cyclemenI've been getting a lot of questions in the past few weeks about cyclamen care, so I thought I would re-issue an all-encompassing article I wrote about them two years ago.

Confession time. If you've read my very first book, "The Golfer's Guide to Gardening," you may remember that, in the "Annuals" section, I said there are really no annuals that do well in total shade during the Houston-area winter. I was wrong!

I'm glad to finally get that off my chest.

An annual that can thrive in total shade during our coldest months is the cyclamen.

I didn't know much about the cyclamen 18 years ago, when I first took over GardenLine from Bill Zak, because most varieties were considered indoor or "gift" plants. But thanks to advances in propagation techniques, today you can easily find those that will withstand the rigors of being grown in a landscape. Interestingly, it is the only true shade-loving annual for our winters. We can get minor success in filtered light with things like dianthus and pentas, but nothing does as well in total shade as the cyclamen. Plus, it still makes a great holiday gift.

Cyclamen flowers may be single, double, fringed, bicolor, or even candy-striped. Colors range from exquisitely pure white through all shades of pink, lavender, purple, and red to dark wine. Some miniature strains are even delightfully scented. In addition, today's hybrids can be maintained over a wide temperature range to just above freezing. Freezing temperatures will hurt them, but only the January 2010 freeze did what I would call a "killing." That means they can often bounce back when dealt temperatures below 30 degrees for an extended period. What tends to kill them are ice storms and temperatures below 20 for long periods.

In many countries, like Great Britain and Japan, where they don't have hot, humid summers like us, cyclamen are grown for a much longer period. In Texas, though, trying that would be an exercise in futility.

Like the azalea and plumeria societies that are so popular in the U.S., there are cyclamen societies in England. The cyclamen is so popular there because it's damp and cool for so much of the year, and the cyclamen thrives in those conditions. (By the way, while we normally pronounce it sigh'-cluh-men, the British pronounce it sick'-lah-men. They also call Houston "House'-ton," so ...)

Anyway, if you're interested in trying a wonderful plant that can give you beautiful color in the deepest parts of a shady landscape ... and one that will make it through the cooler months of the year ... here are some cyclamen care tips:

Cyclamen require regular moisture, but overly soggy soil will suffocate the roots and cause the leaves to yellow. The soil mixture must drain well yet hold enough moisture so the plant will not dry out. Generally, you should thoroughly saturate a potted cyclamen once a week. Maybe less than once a week in a well-built raised landscape bed.

If the plant is allowed to dry out, it will quickly wilt. Its leaves and flowers will bend over the sides of the pot. If this happens, don't despair.

Using newspaper, the same way a florist wraps a bouquet of flowers, surround the pot and carefully prop the stems into an upright position. Tape the newspaper to secure it in place. Put the pot in a kitchen sink and allow a very slow stream of water to thoroughly saturate the entire plant. Before long, the stems will absorb enough water to hold them up, and the newspaper can be removed. Don't wait too long to try this remedy, however, or the plant will die back and be forced to grow new leaves. That means giving up flowering until the next cyclamen season.

Feed a mature plant every two weeks with a good flower food at one-half strength. A newly planted tuber SHOULD NOT be fertilized until at least 3-4 inches of new growth appear. Then, begin feeding every two weeks. If you're like me, a once-a-season feeding with a slow-release blooming plant food will suffice.

And here's one important warning: Cyclamen are considered poisonous. So, keep small children and pets totally away from these plants. Or don't use them at all.

Help Spread Good Cheer This Christmas

santaletterThe U.S. Postal Service and Ace Hardware have partnered to make this Christmas very merry for children in need through their Letters to Santa project. Hundreds of thousands of children of all ages send letters to "Santa Claus, North Pole." Most, however, remain in the area they were mailed where postal “elves” scan them for those that express serious need. Those special messages are passed on to organization and individuals who have volunteered to help fill the requests.

If you'd like to "adopt" a letter, drop by the in-store Post Office at any participating Ace Hardware location and select one or more. Present a valid photo ID, fill out a quick and easy form, and be on your way. Then, fulfill the child's wish with the requested gift and return the letter and gift to the same Ace Hardware Post Office. The package must be mail-ready and have sufficient postage applied.

The program is designed to protect adopter and adoptee privacy, keeping both anonymous.

Check out ABC 13's news coverage of Letters to Santa in Samica Knight's interview with Dionne Montigue of the Postal Service and Ace Hardware's Ron Williams or Jeff Ehling's story on Letters to Santa at Ace Hardware.

Participating Ace Hardware Stores

Pearland Ace
2027 N Main St.

Langham Creek
18020 FM 529

Kilgore's Ace
1637 E. Main
League City

Lone Star Ace
2111 Rayford Road

Central Ace
11676 Beamer Road

Gateway Ace Hardware & Rental   
6860 Telephone Road
Central Ace
2422 Bay Area Blvd.

Atascocita Ace
18409 Timber Forest Drive

Central Ace
13140 Louetta Road

Ace Hardware of The Woodlands
10720 Kuykendahl Road
The Woodlands

Chamberlin Ace
9440 Hwy. 6 South

600 N. Sam Houston Parkway West