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Cyclamen for Winter Cheer

cyclamen

One of the pleasures of the transition from summer to fall to winter is that our greenhouses once again are chock full of blooming plants to make your home more cheerful. Although a lot of attention is lavished on the holiday poinsettia plant, there are others that perform equally well yet garner less attention. My favorite is the cyclamen.

Easy to grow, colorful, fragrant and long blooming-what more could you ask for? Okay; graceful. You’ve got it. There are 20 species of cyclamen. They are found in the wild around (but not in) the Mediterranean Sea. Some species are winter hardy, and Behnke Nurseries carries dormant nursery-grown plants in the fall in our bulb section and occasionally as small potted plants in our perennial area.*

These species (including Cyclamen coum and C. hederifolium) are great for naturalizing in well-drained soil under deciduous trees in bright shade in urban settings. At my home, I have several patches of C. hederifolium that go dormant in summer, flower in fall, and bear attractive foliage throughout the winter and spring. For more information on the hardy species, visit the website of the English based Cyclamen Society, www.cyclamen.org. The “florist hybrids” are primarily from the species C. persicum, which is not winter hardy in our area.

It is, however used as a bedding or window box plant in the cool seasons of milder climates, similar to how we would use pansies here. One December, when I was in Rome, I observed that it was planted extensively. “Florist cyclamen” (hereafter denoted as just “cyclamen”) are available in shades of red, pink, lavender, purple and white, with some bicolors, fringed, and double-flowered forms as well. The standard type is about 12 inches tall in bloom, with 2 to 3 inch flowers borne like butterflies (or fireworks) above the foliage.

The dwarf or mini form is about 6 inches tall with 1-inch flowers, and there is an in-between size, the “midi”, as well. The leaves usually have a silver overlay with the green that makes them attractive in their own right, resembling a foliage-type begonia. The fragrance seems to vary from plant to plant, so if the lemony scent is important to you, make sure to select a fragrant plant from the start. Fragrance seems to be stronger in the more humid atmosphere of a greenhouse than in the home.

Cyclamen should be in a window in bright light, even a few hours of direct sun in the morning or late afternoon. East windows are ideal. They also do best long-term in a cool room (another reason to go the windowsill route), with day temperatures in the mid-60’s and nights around 50 degrees.

The fastest way to kill a cyclamen is by overwatering. Wait until just before the plant starts to wilt before you water the plant-lift the pot and water the plant when it feels light. (If you wait too long and it wilts badly, you will abort many of the small flower buds. It is best to check about every three days.) The plant may flower for up to several months if everything goes well.

Water the soil, not the foliage, and let the pot drain without standing for any length of time in a saucer of water (this is easiest to accomplish by watering it in the sink.) If the pot has foil around it, get rid of the foil and put the plant in a basket or just in a saucer. Foil tends to reduce air circulation around the base of the plant, and encourages rot. If you lift the pot and the plant, or victim, is wilting and heavy, it has been overwatered and in technical horticultural parlance, the plant is now “toast.” Yellowing leaves and dried-up buds are signs of underwatering, too-warm temperatures, low humidity, or a combination of these.

It can’t hurt to give the plant a little bit of houseplant fertilizer every couple of weeks. As long as the plant continues to make new leaves, it will make new flower buds (one bud per leaf). A little nosh once in a while will help to maintain active growth. We carry a number of excellent brands from which to choose.

When the plant goes out of flower you can compost it or try to nurse it along to rebloom next year. At that point you may withhold water and allow it to die back to the bulb-like tuber. Most houseplant books will give you the routine. From a quality standpoint, a new plant will generally look better than one you have tried to rebloom unless you have a home greenhouse.

I’m not Mr. Artistic. I tried reading Martha, but it didn’t do any good. I line cyclamen up along the windowsill like little soldiers, alternated with rex begonias, kalanchoes, and other cool-season plants. For short-term displays, New Year’s Eve party, birthday, etc. you might tuck several into a basket or a ceramic pot.

Cyclamen Decorating Tips from former Behnke florist, Evelyn Kinville
The bright colors of cyclamen blooms chase away the winter blahs. For home display, be sure to protect furniture by placing your plant in a favorite container with a water-tight liner inside. Remove the plant for watering and draining. For an elegant look, cut a few blooms and place them in a slender bud vase or small pitcher. The blooms resemble orchids when displayed in this manner. (In fact, the cyclamen is sometimes referred to as “poor man’s orchid.”)

Cyclamen can be moved anywhere in your home, like a bouquet of flowers, for a special occasion. Just make sure they are returned to their cool, bright growing environment the next day.

Heart-shaped leaves, and bloom hues in reds, pinks and white make cyclamen a great valentine. Add paper or lace hearts on picks and a couple of tapered candles for the perfect centerpiece for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner.

by Larry Hurley and Melodie Likel

*Update: we are currently sold out of hardy cyclamen bulbs.  Look for more in the spring.

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