Cyclamen for Winter Cheer

Cyclamen for Winter Cheer
– by Larry Hurley and Melodie Likel

One of the pleasures of the transition from summer to fall to winter is that our greenhouses once again are chock full of blooming plants to make your home more cheerful. Although a lot of attention is lavished on the holiday poinsettia plant, there are others that perform equally well yet garner less attention. My favorite is the cyclamen.

Easy to grow, colorful, fragrant and long blooming-what more could you ask for? Okay; graceful. You’ve got it. There are 20 species of cyclamen. They are found in the wild around (but not in) the Mediterranean Sea. Some species are winter hardy, and Behnke Nurseries carries dormant nursery-grown plants in the fall in our bulb section and occasionally as small potted plants in our perennial area.

These species (including Cyclamen coum and C. hederifolium) are great for naturalizing in well-drained soil under deciduous trees in bright shade in urban settings. At my home, I have several patches of C. hederifolium that go dormant in summer, flower in fall, and bear attractive foliage throughout the winter and spring. For more information on the hardy species, visit the website of the English based Cyclamen Society, The “florist hybrids” are primarily from the species C. persicum, which is not winter hardy in our area.

It is, however used as a bedding or window box plant in the cool seasons of milder climates, similar to how we would use pansies here. One December, when I was in Rome, I observed that it was planted extensively. “Florist cyclamen” (hereafter denoted as just “cyclamen”) are available in shades of red, pink, lavender, purple and white, with some bicolors, fringed, and double-flowered forms as well. The standard type is about 12 inches tall in bloom, with 2 to 3 inch flowers borne like butterflies (or fireworks) above the foliage.

The dwarf or mini form is about 6 inches tall with 1-inch flowers, and there is an in-between size, the “midi”, as well. The leaves usually have a silver overlay with the green that makes them attractive in their own right, resembling a foliage-type begonia. The fragrance seems to vary from plant to plant, so if the lemony scent is important to you, make sure to select a fragrant plant from the start. Fragrance seems to be stronger in the more humid atmosphere of a greenhouse than in the home.

Cyclamen should be in a window in bright light, even a few hours of direct sun in the morning or late afternoon. East windows are ideal. They also do best long-term in a cool room (another reason to go the windowsill route), with day temperatures in the mid-60’s and nights around 50 degrees.

The fastest way to kill a cyclamen is by overwatering. Wait until just before the plant starts to wilt before you water the plant-lift the pot and water the plant when it feels light. (If you wait too long and it wilts badly, you will abort many of the small flower buds. It is best to check about every three days.) The plant may flower for up to several months if everything goes well.

Water the soil, not the foliage, and let the pot drain without standing for any length of time in a saucer of water (this is easiest to accomplish by watering it in the sink.) If the pot has foil around it, get rid of the foil and put the plant in a basket or just in a saucer. Foil tends to reduce air circulation around the base of the plant, and encourages rot. If you lift the pot and the plant, or victim, is wilting and heavy, it has been overwatered and in technical horticultural parlance, the plant is now “toast”. Yellowing leaves and dried-up buds are signs of underwatering, too-warm temperatures, low humidity, or a combination of these.

It can’t hurt to give the plant a little bit of houseplant fertilizer every couple of weeks. As long as the plant continues to make new leaves, it will make new flower buds (one bud per leaf). A little nosh once in a while will help to maintain active growth. We carry a number of excellent brands from which to choose, including Miracle-Gro All Purpose Plant Food, which is ideal for cyclamen.

When the plant goes out of flower you can compost it or try to nurse it along to rebloom next year. At that point you may withhold water and allow it to die back to the bulb-like tuber. Most houseplant books will give you the routine. From a quality standpoint, a new plant will generally look better than one you have tried to rebloom unless you have a home greenhouse.

I’m not Mr. Artistic. I tried reading Martha, but it didn’t do any good. I line cyclamen up along the window sill like little soldiers, alternated with rex begonias, kalanchoes, and other cool-season plants. For short-term displays, New Year’s Eve party, birthday, etc. you might tuck several into a basket or a ceramic pot.

Here are a few more suggestions from our Behnke Florist………….

Cyclamen Decorating Tips

Evelyn Kinville, Florist Shop Division Manager, shares these tips for showcasing your cyclamen plant:

The bright colors of cyclamen blooms chase away the winter blahs. For home display, be sure to protect furniture by placing your plant in a favorite container with a water-tight liner inside. Remove the plant for watering and draining. For an elegant look, cut a few blooms and place them in a slender bud vase or small pitcher. The blooms resemble orchids when displayed in this manner. (In fact, the cyclamen is sometimes referred to as “poor man’s orchid.”)

Cyclamen can be moved anywhere in your home, like a bouquet of flowers, for a special occasion. Just make sure they are returned to their cool, bright growing environment the next day.

Heart-shaped leaves, and bloom hues in reds, pinks and white make cyclamen a great valentine. Add paper or lace hearts on picks and a couple of tapered candles for the perfect centerpiece for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner.

Those Beautiful Rex Begonias

Those Beautiful Rex BegoniasWalking though the greenhouse the other day I was drawn to the many different Rex Begonias and other foliage begonias that we have. On each of the tables were BIG BEAUTIFUL Pots of begonias with little signs in them saying, “Display Only, from Private Collection.” I smiled to myself because I knew just whose private collection these were! Behnke’s president, Alfred Millard, has long been a fan of these amazing plants. And each year we see him bringing them to the nursery for the Winter.

My mother, Sonja Behnke Festerling also loves them along with her all time favorite, African Violets. A few years ago Mom did a series of talks on how to take care of African Violets and I always wanted her to do a talk on her love of her Rex Begonias. Maybe we can get Alfred to do it instead.

The one in the photo is from a collection of houseplants that we carry for sale called “Atlas” and is called Begonia rex ‘Princess of Hanover’ and is the one I think I will try. I have the medium light they need and moderate watering should not be a issue. I am also thinking I might get a few for holiday hostess gifts. While I love giving Poinsettias, Cyclamen, and Christmas Cactii as gifts I think I know of a few friends that might appreciate these begonias.

Posted by: Stephanie Fleming

Host/Hostess Gifts Galore

I went shopping today for something to take a hostess for Thanksgiving dinner, and the choice wasn’t easy at all.


Christmas Cactus come in a lot of great colors, and they’re just unusual enough, I think.


Orchids are increasingly popular and some can handle low light and the care of beginners.  Phalaenopsis is a great choice.



My favorite Poinsettias are the unusual ones, like this one called Winter Rose.  A horticulturist friend in New York posted about them today on Facebook, declaring that “I believe it holds its red bracts the longest.”  She goes on to defend Poinsettias as a great as “NOT POISONOUS! Please tell all our animal loving friends… Intensive evidence (and my cats) state: Poinsettias not poisonous. It was a myth. (Lilies, yes, very very toxic.)”


These arrangements are specially made for Thanksgiving, so feature fall colors.



A fabulous gift for early winter are Amaryllis and Paperwhites, either individually or nicely boxed-up with soil and a pot.


Paperwhites are also available already blooming.  Famously fragrant.


And the winner is….Cyclamen!  They’re just so beautiful, and the right height for a centerpiece.


Posted by Susan Harris.


See Longwood Gardens at its most Awesome!

Longwood Gardens is no doubt the premier public garden east of the Rockies (and probably west of them, too).   But what surprised this frequent visitor was discovering my favorite time to visit is mid-winter!  Why?  Because of the outdoor displays and especially the 4.5-acre heated indoor conservatory.  It features a giant Art Nouveau tapestry made from pink poinsettias and ferns, and amazing floral displays.

So join Behnkes and Cheval’s garden tours for our day trip to Longwood – this is a trip for gardeners, and everyone else.

  • Date: Thursday, December 15, 2011.
  • Meet at: Behnke Nurseries, 11300 Baltimore Ave., Beltsville, MD.
  • Leave: 10:00 a.m. Return: 6:00 p.m.
  • Cost: $103.  Reserve online.
  • Registration deadline Dec. 12, 2011. No refunds after Dec. 1, 2011.
Price includes admission to Longwood, charter coach with bath, cafe voucher (choice of appetizer, entree, dessert and fountain beverage or coffee) garden DVD on ride, raffle for garden goodies, goody bags, bottled water and snacks.

Horticultural highlights this season:
General Indoor Highlights

  • Amaryllis
  • Begonias
  • Calla-lily (Zantedeschia)
  • Coleus (Solenostemon)
  • Cyclamen coum (Cyclamencoum)
  • Euphorbias
  • Heaths (Erica)
  • Heathers (Calluna)
  • Lilies
  • Narcissus
  • Orchids
  • Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
  • Primroses (Primula)
  • Red Stem Dogwoods (Cornus stolonifera)
  • Roses
  • Winterberry Hollies (Ilex verticillata)

General Outdoor Highlights

  • Topiaries
  • Conifers

Posted by Susan Harris.

Planting the Dry Shade Garden is the latest book by the world-acclaimed plantsman and award-winning garden writer Graham Rice, so I groveled a bit to get a review copy.  I loved the book and am happy to pass it along to a lucky commenter here on the blog.  Just tell us why you need it, but don’t worry about being clever or the most desperate commenter because we’ll pick the winner at random.   Entries close at midnight next Friday, October 21, and the winner can pick up the book at either Behnkes location.

More about Planting the Dry Shade Garden
Rice is undaunted by this most difficult of gardening situations and has compiled a terrific list of plants that can take it.  Plus, tips on how to make dry shade both less dry and less shady.

And based on his decades of gardening both in England and Pennsylvania, Rice is able to cover all plant groups – shrubs, climbers, perennials, ground covers, bulbs and annuals, foliage plants and, even lots of flowers.

Here’s just a sampling of the great plants that Rice recommends for dry shade:  Aucuba, Cyclamen, Male Fern,  Epimedium, Wintercreeper Euonymus, Climbing Hydrangea, Stinking Iris, Lamium, Money Plant and Butcher’s Broom (I’d never heard of that one!)

The photography in the book is mainly the work of award-winning photographer judywhite, so not only is the book packed with good advice, but the pictures reveal the beauty of the plants you can grow.

Posted by Susan Harris.

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