Fancy-leaf caladium brightens a garden

Whether you group them in large beds, use them to enhance your borders, or grow them indoors in containers to brighten up any shady areas of the house, caladiums add a refreshing color accent to your home or garden.

All caladiums have gorgeous leaves and grow in variegated, colorful patterns, but the fancy-leaf varieties in mixed colors are among the most showy.

You might consider such varieties as the Lord Derby, with green-edged, rose-colored leaves, and the Candidum, which has white leaves with sharply contrasting green veins.

Any of these varieties will color-accent your garden beautifully when interspersed with white geraniums, variegated vincas, or hydrangeas. They'll also team up well with azalea bushes.

While there's a lance-leaved (narrow and elongated) type of caladium, growers overwhelmingly prefer the fancy-leaf types.

The W. Atlee Burpee Company has achieved outstanding success in developing fine caladiums at its Fordhook Farms near Doylestown, Pa., and at its growing stations in California. It is only after a new plant has been thoroughly researched and fully field-tested to assure it will grow well under widely varying conditions, that it is offered to the public for sale.

Many caladiums, which are native to the American tropics, come from the Amazon basin of Brazil.

Although they are rugged and easy to grow, caladiums will not tolerate the full summer sun. Instead, they prefer a semishaded place. Too much sun destroys the chlorophyll in the leaves and, in the thinner-leaved varieties, may cause bleaching or burning. Where possible, exposure to full sun should be limited to no more than an hour or two a day - and preferably during the cooler morning hours.

Caladiums also thrive best in a soil that's porous and which contains organic matter. A good mix of clay or sandy soil with coarse peat moss, leaf mold, or well-rotted manure is ideal. Such a soil mix will ensure proper aeration, drainage, and has water-holding capacity as well.

A complete fertilizer should be well-mixed with the soil and organic matter at planting time. Growers recommend a minimum of two pounds of a good garden fertilizer, such as 8-8-8, for each 100 square feet to start (which is about equal to two teaspoonfuls per square foot) and one pound for each 100 square feet (one teaspoonful per square foot) thereafter at monthly intervals during the growing season.

Mulch your plants to maintain high humidity for lush, healthy foliage. And while caladiums prefer a moist soil, they cannot tolerate a soggy, poorly drained soil. Neither can they tolerate a dry soil, which causes them to wilt and may even cause the loss of foliage if allowed to continue for any time.

Caladiums are propagated by tubers (roots). Plant the tubers 2 inches deep and 18 inches apart. Pack the soil firmly around them after planting.

If you start your plants indoors or buy them in pots, introduce them gradually to the outdoor conditions of light and heat. Transfer them to larger pots, or to your garden beds, as soon as the roots start to spread. Be sure to pinch off any blooms that shoot up; otherwise, they'll rob your plants of the necessary food for leaf production.

Dig up the bulbs (tubers) in the fall and replant them in the spring when all danger of frost is over.

Caladiums are not expensive to grow. Most of the better-known seed houses carry the bulbs for planting in several brilliant varieties and at reasonable prices.

You'll enjoy growing them at very little effort or expense.

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