By BJ Jarvis
So often, gardeners defy nature by planting, tending and coaxing sun-loving plants in shady spots, like turf under a tree. Why not give in to the conditions and plant a perennial that will thrive in a shady nook?
The University of Florida’s Gulf Coast Research Center in Hillsborough County is hybridizing an amazing diversity of caladiums. Dr. Zhanao Deng, an associate professor in the Environmental Horticulture Department, has developed a wide array of pinks, red, white and shade of green caladiums, plus unique leaf shapes and sizes.
Another bonus is caladiums are easy to grow and are also versatile. You can grow them in the ground or in planters or even in a hanging basket. Grown not for their flower but for the large colorful heart-shaped leaves, there’s sure to be one that fits in most any garden scheme. The fancy types are taller plants, growing up to 2-inches tall, while the dwarfs are a bit shorter, but get their name because individual leaves are smaller. There is also a strap-type, which has a longer, narrower heart-shape to the leaf.
Fancy cultivars, like Florida white ruffles (long thin ruffled leaves that have some sun tolerance), cranberry star (large white leaves with dark red speckles) and Florida whitewater (strap-like leaves with wavy leaf margins showing decent sun tolerance), are three unique varieties to look for. Some of the newer fancy caladiums can be found at the annual Caladium Festival in Lake Placid, in late August each year.
Although native to the Amazon River basin, caladiums appreciate our warm, humid climate. In spring, plant caladiums tubers, “eyes” or bud up, planting them only about 0.5 to 1-inch deep. They will appreciate richer soil than is typical of most Pasco County soils. Add enriching amendments, such as manures or compost, at planting time to maintain a moist, well-drained soil.
Once in the ground, caladiums are very low maintenance. With the periodic addition of a slow-release fertilizer and removal of an occasional damaged leaf, caladiums won’t need lots of attention. What a welcome treat to have at least one low maintenance plant growing in our hot gardens!
For more information about caladiums, visit the University of Florida’s website: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP00300.pdf.
–BJ Jarvis, is the Pasco Cooperative Extension Director and Horticulture Agent. Extension is a partnership between the University of Florida, Pasco County government and the USDA. Readers can email BJ at .
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