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Cyclamen makes a great gift at springtime

Vibrant-coloured blooms and attractive foliage make for the perfect potted plant

One of the prettiest gift plants is the cyclamen. Its vibrantly coloured flowers and exquisitely patterned heart-shaped leaves make it an attractive potted plant to give to a relative or friend. Florist cyclamen are hybrids developed exclusively for use as pot plants; they are not meant to be used in the outdoor garden.

If you are looking to purchase a potted cyclamen, find one that looks fresh with lots of buds visible in the crown of the plant and few mature or spent blooms (or signs that a lot of blooms have been removed). Because April is nearing the end of the natural flowering period, you still want to get six weeks or so of bloom out of the plant.

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Cyclamens are grown from tubers and the top of the tuber will likely be visible above the soil in the pot. It is from this tuber that the foliage and flower stems emerge. The leaves are large and heart shaped and have silver designs on them, making the foliage almost as attractive as the flowers. The flower stalks grow above the foliage and the stems should be sturdy and stand straight; they should not be weak and bent over. The flowers — in shades of pink and red (as well as white) — are composed of large petals that surround a dark-coloured centre. Each flower’s petals stand erect so that the centre of the bloom is barely visible.

In its natural tropical habitat, the cyclamen grows in cool, high-humidity locations and these are the conditions favoured by the plants offered for sale in our area. If the humidity is too low or the temperature is too high the plant will go into a gradual decline; its leaves will begin to yellow and die and blooming will cease. Daytime temperatures should not exceed 20 C and if possible, nighttime temperatures should be somewhat cooler than that. Humidity around the plant can be increased by sitting the pot on a pebble tray and by having other plants nearby. Keeping the plant away from heat sources will also assist in keeping temperatures cool and humidity high.

Cyclamens are very sensitive to both over- and under-watering, therefore must be in a planting medium that retains moisture but at the same time allows excess water to drain away from the tuber. The container must have excellent drainage so excess water can drain away and not linger in it. Care must be taken to water below the leaves and stems and to not allow water to get on the foliage and stems or rot is likely to occur. Water — particularly if it contains a soluble fertilizer — will also mark the leaves and make them less attractive. A soluble fertilizer high in phosphorus, used at half-strength, should be used every month while the plant is in bloom. If too much fertilizer is used, more foliage and less flowers will be produced.

As with many florist plants, be on the lookout for insect pests. Mites are the most common problem on cyclamens and they are hard to combat once they get a foothold. Vigilance and keeping the plant healthy by providing it with cool, humid surroundings will help to avoid any problems. Misting and carefully showering the foliage without damaging the flowers is also helpful.

Deadheading will prolong the bloom period but eventually the plant will stop flowering and will begin to go into a dormant state, indicated by a yellowing of the leaves. When this natural process begins to occur, watering should stop. The leaves will continue to yellow and die. When the top growth has died down it should be removed and the pot placed in a cool, dark place for about three months where the tuber will remain in a dormant state.

Check periodically to see that new growth is not beginning to occur and if it does, bring the pot out of storage. Generally though, the pot should be stored for about three months, and then brought out into the light. If the tuber is too crowded, transfer it to a pot that is a size larger than the one it is in. Use a peat-based soilless mix. Some potting soil or leaf mould could be added to increase the organic matter and nutrient level.

A north-facing window is perfect for a cyclamen — bright, indirect light but no direct sun. Soak the pot by sitting it in a tub of water for a few hours, let it thoroughly drain, then don’t water again until new growth appears. When this happens, begin to water and fertilize as you did when the plant was in bloom and look forward to the plant producing a new crop of buds by late fall. With any luck, your cyclamen will give you a second round of beautiful blooms and it should flower for most of the winter.

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