By Leora McTall, Master Gardener
While traveling through Florida’s interior, a sign “Caladium Capital of the World” captured the eye of this Illinois Master Gardener. And so the quest began.
First, a reminder that every fall we all have made the vow to plant less tropicals (caladiums being a tropical), because they are just too much trouble here in our non-tropical zone. We find ourselves braving the cold winds, digging frantically just ahead of the freeze warnings, and then finding a proper winter storage place. Do we really need them? Maybe they just aren’t worth it.
So, here we are in Florida, cruising up and down the streets of Lake Placid searching for “Caladium Bulbs 4 Less”. We find ourselves in a questionable neighborhood at a huge warehouse guarded by barking dogs inside. A very timid knock on the door brought proprietor Bill Kurek to greet us. He turned out to be a friendly gardener-type guy with a love of caladiums and an assurance that the dogs “won’t bite”. Mr. Kurek is a shipper and gets his plants from his “grower buddies”. There are some 14 growers in the area, and approximately 1500 acres will glow with red, pink, green and white foliage in July. In January, the fields are only black dirt with no sign of a plant yet.
Mr. Kurek advised to wait until the soil temperature is 65 (May in our area) before planting caladium tubers, resulting in a short growing season for us. We may plant the tubers in pots inside, though, which will give them a head start. Even quicker, the full-grown plants are offered in garden centers in the spring.
Caladium leaves are heart-shaped in colors of red, pink, white and green. Most are shade-loving, but some newer varieties, such as the Florida series, tolerate sun because of their thick, tough leaves.
A suggested container combo would include cannas and elephant ears along with caladiums. Since some coleus resemble caladiums, the two could be combined with crotons and ti plants, resulting in massive color. A white-leafed caladium, such as “Moonlight”, would really pop in a shady setting.
Yes, there is a Caladium Festival, but no, there is not a caladium society, nor club. The Caladium Festival is held in Lake Placid, FL, since 98% of all caladiums are grown there. This year’s festival is July 29 – 31 and includes bulbs and plants for sale, tours of the fields, airboat and swamp buggy rides, along with the usual festival schedule of arts and crafts, food, events and entertainment.
Mr. Kurek was able to find a couple of buckets of caladium tubers, even though January is not their retail season, so “June Bride” and “Brandywine” made their way to Irvington and will be planted inside to get a head start on spring.
So why not add some caladiums to your springtime garden? If you don’t want to lift them in the fall, just let them go as if they were an annual.
Washington County Master Gardeners will host an information booth at the annual Midwest Herb and Garden Show Feb. 12, 13 and 14 at the Times Square Mall in Mt. Vernon. Stop by and say “Hi”!
Caladium Capital Of The World