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Caladiums show hot tropical colors

Caladiums, South American bulbs in the aroid family, are our summer answer to northern hostas, but with hot tropical colors. Fancy-leafed caladiums have the largest leaves; strap-leafed caladiums are skinnier, with arching or drooping leaves that hang well out of baskets.

Mixes of dots, dashes, lines and splashes of pink, red, white, cream and green brighten the summer garden beds abandoned by wimpy impatiens unable to take the heat.

In spite of their fragile appearance, caladiums hold their own in South Florida sun and rain, although some protection in midday is good for them.

Botanical name: Caladium X hortulanum.

Height: 10 to 18 inches.

Light: Shade to full sun, preferably with some shade at midday.

Plant mature plants in early spring through summer. Plant tubers in the early spring one to two inches beneath the surface of a bed enriched with compost or aged manure.

If you’re growing caladiums from bulbs, water sparingly until leaves appear. If you’re growing from transplants, water into the bed and then water two or three times a week, depending on rain.

Use slow-release fertilizer or a small monthly application of 6-6-6. Caladiums will die back naturally in the fall, and you may leave them in the ground over winter.