Hardy cyclamen can bloom again

Shortly before Christmas, I purchased a cyclamen. This plant has blossoms that resemble shooting stars or butterflies and is sometimes known by one of those names. The blossoms were bright red and looked so beautiful on the long stems as they rose above the heart-shaped green-and-silver leaves.

The cyclamen that is grown in a pot as a blooming houseplant is called a "florist cyclamen," while those outdoors in my garden, and perhaps yours, are referred to as "hardy cyclamen."

The florist type would not survive our winters if I tried to put it in the ground this spring. Frequently, the florist cyclamen is discarded after blooming, probably because it looks dead, as leaves yellow and the flowers droop and dry. But if you learn a bit about its life cycle, you may well be able to encourage it to bloom again next fall or winter.

A native of the Mediterranean, the cyclamen likes moderately cool temperatures and a humid atmosphere. This makes it a bit of a challenge to grow in our heated homes, with dry air. In its natural state, the cyclamen would bloom for a long period, through fall and winter. During the summer, it goes dormant, and does, indeed, look dead. But it is just resting.

Because it is such an attractive plant and sells well during the holidays, nursery people control its dormancy and bloom time so that it blooms for the Christmas season. All well and good so far, but when we put this potted plant in a warm house, it soon begins to think it is summer, and time to go dormant. That is why the leaves yellow and fall off, and it stops blooming. The cyclamen owner often thinks it must need more water, or more light, or maybe some fertilizer. If these are applied, though, the tuber will rot, and there goes the beautiful plant.

But you can work with the dormancy cycle and coax it to bloom again. When the cyclamen shows signs of going dormant, stop watering it and move it to a cool place — 50 to 55 degrees is ideal. Let it rest there for two or three months, keeping it quite dry.

Sometime during this dormant period would be a good time to repot it, especially if it is still in the peat material it was in when it came from the store. Use a sandy, gritty mix that drains well in the new pot.

As you repot it, you will see that a cyclamen grows from a tuber not unlike a small, flat potato. When you set the tuber in the new soil, leave half of it exposed, as it does not want to be covered with soil. Keep the tuber cool and dry until you again see signs of life on it. Then thoroughly wet the soil, even soaking it in a tub of water for several minutes for this initial "wake up."

Keep it in a cool place with bright light but no direct sun. Once summer temperatures do not go below 40 degrees at night, you can set the pot outdoors in the shade. Because it may not survive temperatures below 40, bring it in the house at the end of summer and hopefully the dormancy will have "reset" and it will bloom indoors in fall and winter.

When you water your cyclamen, avoid getting water on the stems and leaves. Again, take care not to overwater. Fertilize once every month or two with a water-soluble fertilizer at half strength. Too much fertilizer can affect the plant's ability to bloom.

It may seem that this plant is fussy, and takes extra care, and I agree. But I think that its beauty and long period of bloom more than make up for that!

Coming up: Circle these Saturday dates for upcoming pruning workshops at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point. Feb. 8: Grape pruning; Feb. 15: Fruit tree pruning; March 1: Rose pruning. Call 541-776-7371 to register.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at diggit1225@gmail.com.

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