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Cyclamen, exotic yet easy to grow

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Available during fall and winter, festive cyclamen plants start showing up at florists, greenhouses and even big box stores. Cyclamen naturally bloom in when the weather turns cool and damp. During hot, dry summers, cyclamen go dormant, their foliage yellows and dies back. Plants show no signs of growth. They store energy for the next flowering season in their round tubers, similar to bulbs.

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To keep cyclamen happy is to replicate their natural environment as closely as possible. They do very well in temperatures that drop as low as 40 degrees F. at night and rise into the 60s during the day. They want maximum sunlight, so place them close to a bright south, east, or west-facing window.

It’s best to let the soil get somewhat dry between waterings, but not to the point of wilting. When the pot feels light or the soil feels dry just below the surface, water it thoroughly and let it drain. Pour out any water left in the saucer after about a half hour so that the soil doesn’t stay soaking wet. This could cause the tubers to rot.

The colors of cyclamen flowers range from white, pale pink, rose pink, fuchsia, red, purple and bi colors that incorporate several shades. The foliage is heart shaped and often has silvery patterns on the green leaves.

To keep cyclamen (and most blooming plants) blooming, remove flowers as they finish by cutting the flower stems near the base of the plant. Sometimes the petals will fall off and leave a round seed capsule that resembles a flower bud. Remove these, too, as they will divert energy from replenishing the tuber. Be sure to also remove yellow and dried, withered leaves.

In the spring, let the soil dry out and keep the pot in a cool dry place for the summer. The plants will look dead, but as long as the tubers remain hard and plump, they are only resting. Begin watering in the early fall and put it back into a cool, bright window for another season of bloom.

For information on growing houseplants, including their care and watering needs, please see http://www.gardening.about.com.

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