There are many more choices for color in the shade garden than most gardens are aware of, including beautiful annuals such as New Guinea impatiens, begonia, caladium, cyclamen, fuchsia, lobelia, perilla and torenia.
By Barbara Perry Lawton
(This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener April 2017 issue)
There are many more choices for color in the shade garden than most gardens are aware of, including beautiful annuals such as New Guinea impatiens, begonia, caladium, cyclamen, fuchsia, lobelia, perilla and torenia. Among my favorites are caladiums, a group of ornamentals grown for their spectacular foliage, large arrow-shaped leaves that come in a wide variety of color combinations—white, pink, red and green—and patterns. They offer many choices to brighten your shady corners.
The genus Caladium is a plant group of seven species originally native to Central and South America. Caladiums have been cultivated in Europe since the late 18th century. Like other aroids, relatives of philodendron, caladiums are poisonous to eat and also can be irritating to the skin. Although there are dwarf varieties, most garden caladiums grow about two feet tall with an equal width. And although most varieties grow best in full to partial shade, today there are varieties that will tolerate sunnier conditions.
When grouped they may well look as though they’re in bloom. They mix well with softly textured ornamentals such as astilbe as well as the spiky-leafed ornamental grasses and shade-tolerent irises. Caladiums are top propects for container growing.
You can buy caladiums potted, ready to set out in the garden or grow them from tubers. If planting the tubers, be sure to plant them with the pointed side up, about one and a half to two inches deep. As far as spacing, this will depend upon the mature size of the plants—that information should be on the label. Keep the plants moist but not wet. They prefer slightly acid soil.
Caladiums grow from corms, reproductive tubers that are modified underground stems. The tubers can be divided to propagate the plants. They are hardy only to USDA Zone 10. Beyond that, grow them as houseplants or outdoor annuals. In our temperate climate, the corms should be dug up before the first hard frost, dried and stored, fairly dry, for the winter. Be sure to dig them up before the cold melts the leaves, as the corms will be very difficult to find thereafter.
Barbara Perry Lawton is a writer, author, speaker and photographer. She has served as manager of publications for Missouri Botanical Garden and as weekly garden columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The author of a number of gardening and natural history books, and contributor to many periodicals, she has earned regional and national honors for her writing and photography. Barbara is also a Master Gardener and volunteers at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, MO.