Consider cyclamens instead of roses

Published 9:26 am Saturday, February 2, 2019

By Kristi Hendricks

Though known for their timeless elegance, perhaps those long-stemmed roses deserve a well-earned rest this Valentine’s Day. Instead, opt for a live plant with flowers that fly high as a kite while remaining fresh for weeks on end. The frost-tender hybrids (aka florist cyclamens) of the species plant Cyclamen persicum are outstanding choices for compact potted plants that bloom inside during the tough winter months.

Cyclamens are often passed over during the holiday season for the more familiar favorites poinsettia and Christmas cactus. But come February, folks are searching for gifts evoking pizzazz while embodying the message that their affection has endurance. You see, the cyclamen continues blooming until April. Try doing that, you cut roses in a vase.

Cyclamens’ sweet-scented blossoms come in a stunning array of colors ranging from winter white, violet to deep claret. Resembling a profusion of brightly-colored kites with tails soaring in flight, the flowers consist of twisted and downward curving petals atop leafless stems rising 6 inches to 9 inches from the tuber. Some cultivars even sport a white petal ruffle for added contrast.

Even the finely-toothed foliage is remarkably fetching with endearing heart-shaped leaves forming an attractive mound. The leaves, with dark green undertones, are often patterned topside with silver marbling.

Later in spring these leaves will yellow, signaling the plant is going into dormancy for the summer. Often treated as an annual, the florist cyclamen is actually a perennial. Yet, don’t plan to grow the florist cyclamen outside where winter temperatures fall well below 50 degrees.

Rather, enjoy this plant as an interiorscape focal point while blooming and then take steps to retain and maintain. Allow the fleshy tuber to dry while not to shrivel. Then repot in June.

Cyclamens thrive in soilless potting mix when situated in bright light. Be sure the tuber’s top is noticeable above the mix line. Water sparingly at this time and keep the potted plant away from drafts, both hot and cold.

Watch for the appearance of new growth as early as September. Water when the mix becomes dry to the touch but avoid soaking the plant’s base to protect against root rot. Cyclamens actually enjoy perching on a shallow tray of water layered with small pebbles to increase the surrounding level of humidity.

Cyclamens may be grown from seeds planted in containers in late summer. That said, don’t expect flower buds to appear until the following winter (circa 18 months later). And be aware that munching on cyclamen tubers can offer pets nothing short of digestive problems. So keep these beauties away from kitty’s playful paws.

For additional guidance about growing specialty potted plants, see Virginia Cooperative Extension e-publication 426-101. Tuck plant care tips in with your gift.