We are in the midst of stuffing ourselves and our eyes are square with watching Christmas specials. The thought of another chocolate makes us feel bilious and all we want is soda water and grapes and just a walk and fresh air sounds like heaven. Yes, I succumbed to a (locally grown) poinsettia – yes a red one – and the hyacinths have got to the stage where the lovely perfume is changing to mildly unpleasant that is a sign that some of the flowers are fading and they will need to be booted out into the garden very soon. But the cyclamen are still delightful.
You can’t beat cyclamen for colour and grace and they are my favourite winter pot plants. Being a pragmatist, this is partly because I don’t live in a house that encourages walking around naked and that temperature regime suits cyclamen perfectly! These long-lived plants are derived from the almost-hardy Cyclamen persicum which has the same growing regime as the hardy C. coum and C. hederifolium, starting to grow in autumn and taking a summer rest. Cyclamen have been bred so that they can be easily raised from seed and flower in less than a year from sowing. This has been done through the development of F1 hybrids with great vigour that will flower for winter from a spring sowing. This was unheard of when I started growing and at the garden centre I worked at when as school we potted seedlings in spring that had been sown the previous autumn and they were ready to sell about 15 months after sowing. These were large-flowered tetraploids (four sets of chromosomes that are associated with larger flowers and more intense flower colours) but they have been replaced by F1 hybrids which are superior.
Another recent introduction are the small, often fragrant, ‘hardy’ types which also make wonderful pot plants for a cool room. They have the full colour range, often have beautiful marbled or silver foliage and are frequently fragrant.
Cyclamen like the wind in their sails and dream of bright days and cool nights and if you put them in a dark, stuffy, warm room they will pine away. Most importantly, they must have air circulation around their ankles. This is because they are often potted deep in the compost and if water stays around the base of the leaves or flower stems they will rot, with grey mould, and this can quickly cause the whole plant to collapse.
A few pointers:
Never buy them if they are in plastic sleeves – rot may have already set in
Do not buy them if there are yellow leaves or the plants or leaves are wet and have been watered overhead
Put on a windowsill or near the window so they have good light
Put them on a saucer or in a pot holder that is the right size so the plant is not sunk deep below the rim – or mould can set in
Water only from below – never so water can get between the leaves
Remove yellow leaves and fading flowers immediately – twist the stem through about 180% and give a sharp tug. If you cut off the stems the bit left behind will rot.
Allow them to almost dry out between waterings – slight wilting will do no harm.
Keep them cool – 10c is perfect and they will tolerate all the way down to 3c or so without harm.
Apply an occasional feed. In theory the plants will rest in summer but often they will keep growing and they can flower throughout spring and summer – especially the smaller kinds.
Pale flowers and yellow leaves, and loose, floppy growth are a sign of too little light and too much warmth.