My first exposure to caladiums was a memorable one. I was not yet into horticulture. It was the 80s. I was working in an office in downtown Cincinnati and sometimes parked my AMC Pacer (just kidding. I was way cooler than that. I had a Ford Escort station wagon) on the far side of relatively small park. One year, for no reason that I know of, the park staff tilled a bed approximately 15’ deep and a block long and filled it with caladiums. In hindsight, now that I have some knowledge of horticulture, it was kind of a weird idea for a park planting, but it was unique and beautiful until late summer when it sort of burned up. For quite a time since, even after I had entered the world of horticulture, I very rarely saw caladiums planted and no one ever seemed to talk about them. It felt like they had insulted everyone and had became persona non grata. Whatever the cause, maybe because they burned up in sun, they were yesterday’s news and I never really knew why.
And I still don’t, but the past decade has seen a surge of new introductions in a kaleidescope of colors, all kinds of sizes, and even some that can be planted in full sun and not collapse. This increases their usefulness colossally. Caladiums are easy to grow in reasonably fertile, well-drained soil that has reached 65F and they give the gardener a lot of fun design options. For the past five years, and especially the last two, we have grown quite a few of the newer varieties at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and I’ve become a big fan.
Which can grow in sun and which in shade? Sometimes the name tries to give you a clue. Those with names like ‘Fire and Ice,’ ”Flare,’ and ‘Heart Fire’ are going to be okay in sun. The HEART TO HEART series offered by Proven Winners, most of the 70 new varieties introduced by Classic Caladiums, and the PAINTED FROG series bred by Brian Williams and introduced through Plants Nouveau have been developed to grow in full-sun. Can they still take shade? Yep. But if in doubt, check the internet or the plant tag. They’ll never lead you astray.
Of course you can put caladiums in a pot, but feel free to plant them in beds for a burst of color. They will glow like Times Square if you position them to catch low angle sunlight and they truly make a statement if planted in masses. You can overwinter the bulbs, buy tubers, or even start with finished plants in pots from the garden center. I think the latter is the surest way to go.
So for big, bold fun in the garden that won’t cause a calamity, think caladiums.
I suspect you are lying about the Pacer. But some of us were proud owners of AMC Gremlins in the day, so I don’t ever judge.
Love all the pics of the under-appreciated caladiums–some of the new varieties are really gorgeous. But I had memories stirred by the Red Bellied Tree Frog. My children had a tree frog for several years, and it developed Red-leg syndrome (which caused his whole tummy to be red), a bacteria I had to treat by dribbling tetracycline onto his tiny froggy lips for several days. Which apparently worked–we had him for about 8 years. Who knew frogs lived that long?
I didn’t! We had one take up residence inside our outdoor table umbrella for years. Never knew if it was the same one or not, but every time we’d open the umbrella, there it was.
What are your recommendations for successful overwintering?
Well you know I’m a fan — perhaps not of all that alliteration however. Just putting mine into storage now. Do you save them or chuck them? -MW
Alliteration? Illuminate me.
I have the same question here about overwintering. I am recent fan of caladiums…in the past, found no use for the old fashioned cherry and green ones as hard to find something complementary for those colors. But the new ones, especially Heart to Heart, are gorgeous.but expensive for mass planting for a single year…so finding a way of keeping them happy through March would be helpful. Great article and photos!
My cousins have a winter home in Lake Placid, FL which (drum roll) is the “Caladium capital of the world”. I thought others might also enjoy picking up bulbs if they are vacationing nearby.
Full confession, I’ve never over wintered them. I just don’t have an appropriate space to do so and I’m usually busy with other things in the Fall. From what I’ve seen, it looks pretty straight forward if you have a room that stays 60F-65F. Maybe GRer Marianne Willburn will see this and can add more, although in her book she makes it clear that each year it’s a game time decision whether she bothers or not.