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Keep your cyclamen cool

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • What to do with all those leftover bulbs?

    Q. I am out of space and don’t want to dig any more bed for flower bulbs. What should I do with the rest?

    A. Plant them in pots, where they will look great and you will have more flexibility about location. With pots, you don’t have to keep to the same distance requirements as you do in the ground. Just place them close, but not close enough to touch, which could invite rot.

Poinsettias dominate the cast of flowering plants for indoors in winter. But it is not your only choice, especially if you require something smallish.

Here, cyclamen fills the bill. You have probably seen it, bearing unusually shaped blooms that are typically white, pink or red. The shape of the flowers is so different that this characteristic alone makes it worth bringing home, possibly as an alternative to poinsettias or Christmas cactus.

In addition to its unusual beauty and vivid color, the cyclamen offers value as a long-blooming house plant. The nodding blooms sit atop slender stems. That rise gracefully above a nest of good-looking green foliage marked with cream.

Given the right environment, a cyclamen will last many weeks, even months. But here’s what you need to know: It requires a very cool life. And cyclamen’s definition of a “cool” life may be what you call a “cold” life.

The optimum maximum temperature in the daytime for this potted gem is about 65 degrees, a few degrees lower than most people heat their homes. But heat is often uneven in homes, and window sills tend to be rather cool. That should keep the plant going for some weeks, but probably not months. Just keep it away from heat registers, fireplaces and the stove.

To keep it pretty as long as possible, a serious drop in temperature is required most nights. By this I mean really cool, down to between 40 and 55 degrees.

An unheated enclosed porch or sun room is ideal for this; so is a spare room where the temperature stays lower than the rest of the house.

My unheated sun room with well-insulated windows and walls never drops below 50 degrees. This keeps my cyclamen going through the winter. Often I bring them into the main part of the house to serve as temporary centerpieces or accents on tabletops.

This works because a blooming cyclamen requires only bright, indirect light, not a full blast of sunshine.

Once you have the temperature under control, another key thing is correct watering. The lush look of a cyclamen almost invites over-watering. Beware of this. Water when the top of the soil feels dry, and let the soil drain well in the sink. Use water that feels warm to you, not cold. Don’t let the pot sit in a saucer of water because that will keep the soil wet.

A light dose of fertilizer formulated for flowering house plants can be used every 10 days or so.

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