Hardy Cyclamen Surprises In Fall

The South's blooming season isn't over. Cultivating hardy cyclamen will serve up blossoms of red, pink or white during autumn.

Cyclamen is a tuberous perennial that thrive in warmer climates. It tends to go dormant, and when that happens, even an experienced gardener might judge the plant as a dying lost cause. But there are nuances to growing hardy cyclamen, and once understood, this plant has a chance to thrive.

What is Cyclamen Hederifolium?

Together with poinsettia and Christmas cactus, florist's cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) forms the Grand Triumvirate of holiday flowers. You may not know its name, but you can't help encountering scads of it in greenhouses. Large, gaudy blossoms of red, pink, or white hover like butterflies above handsome, marbled foliage. While they can be grown outdoors in mild areas, it's not easy elsewhere, so most people keep them as houseplants until they ultimately kill them by overwatering.

Cyclamen November Blooms
Steve Bender

Choosing the Right Hardy Cyclamen Species

Thus, to add autumn and winter color to my shady woodland garden, I decided to try a different species. Cyclamen hederifolium 'Silver Leaf Pink' is an award-winning plant; the Royal Horticultural Society has bestowed it with its prestigious Award of Garden Merit. It is considered to be the hardiest species of cyclamen and lives in the ground year-round here. Also known as the ivy-leaved cyclamen, Neapolitan cyclamen, or sowbread, it is a species of the Primulaceae family. It is native to the Mediterranean region, Northern Europe, and the Pacific Northwest, typically growing in woodland, shrubland, and rocky areas. I spotted it growing in pots last May at a local garden center. Lacking any experience with it, I opted to risk just one. Its ivy-shaped leaves splashed with silver were purchase-worthy by themselves. I planted the cyclamen next to my bench by a path and expected great things.

Within a week, though, I noticed apparent trouble. The leaves were beginning to yellow. Thinking it was dry, I watered it, but the next day, it was even more yellow. Thinking that I may have overwatered it, I quit watering for a week. But it only became more and more yellow until finally, all the leaves died. After a punishing summer of unrelenting heat and drought, it finally rained one day in October. The next day I spied a single pink flower on a slender stem pushing up through the leaves. More and more flowers soon followed. My cyclamen hederifolium had not died. It had just gone dormant for the summer.

Caring for Cyclamen Hederifolium

Cyclamen hederifolium is a fall-blooming, with its bloom time typically ranging from September to November. These low-growing tuberous perennials are widely considered to be the most robust of the cyclamen species and the easiest to grow. They don't require weeding or deadheading, which makes them among the more low maintenance plants. It's best to plant them in bunches, and they are often used as borders, ground cover, and showy flowers, as well as in container gardening and rock gardens. Once they are fully established, they are drought-tolerant. On the other hand, overwatering during the summer, its dormant period, can result in root and leaf rot. Their blossoms may be only half the size of florist's cyclamen's, but that's their charm. They look natural, not the product of radioactive fall-out. They also produce seedlings around them (if you leave the spent flowers) that will bloom in a couple of years.

Because I'd bought the cyclamen hederifolium already growing in a pot, I planted it so that the top of the root ball was even with the soil surface. As it turns out, tubers like cyclamen should be planted two inches deep and six inches apart. They should also be planted in partial shade, in fertile soil that contains a good bit of organic matter. These plants are tolerant of acidic, clay, loamy, and sandy soil, but are best grown in humus-rich soil. Good drainage is essential. The tubers will rot in wet, heavy soil. One thing I appreciate is the fact that they need no water in the summertime. By the time they break dormancy in fall, we've entered our rainy season that lasts through spring. Grow them in USDA Zones 5 to 8.

More to Hardy Cyclamen Facts to Consider

Cyclamen hederifolium is deer resistant, but be on the lookout for the mice and squirrels that are attracted to them. It's also important to note that cyclamen hederifolium can be toxic to cats and dogs. So if you decide to grow this plant and you have pets around, you should take necessary precautions to keep the plant out of their reach. A hanging plant might be ideal.

Two other hardy species you might want to try are Cyclamen coum and Cyclamen purpurascens. They feature crimson, pink, and white flowers. If you can't find cyclamens locally, look online at Brent & Becky's Bulbs and Digging Dog Nursery.

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