Cyclamen - The Perfect Shade-Loving Winter Annual
If you have my very first book, The Golfer's Guide to Gardening, you'll find that, in the "Annuals" section, I said there are really no annuals that do well in total shade during the Houston-area winter. I was wrong!
I'm glad to finally get that off my chest.
An annual that can thrive in total shade during our coldest months is the one-and-only cyclamen.
I didn't know much about the cyclamen 15 years ago, because most of varieties were considered indoor or "gift" plants. But thanks to advances in propagation techniques, today you can easily find those that will withstand the rigors of being grown in a landscape. Interestingly, it is the only true shade-loving annual for our winters. We can get minor success in filtered light with things like dianthus and pentas during the winter. But, nothing does as well in total shade as the cyclamen. Plus, it makes a great holiday gift.
Cyclamen flowers may be single, double, fringed, bicolor, or even candy-striped. Colors range from exquisitely pure white through all shades of pink, lavender, purple, and red to dark wine. Some miniature strains are even delightfully scented. In addition, today's hybrids can be maintained over a wide temperature range to just above freezing. Freezing temperatures will hurt them. They often bounce back, however, unless they've been covered with ice or dealt temperatures below 20 degrees for an extended period.
In many countries, like Great Britain and Japan, where they don't have the hot, humid summers we do, cyclamen are grown for a much longer period. In Texas, though, trying that would an effort in futility.
Like the azalea and plumeria societies that are so popular in the U.S., there are cyclamen societies in England. The cyclamen is so popular there because it's so damp and cool for so much of the year, and the cyclamen thrives in those conditions. (By the way, while we normally pronounce it sigh-cluh-men, the British pronounce it sick-lah-men. They also call Houston House-ton, so forget them!)
Anyway, if you're interested in trying a wonderful plant that can give you beautiful color in the deepest parts of a shady landscape ... and that will make it through the cooler months of the year ... here are some cyclamen care tips:
Cyclamen require regular moisture, but overly soggy soil will suffocate the roots and cause the leaves to yellow. The soil mixture must drain well yet hold enough moisture so the plant will not dry out. Generally, you should thoroughly saturate a potted cyclamen once a week. Maybe less than once a week in a well-built raised landscape bed.
If the plant is allowed to dry out, it will quickly wilt. Its leaves and flowers will bend over the sides of the pot. If this happens, don't despair.
Using newspaper, the same way a florist wraps a bouquet of flowers, surround the pot and carefully prop the stems into an upright position. Tape the newspaper to secure it in place. Put pot in a kitchen sink and allow a very slow stream of water to thoroughly saturate the entire plant. Before long, the stems will absorb enough water to hold them up, and the newspaper can be removed. Don't wait too long to try this remedy, however, or the plant will die back and be forced to grow new leaves That means giving up flowering until the next cyclamen season.
Feed a mature plant every two weeks with a good flower food at one-half strength. A newly planted tuber SHOULD NOT be fertilized until at least 3-4 inches of new growth appear. Then, begin feeding every two weeks. If you're like me, a once-a-season feeding with a slow-release blooming plant food will suffice.
And here's one important warning: Cyclamen are considered poisonous. So, keep small children and pets totally away from these plants. Or don't use them at all.
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