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Do you know what looks really appealing in the cold, snowy depths of a Northeastern Pennsylvania winter? Pictures of tropical plants, specifically, in my case, caladiums! I mentioned this in February to a fellow blogging friend, and he told me he’d the same thought and guided me to a website selling caladiums for very reasonable prices. Less ambitious than said friend, I abstained from purchasing the Catholic family sized bag of bulbs, but rather opted for five each of four varieties.

Caladium ‘Gypsy Rose’

The bulbs arrived in late April, and I should have planted them immediately and set them on the heat mats in the basement, but because excuses, they didn’t hit dirt until May 25. I planted each bulb in an individual peat pot and followed the directions that came with them, watering them sparingly until growth appeared, and providing them with as much heat as possible. Our variable weather (either hot and humid or cold and damp) meant I frequently moved the trays between the sunny back deck and the aforementioned heat mats in the basement.

The wait seemed interminable. . .

At last, in early July, five lengthy weeks after planting, many of the pots had sprouts. The first leaf unfurled a few days later! My friend and I checked on each other’s progress near daily. “Half of mine have come up now, how about yours?” By six and a half weeks, every bulb had sprouted! It was time to re-home these babies.

‘Red Flash’

‘Red Flash’ is a bright, glossy caladium with deep red veins, a cherry-red center, and dark green edges. It features light pink speckles. For me, it grows well in a spot where it is shaded most of the day, but then enjoys just a couple hours of late afternoon bright sun. I’ve placed it in a pot among other tropicals, such as elephant ears and croton:

A taste of the tropics on my side porch–Caladium ‘Red Flash’ with elephant ear and croton

This caladium should grow to about eighteen inches tall; right now mine are just over a foot. The largest leaves are eight inches long. There are three bulbs in this ten inch diameter pot:

Carolyn Wharton’

Caladiums ‘Carolyn Wharton’, ‘Pink Illusion’, and ‘Red Flash’ on my balcony

‘Carolyn Whorton’ is a classic and perhaps one of the best known caladiums, with dark pink, almost red veins, a pink center mottled with green, and a fairly well-defined green border. More sun tolerant than many of her peers, she also thrives in shady conditions. In the picture above, Carolyn bookends a box with two other cultivars, where she is warmed by the rays of the early morning sun. Carolyn supposedly grows to eighteen inches; my tallest so far tops out at ten. Some of her leaves practically gigantic though–one is ten inches stem to stern.

I was uncertain about the deer and woodchuck resistance of caladiums, so as a test, I planted two Carolyn Whortons in my Terrace Garden, beneath the Kousa dogwood. Within three days of planting, some annoying critter had eaten the two most well developed leaves. But not to despair! The plants recovered, sent up new leaves, and have remained untouched since. I may be brave enough to plant a whole row of caladium here next year!

(I don’t know why the plant on the right is so much brighter than the one on the left. Their growing conditions are virtually identical.)

‘Gypsy Rose’

Caladium ‘Gypsy Rose’

Caladium ‘Gypsy Rose’ is similar in colors to ‘Carolyn Whorton’, but does not sport such a well-defined border and center section. Its veins are more pink than red, and it features pink splotches and speckles on a green background. It can tolerate partial sun to shade and may attain a height of twenty-four inches. Mine have done well near my front door with just a little morning sun, and the tallest is fifteen inches. Its leaves are large, with many nine to ten inches long. Caladiums really reach for the light, so I turn these pots every few days. In this arrangement, they are paired with ‘Pink Illusion’, the final variety I will discuss.

Caladiums ‘Gypsy Rose’ and ‘Pink Illusion’

‘Pink Illusion

Caladium ‘Pink Illusion’

Caladium ‘Pink Illusion’ is the most delicate of my four, with dark green veins and pink splotches on a pale green background. The amount and shade of pink seem dependent on the amount of light this cultivar receives; the greater the light, the deeper and more plentiful the pink. Here is one Pink Illusion bulb, along with some impatiens, in a basket that hangs in the shade of the rhododendron bushes all day:

This brighter pink leaf is also Pink Illusion, but it is in the arrangement near my front door that receives more light than the hanging basket:

A cranky looking, very pink ‘Pink Illusion’ leaf

‘Pink Illusion’ grows between twelve and eighteen inches. The one in my hanging basket is about fifteen inches tall. Its largest leaf is seven inches long.

Caladiums can bloom, but the blooms are unremarkable and can lead to the decline of the plant. Here is a spathe, which, now that I have photographed it, I will remove. I’ve included a zoomed in version of the picture to show you the interesting texture:

Aside from the two in the Terrace Garden, I planted these bulbs in well-draining potting mix, in pots with drainage holes. Once they begin to grow, they like to be kept moist, but not soaking. Being tropical, caladiums love heat and humidity, so the summer we’ve had in Pennsylvania this year has provided ideal conditions, for them, anyway. Once they finally decide to sprout, they grow quite quickly. In Zone 5, where I live, the bulbs must be dug and brought inside to winter over, then can be replanted to start all over again in the spring. I have been absolutely delighted with their beautiful foliage this summer, and look forward to another exceptional Caladium-Palooza next year!