One of Florida’s most popular warm season foliage plants is the caladium. This colorful, tropical species, which will grow in all areas of our state, is relatively inexpensive, and requires very little maintenance. Caladiums, with their wide variety of bright, contrasting colors, add a cool look to summer gardens.
Caladium is a genus of flowering plants in the family araceae. They are often known by the common name Elephant Ear, Heart of Jesus, and Angel Wings. There are over 1,000 named cultivars of caladium bicolor from the original South American plant.
Both “Fancy” and “Lance” leaved caladiums grow well in Florida. Fancy leaved caladiums, which are the most popular, have large, somewhat rounded leaves, and are available in a wised range of foliage color from pure white, with strongly contrasting green veins, to pink, rose, and red. Many of these have showy crimson crinkled centers and dark green veins. The lance leaved caladium is available in all of these colors too. But, its leaf shaped is narrow and elongated, rather than round. And the entire plant is somewhat smaller than the fancy leaved varieties. My information was proved by Emeritus Horticulture Specialist Dr. Robert Black, of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Caladiums may be grown from tubers, or be planted as established specimens purchased in containers from nurseries or garden centers. Tubers should be planted about two inches deep and 18 inches apart. Established plants should be set at the same depth at which they were growing in their containers, and the spacing recommended for tubers. If your soil is quite sandy, amend it with organic matter before planting. Make sure the site has good drainage. Caladiums grow best in moist, but not soggy, soil. Too much water will cause roots to decay.
Find somewhat shaded area in which to plant your caladiums because they can’t tolerate full summer sun. The ideal is considered to be 40 to 60 percent shade. Of course, they do need some sunshine an hour or two in the morning is best. Longer exposure tends to bleach caladium foliage of its attractive colors and limits plant growth as well.
Proper fertilization produces healthy, large leaved caladium plants. When growing caladiums in organic soils, spread 2 pounds of a complete fertilizer, such as an 8-8-8 or 10-10-10, per 100 square feet of bed area, four to six weeks after planting, and every two months during the growing season. For plants growing in sandy soil, where leaching is a problem, fertilizer should be added monthly.
Mulching the plant will help maintain necessary soil moisture and promote lush, healthy foliage development. If the soil is allowed to dry out, the plants will wilt rapidly.
Caladiums grow best at temperatures of 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and they make excellent house plants. For indoor culture, prepare a soil mix of one part sand and one part peat. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. If a plant turns pale, or doesn’t seem to be growing well, try giving it some extra fertilizer.
Cut caladium leaves, are very popular as indoor decorations. The leaves will last several days if the freshly cut stems and plunged into hot, and then cold water. Keep the stems in the hot bath until the water turns lukewarm. Then place the cuttings in a bath of cold water.