UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

August 20, 2003

Feature Article - for release the week of August 24, 2003

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent, retired

Caring for Caladiums

This past weekend one of the most colorful events in mid-Florida took place in Lake Placid, the 13th annual Caladium Festival. Our friends in Highlands County hold this late summer event to promote one of their most important crops. If you missed the tours, exhibits and entertainment, there are local nurseries sources that can supply this colorful bedding plant. And, if you made it to the plant sales booths at the festival, you may have some questions about how to care for these tropical beauties.

If you are unfamiliar with caladiums, they are a large leafy plant that has boldly colored patterns of white, pink, red or green. They prefer shady spots and do better in the landscape when supplied with generous moisture but have few needs for pesticides.

These plants are grown from bulbs. If little fertilizer is used, the plants can use stored food supplies and still do well as an annual bedding plant. However, well fertilized plants can be depended upon to return for several years of glorious color.

Avoid planting caladium bulbs under the eaves of houses - rainfall pouring off the roof may rip apart the delicate leaves. The bulbs can also be planted in pots and enjoyed on porches and patios when kept out of direct sunlight. Grouping bulbs in clusters - or with several in a pot - will give a more pleasing appearance.

And be careful to keep these plants out of the chewing range of curious kids or pets - they contain oxalic acid crystals in the caladium leaves - substances that are quite irritating to the mouth and stomach if swallowed.

At the end of warm summer growing season, the leaves gradually disappear, with the bulb going dormant as it enters the cool winter season. While it is not necessary to dig and store the bulbs in our area, northern gardeners may prefer to remove them from the landscape beds to avoid prolonged exposure to temperatures below 40 degrees F. After eight weeks of rest, the bulbs may be replanted for another flush of colorful growth.

Occasional caladium pests are nematodes, aphids and caterpillars. Moving bulbs to new locations takes care of the first pest, while the use of soaps and oils will reduce aphid populations. Using "B.t." insecticides or picking and squishing chewing caterpillars will usually take care of other pest problems.

The original caladium plants came from deep in the Brazilian jungles, and have been highly hybridized and selected for superior characteristics. They can be found in a variety of color combinations and sizes, with some cultivars doing better in shady or sunny locations.

Caladiums were first grown in the Lake Placid area in the early 1940's. Fifty years ago, their production rapidly expanded to nearly 1200 acres grown today. Many of these operations have been family-owned since that time. The festival highlights the colorful fields of caladiums that give parts of Highlands County the look of Holland.

If you need additional information on caladium selection or care, please contact your local Extension office.

Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS /University of Florida. Nick Place, Dean.

References:

"Ask the Doctor", Q&A on Caladium Care by UF Horticulture Professor Gary Wilfret (retired). http://www.happinessfarms.com/askthedoc.html

Black, Robert. "Caladiums Brighten Shady Areas In The Landscape" (Dr. Bobís Gardening Tipís). http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/gt/bulbprop/caladium.htm

Caladium Festival home page, sponsored by the Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce. http://www.lpfla.com/events/caladium.htm

Gilman, Ed. Caladium UF/IFAS Fact Sheet FPS-83, 10/99. http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/shrubs/calhora.pdf