Part of the gardening experience is making note of which plants performed well, which ones had less enthusiasm than the gardener and which ones were too demanding in their requirements for water, fertilizer or care.
Looking back on the Dreadful Summer of 2016, there were lots of stand outs: The pentas, euphorbias, torenias and the narrow-leaf zinnias did really well despite the smothering heat.
The impatiens struggled and just about disappeared. (I may need to rethink another shade plant for 2017).
But the winner in the wonderful plant sweepstakes is definitely the caladium. Whether planted in sun or shade, container or color bed, it was a champion.
All kinds of colors
Many gardeners pass over caladiums as they seek out plants with blooms. They may need an attitude adjustment.
Given the chance, any gardener is sure to be charmed by caladiums. I have been using them for years. They are beautiful in a container as the thriller (the centerpiece), the filler or the spiller draping over the sides of the container.
Caladiums fit in beautifully with any mixture of flowers. On their own, they make a magnificent bed or container.
Caladiums come in a variety of heights to adapt to surrounding flowers.
Caladiums have typically been known as shade plants, but new cultivars can tolerate sun. Those must receive regular moisture, however.
The breeders have gone wild with colors and sizes. Many of the flamboyant leaves look like abstract paintings. From ‘Red Flash’, with its enormous brightly hued foliage, to ‘Miss Muffet’, with her more delicately colored pink splashed leaves, there is a caladium for every gardener.
Care and feeding of caladiums
Caladiums are not completely maintenance-free, but they are not labor-intensive either.
Caladiums must be planted in well-amended, well-drained soil. Bulbs will quickly rot in soil that stays too wet.
When watering newly planted bulbs, do not overwater them, but do not allow them to dry out either.
Some time-release fertilizer when they are planted will help the bulbs get off to a good start.
Mulch the bulbs during the summer to help keep the soil from drying out.
Saving over bulbs
Unlike many plants that serve as annuals for one summer, caladium bulbs can be dug up when containers and color beds are changed for the winter season and used again the next year.
When the nighttime temperatures begin to drop under 55 degrees and the caladium foliage begins to go dormant, caladium bulbs should be dug, soil removed, and allowed to dry in a shady, dry spot. The Southern Living Garden Book recommends storing them in dry peat moss in temperatures from 55 to 65 degrees.
The next spring, they can be planted when the ground is really warm.
One sure way to ruin a caladium is to plant the bulb when the ground is too cold. Caladium bulbs will not flourish in chilly soil and they will rot.
Last year, my caladiums did not make an appearance until very late in May, although I planted them in the middle of May. I had just about given up on them when the leaves, which looked like small flags, began to unfurl.
As I typically buy large numbers of caladium bulbs each year, I am able to share them with friends when I take them up each fall. It is truly satisfying the next year to see the gifted bulbs beautify other landscapes in my neighborhood.
Sherry Blanton is a member of the Calhoun County Master Gardeners Association. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.