Caladiums — You won’t find a better plant for reliable color in areas that get some shade. Many Louisiana gardeners enjoy a summer landscape planting of caladiums.

Easy enough for the casual gardener to expect routine success, the caladium’s elegant beauty also makes it a staple in the most accomplished gardener’s landscape. Native to tropical South America, caladiums grow from tubers and thrive in the heat and humidity of our long summers. They are remarkably free from major insect or disease problems.

It is best to plant caladiums in April through early May because they grow best under warmer soil conditions. They will provide immediate color in the landscape when planted 8 to 12 inches apart. And they will grow larger and more beautiful throughout the summer and have a peak performance in late summer to early fall.

Caladiums are grown for their attractive foliage. The 6- to 12-inch, heart-shaped leaves emerge from the ground on arching stems that are generally 1 to 2 feet tall but can grow taller.

The foliage may be splashed with combinations of white, pink, rose, red, burgundy, chartreuse or green, often with several colors combining in wonderful patterns. These bright leaves with their bold texture embellish our shady gardens from May until October when the tubers go dormant.

Caladiums grow best in shade to part shade (two to four hours of direct sun, preferably morning) or bright, dappled light. In these conditions they produce the lushest growth with large, colorful leaves.

Some cultivars are more tolerant of sunny conditions and are successful in beds that get part to full sun (six hours or more of direct sun). Avoid hot, dry, sunny locations for best results.

Caladiums can be purchased two different ways. Buying tubers is the most economical way to add them to the landscape. They can also be planted directly into well-prepared beds now about 2 inches deep and 8 to 12 inches apart.

Proper bed preparation will ensure beautiful plants. Begin by turning the soil in the area to be planted and then incorporating a 4-inch layer of organic matter such as pine bark, compost, rotted manure or peat moss.

Sprinkle the area with an all-purpose fertilizer according to the package directions and incorporate it into the upper few inches of the soil. As an alternative, a little slow-release fertilizer can be placed around each tuber as it is planted into the bed. During summer, a light application of a liquid fertilizer may be added.

Growing points or even pinkish-white sprouts should be visible on the knobby side of the tuber. That side is planted up. The smoother side is the bottom. Wait until leaves have emerged and grown several inches tall before mulching them. Caladiums also are available in 4- to 6-inch pots. These will provide immediate color in the landscape. They should be transplanted with the top of the root ball level with the soil of the bed.

Plant them 8 to 12 inches apart into well-prepared beds, and they will grow larger and more beautiful through the summer. Once growing caladiums are planted, mulch the bed with 2 inches of your favorite mulch and water them in.

Keep beds of caladiums well watered during summer, especially those receiving lots of sun.

The colorful, tropical foliage of caladiums combines beautifully with impatiens, begonias, torenias, liriope, ferns, hydrangeas, achimenes, gingers, tricyrtis and other shade-loving plants. They are generally more effective when a single color or variety is used in a bed or landscape. If several colors are used, they are most effective when masses or groups of each color are combined in the planting.

All types of caladiums thrive here planted in partly shaded locations. The variety you choose is a matter of taste. The LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station has been evaluating the sun tolerance of caladium varieties. Recent results indicate the following varieties performed best in sunny locations: Fire Chief, Elise, Carolyn Whorton, Moonlight, White Queen, Lance Whorton, Rosemary, Candyland, White Delight, White Dynasty, White Wing and White Wonder.

Popular lantanas

Lantanas continue to be one of the most popular herbaceous perennials for Louisiana landscapes. There are many varieties, some old and some new, that offer a multitude of growth forms and flower colors.

Lantanas are most commonly added to the landscape during the spring and continue with flowers all the way through the fall season.

Their growth habit can include a wide range of shapes, from trailing to mounding to upright. Trailing types reach a height of 18 inches and spread 3 feet wide. Foliage texture is finer and flower colors in the trailing types are white, lavender and purple.

Mounding and upright types actually belong to another species or group of hybrid lantanas. Mounding lantanas reach 30 to 36 inches tall while upright growers include the old ham and egg-type lantanas and can reach 4 to 5 feet tall (and even larger) in one growing season.

Most lantanas, regardless of habit, are reliably perennial throughout Louisiana but sometimes some plants will come back the second and third spring less vigorously than when they grew the previous year.

The relatively new Bandana series of lantanas is the most truly mounding of all the mounding-type lantanas. One of the reasons it has been chosen as a Louisiana Super Plant this spring is due to the neat, uniform, mounding growth characteristic. Bandanas reach 18 to 24 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide — a perfect size for many landscape settings and for container gardening.

Other strong points of the Bandana lantanas include the wide color range in flowers and the flower colors available in the series. Varieties include white, lemon zest, cherry, cherry sunrise, light yellow, peach, rose, pink and red.

Also, Bandanas are excellent fall blooming lantanas. Some lantanas do not bloom well into the fall but Bandanas maintain flower color until first frost most years. Lantanas are great for landscape plants and do well in containers. They perform best in full sun. Lantanas are very drought tolerant and deer resistant. Irrigation is only needed in very droughty situations. Fertilize once at planting and again in late summer in a landscape bed.

Besides providing landscape color most of the year, lantanas attract butterflies like crazy. The Bandana lantanas will be great additions to a landscape in 2013. Tight mounds, great new colors and overall low-maintenance should make them a smart choice for any landscaping project.

Plant sale

Today is the final day of the LSU AgCenter’s Master Gardener plant sale. Hours are 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens, 4560 Essen Lane.

Got a gardening question? Write to Bob Souvestre, horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter, at Burden Center, 4560 Essen Lane, Baton Rouge, LA 70809, or email to bsouvestre@agcenter.lsu.edu, or call Master Gardeners at (225) 763-3990.