November 28, 2020

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Calvin Finch: Plant cyclamen now for amazing winter color in your San Antonio garden

It is hard to find a blooming plant that is more beautiful than cyclamen. The leaves are heart-shaped and colored a deep green with silvery patterns etched on the surface.

The foliage alone could be main attraction for cyclamen, but it’s easy to overlook because the flower colors are so intense and the blooms so showy.

Cyclamen is a great choice for winter color in the shade in San Antonio landscapes. It is now valued as outdoor plant, but many gardeners probably remember when the main use for cyclamen was as a get-well gift for hospitalized friends and loved ones.

They still make good get-well gifts, as cyclamen can serve as an indoor plant. Placed in front of an east-facing window, the cyclamen blooms indefinitely in the house.

The plants are blooming at the nursery now and will be blooming every day until it warms up in the spring. Choose from red, white, pink, purple, and lilac flowers — all of which make a show by themselves or when colors are mixed. Most gardeners name a combination of white and red as the showiest while my favorite is a single-color planting of purple or lilac.

In most outdoor garden situations, cyclamen grow to about 10 inches tall with the flowers emerging out of the leaves as buds as the winter progresses. They require shade and seem to do best in containers or raised beds.

This week in the garden

 Temperatures already approached freezing in some areas in October, so have your fabric coverings and heat sources ready for action to protect such plants as citrus when the mercury drops again. If temperatures again are forecast to fall below 40 degrees, move cold-sensitive plants such as bougainvillea, plumeria, mandivillea and oriental hibiscus into shelter.

 It is an excellent time to plant pansies, violas, stocks, snapdragons, sweet peas, dianthus, petunias and other cold-tolerant annuals in the garden for winter color.

 Add spinach and English peas to the list of winter vegetables to plant in the garden. Broccoli, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, beets, radish, lettuce, turnips, kale and Chinese cabbage are also on the list. Use seeds for the English peas, radishes, turnips, beets and lettuce.

 Protect primula, pansies and other low-growing plants from slugs and snails with slug and snail bait. It also works to sink plastic cups half filled with beer in the soil. The slugs and snails are attracted to the beer and are drowned in the container.

The transplants are available in containers 4 inches or larger, and the root ball is a dense entity that protects the roots and serves as a moisture reservoir. It sometimes means though that squirrels, cats or terriers will break the plant base at the root connection. Anything you can do to keep the aforementioned pests out of the cyclamen planting, the more likely is it that the blooms will survive and decorate the garden until it gets hot in late April.

Cyclamen are also not xeriscape plants. Your bed will work best if the dense root ball is placed in a well-drained soil and is watered any time the soil surface dries. A moist planting bed helps keep the root ball from drying out, of course, but it also keeps it from breaking at the base.

In addition to the dangers of drying out, receiving too much sun and visits from naughty dogs, cyclamen blooms are sensitive to cold damage. Notice that I mentioned the blooms; the foliage and plant roots are not very cold sensitive, and they can survive most San Antonio winters.

The blooms and reserve buds, however, may be damaged by temperatures below 30 degrees. Protect them with a layer of fabric such as a product like Insulate placed over the surface of the plants when such temperatures are forecast.

The one layer of material without a heat source has worked for me ever since I started growing cyclamen. In fact, most winters the blooms survived without any protection.

There are two good reasons to be conservative on cold protection. First, if you do allow the blooms and reserve buds to be frozen off, they will not return this year. You will have to be content with the attractive foliage.

Second, cyclamen plants are expensive. Count on investing $5 or $6 per plant for cyclamen. It is not much fun to invest that much money for a season of beautiful flowers only to have the flowers freeze off.

Calvin Finch is a retired Texas A&M horticulturist. [email protected]

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