October marks the beginning of the end for caladiums' glory days. As the days shorten and the nights cool, caladium plants go into winter dormancy.
Now is the time to decide whether to let them go and replant next year or to dig them up, dry them, store them and plant them again next spring.
In south Louisiana, tubers can usually be left in the ground year-round. Help protect them from extended freezing temperatures with a thick layer of mulch.
However, if you do decide to dig them up, here's some tips:
Dig when the majority of leaves have turned yellow and are falling over. Use a garden fork to lift them from the soil gently. Keep leaves attached, remove soil and wipe clean with a soft brush or cloth. Let the leaves dry for two weeks until they have become completely dry and turned brown. You can then pull the dried leaves from the tuber.
Store clean, dried tubers spaced apart from one another in a cool place in a paper bag, cardboard box or other breathable material. Do not use plastic bags or other airtight storage that traps moisture.
A warm garage, pantry or storage closet with ambient temperatures are good choices. Give them room for air movement. If you have a hard time telling what side is up or down on the tuber, mark the tops with a permanent marker before storing.
Now you are prepared for next spring.
Plant caladiums in the spring when the soil warms to at least 65 degrees and days begin to warm, typically April in Louisiana. If you want to give your plants a head start, plant them indoors in late February or early March in a warm, sunny window.
In the landscape, plant tubers smooth side down at around 2½ to 3 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Caladiums also do well in containers on shaded porches, patios and decks to decorate your outdoor sitting areas with a little pop of color.
The beautiful foliage of caladiums makes a spectacular show when they are planted in large groupings around shrubs and trees, as landscape bed borders and in containers. Every plant nursery carries a large selection each spring.
Native to South America, caladiums thrive in our hot and humid climate, and are perfect for bringing color to shady spots. Most flowering plants require a great deal of sun for blooms, and most foliage plants thrive in shade.
Caladiums, in general, prefer partial sun but also thrive in full shade.
With little to no pest or disease issues, they are easy to care for and look good from spring to early fall.
Some new varieties or the fancy strap-leafed caladiums can tolerate more sun and, under the right cultural conditions, can tolerate full sun. Tubers perform best in well-drained soil with partial sun. Areas that hold water lead to tuber and root rot.
Often referred to as bulbs, caladiums are truly tubers, botanically speaking. They come in different size grades much like the edible potato tubers sold in grocery stores and farmers markets. The largest ones, called mammoth, are 3½ to 4½ inches. Jumbo tubers are 2½ to 3½ inches, and No. 1s are 1½ to 2½ inches. No. 2s and 3s are smaller.
The larger the tuber, the more “eyes,” or growth points, the plants have, meaning they will grow into larger, fuller plants. These tubers provide energy stores in winter dormancy and help plants grow again in spring as the days get warmer and soil temperatures rise.
If you want a fuller, bushier plant, carefully remove a few of the more prominent eyes before planting, being careful not to damage surrounding tissue or smaller buds.
Check the LSU AgCenter website at bit.ly/lsucaladiums for recommended varieties.