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Before, during, and after the holidays, it's a winner ... cyclamen.

Before, during, and after the holidays, it's a winner . . . cyclamen

Few flowers say "Happy Holidays' as brightly as cyclamen. Favorites for gifts and decorating, they stay on as house plants in cold climates. But in mild-winter areas of the West, florists' cyclamen prefer life outside--as long-lasting bedding plants you can plant now (or after a brief stint indoors) for a steady show of flowers well into spring.

Sleek flowers shaped like shooting stars come in red, white, and every shade in between; blush pink, rose, wine, cerise, salmon, scarlet, lavender, and purple. Some varieties are striped with darker colors or fancily frilled at petal edges. In these plants, the leaves look nearly as glamorous as the flowers; they're heartshaped and dark green, often prominently marked with silver veining.

As a result of recent breeding, florists' cyclamen (hybrids of C. persicum) are available in a greater choice of sizes and colors than ever before.

European-bred miniatures, rare in nurseries and florist shops just two years ago, now offer gardeners useful new choices. Only 6 to 9 inches tall, these diminutive versions of florists' cyclamen capture some of the delicacy of the original small wildflower species. Some are fragrant.

Standard-size cyclamen have changed as well. Improved kinds have bigger flowers (such as the 4-inch blossoms of C. persicum "Giganteum'), more of them, and a wider range of pastel colors. Hybridizers are also developing plants more tolerant of warm indoor temperatures.

Indoors and out, cyclamen make a brilliant splash, either massed separately or combined with other winter flowers and evergreen plants--as in two of the photographs on the opposite page. Inside, you can adapt this mixed-planting idea by combining cyclamen with house plants.

Nursery prices range from $2.50 to $8 per plant in 3 1/2- to 6-inch pots; premium plants from florists cost more. You don't need many for a festive display; grouping three or four plants in one container lets you see and enjoy them up close.

Keeping cyclamen indoors

Good drainage is critical. Remove or punch holes in paper or florist's wrap on gift plants so the pot can drain freely, and don't let water collect in the drainage saucer. Water plants well until it runs through, then water only when the top of the soil is slightly dry.

In a warm room, a plant in a small 3 1/2- or 4-inch pot dries out very quickly. If you're planning to keep one this size inside for more than a few days, transplant it right away into a 6-inch pot or a larger container shared with other plants. Keep plants away from heater outlets.

For continued bloom, give cyclamen filtered bright light; an east window is ideal. Plants flourish in cool temperatures; they'll live longer if you move them at night to a room or porch where temperatures are in the mid-50s to 60s.

In mild areas, enjoy cyclamen indoors for a week or two during the holidays, then move them outside to more permanent quarters. In cooler climates, most gardeners discard florist's cyclamen after peak bloom. But given conditions like those described above, cyclamen plants--especially miniature varieties--may continue to bloom indoors for several months.

Growing cyclamen outdoors

Transplant cyclamen into a well-enriched, fast-draining soil in partial shade or strong filtered light. Set plants high so the top 1/2 inch of the tuber sits above the ground. Sometimes nursery plants are planted deep; if the tuber isn't visible, push dirt away from the crown before you plant; otherwise, it may rot.

Cyclamen like moist but not soggy soil. Whenever possible, water the ground rather than sprinkling from overhead. Steady feeding ensures strong, continuous bloom; use a controlled-release fertilizer or feed at least once a month (every two weeks in containers). For top performance in pots, you can feed as growers do, with a dilute solution in every watering.

Bait or hand-pick snails. To keep plants attractive and blooming, remove yellowed leaves and spent flowers by twisting stems until they snap off at the base.

In April or May, plants will go dormant. You can treat them like annuals and toss them out at this point, or decrease water until new growth appears in September (revival rate usually runs about 80 percent). If plants are potted, you can move them out of sight in the interim.

Dormant tubers may also be dug and stored in a cool, dry place until it's time for fall replanting.

Photo: Leave the top third of the tuber above ground when you plant; scrape soil away if nursery plant doesn't come this way

Photo: Four festive cyclamen make a cheerful table display. With some care, plants will bloom for several weeks indoors

Photo: New miniature cyclamen is two-thirds the size of standard florists' cyclamen at right. Some have a sweet, violet-like scent

Photo: Clustered in a pot, miniatures combine handily with small Juliana primroses and little-leafed ivy

Photo: Tucked into a bed, green Myers asparagus pokes through pink and white cyclamen and fairy primroses on Stephanie and Louis Snyder's Los Angeles patio
COPYRIGHT 1984 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Dec 1, 1984
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