Tag Archives: caladiums

Walter Asks About Options for Flower Boxes Mostly in Shade

SunPatiens – hot pink

I received this question from Walter, an old friend from my high school years:

I’d like your opinion on the best flowers to put in my boxes on the porch this summer. I have flower boxes that I put on my porch rails that are about 3′ long and 5″ deep. They will get full morning sun for about 3 1/2 – 4 hours then total shade the remainder of the day.

I had impatiens in them last year and they did well for a while but began to fizzle out in July. I know they don’t like the sun a lot but I didn’t think that much would hurt them. Anyway I wondered if you had any ideas.”

I replied to Walter right away by e-mail, but I’ve just now had time to turn his great question into a blog post. So, here are my suggestions:

Off the top of my head, impatiens do seem like the best choice for planter boxes that get mostly shade. It was probably the intense summer heat that caused them to fizzle out last summer. Impatiens, petunias, and vinca tend to get long and leggy during the hottest part of the summer. I have found that, when they become leggy, cutting them back severely will encourage new growth, and helps them to bush out more. I haven’t had good luck with regular impatiens here in central Florida, probably because I have very little shade, but I’m creating shade as fast as I can. With my lack of shade, I have used SunPatiens (a brand name of sun-tolerant impatiens) and vinca instead, so I don’t have any photos of regular impatiens.  Below are some photos of leggy vinca, showing how beautifully they  recover from severe pruning of the “legginess”. The same effect can be obtained with impatiens.

Near the base of this leggy plant is a lot of new growth that can’t be seen in this photo. That new growth will be encouraged by removing those long, bare stems.

Below is some vinca that I cut back a few months ago. It filled out quickly, and looks better than it did before:

This white vinca in my backyard night garden has filled in beautifully after being cut back when it got leggy.

Another Shade Lover – Waxed Begonias

These waxed begonias would be a beautiful option for your planter boxes. They can take morning sun, but need to be shaded from the afternoon sun. They are available in this darker pink, a lighter pink, white, and red. There is also some variety in the colors of their heart-shaped leaves.

Waxed begonias have either these dark-colored leaves or a lighter, true green. Both are complimentary to your garden.


One More Shade Lover – Caladiums

Another good choice for an area of mostly shade like you described is caladiums. There are some newer varieties of caladiums that can take more sun than the older varieties. Below are some photos of my caladiums that can tolerate partial sun are Red Flash, Gingerland, and Florida Sunrise.

Red Flash

Florida Sunrise


These three caladium cultivars perform beautifully. You could combine them with impatiens for a little variety; and when your impatiens get leggy, the caladium leaves will act as a type of camouflage.

Caladiums in Winter

North of Zone 9, be sure to dig up your caladiums before the first freeze. Wash the bulbs to remove all soil. Lay them out to dry, then store them in a cool, dry, and dark place. A cardboard box or vented or net bag in your basement should be perfect. Replant them the following spring after all danger of freezing temperatures has passed.

A Substitute for Impatiens

Another option is vinca, which likes full sun, but does well in part shade, too — and it comes in lots of colors, just like impatiens. Here are some photos of vinca:

Vinca – hot pink with white center

Vinca – White

Vinca – Peppermint

Walter, be sure to let me know how the flowers in your planter boxes do this summer. See you in the garden.


White Caladiums - mlm c@

Florida Sunrise

Some of my  caladiums (Caladium X hortulanum) have been getting far too much sun, and need to be moved. I began relocating them this spring, and will finish that job as soon as the weather turns cooler. Some of those not yet moved  drooped for a while in the heat of summer, but now that temperatures have relaxed a bit, they are perking up again, and sprouting new growth.

Here in central Florida (Zone 9-A), caladiums usually awaken from their winter’s sleep in mid-to-late May. This year due to earlier than usual hot weather, their little spear-like sprouts were peeping up at me in late April. I was thrilled, because they are one of my favorite foliage plants. In less than a week, those gorgeous multi-colored gems were unfurled and showing off their faces for me and anyone else who cared to take a look.

Red Flash - mlm c@

This one is called Red Flash. I have really enjoyed its brilliant colors. I have a lot of these — plenty to share. If anyone around here would like some, just let me know.

Farther North Than Zone 9, Caladiums Must Be Dug in the Fall, Replanted in Spring

Living here, I have delighted in being able to plant caladiums and leave them in the ground forever. When living in Zone 7 (Birmingham, Alabama, and Charlotte, North Carolina) I had to plant them in the spring after the danger of frost had past. Then, in autumn, before the first chance of frost, I had to dig them up, and store them for the winter. We could leave dahalia, gladiolia, and elephant ear bulbs in the ground over the winter, but not caladiums or begonias.

As I grew older, and arthritis attacked my knees and, eventually, I stopped planting caladiums and begonias. They were simply too high-maintenance for me. For several years, I really missed that dazzling colorful foliage that I had loved since childhood. Now, I can have them again because, once they are in the ground, I don’t have to worry about them ever again. I can just sit back and watch them multiply each year.

White Dynasty

White Dynasty - mlm c @

White Dynasty

So, you’d prefer to buy bulbs instead of potted caladiums?

When to Plant:  Caladium plants or their bulbs can be planted anytime after nighttime temperatures remain above 65 degrees Farenheit.

How Deep to Plant:  The bulbs should be no more than 2 inches below the surface of the soil.

I have actually seen them lying on the ground and doing just fine. This was one time when I planted some bulbs and overlooked one. Later, when it had put out some leaves, I noticed it just sitting there on the ground! It had sent roots down into the soil. I was amazed it survived. Of course, I planted it immediately. I doubt it would have survived the summer heat even in North Carolina, where we lived at the time.

Which Side is Up?

There are usually little “eyes” similar to those seen on a begonia bulb or a potato. That is the side that goes up. If you don’t see any eyes, just put it in the ground. Unlike some bulbs, it will take care of itself and perform very well for you.

Pink Gem - mlm c@

This is Pink Gem. It hasn’t completely unfurled yet.

I don’t have any of White Dynasty or Pink Gem. I saw them at a garden center, and later went back to buy some. Of course, they were gone. You know what they say, “You snooze, you lose”.

Did You Know Caladiums Have Flowers?

Flower Bud - mlm c@The flower buds are not there one day, and appear like this the next day. It’s interesting to me that the flower buds have a shape similar to the unfurled leaves, but with the little “lump” at the base.



Flower - mlm c@This is one of the open flowers. It reminds me a lot of a peace lily flower, in some ways of a calla lily, and in many ways of the flower of elephant ears. They are in the same family, you know.



Here’s an enlargement of an open caladium flower.

Flower Enlarged - mlm c@


Gingerland - mlm c@


This is an interesting caladium. It has an elongated heart shape. It seems to prefer filtered light and afternoon shade, but can take some morning sun. I began with only one of these. It was mixed in with a group of Florida Sunrise.  It has multiplied very slowly. Now I have two. Hmm, this may take a while.

I have to leave you now, and get busy transplanting those caladiums.

Blank Slate Yard – Part 1: the Front Yard

Front Yard Cropped - shrubs named

The photo above is of our yard before we did anything to it. A couple of months ago, I received an e-mail from a local realtor telling me how beautiful our front yard is. Of course, I was appreciative, but I was also surprised because I still see it as not so nice. The pine straw mulch has faded to a dull gray/brown, and needs to be fluffed or replinished. The day lilies bloomed very little this year. The marigolds went to seed and died when I fell behind on deadheading them. The tulip ginger is blooming, but the leaves are covered with brown spots. The bougainvillea by our front door was beautiful all spring, then was attacked by caterpillars – again. Only one of my SunPatiens survived the heat last summer AND the freeze last February. Need I go on?

The One Lonely Impatien


This is that one huge, beautiful, but very lonely impatien in our front flower bed.

When we moved into this new home, it had the typical high-maintenance builder’s landscape “package” in the front yard, as shown above, and absolutely nothing but grass in the back and side yards. My job was to take the front from builder’s landscape to a more interesting, yet low-maintenance front yard; and to take the back yard from a blank slate to a lush garden, and fast. The photo above shows most of our front yard.

The only option we had regarding landscaping when we bought this house was to say we did not want a particular type of tree out front. We said no magnolia and no Bradford Pear. Although magnolia trees are beautiful, and smell heavenly, they are extremely messy, dropping their large leathery leaves year-round. They also grow quite large, creating a dense shade which prohibits grass and many other things from growing underneath. One mature magnolia would fill our entire front yard. Here’s a photo of a sweet magnolia blossom from our former neighborhood.

Magnolia Blossom - mlm c@

Here’s a painting I did of a magnolia with more open blossoms. In this photo, it’s still on the easel, awaiting the finishing touches. It’s now framed and hanging in our home.

Magnolia Painting unsigned - mlm c@

Back to Those Trees We Didn’t Want

The Bradford Pears I mentioned — the ornamental, non-fruit-producing pear trees — are beautiful when they bloom, but they stink terribly while blooming. The larger they are, the stronger the scent, and the farther it carries. Because of their limb structure (very acute angles) they are prone to losing limbs in high winds, which we have quite often here.

So, what we got was a baby live oak that had been pruned to the shape of a Christmas tree, and a crepe myrtle that had been pruned down to the size of a shrub. Because the live oak’s branches began about 4-5 feet above the ground, it looked like a Christmas tree on a stick. We began calling it our Christmas Tree Popsicle.

Mature Live Oak

Live Oak - mlm c @

Live oak trees also drop their leaves year-round, and grow far, larger than any magnolia ever thought about growing. Granted, they grow slowly, but the lots in this retirement community are quite small. A mature live oak would someday fill our entire lot, and hang out over the roof of our home plus that of our neighbors. It would eventually need to be removed, so we gave it away while it was still small enough to be dug up and transplanted easily. It was replaced with a Sylvester Palm that my husband chose. It was a good choice, as its size is much more appropriate to the size of the yard. It already provides some shade from the afternoon sun to part of our front yard.

Crepe Myrtle in Full Bloom

My Pink Myrtles - mlm c @

Knowing the crepe myrtle would grow quite large, and would someday partly block the garage entrance, and scrape the car going in and out of the garage, I had it moved out near the street. In its new location, we can see and enjoy its flowers from our front windows. As you can see in this photo, it is in full bloom now. When this bloom cycle has finished, I will cut off the spent blooms in order to get a 2nd bloom cycle  on it.

Our Front Entrance

Front Entrance - mlm c@

This is the front walk that was lined with holly bushes. After moving the hollies, I added more interesting and colorful foliage for a more welcoming front entrance to our home. In the left foreground, just out of the picture are some calla lilies, one of my favorite flowers. The asparagus fern laying on the walk has been removed because it is so very invasive. As soon as it is cool enough to work in the yard again, I will replace it with a variegated ginger that I have in a pot. That should be some time in the next 4 – 6 weeks.  The next task is having more pine straw mulch delivered.

For a Small Yard, the Shrubs installed by the builder Weren’t Much Better than the trees


Loropetalum - mlm c

The shrubs were a mix of loropetalum, holly, virbinum, and junipers. All but the hollies would require constant pruning, and eventually they would, too.

I do love the loropetalum for its unique year-round color:  Dark green and purple leaves that turn a to autumn colors in the fall. In the spring, when viewed from a distance, a loropetalum in full bloom can easily be mistaken for an azalea. Unfortunately, it will grow to be about 12 x 12, far too large for this yard.

I moved some of the loropetalum and hollies to the side of the house and backyard, and gave away all the others. Unfortunately, the loropetalum outgrew the area on the side, too, and need to be removed. I had junipers in North Carolina and Colorado, so I did not want them in Florida among my tropical plants, so I gave away all the junipers. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted the virbinum, because they grow so very large.

I staked one of the two loropetalum left in the front yard, and braided the slender main branches in an attempt to train it to become a small ornamental tree. For a while, it looked really nice. Then came strong winds. Those winds whipped that tree/shrub in all directions so badly that the vinyl-coated metal support rod snapped, and my little tree fell. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea, after all.


Flower Buds on Vibirnum - mlm c

These are the tiny spring flower buds of virbinum. This is one of only two I kept. It is on the rear property line, and is now about 15 feet tall. The problem is not the height so much as it is the width. Virbinum grows to be almost as wide as it is tall. In these very small yards, that doesn’t work very well. I already need to trim the side that hangs over the property line into my good friends’ back yard.

We want to play golf, swim, develop new recipes, and enjoy new friendships, not manage high-maintenance landscapes. Some of our neighbors kept all the high-maintenance shrubs installed by the builders. They simply have the shrubs sheared off into unnatural shapes:  flat on top, little boxes, or little balls. That’s just not for me.

I have replaced all the shrubs that, eventually, would have completely hidden our home from view with Encore azaleas, caladiums, daylilies, coleus, waxed begonias, elephant ears, bougainvillea, tulip ginger, variegated agave, and lantana. Among them we installed three Queen Palms. The Sylvester mentioned above, and the Queens were our anniversary presents to each other in 2013.

Just writing this post shows me how very much work I still have to do. You think I can convince my hubby to help? Nah, probably not. He hates yard work. Says I must be sick because I love it so much. Stay tuned for more of Part I as I continue this work in progress and, have more photos of the yard itself. Part II will be the back yard, and Part III both side yards.

Did You Know Elephant Ears Would Bloom?

Elephant Ear Flower 1

I’ve had elephant ears for years, but never had one to bloom. I’ve seen them in many other gardens and garden centers, but never saw one with a flower on it. Then, a couple of days ago, I went out into my garden, and couldn’t believe what I saw. A huge flower on my giant elephant ears! Here it is.

From across the yard, it looked like a calla lily. As I got closer, it looked like a peace lily. I know elephant ears are in the caladium family, and this flower looks like a giant copy of the small, briefly appearing, flowers on caladiums.

Below are some of my caladiums. I have always lived where I had to dig them up in the fall, and re-plant them in the spring. Here, in central Florida, they can stay in the ground all winter, and they come up each year in late spring. This year, it was early May before they peeped out from under the pine straw mulch.

White Caladiums