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England: Plan a shady, moist spot for your caladium

POSTED: June 17, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Russell England/For The Times


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Question: A good friend gave me a caladium. If I plant it outdoors, will it be difficult to take care of?

Answer: Caladiums are among the showiest and also the most tender of tropical plants grown primarily for their foliage. They are prized for their rich colors and strikingly patterned leaves.

There are at least seven species of caladiums, all from tropical South America and closely related to the arums (Araceae family). Most of the selections you find in garden centers are probably cultivars of Caladium bicolor.

To maintain your caladium in the ground, plant it in a spot where it gets plenty of afternoon shade. It will also need plenty of moisture, so put it in a well-mulched area where the soil has been amended with plenty of organic matter.

Caladiums like high humidity and warm temperatures. These are not drought-tolerant plants, so plan to water frequently, including spraying or sprinkling the foliage on a regular basis.

There are some relatively new sun-tolerant caladiums available, but most varieties do best in full or partial shade.

They will benefit from light feeding with either a complete time release fertilizer mixed into the soil at planting time or with an occasional sprinkling of liquid fertilizer.

In their native habitat caladiums lose their leaves and go through a dormant stage during dry seasons. In our climate the leaves will die back in the fall; allow the soil to dry out and dig up the tubers before the first frost.

To keep the tubers over winter allow them to dry for 10 days and store them in dry peat moss or vermiculite at 50-60 F. I have had no experience with caladiums, but I suspect the tubers might overwinter in the ground if protected by a foot-thick layer of mulch.

Q: Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of red bugs are congregating in masses around the shrubbery near my house. The largest are about a half-inch long and most appear to have small black wings that are not fully developed. What are they?

A: These are probably box elder bugs (Boisea trivittata), sometimes called maple bugs. They are relatively harmless members of the order of soft-bodied insects known as hemiptera or true bugs.

The red bugs you are seeing are immature nymphs that are gradually changing into adults. If you look closely you will probably see wings in various stages of development and you may also see a few individuals that have completely made the transition from nymph to adult.

The adult bugs will appear more slender than the nymphs and have wings covering the entire abdomen. They are a brownish black color and have orange or red lines on the thorax (the area between the head and wings) and wing margins.

Adult box elder bugs overwinter in protected areas, often inside the walls of buildings if they can gain entrance. In the spring they lay eggs in bark crevices of box elders or maples and these eggs hatch in about two weeks.

The nymphs feed by sucking juices from soft seeds, fruits and leaves.

With our mild climate at least two broods may be produced - the second brood produced from eggs laid by adults that mature in early to mid summer.

Unless exceptionally large populations develop it is unlikely that your trees will be significantly damaged. When these bugs congregate in large masses most of them can be killed with a simple soap solution (two tablespoons of liquid dish soap per quart of water) sprinkled or sprayed directly on them.

Russ England is a Master Gardener trained and certified in horticulture and related areas through by the Georgia Cooperative Extension. E-mail him your questions.


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