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How to grow Cyclamen

Julian Bosdari posted this on 26 Aug 2017

All about Cyclamen

August and September are the months that Cyclamen hederifolium puts up its deceptively delicate pink flowers on leafless stalks, often in the most improbable places. The flowers, with their characteristic reflexed petals, appear well ahead of the leaves and need help with pollination generally from insects.

Cyclamen coum does the same thing, but a few months later. In both cases, the flower colour can vary widely covering a range from white through to dark pink, and shades of purple. Whatever the colour, once the act has been consummated, the flowers fade after pollination and each rapidly forms a seed pod.

What follows is seriously clever - the stalks corkscrew around the seed pod. Over time, this swells and when the pods are ready to split their stalks relax allowing the seeds to drop a little way from the mother plant. And it goes on. Cunningly the seeds are covered in a sweet sticky substance that attracts insects and birds. deliberately or accidentally, these carry the seeds elsewhere ensuring the spread of the plant to pastures new

All very cunning and exotic, maybe, but cyclamen are easy to grow and when they are happy, they spread and flower and spread and ...

The leaves follow the flowers and so emerge either as deciduous trees are dropping their own foliage or when they are completely bare. That means light levels are relatively good at the right time of year in the shady places such as woodlands where cyclamen like to grow. Nature is never stupid.

Talking of leaves - C. hederifolium" has the edge with delicate and uniquely intricate surface markings that ensure that every plant is unique. A goodly planting of Cyclamen hederifolium in winter, even after the flowers have gone, is still a joy to behold.

Come summer the corms (not bulbs) sleep happily in the dry soil around tree roots waiting for the rains of autumn. This is why cyclamen are one of the very few plants that grow happily under beech trees. 

On the plant, individual flowers last for a couple of weeks. Because nature leaves nothing to chance, even small cyclamen produce several flowers over a period of a few weeks. At the other end of the scale, as an example, I have a corm which was planted by my father probably 15 years before his death which was in 1979. So it is almost certainly over 50 years old. I have taken it with me wherever I have lived since. It is well over 30 cm across and when it flowers carries far too many blossoms to even think about counting. Easily hundreds and probably touching four figures. In its lifetime (which is far from over) it must have successfully fathered/mothered thousands of children.

Friends for Life

Cyclamen will grow almost anywhere where there is winter light and moist but well-drained soil in their growing season. Because of their bias to winter growth, they cohabit happily with a huge range of plants. Planted under roses, especially in the company of snowdrops and other spring flowering bulbs it is possible to have a show almost 12 months of the year. Or if you have ivy covering a bank or a difficult area in woodland, then plant cyclamen into the ivy. They go well with hellebores, are a delight around the base of shady deciduous trees and do surprisingly well at the base of hedges. 

Growing tips

Cyclamen are happy planted as dry corms or in growth, but this should happen in autumn. September is an excellent month for the job.

Preparation is really important. Dig the planting area over remove weeds and other rubbish and improve the soil while making sure that you absolutely, positively do NOT overfeed. Horse manure is far too rich. Much better to use decent garden compost, or, best of all, leaf mould (beech is the king of leaf moulds).

 

Never bury the corms deep. Shallow is good, so aim for the tops of the corms to end up at or just under soil level. If you are not sure which the top is, then plant the corm on its side - it will be fine like that and over time will "self-right".

Make sure the planting site is well drained - cyclamen die in consistently wet ground.

Grey squirrels can be a problem as they regard the corms as a tasty snack in harder winters. There are several ways to reduce the treat such as pepper dust (not great if you have a dog) but we prefer to plant the corms beneath a piece of wire mesh such as chicken wire. Put the mesh on top of the corms and cover with about 2cms of soil. As other plants take root (ivy for example) the mesh becomes immovable for your average "grey". 

Propagation

Much has been written on the subject, most of it wasted words. The best thing is to let them get on with it. If they are happy, the babies will come and these can be moved between September and November when they are 1-2 years old. Just don't move all of them as cyclamen look best in drifts.

Aftercare

Try to keep the area weed free and never remove the foliage until it has withered completely. When that has happened, you will be well rewarded if you give your cyclamen a mulch of well-rotted leaf mould. Leaf mould is relatively low in nutrients but high in organic content and is one of the best soil improvers, opening it up and improving water retention and drainage. Just what they like.

 

 

Categories: Bulb Advice
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