By Sean Conway
In an effort to save on winter heating bills when I was growing up, our house was kept very cool. If we complained about being cold, we were told to put on a sweater.
My parents were not trying to "be green," although that's in fact what they were doing. Their efforts were not to reduce their carbon footprint but rather to reduce their oil bill. Today the concept is back in fashion. As energy prices trend upwards, winter thermostat settings are trending downwards.
Cooler houses are not only good for sweater sales; they are also good for cool-loving houseplants. Not all plants like a warm house, and in fact some need cool temperatures in order to thrive. Winter blooming cyclamen are perfect candidates for a cooler home. They are happiest with overnight temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees, and 60 to 68 degrees during the day.
These easy-to-grow plants, with their beautifully patterned heart-shaped leaves and up-swept flower petals, can be found in an array of colors from red and pink to white and all shades in between. They are also available in a variety of sizes from large-flowered tabletop versions to miniature windowsill varieties. Commonly grown varieties, often called florist cyclamen, are hybrids of Cyclamen persicum, native to the well-drained slopes of Turkey, Israel, Jordan and parts of Greece.
Cyclamen grow from tubers: modified roots that store water during periods of drought. These delicate-looking plants are anything but, and can live for many years provided you meet the plants minimal requirements.
The plants grow their leaves and produce their flowers during the cooler months of fall and winter. They then go into a period of dormancy during the heat of summer. Mimic the plant's natural habitat and your cyclamen will thrive.
They prefer a cool spot with a few hours of direct sun. An east or northeast window would be ideal, but a south or west window is fine during the shorter days of winter, provided the plant does not get too hot. Once the sun starts to get stronger, move plants out of south-facing windows and into bright light.
Cyclamen should be grown in well-drained soil, and care should be taken to avoid over watering. I place plants in shallow trays of water allowing water to slowly soak through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. This helps keep the top of the tuber dry and avoids rotting.
Cyclamen do not require a great deal of fertilizer, and a half strength solution of all-purpose liquid fertilizer once every few weeks during the growing season is all the plant will require.
During the warm summer months your cyclamen will need a rest period. When outside temperatures begin to warm up, reduce the amount of water you provide the plant. Once its leaves begin yellowing and flowering ceases, stop watering completely for the summer.
This dry period mimics the plants natural dormancy, and allows the plant time to rest. I place my plants outside on the north side of a building. I tip the pots on their sides to keep rain out and let them rest from about mid June until mid September.
When temperatures begin to cool in the fall, gently shake the soil from the tubers and repot them into fresh soil. Place the tuber just below the surface of the soil and water well.
Be sure to move your plant back indoors before freezing temperatures arrive. Florist cyclamen prefer cool temperatures, but will not tolerate freezing.
A cooler home can be more than just green; it can be filled with colorful cyclamen!
Sean Conway's book is "Sean Conway's Cultivating Life: 125 Projects for Backyard Living" (Artisan Books, 2009), describes 125 projects for backyard living.
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Copyright ©, Cultivating Life by Sean Conway