Perfect Plants for Christmas
Cyclamen come in a variety of colors that perfectly complement holiday décor.
Tired of poinsettias and paper whites? Branch out and try cyclamens. This lesser-known holiday plant is widely available this time of year, and many of them come from right here in New Hampshire. D.S. Cole Growers in Loudon grows 150 varieties of cyclamen and ships about thirty thousand plants to retailers across the Northeast.
A member of the primrose family, the cyclamen is native to the Mediterranean. Their name comes from the Greek word kylos, which means circle, referring to the round corms from which they grow.
The plants we see for sale are Cyclamen persicum hybrids. “They have gone through some major breeding changes,” says Doug Cole, owner of D.S. Cole Growers. “Now we have more uniformity as well as many different flower patterns and plant sizes.”
These cultivars come in a wide range of colors, including white; shades of red, pink and purple; and bi-colors. There are double-flowering types, and petals can have plain or ruffled edges, or a border of contrasting color called a picotee. Many blossoms have a darker-colored center called a throat or an eye. Cyclamen’s heart-shaped leaves are also attractive with silver marbling. Tall stems rise above the foliage, each bearing a flower with reflexed petals that look like butterflies on the wing.
Cyclamen flower in the winter and into early spring, making them a perfect plant for the holiday season, whether used as a decoration or a gift. Sizes range from large ones that Cole offers in 6-inch pots to minis that he grows in 2½-inch pots. “If there were a market for cyclamen grown in a shot glass, it would be done,” Cole says.
Celebrate the season by using cyclamen as part of your holiday décor. Containers shown here are from Cobblestone Design Company in Concord.
Cole and his wife Jane Iarussi have been growing cyclamen since 1987. “It was a good crop to start our business since we were able to put up an inexpensive hoop house behind our residence and simply cover it with shade cloth during the summer,” Cole says. This allowed Cole and Iarussi to have a crop growing while they worked on building permanent greenhouses. “Doug and I had just had our second son in May 1987,” Iarussi says. “He napped in the hoop house with us while we planted cyclamen plugs.”
From those humble beginnings, Iarussi and Cole have grown their business to include five acres of growing space, most of which is under Dutch glass greenhouses with computeroperated environmental controls and natural roof ventilation. Sustainability is important to Iarussi and Cole, and for their efforts, they have received certificates from an international organization. Iarussi and Cole recycle water daily, have a natural-gas boiler with close to 100-percent efficiency, and are focused on using less fertilizer and energy to produce their high-quality starter plants.
Keep it growing
Long after the holiday decorations have been cleared away, cyclamen flowers keep giving. To keep them happy and blooming, Chris Schlegel, head grower at Cole’s, offers these tips.
Company coming? Dress up a sideboard or mantle with cyclamen in decorative pots. The basket and metal vase are from Cobblestone Design Company in Concord, while the ceramic containers are from the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen Concord Retail Gallery.
• Watering: “The problem I see most often is overwatering,” Schlegel says. “If your plant has foil covering the pot, take it off so the plant is able to drain. Water from the bottom since it is best not to have moisture collect in the crown of the plant or on the foliage. After the cyclamen has drawn up as much water as it needs, empty the saucer. If you must water from the top, just be careful to direct the water to the soil and not on to the plant. Let the cyclamen dry out slightly before watering again.”
• Temperature: “Cyclamen prefer a cool location, but are adaptable in homes and can tolerate temperatures from 50ºF to 70ºF,” Schlegel says. “They are OK above 70ºF, but if you have a cool room, that is the best spot. Flowers last longer in cooler temperatures, up to one or two weeks each. Definitely avoid placing the plants near a heater.”
• Light: “Cyclamen like bright but diffused light. At this time of year, any window will work since the sun is so low,” Schlegel says. “When flowers fade, deadhead them by yanking the whole stem—just give it a quick tug and it will separate from the corm. If you cut the stem leaving a stub behind, it will rot.”
• Fertilizing: “When growing cyclamen here, we are lean with fertilizer,” Schlegel says. “You can fertilize them occasionally but lightly with weak houseplant fertilizer.”
• Rest period: After blooming all winter and into the spring, the plant will be ready for a rest over the summer. “As you see foliage yellowing, remove the old leaves by giving them a sharp tug to separate them from the corm,” Schlegel says. “Go light with water, letting them get quite dry, and no fertilizer. The length of the rest period varies, but in late summer or early fall, the plant will start to regrow and you can resume regular watering and fertilizing.”
Used alone or with other holiday plants, cyclamen are an affordable and long-lasting alternative to cut flowers. The basket is from the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen Concord Retail Gallery.
Dark pink with thinner, twisted petals, this cyclamen with striking silver veined leaves is from ‘Mini Metis Mix’ series.