Pink Beauty’

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And I believe that our best gesture of appreciation is to loyally support them with our repeat business.

I know it’s easy and cheap to turn to the big box stores for our plant purchases.  We can get inexpensive bulbs at Costco, bedding plants at Wal Mart, and shrubs at Lowes.  And I won’t pretend that I’ve not ‘been there, done that’ from time to time.

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And yet, every time I return to our local family run nursery, I’m reminded of the level of quality and customer service they bring to each transaction.  Many of the plants they sell are raised in the neighboring county, and come from greenhouse to nursery in an hour or less.  I am glad to support them and invest in their continued success!

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Caladium ‘Moonlight’ with hardy Begonia is in the pot, and C. ‘White Christmas’ grows beside it.

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We do our best to support small, local businesses.  When we find a special one, like Brent and Becky’s in neighboring Gloucester County, we deal with them as much as we can.  And we are richly rewarded with fine selection and top quality plants; and also with top quality horticulturalists and fine friendly people!

In fact, the Heaths source the Caladiums they offer each spring from Dr. Robert Hartman at Classic Caladiums in Avon Park.  Brent Heath piqued my interest in Classic Caladiums in the first place, by singing their praises for quality tubers!

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Caladium ‘Sweet Carolina,’ introduced by Classic Caladiums in 2016. 

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We come through trying times best when we pull together.  I know that many of us want to give when we see neighbors in trouble, and there are a plethora of charities wanting to channel our dollars into aid to those affected by catastrophe.

But let’s also keep small businesses in our minds and hearts during these challenging times.  Some purchases may cost us a bit more, but we have the peace of mind that our dollars directly support a family business and  a local economy.  They don’t wash into some vast, corporate pool of profit.

Doing business directly with growers and small nurseries is also a form of insurance.  We help insure their survival, and a continued long and happy relationship with them.

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Today, I’m thinking of our friends in dangerous places, and feeling appreciation for our garden.

I’m enjoying our beautiful Caladiums, even as I remember those who grew and supplied them to us.  I hope their lives return to normal soon, that their challenges are manageable, and that we will enjoy many more beautiful years of working together!

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“We have to recognise that there cannot be relationships
unless there is commitment, unless there is loyalty,
unless there is love, patience,  persistence.”
.
Cornel West

 


 

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Leaf VI: Perpetuation

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The garden starts looking a bit tired, by late August; and I’m certainly feeling a bit tired, too.  After all, we’ve been at this now since February when our gardening season began a bit prematurely, with a string of days in the 80s.  And we have a few more good months of gardening still ahead this year. 

The garden is getting a good, deep drink today.  It began raining here sometime after midnight, and I was awakened several times in the night, listening to the heavy rain pounding on our roof and on the trees.  And we needed this rain to soften and re-hydrate our summered out soil.

A storm is moving up the coast.  The forecast keeps shifting, of course, but we’ll harvest a few inches of rain before this low moves away from us and out into the Atlantic.

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This is the time when some might give up for the year.  After all, things look a bit overgrown and shabby after weeks of heat and too little moisture.  A lot of plants in the garden have pretty much finished up for the season, or are taking an untidy nap.

Things might have gotten a little out of hand while we were traveling this summer, or while it was too hot to reasonably work outside.

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Joe Pye Weed takes center stage in the morning sunlight last week.

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September, almost upon us, offers a reprieve and a fresh opportunity for us all.  Students get a new semester.  Adults return from vacation, refreshed.  And gardeners get a beautiful autumn in the garden.

Autumn may be the best gardening season of the year.  Many perennials have matured into their full potential for size.  The garden’s silhouette may be more full and lush than at any other time of the year.  Colors in both flowers and foliage are rich and intense.

The air is cooler, the sky bluer, and the sun less intense.  This is the best season to give new shrubs and perennials a chance to establish and grow their roots out into the surrounding soil during the cool of the year.

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Pokeweed has overgrown the Salvia, Colocasia and Hibiscus that have grown here for the last several summers. They are just holding on beneath its shade.

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I’ve been refreshing our garden, preparing for the change of seasons. I’ve been cutting back browned leaves and stems, lifting mats of grass growing into my beds, deadheading, and replacing dying annuals with something fresh.

It is a good time to visit your local garden center again, with an eye towards investment in your garden’s future.  Many are cutting prices on summer stock to make way for their fall chrysanthemums and other seasonal items.  I have scored some wonderful deals recently on clearance herbs, perennials, ferns and a few salvageable annuals.  I’ve also invested in several bags of my favorite ‘Leaf Grow’ compost.  I plan to buy a few bags of hardwood mulch later this week.

Most nurseries will mark down their summer stock by 30%- 60%, depending on the plant’s desirability and how late it is in the season.   A nursery I visited on Saturday was actually giving plants away for free, with a purchase.

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Persian Shield grows as an annual in our climate. I found this one on clearance last weekend, and have  taken cuttings from it to spruce up late summer pots.

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As you cut back spent perennials, or remove fried annuals, replenish the soil with some fresh compost and plant something that will look good for another few months.  I’ve planted small pots of bronze fennel, Echinacea, and Lantana ‘Bandana’ in full bloom, over the past week.  Earlier in the month, I planted a half dozen Mexican bush sage, Salvia leucantha, all of which are growing well.  I expect the Lantana and Salvia to grow enough to fill in empty spots with bright flowers until frost.

I also purchased a huge, overgrown Persian Shield, Strobilanthes dyerianus, for about $2.00.   I love the bright purple foliage of this striking plant.  It is sturdy, drought tolerant, and can tolerate sun.  After cutting it back, I re-potted it to replace an expiring annual.

But all of those branches I removed will root in a glass of water!  As each cutting roots, I’ll plant it into a potted arrangement that needs a bit of freshening.  You can perform this bit of garden magic with many of the blooming and foliage plants available now on clearance.

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Our cane Begonias are covered in blooms this week. Canes root easily in water.

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Although it is still way too early to plant winter annuals, you might find some good evergreen perennials or ferns mixed into the clearance at the garden center.  I have just planted two ‘Epimediums,’ saved from a jumble of pots marked down by half.  These usually pricey perennials have tough, leathery evergreen leaves.  Their early spring flowers look like sprays of tiny fairies dancing on the breeze.  I’ve planted them where I know Daffodils will emerge next February.

Perennial ferns were mixed into the same clearance sale.  Crowded, I was able to cut the clump of fern into several pieces, planting them a foot or so apart to spread the ferny joy in a shaded bed.

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My new ferns went into this shady bed where daffodils will emerge next spring.  Potted up are Alocasia ‘Stingray’ and Begonia ‘Gryphon.’  They will return next summer, after a long winter snoozing in the garage.

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Fall is a good time to divide growing clumps of perennials you already have growing in pots.  Knock the plant out of its pot, gently pull a few sections away, and pack the now empty spots with fresh soil.  Water well, and let your mother plant keep on growing.  You can pot up or plant each division elsewhere, and let it grow on.  You may want to shelter the new potted division in a shady spot for a few days to let it establish, before moving it on to its destined spot.

Use this same trick with perennials, like Colocasia, spreading by runners.  Moving offsets now will give them a few months to establish before the leaves are killed by frost.

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’ produces many offsets, which can be pulled off of the mother plant and potted up to grow quickly into mature plants like this one.

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I learned a new trick, last week, too.  Admiring a friend’s kitchen windowsill garden, I noticed her Caladium leaf had grown both roots and new leaves in a glass of water.  Her leaf had fallen over in a storm.  When she pulled it, it came with a bit of the tuber attached at the base of the petiole.  From that tiny beginning, a new plant was forming.  When she pots up the rooted leaf, a tiny tuber will grow from these new roots.

This is one way to increase your Caladium collection; though one shouldn’t do it with any new patented Caladium variety.

All sorts of bits of plants, trimmed away in a late summer clean-up, may be rooted.  My kitchen windowsill, and the bright space around my sink, is full of  cuttings rooting in bottles of water this week.  I plant these out into small pots of soil as their roots form.

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Pruning away spent flower clusters from many perennials and woodies will likely earn you fresh flowers before frost.  Keep those butterfly bushes, crape myrtles, Salvias, Dahlias, roses, and even Joe Pye weed dead-headed, and the new flower buds will keep forming.  You can extend your season of bloom for many more weeks with this attention to detail.

Always remember:  plants want to grow! It requires just a little effort on our part to assist them.

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Dead head spent flowers from woody shrubs, like this crape myrtle, to keep new flowers coming. Joe Pye Weed will also continue to produce flower buds if regularly trimmed of its old flowers.  Newly planted yellow Lantana and  bronze fennel now fill the empty spaces in the bed at left, where I’ve also added a bit of compost. The white flowers are self-seeding garlic chives.

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Once the rain has finished, I’ll head back out to the garden to top-dress many of our beds with an extra inch of compost.  And I’ll follow that with an inch or so of fresh mulch over the next week.  This will offer a little nutrition to the soil, and help lock in the moisture we’re receiving from this storm.  Our cadre of earthworms will appreciate the effort.

Gardeners learn many tricks to perpetuate the beauty of their garden year to year, and through the changing seasons.  We learn to multiply and nurture what we already have, and minimize what we might need to purchase season to season.

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Late planted Caladiums have struggled with heat and drought this summer. (photographed last Thursday, when I was keeping them watered by hand.)  Now that we’ve had significant rain, they will surely shine through the next few months.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Many of life’s failures
are people who did not realize
how close they were to success
when they gave up.”
.
Thomas A. Edison
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“A wise man
will make more opportunities
than he finds.”
.
Sir Francis Bacon

 

 

 

Leaf V: Transmutation

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Sometime in the night, the muggy summer air hanging over our garden yesterday cooled.   We awoke this morning to cool, clear air; blue sky; and a welcome wetness everywhere.

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Every leaf, every blade of grass, and every solid surface lay cloaked in sparkly drops of precious water.  Yesterday’s wet humidity condensed into this morning’s dew.

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The elements of our world remain in constant flow, transmuting themselves from form to form.  Yesterday’s humidity may have been rolling in the waves of the Gulf of Mexico only a few days ago.  And it has already evaporated, reforming as mist in the huge clouds beginning to fill our mid-day sky.

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Every element which makes up our world, and ourselves, remains in motion.  Things are always changing, always growing or dying back in the garden.  Flowers bloom, seeds form, and then the goldfinches and other birds turn up to feast on the seeds.

The water I patiently sprayed onto the garden last week soaked into the roots of the growing plants, and is now locked into each cell of the growing leaves and stems.  Water transformed into cellulose to fuel each plant’s growth.

Water was transmuted into a living plant, and may soon fuel the life of a hungry rabbit or deer.

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Transmutation remains one of the immutable laws of life.  Every bit of energy transforms.  Every element endlessly transforms over eons of time.

Understanding this truth assures us of our own continuing transformation.  Nothing is ever truly lost, or gained; except, perhaps, wisdom.  We remain active participants in this eternal dance of life.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2017

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Elemental

 

 

Sunday Dinner: Ease

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“Peace is not always easy to grasp or keep close.
In the process of attaining and protecting it,
you may find yourself tired, weary,
and uncertain on how to keep your peace safe.
While being uncertain is normal,
continue to commit yourself to peacefulness.
You are worthy of every drop
of sweetness and ease that you encounter.
Being tested is a part of the journey.
Giving up, and letting go, is not.”
.
alex elle
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“Being content is perhaps no less easy
than playing the violin well:
and requires no less practice.”
.
Alain de Botton
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Being under stress
is like being stranded in a body of water.
If you panic, it will cause you to flail around
so that the water rushes into your lungs
and creates further distress.
Yet, by calmly collecting yourself
and using controlled breathing
you remain afloat with ease.”
.
Alaric Hutchinson
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Sunday Dinner: Confidence

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“If ever there is tomorrow

when we’re not together…

there is something you must always remember.

You are braver than you believe,

stronger than you seem,

and smarter than you think.

But the most important thing is,

even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”

.

A.A. Milne

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“Remember that wherever your heart is,

there you will find your treasure.”

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Paulo Coelho

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“You are the community now.

Be a lamp for yourselves.

Be your own refuge. Seek for no other.

All things must pass.

Strive on diligently.

Don’t give up.”

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Gautama Buddha

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“Human spirit is the ability to face

the uncertainty of the future

with curiosity and optimism.

It is the belief that problems can be solved,

differences resolved.

It is a type of confidence. And it is fragile.

It can be blackened by fear, and superstition.”

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Bernard Becket

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“Believe it can be done.

When you believe something can be done,

really believe,

your mind will find the ways to do it.

Believing a solution paves the way to solution.”

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David J. Schwartz

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Your greatness is revealed

not by the lights that shine upon you,

but by the light that shines

within you.”

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Ray A. Davis

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Leaf III: Decoration

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Unusual leaves bring great energy and interest to our garden.  Caladiums, like this C. ‘Gingerland’ offer a long lasting, bold accent in sun to partial shade.  Each leaf is unique, painted in clear bright color across its graceful, undulating form.

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A pot filled with Caladiums can be stunning.  But mix Caladiums with ferns, vines or annuals for uniquely interesting arrangements.  ‘Gingerland’ was our first Caladium in leaf this year from the new batch ordered in April.

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Caladiums also mix well with other Aroids, like Alocasia ‘Stingray.’  Their cultural needs are similar.  These C. ‘Sweet Carolina’ overwintered together with the Alocasia in their pot in our garage.  Heavy feeders, the more generous you can be with water and fertilizer, the larger and more lush they will grow.

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Newer Caladium varieties can take more sun than you might imagine.  I had this pot of C. ‘Moonlight’ and C. ‘Desert Sunset’ in partial sun until our recent spell of hot, dry weather.  It is photographed here in deep shade, a temporary resting spot until the weather moderates.

We enjoy the beacon like effect of these luminous white leaves shining from a shady spot in the garden.

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Alocasia ‘Frydek’

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Alocasia have just appeared on the market in recent years.  This unusual tropical plant also grows from a tuber.  One of the first commonly available was Alocasia micholitziana.  A widely marketed cultivar is known as A. ‘Frydek’ or ‘African Mask’ or Alocasia Polly.

These ‘elephant ears’  are often sold as house plants, and do well in normal indoor conditions year round.  Sometimes they will go dormant and appear to die back.  Just be patient and keep the soil a little moist.  You will usually be rewarded with new leaves in a few weeks.

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Alocasia are long-lived plants, which grow larger each season.  They enjoy a partially sunny spot in our summer garden.  Their deep green, substantial leaves last for months at a time.   Bring them indoors in winter, if only to a garage or basement, and you will be rewarded with additional years of beauty.

There are many new types of Alocasia on the market these days.  In addition to A. ‘Frydek’ and A. ‘Stingray,’ we also grow A. ‘Plumbea’ and A. ‘Sarian.’  

I recognized some plants at our local Trader Joe’s as unnamed Alocasia back in February, and bought two.  We kept them going in the dining room until it warmed enough to move them outdoors this spring.  they have put out prodigious growth and their leaves are now about 18″ long, each.

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Begonia Rex with fern

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Another genus with unusual and beautiful leaves, Begonia, also thrives in our summer garden.  Tropical, most varieties of Begonia enjoy heat and humidity.  Although they often pump out delicate flowers all summer long, we growth them mostly for their outrageous leaves.

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Cane Begonia

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Although not as large as Caladium or Alocasia leaves, some Begonia varieties have large, extravagantly marked and highly textured leaves.  B. ‘Gryphon’ appeared in local shops perhaps six years ago.  It will grow quite large by the end of summer, and the plants keep well from year to year.

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A newly unfolding leaf on B. Gryphon.  The red fades to a more even green as each leaf matures, though the stems remain red.

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B. ‘Gryphon’ can be propagated from stem or leaf petiole cuttings.  Simply stick a section of the trunk into a pot of moist soil, and wait.  I generally use a little rooting hormone on the cut end of the stem.  The stem will root in moist soil, with new growth appearing in just a few weeks in summer.  I overwintered a stem cutting in our garage last winter, and new growth appeared a few weeks after we put it outside this spring.

B. ‘Gryphon’ is grown for its beautiful leaves and tropical form.  It will eventually produce some small flowers in its second or third year.

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Begonia Rex come in hundreds of varieties.  Their leaves are beautifully patterned.  I’m seeing these offered at big box stores in spring along with annuals and other shade perennials.  Although perennial, they are tender and won’t survive freezing temperatures outdoors.  I normally grow these in pots to keep from year to year.

They grow from rhizomes, and may appear to ‘die’ at times.  Often, the plant has gone dormant due to stress, and will begin to produce leaves again if given minimal care and warmth.

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Begonias can be heavy feeders.  They like their soil to dry out a little before you water again, and thrive in bright shade.  They enjoy the humidity when placed under trees in our summer garden.

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Begonia

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Unusual and colorful leaves keep a garden fresh and fun.  Ours have the garden looking Fabulous this Friday!

Whether you have one wonderful pot of Caladiums, or a garden filled with striking foliage, you will soon be hooked.

When you realize how easy and resilient these plants can be for you to grow, and how long-lived and tough these tropical beauties become;  you may soon will find yourself collecting them, too.

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Alocasia ‘Plumbea’

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Unusual

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious, Let’s infect one another!

 

Leaf: Illumination

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Illumined leaves glow like Tiffany sculptures in the morning light.  How different they look when lit in this way, with a strong June sun shining through them.
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Colocasia ‘Mojito,’ center, has unusual purple patterns on the leaves and burgundy stems. C. ‘Tea Cups,’ behind, shows its elegant veins as its leaves tip upwards towards the sky. C. ‘Pink China’ also has reddish stems and sports a pink spot on its leaf to mark where the stem begins.  The red leaf at lower right is a Caladium.  Pitcher plants grow in the foreground and to the left.

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Sculptural tropical leaves, like these Colocasia, grow quickly to fill a space and make a statement.  Always interesting, their very size and subtle colors feel like living artworks at any time of day.  Catching the light at just the right angle, shining through them, creates even more excitement in this bit of our garden.
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Here, C. ‘Pink China’ is also backlit, showing its elegant veins and slightly wavy margins .  These are very hardy in Zone 7 and spread wonderfully.

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Beautiful leaves can stand alone; no flowers needed. 
In this new series, “Leaf,” I will share some of our favorite foliage plants.  Summer is prime time for big, bold, dramatic leaves.  I hope you enjoy seeing our favorites.  
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“The leaves that remain are only a very small part of the tea.
The tea that goes into me is a much bigger part of the tea.
It is the richest part.   We are the same;
our essence has gone into our children, our friends,
and the entire universe.
We have to find ourselves in those directions
and not in the spent tea leaves.”
.
Thich Nhat Hanh
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Alocasia ‘Sarian’ returns in the green pot, after its winter in the basement. Caladium tubers idly poked into the potting soil last fall, return also. “What is that bright red?” my partner called from his resting place. He saw the garden from a different angle, and was intrigued by such bright color. Caladiums should always make us take notice.

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“Sometimes I wish I could photosynthesize
so that just by being, just by shimmering at the meadow’s edge
or floating lazily on a pond,
I could be doing the work of the world
while standing silent in the sun.”
.
Robin Wall Kimmerer
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Woodland Gnome 2017
 

Faith and Patience

The first tiny leaves of Colocasia ‘Tea Cups,’ which overwintered outside in a large pot, and finally showed itself this weekend to prove it is still alive.

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Fear and faith often compete for our attention.  How often do we preface a thought with, “I’m afraid….,” ? 

Faith requires great patience.  It asks us to overlook the passage of time as we wait for what we want and need to manifest.  When fear wins, we let go of faith and give up our positive attitude of hope.

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Caladium ‘Desert Sunset’ survived winter in this pot, though I feared all the tubers were lost. Here it is shooting up around the Calla lilies and annuals I planted last month.

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We may explain it away as being ‘realistic.’  We might give any number of plausible reasons for surrendering to fear.  But a hallmark of integrity and strength is one who has faith in an eventual positive outcome, who can look away from fear and remain hopeful.

I believe that gardening teaches us this lesson above all others.  The work of a gardener requires great faith, whether we are planting something in the Earth, waiting for spring to unfold, rejuvenating a shrub through heavy pruning, or simply sharing a plant with someone else who hopes to grow it on for themselves.

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In all of our work as gardeners, we maintain faith that our vision will eventually manifest, perhaps even better than we can possibly imagine it.

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Zantedeschia, which overwintered in the garden, and came back three times the size it was last year.

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I got a hard reminder of this from another gardener this week.  Earlier this spring, I admitted that I was ‘afraid’ that some Caladium tubers I’d saved and some Colocasia tubers I’d left outside over winter hadn’t made it.  I was afraid they were lost to winter’s cold, and replanted the pots with something else.  I gave up too easily….

My gardening friend chided me with a quotation from the Gospel of Matthew:  “Oh ye of little faith!” And  of course, he was right.  I wasn’t so much afraid as I was tired of waiting.  In my hurry to keep my pots productive, I gave up too soon.  I didn’t allow nature the time it needed to initiate the miracle of new growth.

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But even through my lack of faith, these tiny bits of life have grown, sprouting new leaves, and proving to me that they have endured.

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Faith can be defined as: a strongly held unshakeable belief; confidence; complete trust; an obligation of loyalty; and a belief in that which cannot be seen or proven.

It is by maintaining our faith in our aspirations that they may eventually be realized.

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The fruits of Friday’s marathon planting efforts, ready to grow into their positive potential.

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Often the difference between success in our endeavor, or failure, is only a matter of how long we can sustain our efforts and our faith.  We can give up or give in too soon!

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And so our eventual success often hinges on our ability to patiently wait for nature’s process to unfold.

When we hold on to our faith in the positive outcome we envision, we have that proverbial ‘”faith like a grain of mustard seed, …   and nothing will be impossible for you.”  Mathew 17:20

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These Cannas, given to me by a dear friend in the weeks after our front garden was devastated by a storm, encouraged me to keep faith in re-making the garden.

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Faith becomes a very practical source of strength.  It is a stubbornness which demands the best from ourselves, the best from our environment, and the best from others in our lives.

In its essence, it is an unshakeable belief in the endless positive potential of the universe.  And that is what we gardeners are always about, isn’t it?

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”
Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves,
and it was completely calm.    Matthew 8:26

Slow to Grow: Elephant Ears

Colocasia esculenta

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It has been agonizingly slow this spring, watching and waiting for our elephant ears to grow.  I blame the weather.  Wouldn’t you?

After all, we enjoyed 80F days in February, and then retreated back to wintery grey days through most of March.  We’ve been on a climatic roller-coaster since.

Gardeners, and our plants, appreciate a smooth transition from one season to another.  Let it be cold in winter, then warm gradually through early, mid and late spring until we enjoy a few weeks of perfect summer in late May and early June.  We know to expect heat in June, July and August, with moderating temperatures and humidity by mid-September.

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I started working on this new bed in March, bringing the still potted Colocasias in doors and back out with the weather. Although I planted them weeks ago, they are still sulking a bit in our cool, rainy weather this month.

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But lately, our seasons feel rather muddled.  That smooth crescendo from season to season has gone all rag-time on us.  We’ve already lost a potted Hydrangea Macrophylla teased into leaf too early, and then frozen a time too many.  Those early leaves dissolved in mush, but new growth started again from the crown.

I’ve watched the poor shrub try at least 3 times to grow this spring, and now it sits, bare, in its pot while I hold out hope for either a horticultural miracle, or a clone on sale; whichever comes first.

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Colocasia ‘Pink China’ loves our climate and spreads a bit each year. Its pink spot and pink stem inspired its name. This is the Colocasia I happily dig up to share with gardening friends. These will be a little more than 5′ tall by late summer.

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I hedged my bets last fall with the elephant ears.  I left some in situ in the garden, some in their pots, but pulled up close to the house on the patio, and I brought a few pots of Alocasia and Colocasia into our basement or garage.

I dug most of our Caladiums and dried them for several weeks in the garage, and then boxed and bagged them with rice hulls before storing them in a closet through the winter.  I left a few special ones in their pots and kept the pots in our sunny garage.

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Caladium ‘Florida Sweetheart’ overwintered for us  dried and stored in a box with rice hulls. I planted the tuber again in early April.

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And I waited until April before trying to rouse any of them.  But by early April, while I was organizing a Caladium order for 2017, I also planted all of those stored Caladium tubers in fresh potting soil and set them in our guest room to grow.  Eventually, after our last frost date in mid-April, I also retrieved the pots from the basement and brought them out to the warmth of our patio.  They all got a drink of Neptune’s Harvest and a chance to awaken for summer.

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Caladium ‘Desert Sunset,’ didn’t survive winter in our garage. (This photo from summer 2016)  I left them in their pot, but it must have gotten too cold for them.  Happily, I ordered new tubers this spring.

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Around this time I gingerly began to feel around in those Caladium pots kept in the garage, for signs of life.  I thought I’d divide and replant the tubers and get them going again.  But, to my great disappointment, not a single tuber survived.   The Caladiums succumbed to the chill of our garage sometime during the winter, and I had three generous sized, empty pots to recycle with fresh plantings.

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C. ‘Desert Sunset’ didn’t make it through the winter, so I’ve recycled the pot for other plants. Calla lily has a form similar to some Alocasia, and is more tolerant of cold weather. These are hardy in Zone 7.

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By the time our new Caladium order arrived in mid- April, the tubers I’d dried, stored, and replanted were in growth.  I moved them to the garage to get more light and actually planted the first batch of Caladiums outside by the first week of May.

I planted most of the new Caladiums into potting soil filled boxes and sent them off to the guest room to awaken, but chanced planting a few bare tubers into pots outside.  Mistake.

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These saved Caladiums, started indoors in April, moved outside to their permanent bed in early May. Still a little slow to grow, they have weathered a few cool  nights this month.

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Because for all the promising balmy days we’ve had this spring, we’ve had our share of dreary cool ones, too.  We even had a few nights in the 40s earlier this month!  It’s generally safe here to plant out tomatoes, Basil and Caladiums by mid-May.  Sadly, this year, these heat lovers have been left stunted by the late cool weather.

The new Caladium tubers planted indoors are still mostly sulking, too, with little to show for themselves.  The ones I planted directly outside in pots remain invisible.  I just hope they didn’t rot in our cool, rainy weather.

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Colocasia ‘Black Coral,’ started in a greenhouse this spring, has been growing outdoors for nearly a month now. This one can get to more than 4′ tall in full sun to part shade.

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Of the saved Colocasias and Alocasias, C. ‘Mohito’ has done the best.   I brought a large pot of them into the basement last fall, and knocked the plant out of its pot when I brought it back outdoors in April.   I divided the tubers and ended up with several plants.  They are all growing nicely, though they are still rather small.

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’ has been in the family a few years now. It overwinters, dormant in its pot, in our basement. This is one of 5 divisions I made at re-potting time this spring.

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I dug up our large C. ‘Tea Cups’ in October and brought it indoors in a pot, leaving behind its runners.  The main plant began vigorous growth again by late April, but none of the runners seem to have made it through the winter outdoors.

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ also overwintered in the basement.  New last year, this plant has really taken off in the last few weeks and is many times larger than our new C. ‘Tea Cups’ plants.  It catches rain in its concave leaves, thus its name.

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I brought one of our Alocasia ‘Stingray’ into the garage in its pot, where it continued to grow until after Christmas.  By then the last leaf withered, and it remained dormant until we brought it back out in April.  It has made tiny new leaves ever so slowly, and those new leaves remain less than 6″ tall.

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Alocasia ‘Sting Ray’ spent winter in our garage.  It has been very slow to grow this spring, but already has many more leaves than last year.  It will eventually grow to about 6′.  Zone 8-11

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But that is better than the potted A. ‘Stingray‘ that overwintered on the patio.  We’ve been watching and waiting all spring, and I finally gave up and dug through the potting soil last week looking for any sign of the tuber.  I found nothing.

But, fearing the worst, we already bought two new A. ‘Stingray’ from the bulb shop in Gloucester in early May, and those are growing vigorously.   They enjoyed the greenhouse treatment through our sulky spring, of course.

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Our new A. ‘Stingray’ grows in the blue pot in front of where another A. ‘Stingray’ grew last year. I left the black pot out on the patio over winter, and the Alocasia hasn’t returned. I finally planted some of our new Caladiums in the empty pot last week.

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I have two more pots of Alocasia in que:  A. ‘Plumbea’ has shown two tiny leaves thus far, so I know it is alive.  A. ‘Sarian’ has slept in the sun for weeks now, its tuber still visible and firm.  Finally, just over this weekend, the first tiny leaf has appeared.  I expect it to grow into an even more  beautiful plant than last summer since.  It came to us in a tiny 4″ pot, and ended summer at around 5′ tall.  I can’t wait to see how large it grows by August!

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Alocasia ‘Plumbea’ isn’t’ available for order from Brent and Becky’s bulbs this year. I am very happy this one survived winter, because it is a beautiful plant.  Hardy in zones 3-10, this will grow to 5′.

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But the pot of Colocasia ‘Blue Hawaii,’ that overwintered on the patio, has shown nothing so far, either.  Hardy to Zone 8, I hoped the shelter of our patio might allow this two year old plant to survive.  Now, I’m about ready to refresh the soil and fill that pot with some of the Caladiums still growing in our garage.

C. ‘Blue Hawaii’ is marginal here.  A few have survived past winters planted in the ground; but thus far, I’m not recognizing any coming back in the garden this year.

I’ve planted a few C. ‘Mojito’ in the ground this spring, and plan to leave them in the fall to see whether they return next year.  But I will also hedge my bet and bring a potted C. ‘Mojito’ inside again so I’ll have plants to begin with next spring.

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C. ‘Mojito’ in our bog garden will soon get potted up to a larger container.  I planted a few of the smaller divisions of this plant directly into the ground to see if they will survive the winter coming. (Zone 8)

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Every year I learn a little more about growing elephant ears.  I know now that Colocasia ‘China Pink’ is vigorous and dependable in our garden.  There is no worry about them making it through winter, and I dig and spread those a bit each year.

The huge Colocasia esculenta I planted a few years ago with our Cannas dependably return.  These are the species, not a fancy cultivar.  But they seem to manage fine with nothing more than some fallen leaves for mulch.

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These gorgeous tropical elephant ears put on a great show for four to six months each year in our zone.  Deer and rabbits don’t touch them, and they rarely have any problem with insects or disease.   Our muggy, hot summers suit them fine.  They love, and need, heat to thrive.

Any temperate zone gardener who wants to grow them, needs to also plan for their winter dormancy.  And each plant’s needs are unique.  Some Colocasia might be hardy north to Zone 6.  A few Alocasia cultivars are hardy to zone 7b or 8, but most require zone 9 to remain outdoors in the winter.  Caladiums want a lot more warmth, and prefer Zone 10.  Caladiums can rot in wet soil below 60F.

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Hardy Begonias are naturalizing in this lively bed transitioning to summer.  I planted the Caladiums about a month ago, and they have slowly begun to grow.  See also fading daffodil leaves, Japanese painted ferns, Arum Italicum, and creeping Jenny.

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If you don’t have space to store elephant ears over winter, you can still grow them as annuals, of course.    That requires a bit of an investment if you like them a lot, and want to fill your garden!

My favorite source for Colocasia and Alocasia elephant ears, Brent and Becky’s Bulbs,  has put all of their summer bulbs, including Caladium tubers,  on clearance now through Monday, June 5.   This is a good time to try something new, if you’re curious about how these beautiful plants would perform in your own garden, because all these plants are half off their usual price.  The Colocasia and Alocasia plants they’re selling now come straight to you from their greenhouses.

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Alocasia ‘Sarian’ emerged over the weekend. This is a very welcome sight!

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I order our Caladiums direct from the grower at Classic Caladiums in Avon Park, Florida (see below).  There is still plenty of time for you to grow these from tubers this summer, as long as your summer nights will be mostly above 60F for a couple of months.  Potted Caladiums make nice houseplants, too, when autumn chills return.  (Brent and Becky’s Bulbs buy their Caladiums from Classic Caladiums, too.  You will find a much larger selection when you buy direct from the grower.  Classic Caladiums sells to both wholesale and retail customers.)

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Slow to grow, this year, but so worth the wait.  We are always fascinated while watching our elephant ears grow each year, filling our garden with their huge, luscious leaves.  Once they get growing, they grow so fast you can see the difference sometimes from morning to afternoon!

Our summer officially begins today.  Now we can settle in to watch the annual spectacle unfold.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Is your region too cool for tropical Elephant Ears? Get a similar effect with rhubarb. This rhubarb ‘Victoria,’ in its second year, emerges in early spring. Leaves have the same basic size and shape as Alocasia leaves without the shiny texture. There are a number of ornamental rhubarbs available, some of them quite large.  These are easy to grow,  perennial north into Canada, and grow into a beautiful focal point in the garden.

Packing It In… Before the Frost

A new leaf of Alocasia 'stingray' is opening, even as we bring our tender plants in for autumn.

A new leaf of Alocasia ‘Stingray’ is opening, even as we bring our tender plants in for autumn.

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It’s hard to know these days whether we live in Zone 7b or 8a.  Technically, by the map, James City County is rated in hardiness Zone 7b, which means we might have winter temperatures as low as 5-10F.  I can’t remember the last time it grew that cold here.  But I’ll accept it’s possible.

Beyond the lowest winter temperature, climate zone also informs us when to expect the first freezing temperatures of autumn and the last freeze in spring.  The first frost date for Zone 7b falls on October 15; the first frost in Zone 8a falls a month later on November 15.  That said, we’ve not  yet had a night colder than 40F.

But, the cold is definitely coming.  Which is why we’ve devoted the last several days to moving as many tender potted plants as possible back indoors for the winter.

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This Caladium, 'Sweet Carolina,' came indoors in its pot, with its companion Begonias.

This Caladium, ‘Sweet Carolina,’ came indoors this week  in its pot, with its companion Begonias.

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I like to prioritize and organize, especially when the forecast fluctuates and one can’t be certain when that first freeze will come.  (It’s a game of chance, calculating how long to wait before beginning the annual migration. While it must be finished before frost, the plants benefit from every sunny warmish autumn day they can remain out in the garden.)  

I began with the Caladiums,  perhaps the most tender of our tropical plants.  I’ve dried most of the tubers, packed them carefully, and brought them inside for warm storage during the winter.  But, hedging my bets, lots are still left growing in pots indoors.  I’ve had good success overwintering Caladium tubers in pots with other plants.  While they like heat and prefer a spot in the living room, they will survive in pots kept in the garage.  While they never freeze there, the temperatures may dip into the 40s some nights.  Even potted Caladiums will soon go dormant, but may delight us with new growth in January or February.

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This mixed basket of Begonias, all started fresh from cuttings in May, has moved into the living room for the winter. I set baskets like this into deep clear plastic containers so they can be watered without making a huge mess.

This mixed basket of Begonias, all started fresh from cuttings in May, has moved into the living room for the winter. I set baskets like this into deep clear plastic containers so they can be watered without making a huge mess.

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The fall migration always calls for some repotting, and more this year than some.  The Norfolk Island Pine dislikes night time temperatures below 50F.  Giving ours a new pot, and a new, lower stand indoors, was high on the list.  While ours touched the ceiling on its old stand last year, it has grown several inches over summer on the patio.  It sits on a much lower table now in the corner of our hall, draped in white lights, and awaiting its holiday  dressing with blown glass balls.

Our Begonias and ferns grew more this summer than I’d realized.  Some are positively huge!  I look at photos taken in early summer and marvel at how much growth they’ve given us this year.  Finding space for each pot and basket remains a challenge.  I’ve coped this year by cutting some of the cane Begonias back hard before moving them.    I’ve gathered the cut stems into vases, hoping most will root.  When there isn’t space for all of the pots, at least one can keep a favorite plant going over winter as a cutting.

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Alocasia 'Stingray' has an interesting leaf. Can you see the narrow 'tail' formed by the tip of the leaf? Our largest leaf has grown to nearly 2' wide.

Alocasia ‘Stingray’ has an interesting leaf. Can you see the narrow ‘tail’ formed by the tip of the leaf? Our largest leaf has grown to nearly 2′ wide.

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We use empty buckets, arranged on large plastic bags, to hold those hanging baskets we plan to keep over winter.  The baskets sit all in a long row along one wall of the garage, under the bank of windows.  They are messy to water, especially those more than a year old.  The potting soil is dense with roots, and poured water tends to run off.  We use blown glass globes to keep them hydrated.  I fill the globes with water a few times each week, through the winter, to keep the soil moist enough for the plants to survive.

Plastic picnic tablecloths cover the garage floor where I mass our pots.  Although each pot has its own saucer or plate, the plastic catches spills, overfills, and fallen leaves.  This isn’t a neat project, but one well worth the trouble to keep plants from season to season.

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Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea

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The Bougainvillea vines have been covered in blooms, loving the autumn sunshine on the patio.  I wish we could leave them in place year round, but they are too tender to survive a freeze.  Old plants now, their long stems are 8′-12′ long, branched and thorny.  Their pots don’t require much space, but their stems make them hard to place in the garage.  Some years they keep blooming right through January!

It is quite a production to bring them in, and so we did it today while we had sunshine and a little warmth.

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november-7-2016-garden-005

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Today we also finally repotted the largest and oldest of our cane Begonias.  It had been in its current plastic pot for nearly a decade.  The plant, itself, was nearly 6′ tall and its long canes reached out in every direction.  I had to prune it hard, first; clean out fallen leaves and old wood; and then free the root ball from its sadly disintegrating pot.  Its new, larger 20″ square pot accepted the roots with room to spare (whew!) and looks so much better!  We found space for the pot in the garage, where this venerable old Begonia will get lots of winter sun.  But I’m even more excited that there will soon be lots of rooted cuttings to share.

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This Begonia has spent the last 4 winters indoors, and comes back each summer better than ever begfore.

This Begonia has spent the last four winters indoors, and comes back each summer better than ever before.

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And finally, it was time to work with our huge new Alocasias.    Although these tubers are sometimes sold dry and dormant, I decided to try to keep the plants in leaf through winter, in the garage.   Some  may be marginally hardy here, but I don’t really want to take that chance.  We  lifted A. Sarian from its pot on Monday, and replanted it into a much smaller pot for winter.  Its long petioles reach high, to let each leaf capture as much sun as possible.

A. Plumbea, hardy only to Zone 9, was lifted from the ground into a new pot last week, but left out on the patio to adjust.  Our huge and beautiful A. ‘Stingray,’  which have greeted us beside the drive all summer, came in today, too.  One pot stands in the garage, the other is nestled into the sunniest part of our front patio, sheltered by a brick wall.     A. ‘Stingray,’ hardy to Zone 8, might make it through winter in its huge pot, sheltered in this sunny spot on the patio.

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Colocasia 'Tea cups' is hardy to Zone 7. I've left it outside in its pot, hoping it will make it through the winter. I brought a little division indoors in a pot.

Colocasia ‘Tea cups’ is hardy to Zone 7. I’ve left it outside in its pot, hoping it will make it through the winter.  I brought a little division indoors in a pot.

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The front patio also shelters several tender trees, like pomegranate, olive, and grapefruit.  I usually wait until bitter cold sets in, 20s at least, to move these indoors.  They appreciate the sun, and can survive a light freeze.

Over the years I’ve learned to think strategically about holding plants through the winter.  A huge pot of Colocasia ‘Mojito,’ kept in the basement last year, didn’t come in today.  It was late afternoon when I came to it, and I was already running on fumes.

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Colacasia 'Mojito'

Colocasia ‘Mojito’

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Instead, I divided the Colocasia and repotted just a few tubers of it into a much smaller pot, setting the remaining tubers out into the soil.  I’ve had some luck with Colocasia cultivars rated to Zone 8 overwintering in the ground in this garden, and I decided to give it a try.  We brought the smaller pot in to keep overwinter in the basement as ‘insurance.’   I ended up doing the same thing with our Colocasia ‘tea cups.’    Another massive plant, I left the main tuber in its large pot in the garden, but potted up one of its little offspring tubers to bring indoors.  It is supposed to be hardy in Zone  7, and so I’m hopeful  it will survive our winters in its pot.

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Alocasia 'Sarian,' hardy only to zone 9, came to us in a 4" pot in late May. It didn't reach its 6' potential this year, but mayben ext yera?

Alocasia ‘Sarian,’ hardy only to zone 9, came to us in a 4″ pot in late May. It didn’t reach its 6′ potential this year, but maybe next year?  The Coleus surrounding it, grown from cuttings, will be replaced next year.

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Smaller plants get dug up and tucked into largish pots of other plants.  I’ve brought in a few tiny Begonias today in the palm of my hand, transplanting them in with something else.    I’ve done the same with tender ferns and vines, planting them into a pot of Caladium ‘Moonlight’ tubers.

All of our beautiful geraniums still sit out in the cold.  I’ve not had energy or space for a single one so far.  Our first night down into the 30s is forecast for Friday or Saturday night.  Although tender, geraniums can be found in abundance each spring.  And they don’t much like overwintering in our garage.  If I save any, it will be some of the scented Pelargoniums.

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Some Lantana prove hardy for us, others don't make it through the winter. This has been an especially nice Coleus and I'll likely take cutttings before frost.

Some Lantana prove hardy for us, others don’t make it through the winter. This has been an especially nice Coleus and I’ll likely take cuttings before frost.  The colors of both plants grow more intense in late autumn as night time temperatures cool.

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It is hard to watch favorite plants wither after the first frost.  I gave some potted Begonias and some cuttings  to a neighbor today.  I’ve run out of space to keep them.  There are other pots of coleus and Euphorbia, geraniums and impatiens which won’t make it indoors before the coming freeze.  It makes me sad to see them freeze, but I’ve learned that these plants, kept over winter, won’t grow as well or as vibrantly next season.  Sometimes it is better to begin again with new plants and new soil in spring.

Each turn of the seasons offers an opportunity begin again; a fresh start.  We get to apply what we’ve learned, but to do it differently.  Empty pots now, perhaps; but in  a few months they will stand ready to replant.  We’ll have the fun of choosing new plants and creating new combinations with them.

Surely, we’ll learn something new, too.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Begonia 'Richmondensis' will bloom indoors through the winter months.

Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ will bloom indoors through the winter.

 

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