2021: Year of the Caladium

Maybe you missed it but I’m a little obsessed with some new caladiums this year.  They’re nothing particularly exotic, and I’m sure they would rather grow another zone or two south, but since the day they arrived in late April I’ve been gloating over all the tubers, looming over the planted pots, endlessly inspecting the first sprouts, anticipating every new leaf, and then agonizing over what to pot up together, what to pot up separately, how much sun is too much, how bad a chilly spell will be for them, how much they’ll grow during every stretch of hot weather… I’ve grown them before, but for some reason they are consuming me this year.  Who knows what happened.  I’m usually so rational with my plant decisions that this has really caught me off guard.  **90 second pause as I wait for lightning to strike me down**

growing caladiums

A few caladiums as well as other pots which are now off the driveway and moved into a new holding area.  This looks far more intentional than having all kinds of stray pots filling up the driveway waiting for homes.

So that went well.  It appears I will not be struck down for telling a little fib about frequent plant addictions, so let me just go ahead and tell a little story.  Back in late January I stumbled upon a caladium grower who sells mixed tubers by the pound.  Don’t ask why I was looking up caladium growers in January, but I was intrigued by the idea of ordering five pounds of caladiums with shipping for under $50 so I clicked yes.  They arrived in late April and I was thrilled.

caladium red flash

I believe this is ‘Red Flash’ a larger, good growing caladium which seems fine in full sun.

I waited until late May to pot them up.  Since they were mixed and I just couldn’t handle pots full of random colors all together, I potted each tuber up separately.  Five pounds came out to 78 pots in case you’re wondering, and once potted they were all lined out on the driveway to soak up the spring warmth with just a tiny bit of water to get them started.  And then the wait began.  A sprout here, one there, slowly they began to grow (really slowly it seemed) and every new leaf was an exciting surprise to see if it was something even more special than the last.  The rows of pots were starting to look like something.

growing caladiums

Ouch.  Halfway through setting the retaining wall blocks to hold the new bed I realized my level blocks did not match the sloping sidewalk and I’m absolutely annoyed with the way it looks.  Maybe some day I’ll redo it… maybe…

As different forms showed themselves they were grouped and potted up into whatever black plastic I could scrounge up.   For years I have been saving and storing every leftover pot from my own yard and the neighbors and now my moment to shine had finally arrived.  Ten of one size, fifteen of another, no problem!  I was feeling pretty rich even though absolutely no one appreciated my inspired foresight.  Someone (a pretty narrow-minded someone if I’m being honest) even said ‘Dad, you still have like a thousand more pots, do you really need them all?’ but of course genius is often misunderstood in its time, so I politely ignored the comment.

growing caladiums

Caladium ‘Pink Cloud?’ on the left with probably ‘Aaron’ as the white behind.

All the pots looked excellent on the driveway, but others suggested we use the driveway for cars so the caladium pots needed to move into their positions.  After putting four pots in place I came to the conclusion that there was nowhere else for the other 30 or 40 pots.  In January it was easy to say all the hostas and hellebores in the bed alongside the garage would be transplanted elsewhere, but in June when only one hellebore was gone it’s a different story.  Fortunately there was still grass on the other side of the walk.  It was a no-brainer to rip out the grass, throw in a few retaining wall blocks that the neighbor didn’t want, and then use sand from a recent sand delivery to level off a new bed.  Even though the new bed looks suspiciously like a big holding area for plants I didn’t really need in the first place, I like to think of it as the new sand terrace.  Of course I emphasize the second syllable of terrace to make it sound even fancier and French, and that of course is only natural in a garden which already boasts a potager.

caladium miss muffet

Caladium ‘Miss Muffet’ is amazing.  I wish it liked me more, but I suspect it would prefer a garden with more consistently warm weather and possibly a little more shade.

Having so many pots sounds silly, but genius foresight also ordered 100 drip emitters and some extra water tubing in May and now each pot is getting watered twice a day without the gardener lifting a finger (as if he even needed another excuse to be lazy) and the only real flaw in his plan is the nearly full sun exposure of the new bed and the part shade requirement for many of the caladiums…

growing caladiums

Maybe ‘Carolyn Whorton?’  An excellent grower here but also one who’s centers burn out in direct sun.

So for the last two weeks I’ve been shuffling sunburned caladiums into darker corners and moving up anything else which seems to tolerate more light.  It’s slightly concerning to see how many other plants have appeared out of nowhere to join the caladiums, but for some reason this year the gardener has been enjoying potting up things like clematis seedlings and ornamental peppers, and when this happens the few seed pots sown in March can rapidly become way more plants than anyone needs.

growing caladiums

One of the agonies of planting mixed caladiums is the possibility of a mixed pot.  Some might say that’s the whole point behind mixed tubers, but I thought I could get around it and this pot would be two of the same… but now as they grow on, the plant on the right has pink centers which burn, but the plant on the left seems more tolerant.  Are they different cultivars?  Will I ever know?

We will just ignore the ‘too many plants’ possibility and not think about all the extra pots this little project has generated.  Obviously I need to try and overwinter them all.  What a fiasco that will be, just imagine how much the gardener is going to complain about lugging all these in!

growing caladiums

I’ve just about given up on most IDs.  I wish they were like snowdrops or some other easy to identify plant, rather than something where earlier leaves are different than later leaves, sun and heat change the look, mature plants show more color…

Since I was running new drip lines I just went ahead and added in all the amaryllis (Hippeastrum) pots, as well as a bunch of other stuff.  It’s officially become a shady tropical garden and I quite like it as it wraps completely around the side and back of the garage.

potted shade garden

More goodies.  Actually only three pots of caladiums are new, the rest are all plants overwintered from last year… so I don’t want anyone thinking I’m still out there spending stimulus checks on new plants!

Not to keep going with bad ideas, but the amaryllis are finally getting some of the attention they’ve been missing for the last few years.  My fingers are crossed for many blooms this winter, but as of this minute I have no plans to add more, so at least that’s a plus 🙂

growing caladiums

Yeah I have no idea which caladiums these are.  To be honest the amaryllis were all misslabeled as well, so this really doesn’t do much for my need to organize.

So now for the other side of the story.  I didn’t just ‘happen to have’ a couple tons of sand and a pile of retaining wall blocks laying around, they were actually supposed to go towards a different idea.  I wanted to dig up the muddy lawn and replace it with a level sand path which is far less muddy and much more fun for kneeling on while admiring snowdrops.  Once the caladiums were situated the walk finally started… and of course didn’t get far since half the sand had already gone to a new bed and for topping off other areas which were short on sand (doesn’t everyone have endless sand needs?)

cardinal flower

I never realized how slanted the lawn was here until I actually took a level to it.  Good riddance!

Hopefully the path will work out.  It’s got a slight incline to it and hopefully that won’t be enough to wash out the sand with each rain, but if worse comes to worse I have ideas on that as well.  For now I have to tackle the curve of the path, and the fact that there are plants here as well which didn’t get moved in the spring.

shade garden path

More path building and slope filling.

Since we ended up in this side of the yard, we might as well take a look around.  Not much since this is such an ugly corner of the yard, but who can resist the latest Lycoris joke?  Not even twelve hours after posting that it didn’t look good for any more Lycoris flowers this summer, Lycoris chinensis (yellow surprise lily) surprised me with a flower stalk.  From nothing to full bloom in just a few days I think it’s pretty cool.  I’m so pleased I won’t even be petty and complain that there were two flower talks last year.  Nope, not at all.  Just enjoy it for what it is.

lycoris chinensis

Lycoris chinensis.  All is forgiven, I love these things!

You can look across the yard from here and see the potager.  If I remember correctly (it’s been a while), on a day when the sun actually comes out you can sit here in the shade of the maples and take a break before heading out into the heat and humidity of the full sun areas.  That’s a nice thing plus it’s kind of hidden back here.  The dog can usually find me soon enough, but you have to be foolish enough to answer before the kids figure out where you are.

garden view

The view across the garden.  That’s one of the industrial park buildings up on top of the slope.  The trees still have a ways to go.

And that’s where we are at.  More sand is scheduled to arrive tomorrow (assuming this past week of torrential rains hasn’t washed it all away) and the path should progress a little further.  It doesn’t look like much but shoveling and wheel-barrowing and tamping and leveling and measuring are all the little tedious tasks which take me forever.  I’m sure someone more motivated would finish in two or three days, but well…

sand path

For a while I doubted myself on the path idea, but now it’s growing on me.  The fam is still on the fence, but once it’s done I think they’ll give it their seal of approval as well.

So I’ve got caladiums and sand.  Life is good.  Other people measure their success by different measures but right now I’m feeling pretty rich.  I even found another clearance caladium tonight while cinderblock shopping and a $2 caladium always makes the hard labor better.

Hope you have a great week!

20 comments on “2021: Year of the Caladium

  1. GREAT POST as always! I love Caladiums but I have never bought 50#. I have only had a few but always wanted more. Your plans are awesome and the hard work will pay off. I can’t imagine someone suggested to use the driveway for cars instead of pots. Your landscaping looks AWESOME as always! I had great plans for the back yard in Mississippi, but moving back here stopped that. I cannot, for the life of me, do anything with this yard. I have looked it over many times and I just can’t get motivated. It just isn’t in the right spot or it is to open. Lack of funds is also an issue. I do much better with the garden and potted plants these days. 🙂 The weather has been weird. It is supposed to get to 97 Tuesday and Wednesday… Thanks for sharing!

    • bittster says:

      Wait, wait! It was only 5 pounds, not 50! -although you could do that if you want to trade out the sweet corn for something a little less edible lol
      I think the openness can really throw you off, and it’s such a big openness that makes everything you try look like tiny nothingness. Keep having fun and don’t even worry about it!
      Yeah, 90’s here today and the next two days. I won’t complain though since you know what comes next…

      • GEEZ! Well, I goofed! 50# would have been a nightmare with only 5 pounds going in 78 pots.

        You are right about the openness. Where my grandparents had their old house was perfect because they had a smallish yard with the garden, orchards, chicken house, barn, etc. located around it. My parents put their house where one of the gardens and apple orchard was… On the south side of the driveway. Everything is so far away. I feel like still landscaping “the other yard”.

        We certainly don’t want to complain about the heat. Like you said “you know what” comes next and I don’t even want to say think about it…

  2. Paddy Tobin says:

    Caladiums are completely other-world for us. They appear as house plants occasionally but never for garden. I recall a wonderful planting of them in a garden in Italy which I enjoyed – different climate etc so they thrived there.

    • bittster says:

      They’re awfully tropical for us as well, but for the last few days they perfectly suit the weather. There are bugs this week as well. Tiger mosquitos and blackflies, ugh.

  3. “the only real flaw in his plan is the nearly full sun exposure of the new bed and the part shade requirement for many of the caladiums…” You just need to move a patio umbrella over to that part of the garden, so they get the shade they need. Someone gave me a yellow lycoris but it never showed up the next spring.

    • bittster says:

      Well that’s an excellent idea! It reminds me of the parasols you’ll sometimes see over tree peonies and the gardens of some of the crazier dahlia growers. I’m really not that bad… yet 😉
      Some yellow lycoris are hardy, others 😦

  4. Tim C says:

    78 pots, love it! Love the paths as well, something I have contemplated, but one of those daunting projects I have yet to commit to.

    • bittster says:

      I’m rethinking my commitment… I should have just thrown down some mulch like normal people do or hired someone to put in pavers. But you know how it is when you get an idea in your head!

  5. pbmgarden says:

    Your caladiums are magnificent. What a great bargain the tubers were too–I think they’re very expensive here. Wish you were my neighbor and I would offer to let you stow plants in my garden. Take care Frank.

    • bittster says:

      I ended up online because all the regular sources were either too much or too many! I wanted at least five or six different kinds, so went with the mix.
      Yes, down there I’m sure they would grow so well I’d be looking for friends to drop them off with. It would be fun!

  6. Eliza Waters says:

    I love your plant addictions, Frank, they make me feel halfway sane, ha! I tried growing caladiums once, and found slugs LOVE them, and I have far too many to ever eradicate, so I must plant slug-resistant plants (as well as rodent and deer resistant ones, it’s a wonder I can plant anything).
    I’m impressed with your walkway project, not something I would ever dare to attempt. Our flagstone walk needs to be redone, but it is shocking how much the pros charge. It might never get done!
    Have a great week. I expect the school year is fast approaching… enjoy what is left of your freedom. 🙂

    • bittster says:

      You know what? Slugs really aren’t that big of a problem here and I don’t know why. Every now and then a well watered vegetable garden mulch will bring them onto the lettuce but the rest of the garden is usually low on the slime factor.
      Well look at that. I just searched to see if garter snakes eat slugs and that’s a big yes! Makes all those jumps and squeals worth it 🙂
      Yes the price for skilled (or unfortunately sometimes unskilled) is brutal. Deep down inside I’m hoping that someday I can just use this sand as a nice base for some bluestone pieces and skip much of the “other” costs.
      Today was the first day back for teachers. It was devastating 😉

  7. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Your plant addictions are what makes the plant world go around. We all contribute to that merry go round in our own special ways. I love your idea of path. I am having a difficult time ‘seeing’ what kind of sand you are using. I can’t imagine the type of sand we have around here for a path. It would soak in, float away or be dragged into the house perennially. A nice level path is a great thing to have though. When you get a bit decrepit or have family and friends who don’t get around so easily those level paths are life savers. As to your caladiums. They are a colorful addition to your garden. Especially the garden space devoted to them. Nice to have emitters on them too. I drag my hose everywhere. One of these days….

    • bittster says:

      The drip system is actually pretty easy to set up, and I really love not watering although it makes me real lazy about the pots which are not ‘covered’, and they often don’t last long (case in point the clearance raspberry plants today).
      I come from the flatlands, so I love having any level areas in the garden. I wish I had a little tractor to help but with my budget it’s just the shovel and slow and steady.
      I hope the sand works. I wouldn’t do it next to a door for all the tracking you mention, but hopefully it last a little while out where it is. The sand is a coarse crushed bluestone maybe? and is sold around here as a base for pavers mostly. I almost went with a stonier “crusher run” base but the idea of adding rocks to the yard on purpose didn’t sit well in case plans change.
      Hope things are doing well there! I know you were dry for a while and that can get old quickly when the weather is hot.

  8. Cathy says:

    You have got it bad Frank, I can see. And I fear some therapy may be necessary in winter, to cure you… e.g. distraction through snowdrops! I love your Caladiums and wish I could grow them somewhere. (We have practically no shade still, but I am working on that.) Wonderful colouring and interesting leaf-shape make them a collector’s dream. 😉

    • bittster says:

      Haha, I’m already feeling the distraction of snowdrops as friends offer to trade and new drops show up in the mailbox 😉
      It’s only a few years ago that I was looking at full sun throughout the yard. Trees grow faster than you think!

  9. I am not a big Caladium fan but I may have to change my tune. ‘Miss Muffet’ is a gal to lust after; if I am allowed to say such an un-PC thing. We have never done sand paths. Ours are gravel (two kinds and sizes in different areas) and white pine needles. The pine are fun to kneel on. But we both have become fans of the garden pants from Duluth Trading Co. with fancy knee pads. I no longer use a kneeler. I can kneel for ages on big gravel with no discomfort. They are great. So far I have not seen Lycoris that color that is hardy here because it is a beauty. Another plant to lust after. You know, of course, that you are not alone in ordering plants in January. I always go a little bonkers — and never more so that during this COVIDIAN era.

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