February's Favorite: Cyclamen
From In My Garden By John Cretti
As the month of February has rolled around, it's time to think about a meaningful gift for your favorite Valentine. Instead of the traditional bouquet of cut, long-stemmed roses, why not give a gift that keeps on growing and flowering. Among the prettiest of flowering houseplants, the cyclamen is like a bouquet of butterflies in winter. Its flowers can continue to appear for two to three months.
Cyclamen flowers resemble butterflies perching on stems. They are held high above thick, dark green leaves that are streaked with silver. The blossoms appear to nod, facing downward, and the petals open and sweep up like the wings of butterflies. They come in a variety of flower colors, including red, pink, salmon, white, and purple, as well as bicolor blooms.
Often sold as "florist" plants, cyclamens have developed a reputation of being short-lived. With the proper care, however, they can last for many years, blooming annually. My aunt has the knack of growing these plants within the confines of a warm home environment. Her secret is to grow them in the coolest part of the house, where temperatures are 45-50F at night and 65F or lower during the day.
I like to locate plants in bright but indirect light and prefer an east windowsill right above the kitchen sink. I keep the soil mixture uniformly moist and apply a soluble plant food at half strength every 2 weeks.
During the summer when it's hot, my aunt cuts off all the foliage, reduces watering, and lets the plants go dormant. The summer dormant period is natural and vital to the cyclamen's growth. For three or four months in summer, the plant will lose its leaves and need minimal care. During that time, the potted plant looks like a pot of soil. Water it just enough to keep the soil from getting bone dry, maybe once a month. This period not only allows the plant to rest, it also allows you to remove any insect-infested leaves and flowers. In September, start watering more and bring the pot into a bright location. It will be flowering by winter.