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Gardening with Laurie: Leaves add color to garden

By By Laurie Garretson
April 12, 2012 at midnight
Updated April 11, 2012 at 11:12 p.m.

Caladiums add splash of color to the garden.

The first thing most people think of when they think of a colorful garden is usually lots of blooming flowers. Well, flowers can be colorful, but foliage can be just as colorful. The colorful leaves of caladiums can add beautiful color to any garden or container.

Caladiums are grown from a bulb. They are a tropical plant that does not like cold weather. Larger bulbs will produce more leaves, but mass planting smaller bulbs will give you the same effect. The leaf size is determined by the size of the eyes on the bulb and larger bulbs will generally have the larger eyes.

Fancy leaf is the common variety of caladium that is most often grown. Fancy Leaf caladium leaves are typically eight to twelve inches long and grow about 12- to 15-inches tall. Plant them in shady areas to produce taller plants.

The weather needs to be consistently warm for caladium bulbs to germinate. The bulbs will grow faster as the temperature gets warmer. Contrary to popular belief, the bulbs can be planted in any direction. As the bulb sprouts, it will grow toward the sun. If you purchase bulbs that have already sprouted, then you should plant the bulb upright for faster growth.

They will require ample watering as they start to grow. Lack of sufficient water while germinating can initially produce smaller leaves.

Caladiums grow best in partial shade, but they can tolerate full sun when grown in a rich soil and get sufficient water. When grown in very shady areas, the green color in the foliage will tend to dominate. Acidic soil will cause the darker colors of the leaf to dominate. There are some varieties of caladiums that change colors as they mature.

After many years of hybridizing, there are now three more types of caladiums to choose from: strap leaf, dwarf and Lance leaf. Bulbs of all these types of caladiums are smaller in size than the common fancy leaf caladium bulb. The strap, Lance and dwarf leaf bulbs do have more eyes per bulb and produce a dense, low growing plant. These three varieties tend to tolerate sunny areas better than the common fancy leaf types.

All varieties of caladiums are easy to grow and can be used in many different types of settings. I think caladiums are most effective in mass plantings, but are also great to use as ground covers, border plants, container plants and even house plants.

Although hardy to zone 11, and can be left in the ground all year round, most gardeners dig the tubers up as the leaves turn brown in the fall. It does seem that plants perform better when the bulb is dug and protected from the winter weather.

If digging the bulbs to store for the winter, first cut back on their water supply as you first notice the leaves starting to turn yellow. After a week or two, the bulbs can be dug, cleaned off and then left to dry in a shady spot for a week to 10 days. Cleaned tubers can be stored in dry potting soil, sand, wrapped in dry newspapers or any method that will keep the tubers dry. Store in a cool, dry location until the next spring.

Caladiums are generally problem-free except for a couple of pests, snails and grasshoppers. Keep your Sluggo snail bait sprinkled around the planting area and watch out for grasshoppers. Caladium bulbs are also susceptible to fungal diseases when grown in damp soils. The solution for this is to not let their soil stay wet.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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