Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) is a popular houseplant in winter. They have attractive marbled or mottled heart-shaped leaves that skirt bright pink, lavender, red, or white flowers. Plants are available in three sizes; miniature (6 inches or less in height), intermediate, and standard (12 inches in height) to suit almost any indoor location. The flowers themselves are unique because the petals curve backward, each blossom somewhat resembling a butterfly or badminton birdie.

If given good care, the cyclamen will bloom for several weeks. The keys to prolonging their bloom period are cool temperatures and a moist soil. Cyclamens prefer temperatures between 50 and 60 F with bright, indirect light. Watering is a little tricky because they prefer moist soils, but do not tolerate wet soils. It is best to check the potting soil daily. If the soil surface is dry to the touch, then water thoroughly. If the soil is still moist, wait and check again the following day. Avoid watering the corm directly because it is susceptible to over watering and rot. Warm or room temperature water is best to prevent damage to the foliage.

In their native Mediterranean habitat, cyclamens grow in cool sites with annual moist and dry cycles. After blooming, the leaves yellow and die as the plant slowly declines. At this time, gradually reduce the frequency of watering to simulate the dry season and initiate dormancy. The dormancy or rest period should last approximately 6 to 8 weeks during late spring and early summer. During dormancy plants are normally kept in a cool, shaded location. In mid-to late summer, remove the plants from their resting location. Place the dormant plants in a cool, well-lit location and resume watering. Keep the soil moist but not soggy and fertilize periodically. As the flower buds appear in fall or winter, place plants for prime viewing and enjoyment.

This article originally appeared in the March 7, 2003 issue, p. 20.

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