I want to buy a flowering plant for a friend to celebrate her new home and I’m looking for a suggestion.
—Randy Avers, Chicago
I think cyclamen would be a good choice, Randy. With the right care, it can provide eight weeks of easy winter color.
Success in growing cyclamen starts with the environment. It does best when kept in a cool room with a temperature of 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, in a north window with bright, indirect light. If you can’t maintain these cool temperatures and your home is above 70 degrees during the day and above 65 degrees at night, your cyclamen may begin to turn yellow and the flowers may fade a little faster; but you can still get a few. It stays colored for weeks, so if you ask me, that’s not a reason to stay away from the plant. Cyclamens sold as houseplants are Mediterranean plants and cannot withstand temperatures below 40 degrees, so protect the plants by placing a cover around them when moving them home. In nature, these cyclamens grow in cool and moist environments. There are also hardy cyclamens that you can grow outside in your garden.
One thing to keep in mind is that cyclamens are sensitive to both over- and under-watering. Start with a potting medium that has excellent drainage and a container with a hole or holes in the bottom for water to drain out of the pot. Water your cyclamen plant only when the soil is dry to the touch; Don’t wait long enough for it to show visible signs of being too dry, such as wilted leaves and flowers. You want to water the plant enough to keep it evenly moist, but never soggy. When watering, avoid splashing the top of the plant or its leaves as this can cause disease. Be sure to wet the growing medium thoroughly and allow excess water to drain off when you water.
You can remove faded flowers, stems and yellowed leaves as needed. Fertilize every one to two months with water-soluble fertilizer mixed at half strength. When cyclamen receives too much fertilizer, its ability to bloom again may be affected.
Some gardeners find it very difficult to force the plant to bloom again next season and end up buying a new plant. If you want to try it, here is the process. After cyclamen blooms, it will go into a dormant state as the leaves turn yellow and fall. Stop watering the plant when you see signs of complete leaf death. Place the plant in a cool, slightly dark place. Remove dead leaves and let the plant sit for a few months. Another option is to remove the soil from the tuber and store it in peat moss or vermiculite in a dark, cool (50 degrees) place for the dormant period. Check the tuber for new growth in late spring or early summer. When you see new growth, repot the tuber with the top half exposed and the bottom half transplanted into fresh growing medium. At this point you should return to normal watering and fertilize the plant twice a month with a diluted mixture of 10-10-10 or 15-15-15.
Cyclamen can benefit from growing outside in a sheltered place in the garden during the summer months, taking in the morning sun. Be sure to bring the plant indoors before fall frosts. If you follow these steps, you will have a healthy, happy plant that adds color to winter.
For more plant recommendations, contact the Plant Information Service at the Chicago Botanical Garden. email@example.com. Tim Johnson is senior director of horticulture at the Chicago Botanical Garden.