Rescuing Our Caladiums

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As the season changes, our Caladiums have grown a little droopy and woebegone.

Tropical, heat loving Caladiums don’t care much for cold winds and autumn’s chill at night.  It is time to rescue them from their pots, and help them grow dormant for the coming winter.

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Caladium ‘White Delight’ still looked pretty good on October 3.   I rescued this one on Friday, and its tuber is in the garage preparing for winter storage.

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Many gardeners treat their Caladiums like annuals, letting them freeze alongside the petunias and impatiens.    There is no harm in that, so long as you have deep pockets to buy all the Caladiums you want come spring.  But if you are a thrifty gardener, or have just grown attached to your Caladiums and would like to enjoy them for another year, saving them takes very little effort.

As Caladiums prepare to go dormant, their leaves first droop, and then just sort of fade away.  I was disappointed to discover that process well underway with some of my potted Caladiums, making it nearly impossible to find their buried tubers without vigorous digging through the entire pot.

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I’ll bring this basket of Begonia, tender lady fern and Caladium into the garage before our first freeze.

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If you have Caladiums planted alongside ferns or other plants you want to save, that vigorous digging might not be possible without doing a lot of damage.  In that case, you can simply bring the pot indoors for the winter, with the Caladium tubers left in the soil.  Water sparingly, and try to keep the pot at 50F or above and the Caladiums will survive and begin sending out new leaves next spring.

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These Caladium tubers can be dug up for storage. I’ll fill their space in this basket with some Violas.

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My brilliant gardening friend has even overwintered her Caladiums (accidentally she says) under several inches of fallen leaves left on their bed as mulch.  Some of the newer varieties have been bred to be more cold tolerant, and how do you argue with success?

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A flat filled with Caladiums I have already rescued for storage

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The most reliable way to save your favorite Caladium tubers for next season is to simply dig them, dry them, and store them indoors.   Dig several inches to the side of where the remaining leaves emerge from the soil, and work your way around to loosen the tuber.

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Most Caladiums have extensive roots by now, and you will need to work gently to avoid cutting or breaking the tubers, which may have grown much larger than what you planted last spring.   Sometimes, the tubers calve over summer, and you may be digging up a clump of little tubers growing together.

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Once you lift the Caladium and shake off as much dirt as possible, simply lay the whole plant, leaves and roots and all, into a flat or box where it can dry in a sheltered place.  Remember to gently dig or comb through the soil with your fingers in search of any little stray bits of  tuber. Even bits as small as a dime may be saved, and will grow next spring.

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I’ve been planting a tuber of Arum itallicum in many of the spots where I’m lifting Caladiums this month.   The evergreen Arum will look great growing over winter, keeping pots and beds green through the cold season.  Pair Arum with spring flowering bulbs, Violas, Heucheras, Hellebores, hardy ferns, ivy, snapdragons, Saxifraga, or even just with a mulch of living moss  to fill pots or beds with winter interest.

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These Arum italicum, already a few years old, are emerging now for the cold months ahead.  They are similar enough to Caladiums to make a good winter substitute, and grow near where I lifted some Caladiums from the bed last week.

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Once you’ve dug all of your Caladiums, spread the plants out in a single layer in an empty flat or box, in a protected shady area where they may dry over the next few weeks.  During this time the leaves and roots will wither, the remaining soil around the root will dry, and any nicks to the tubers from digging should heal.  I allow ours to dry in our garage where they are out of the weather, and protected from freezing as nights grow colder.

After several weeks, you should be able to shake away any remaining soil and easily pull of the withered stems and roots.  Any damaged tubers may be dusted or dipped into a fungicide for extra protection.  Otherwise, simply pack them loosely into mesh bags with some wood shavings, rice hulls, sawdust, or dry peat moss.

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We can begin to move newly sprouted Caladiums outside by late May.

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I normally save the rice hulls my Caladiums arrive in from the grower each spring, and reuse them for storage over winter.  Individual bags of Caladiums may be kept together in a larger box or paper grocery bag until time to plant next spring.  Store them in a closet or other out of the way spot in a heated room.

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Caladium tubers, ready for spring planting

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I start our stored Caladium in late March each year, usually several weeks earlier than the grower will ship new Caladium tubers to Virginia.  We have fresh Caladiums ready to plant out in pots and beds again as soon as it grows warm enough for them to take off for the new season ahead. Since the tubers grow a little bit each year, saved tubers may be larger and more lush than the new ones you buy.

All in all, a good deal for those of us who truly love our Caladiums.

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This is the Caladium I rooted from a leaf over the summer. It finally produced a second leaf, seen here, before the rooted leaf faded away. I plan to bring this pot indoors before frost, and hope the tiny new tuber will keep over winter to continue growing next year.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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