Q. Over the past few years I
have grown to love caladiums.
I have planted them in shady spots in the yard and love tucking the
bulbs into pots on the porches, particularly with impatiens. I hate
to see the growing season end, bringing the end to their foliage. So
here's my question: Can caladiums survive as houseplants?
They would make for great holiday decor.
Caladiums are also known as elephant's ears or angel wings. It is
one of a few plants that is as well known by its botanical name --
Caladium x hortulanum -- as those common names. They light up the
shade garden with brightly variegated leaves, easily as colorful as
any flower display. Caladiums grow
from chestnut-sized brown tubers that resemble stones. They are not
winter hardy in our climate, so the tubers must be lifted each fall
and stored indoors at about 60 degrees, then planted out in spring
after danger of frost has past. The tubers require a rest period of
five months or so, usually late fall at least until early spring.
greenhouses and many home gardeners start the tubers indoors in
early spring so they get a jump on the growing season. Caladiums are
notoriously slow to get started when first planted. They are often
grown for seasonal color in displays at botanic gardens, malls and
other commercial buildings for the Christmas season.
All that makes
them seem like good candidates for growing as houseplants. However,
they can be tricky indoors because they prefer very high humidity,
something hard to come by during the winter heating season. They
typically die back pretty quickly when you move them indoors.
While there are
actions you can take to increase humidity around houseplants through
the winter, there is the matter of the rest period the tubers need.
Without enough rest, the tubers exhaust their carbohydrate reserves
and the plants begin to decline.
commercial growers have access to the tubers for seasonal displays,
I'm not sure where you would find caladium tubers locally to force
in the winter.
because you already have some growing in pots, bring them indoors
and see how long they last. Caladiums grow best in bright, indirect
light (full sun would fry them in a heartbeat). Keep the soil evenly
moist -- do not let them dry out completely, but do not keep them
soggy or the tubers will rot. To increase humidity, group pots
together -- even with other houseplants. As the plants lose moisture
through the stomata (pores) in their leaves, it increases the
humidity around each plant.
You can also
put the pots on trays of pebbles filled with water. Do not allow the
water level to touch the bottom of the pot, or it can keep the soil
too wet. Another option is place the caladiums in a naturally humid
room, such as a bathroom.
They are likely
to start dying back on their own because it is very difficult to
maintain the level of humidity they need in a house, especially
through the winter. When that happens, allow them to rest. You can
store them right in their pots. Just make sure the area stays about
60 degrees so the tender tubers are not injured by the cold. Water
them very sparingly -- perhaps once a month to keep the tubers
viable. When they show signs of growth in late spring and we are
past danger of frost, repot them in fresh potting soil and put them
out on the porch to enjoy for summer.
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