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Cheerful Cyclamen

Brightening gray winter days

By Carol Papas ©2014
Penn State Master Gardener

Master Gardeners Advice

The abrupt shift from colorful fall foliage and brilliant blue skies to bare branches and slate gray clouds can wear on gardeners and non-gardeners alike. One of the bright spots of the late fall and winter season are live plants, which can bring a burst of color and life to a time when the outside world is going dormant. Poinsettias may be the quintessential Christmas plant, but florist cyclamen are a terrific alternative.

Florist cyclamen feature heart-shaped green leaves overlaid with lacy patterns of gray and white. The foliage alone makes them an appealing choice as a winter houseplant. The flowers are held gracefully above the foliage and come in shades of white, pink, red and purple. The petals of cyclamen are reflexed, or swept back, from the contrasting center, or eye, of the flower.

Mass planting of Cyclamen
Mass planting of Cyclamen

Some cultivars sport petals that are fringed or ruffled. While poinsettias evoke a traditional Christmas vibe, cyclamen are an elegant option less closely aligned with a specific holiday or faith.


Cyclamen persicum

The plants you find at this time of year are most likely hybrids of Cyclamen persicum, native to the Mediterranean. Cyclamen are tubers, a type of geophyte or underground storage unit, part of a group of plants that also includes bulbs and corms. Cyclamen tubers are planted close to the surface of the soil, and if their growing needs are met, they will bloom indoors for months.

 


Selecting a plant

When selecting a plant, look for healthy green foliage with no signs of yellowing. Push the foliage away to inspect the point where the flower stems are emerging from the soil. There should be ample buds visible at various stages of development, ensuring that you will have a long period of bloom.


Cultural requirements

Cyclamen, above all other cultural requirements, need temperatures of 55-68 degrees to thrive. If your thermostat is consistently set above 72 degrees, cyclamen will struggle in your home. Cyclamen have bloomed for two to three months in my home at 67-69 degrees. Some in my family would love a warmer house, but I have my priorities! If you’re really serious about coddling your cyclamen, you can further decrease the temperatures in your home at night. Turn the temperature down to 65 degrees or lower and throw an extra blanket on your bed.

Pink Cyclamen
Pink Cyclamen

Beyond the temperature, cyclamen like bright light, near a window if possible. Many sources recommend keeping them out of direct sunlight, but in Pittsburgh I have had success on a windowsill with western exposure. Perhaps that is a reflection of the fewer clear sunny days in our area.


Watering Cyclamen

Cyclamen require a nice deep watering when the surface soil is dry. Be sure to allow the water to run out of the bottom of the pot. Cyclamen are forgiving plants; I have been late to water at times and noticed the stems of the flowers lying limply on the top of the leaves, but they have perked up immediately after watering.


Fertilization

Pinch or cut off spent flowers and yellow leaves at the soil level when watering. I also provide a half-strength dose of water-soluble fertilizer every three to four weeks while the plant is in bloom.


Dormant period

As the cyclamen approaches dormancy, usually during summer months, you will notice reduced flowering and more yellowing of the leaves. Stop fertilizing at this time. Plants in cooler environments will stay green longer, but cyclamen, like most geophytes, are programmed to go dormant once their main flush of flowering occurs.

White Cyclamen and blue Pansies
White Cyclamen with blue Pansies

Many gardeners will discard their cyclamen after enjoying the months of bloom. If you’re a thrifty gardener or enjoy seeing plants come back to life after dormancy, you can move your plant into a less prominent spot and allow it to rest. Water sparingly during the dormant period. When the soil is pulling away from the sides of the pot, give the plant a good drink.

Once the plant is fully dormant, re-pot it into a slightly larger container. When new growth appears, care for the plant as you did during its active growing period.

MORE

Growing Cyclamen

Hardy Cyclamens

Sedums are perfect for late Summer

    


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