A Near-Death Experience for Caladiums

Back in May I was congratulating myself for doing such a good job on growing 20 Caladiums from corms (which are like bulbs except that they’re different) on the back porch. You know how expensive it is to buy Caladiums in pots at the garden center? I forget exactly, but it’s expensive, especially if you want 20 of them.

Caladiums growing indoors on a heat mat before moving outside.

During the first week of June I planted the Caladiums in containers around the Back Garden. It’s been a cool spring, but I figured it was now warm enough for them to go outside. I mean, it was June. Plus, I didn’t want to wait much longer because I was afraid that some would outgrow their containers.

Suffering Caladiums. The basil doesn’t look happy either.

But no. Upon our return from the Denver Fling, the highs in Chicago were in the 50s (about 13 C), and the Caladiums were suffering. They are tropical plants and will simply rot in cold weather. Our Caladiums were losing their leaves and I’m sure what was going on inside the pots was not pretty either.

More suffering Caladiums.

Providentially, the weather turned warm over this past weekend and so I have crossed my fingers that our Caladiums will recover. But the Caladium scare illustrates how tricky timing can be when starting plants indoors from corms or seeds or what have you.

Take Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). By May 15 they were big enough to plant outside. May 15 is our normal frost-free date but I thought it was too cold for Mexican Sunflower, which is not a tropical plant but still likes to grow in warm soil. You would want highs of at least 70 degrees (about 21 C).

Mexican Sunflower grown from seed.

Again, I waited until the beginning of June. By this time, they were too big to stay under the grow lights. But the weather was still too cold. Normally a quick grower, the Mexican Sunflowers merely sulked. I suspect they will be smaller than normal this year and their flowers delayed.

Even so, I’ve got to say that the Mexican Sunflowers I grew from seed had stout stems and bigger leaves, much superior to the plants I used to buy at the nursery.

If I had to do it over again, I would have started both the Caladiums and the Tithonia later, so that I wouldn’t feel pressured to move them outside before the weather was ready. Of course if I do that, we will undoubtedly have an unusually warm and early spring next year. (This is the result of a scientific principle known as the General Perversity of Events.)

Some other plants – the Zinnias and Salvias – I would have started a little sooner in order to get earlier flowers. They seem to have more tolerance for our cool spring weather.

Did the weather play tricks on you when you took your cold-sensitive plants outside?



33 Comments on “A Near-Death Experience for Caladiums”

  1. I always find I am juggling for space for my seedlings in the house until it is warm enough. I took the risk and planted them out after our last frost and they were fine this year, but are all much smaller, yet sturdier than normal. The very cool nights and hot and windy days put them into ‘survival’ mode perhaps!

  2. I’ll be hoping your Caladiums recover for you because it gets pretty personal when you start them from seed. 🙂 I put tomato plants in Memorial Day Weekend, and they are not even twice as big as they started and we’re talking exactly a month. They survived the rain so far but just won’t grow. Lettuce looks petrified, some berry seeds are doing nada, but the carrots are holding their own. My flowers are doing okay except for the list of those who died from the winter/spring weather. We started some Mexican Sunflowers for our plant sale and some were meant for a MG project. The only problem was aphids. What a challenge that was, but we ended up getting a few flowers but nothing to mention. Ah, weather and gardening – it’s always a challenge especially this year.

  3. I hope your Caladiums make a come back. It can be so tricky trying to time everything correctly. We did pretty good this year, though there were some zinnias that were on a daily watering schedule before they could go out into the garden this year.

  4. Yes, all the tropical plants I bought this year pouted through the last of may and early June. They will get going good now. Caladiums are touchy finikey plants. Hopefully yours will pull through and perform well.

  5. I laughed heartily at your phrase, “the General Perversity of Events.” And I was interested in your comment that you got stouter stems from sunflowers begun by seed. I learned some new things about stems from a group of American basket-flowers last week: including the fact that sitting on a broken one isn’t advisable. Straight through the jeans, that one went.

  6. It has been a bad year for the things that warmth. I started my to tithonia after yours, so I wasn’t in a rush. But they’re still pretty puny, along with the zinnias and marigolds I grow from seeds outdoors. What helps with the transition is I have one of those mini greenhouses on my back porch, so that helps bridge the gap from being under the grow lights, and being able to plant. Going to have to check out the corm thing for caladiums This was the first time I ever put them in the card and they add such good color. Would not want to buy 20 though. Hopefully now with some summer warmth, everything will just explode in happiness.

  7. No, ours was just the opposite. Cool weather is not much of a problem here anyway. What was weird though was that there was not much warm weather. There were only a few days with weather over 100 degrees. Right now, it is quite pleasant, with a cool breeze.

  8. I had similar problems timing the plants I grew from seed this year (I’m also in Chicago). They got too big, some I tried taking outside prematurely knowing they were too big and they just aren’t growing well. Also, I’m relatively new to gardening but it seems like my echinacea are blooming really early this year. And the stems are droopy. I think it’s the rain.

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