In recent years, gardeners everywhere have seen quite a few plants that were once grown only in shady conditions come out into the sunshine. Sunpatiens were my first experience with these now sun lovers.
Then, these plants were closely followed by sun coleus. We’ve killed a lot of Sunpatiens and coleuses by planting them in the full sun, but we’ve learned a lot and have adapted to growing them there.
Another plant that is taking the sunny side of the garden by storm is the caladium. I have always loved the way caladiums look when planted in the shade. The brightly colored foliage seems to brighten any dark spot in the garden. And my first exposure to caladiums grown in the sun was not very encouraging. What should have been bright, patterned foliage was only faded and bleached-out leaves. I was going to stick to growing caladiums in the shade.
But now comes along an improvement in breeding with caladiums that stand up to the hot Mississippi sun. Being able to stand up to the full sun only makes sense because most of our caladiums are produced in Florida. This new ability opens up a lot of garden and landscape options for colorful foliage.
And let’s face it: We grow caladiums for their color. There are thousands of named selections, and I’m sure someone knows them all. I know a few, but I like to grow caladiums based on color and resulting combinations, whatever the names happen to be. Here’s a couple of named selections I’m including because they are popular choices at the garden center.
The Painted Frog Series is gorgeous. Poison Dart Tree Frog have dark-green leaves splotched with red and are reflective in bright light, making them look shiny. Red Bellied Tree Frog has lava-red, heart-shaped leaves framed with dark-green rims. Tie-Dyed Tree Frog has dark-green leaves accented by a red mid-vein and mottled with lime-green and yellow variegation. Small, pink and white spots pepper each leaf, making them look like splattered paint.
Carolyn Wharton features brilliant crimson main veins; the inner region of the leaf is pink with irregular green mottling. Red Flash caladiums are impressive with their brilliant red centers, scarlet red veins and pink speckles nestled inside the green border of the foliage.
An exciting selection is Stardust. This caladium has a bright white burst in the center and white veins. A suspended swirling galaxy of pure white spots certainly lights up the dark-green leaves. This unusual beauty adds interest in mass plantings.
Caladium foliage is also very distinctive. The midribs on the leaves provide streaks and flashes of color many times providing high contrast with the rest of the foliage. Foliage colors include reds, pinks, whites and greens — all in various shades and combinations. Most foliage is heart-shaped with long petioles and is considered fancy leaved. Caladiums can reach heights of up to 30 inches.
Caladiums are sensitive to cold weather and should be considered annuals except in the coastal areas of Mississippi with milder winters. But gardeners in Mississippi can save the tubers and replant them next year. This is an easy task for caladiums grown in containers. Be sure to dig the tubers in the fall when the soil temperatures go below 60 degrees. Lightly brush the soil off and remove any foliage. Pack them in dry peat moss and store dry at about 60 degrees. Be sure to label and sort by cultivar.
Gary Bachman is an Extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi and hosts Southern Gardening television and radio programs. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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