PHOTO BY SUZANN HERRICKS/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
Holiday red-and-white cyclamen present a striking contrast to green foliage and ground cover, whether planted in the ground or placed near one another in containers and pots. Although they come in three heights, the standard 12-inch plants are most suitable for planting in the garden.
Brighten winter landscape
Plant cyclamen for a burst of color

December 25, 2008

By Suzann Herricks, Victoria County Master Gardener

Edited by Charla Borchers Leon, Victoria County Master Gardener
PHOTOS BY SUZANN HERRICKS/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
In addition to cyclamen, other cool-weather plants can be planted now through early spring for bright color. Bedding plants like the pansies, violas and snapdragons, shown in the background on plant tables, are readily available in most garden centers for immediate planting and color in your landscape.
On this Christmas morning, you might look outside and see a frosty landscape, but, then again, if lucky, in South Texas it will just be cool and crisp enough to feel "a little bit like Christmas." What jumps out at you in your garden makes a difference, too, like dark evergreen bushes and significantly bright plantings. If you have not planned accordingly, your garden could be lackluster and in need of a facelift for the rest of the cool-weather season.

Where Have Allthe Flowers Gone?


I love to have flowers blooming throughout the year, but it is not always easy. When my granddaughter comes for a visit, the first thing she does is run to the back yard to pick flowers. During the hot summers, my garden is full of blooms, so the first time she came in the wintertime she bounded out the back door, stopped suddenly and exclaimed in disappointment, "Grandmother, where are all the flowers?"

Many gardens are short of color this time of the year; however, there are numerous cool-season annuals that will brighten your winter landscape.

Cyclamen for Winter Color


One unusual, but strikingly beautiful plant that you may not have yet tried, is the cyclamen (C. persicum).

A native of the warmer regions of the Mediterranean and northeastern Africa, it is one of the most popular houseplants in winter and often arrives as a gift from a florist's shop, but it can also be planted outdoors.

The blooms are a brilliant pink, lavender, red or white, and the leaves are heart-shaped with marbling that resembles a snake's skin.

The flowers offer a strange and alien look because the petals curve backward, making each blossom look like an exotic butterfly or bird. Although they come in three heights, the standard 12-inch plants are most suitable for viewing in the garden.

I have seen some whimsical garden settings around Victoria that were planted with drifts of cyclamen. One particularly striking landscape had a bed of cyclamen surrounded by a deep-green ground cover. Plants are readily available in local nurseries around the first part of November and will bloom through early spring. I want to thank Four Seasons Garden Center for allowing me to photograph the beautiful cyclamens they had in stock.

When and How to Plant


Plant cyclamens after temperatures have cooled down sufficiently. They prefer temperatures around 50 to 60 degrees and are hardy to 25 degrees. Bright light is best but in our area they will do well in part shady locations. It is good to remember that when giving planting instructions, few horticulturists consider how hot the South Texas sun can get.

Cyclamens need well-drained soil and prefer not to have the corm directly watered, because of its susceptibility to rot. If you have a raised bed, you may not have a problem with this. Otherwise, just water the soil around the plants.

The only pest problem is an occasional mite. If you don't want to prepare a bed for them, try burying pots in the ground, fill with potting soil and insert the cyclamen. I have a good friend who keeps pots positioned with the rims at ground level and she changes out flowers each season with great success.

Propagation is Tricky


After blooming, cyclamen will begin to wane and the leaves will yellow and die.

Some gardening books state that the plants will give years of bloom and will reproduce seeds freely, but propagation can be tricky. Most greenhouse growers purchase young plants from specialized growers because the seeds are difficult to germinate.

In cooler climates, they will reproduce from the corms that remain in the ground, but they require a dormant period. Since our climate is so hot, the corms most probably will not survive in the ground. One local gardener said that he digs up the corms, stores them in a dark, cool place and then plants them around October of each year with some success.

It is probably best just to discard the plant and buy new ones every year. Because they are so unique, I think they are worth the cost and effort.

More Winter Color


For additional color in late winter and early spring, continue to plant pansies, stock, dianthus, snapdragons, alyssum, lobelia and calendulas. Swiss chard or kale can be added as a wonderful, dark-green background. An added plus, is that they are also edible. Flowering plants need a light dose of fertilizer every month, so continue to apply it to your annuals. Plan ahead for a freeze and have sheets or lightweight fabrics on hand.

Other Gardening Chores


There is still work to be done during winter months. If a hard freeze kills your perennials, cut them back near to the ground and mulch over them. Many tender perennials can withstand a normal winter in this area by doing this. It will also give you an early start on spring cleanup and provide a clean area for the perennials to return.

Planting of any woody ornamental can be done during the winter season and it will get it established before the hot summer months arrive. If you have deciduous trees and shrubs, use the leaves for mulch. Run over them with the lawnmower and then spread them around your plants.

They will decompose slowly, and you will have saved money by keeping the leaves on your own yard rather than throwing them in the recycle heap. Keep grass areas free from standing leaves because grass still needs the winter sunlight to stay healthy.

Gardening is a year-round hobby and the cooler winter climate can make pleasant work of these additional chores. And if you've been too busy to brighten your garden with color for this Christmas morning, there is still time for plantings, including cyclamen, for the remaining cool weather season.

Merry Christmas and may all your gardens be happy and bright from the Victoria County Master Gardener Association.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.

WHY PLANT CYCLAMEN?
1. Bright and brilliant red, white, pink or lavender blooms
2. Withstand cool temperatures down to 25 degrees
3. Grow in direct sunlight or shade
4. Require simple watering of the soil around the plant
5. Relatively pest free, except for occasional mite
6. Work well in pots planted above and in the ground
NOT TOO LATE TO PLANT WINTER COLOR
In addition to cyclamen, plant color now into early spring.
Pansies
Violas
Stock
Dianthus
Snapdragons
Alyssum
Lobelia
Calendulas
Swiss chard
Kale
Photo Credit: SUZANN HERRICKS/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
Cyclamen bloom in shades of brilliant pink and lavender, in addition to the mainstay red and white, with dark-green marbled leaves. The petals curve backward, making each blossom look like an exotic butterfly or bird.