After we have finished most of the planting of our gardens, many gardeners — and I am one of them — continue to tweak the design and add unique things to the scheme.
At this time of year, the gardening pace has slowed down and there is more time to think — and dream — about what might be added to give a bit more pizzazz to the garden.
While sometimes what we add to the garden are inert objects that we think might add some whimsy or charm, often what we choose to add is a unique plant or two — something that is new to us or so unusual that it will elicit exclamations from visitors to our gardens.
One such plant that will accomplish this is the caladium.
While it is far too late now to buy a caladium bulb and start it ourselves, luckily the garden centres have these plants already started for us and we simply have to buy a pot and after carefully introducing it to outdoor conditions gradually so as to acclimatize it to the outdoor environment, we can add it to the landscape.
These plants will already have several attractive leaves and be ready to "show their stuff" in the garden.
The foliage of caladiums is their great drawing card. Although they sometimes produce blooms that resemble the spathes of the peace lily, the exquisite leaves of caladiums are their chief claim to fame; they will add a punch of colour to any shaded spot in the garden.
Caladium leaves are large and arrow-shaped. Each leaf is a work of art, containing subtle shading and intricate veining in contrasting colours. The leaf might be white with dark green veins and shading — perhaps with dark green predominating around the leaf’s edge.
Besides white, leaves might be red or pink, but whatever colour, all caladiums have leaves with the beautiful shading and veining that makes them so attractive. Individual leaves are long lasting and remain attractive for several weeks. If an individual leaf gets damaged or browns, it can easily be cut off as new leaves are constantly being produced by the plant.
Caladiums are tropical plants native to South America. Being tender tropicals, they like heat and will not perform well during cool spells so some gardeners take their potted caladiums indoors if the temperature drops much below 20 degrees C.
When a caladium is being started early indoors, the bulb should be planted in a damp, peat-based soilless mix and the pot should be located where the temperature is well above 20 degrees C. Usually the tubers are started indoors before the end of March so that the plants are well developed before they are moved to the outdoor garden.
Generally, a caladium will not be moved outdoors before June as the temperatures — including night-time temperatures — will be too cool. In the fall, the pot might have to be moved indoors at night when the night-time temperatures begin to slip much below the 18 degree mark.
Because of their delicate nature, it is obvious that a caladium should be grown in a container, and although other plants can be combined in a container with a caladium, the usual practice is to have only the caladium in the pot by itself. The exquisite beauty of the caladium’s foliage ensures that it can stand alone as a specimen plant and needs no supporting cast.
While caladiums like excellent drainage, they also like their potting mix kept moist. They are heavy feeders, so a weekly dose of a soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer should be used during the growing season.
The leaves naturally start to flag toward summer’s end and when this begins to happen, water should be withheld to allow the plant to enter into a dormant state. The leaves will gradually wither and die off.
The bulb can be stored in its pot in a warm, dry, dark location during the winter, or the tuber can be removed from the pot after the foliage has all dried off and stored in peat moss in a cardboard box. While not the easiest plant to grow, if you are looking for a unique plant to spice up your sitting-out area and don’t mind doing a bit of fussing, a caladium might just be the plant for you.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 14, 2012