This time of year the brilliant blooms of cyclamen add a colorful note to holiday decor. They do need care, however, if they are to last through the holidays. Cyclamen are cool-season plants with unusual waxy flowers held on 3-to- 6-inch stems above heart-shaped foliage. The leaves often are enhanced with silver markings. The red, pink, lavender or white blooms may continue for months, especially when temperatures are cool and the plants are given bright, indirect light. Choose healthy plants with numerous buds to enjoy longer flowering.
Large-flowered florist's cyclamen (3-inch flowers) used as houseplants will fare best in or near a window with eastern or northern exposure - where there is bright but indirect light. Avoid too much direct sunlight or they may burn.
Overwatering and overly warm temperatures spell death for cyclamen.
Don't overwater. Cyclamen crowns and foliage are subject to fungal rot if too wet. Water from the bottom or water around the crown to discourage this problem. Empty any water in the saucer after the soil is moist. Water again when the soil is dry to the touch, but do not let the soil get so dry that the plant wilts.
The cooler the temperature, the better. Daytime temperatures in the 60s and nighttime temperatures between 50 and 55 are ideal. This means it's best not to display your cyclamen in the flow of a heating vent or on top of the television. Occasionally place the plants outdoors for a breath of cool, fresh air. Avoid freezing temperatures or the flowers will be damaged.
There are usually enough soil nutrients in the 4- and 6-inch nursery pots to carry cyclamen for a while after you bring the plants home. Later, make diluted applications of fertilizer every 10 days to two weeks to encourage more blooms.
Remove faded flowers, as well as their stems, to encourage repeat flowering. Also remove spent foliage.
After a plant has finished flowering and the leaves begin to yellow, the cyclamen enters dormancy. Most gardeners toss such plants and buy new ones the following fall or holiday season.
But some do attempt to pull cyclamen through the summer. When the foliage withers, move the plant to a cool, dark spot and stop watering. In late August or early September, repot the tuber using fresh potting soil. The top third of the tuber should be above the soil level.
Water, then move the container to a window that receives bright light - but avoid hot sun. The leaves will appear before too long; the flowers in about two months.
While florist's cyclamen are used as indoor ornamentals, they can be used in outdoor containers.
Pub Date: 12/13/98