By Cynthia "Meems" Glover
I was relatively new to gardening when I discovered the unique, exotic beauty of caladiums (Caladium x hortulanum). A neighbor shared some caladium bulbs (tubers) with me, which I haphazardly buried in my sandy Florida garden soil. You can imagine my thrill as a newbie gardener when the leaves sprouted into bursts of colorful foliage. The dazzling display convinced me to plant them every spring. Caladiums sing with vibrant tropical exuberance in my garden each summer. Since that first effortless yield over 20 years ago, my fervor for planting caladium bulbs soars with every successful season.
I quickly learned from that first chance encounter with caladiums how easily they thrive in the sweltering, humid conditions of a Florida garden. Caladium plants are virtually disease- and insect-free, require little maintenance and boast long-lasting, colorful foliage for summer. My aim is to encourage utilization of cheerful, lively caladiums in every garden.
Caladiums aren't just for the tropics. They require a warm, moist environment and prefer a well-draining, acidic medium mixed with organic matter. These conditions can be produced in the ground, in baskets or in container arrangements. Plant bulbs 1.5-2" into the ground when soil temperature remains above 65° F in spring or summer.
Caladiums provide bold foliage and outstanding textural quality in the landscape. They look stunning in large sweeps weaved along a curving border or dotted in clumps to add pizzazz to specific spots within a bed. Ordinarily, I choose one variety such as 'White Queen' or 'Miss Muffett' to contrast with an existing mix of evergreen perennials. The results are dramatic. A substantial number of heart-shaped colorful caladium leaves growing en masse are impressive.
Many gardeners are aware that caladiums add distinctive, colorful foliage to the shade garden. A little-known fact about caladiums is that new hybrids have been bred to tolerate the sun. There are red varieties such as 'Red Frill' and 'Florida Red Ruffles' - the latter is notably more cold-tolerant allowing it to last further into the fall season. Pink caladiums that don't mind the sun are 'Candyland,' 'Rosemary,' 'Starburst,' and 'Victoria.' My personal favorite white variety that does exceptionally well in my sunniest locations is 'White Wonder.' Other white caladiums in the sun-tolerant group include 'Mount Everest,' 'White Star,' 'White Delight' and 'White Marble.'
Wherever you garden, you can incorporate caladium bulbs into your summer plantings. I'm confident their lively faces will brighten your garden, and you'll be delighted with the spectacular results.