Express-News Weekly Column
Saturday, November 17, 2001
Submitted by Calvin Finch, Ph.D., Director of Conservation,
SAWS, and Horticulturist
Do you have a shady spot near the door or patio
that would really benefit by a cool weather blooming plant?
Some folks would suggest that you are "out of luck",
there is no good blooming plant to provide winter color in the
shade. Wrong! There are two spectacular blooming plants for
the shade in the wintertime: cyclamen and primula (primrose).
We know cyclamen as an indoor plant that is often
given as a gift to someone who is ill. We enjoy the white, pink,
or red orchid-like blooms for a few weeks, the handsome lush
foliage for a few more weeks, and then toss the plant in the
More and more gardeners, however, are recognizing
the value of cyclamen as a cool weather bloomer for the shade.
Planted in a container or well-drained garden soil, cyclamen
will provide bloom everyday through the winter. They can tolerate
near freezing temperatures for a brief time and can be covered
if cold weather is more severe.
Purchase cyclamen as 4-inch or larger transplants
in bloom at your favorite nursery. One plant will fill an 8
to 10 inch container. Use high quality potting soil fortified
with osmocote and fertilized with soluble fertilizer every two
Cyclamen are not xeriscape plants. They must be
watered twice per week. Mulch the container with cocoa shells,
leaves, or fine bark to reduce evaporation. The cyclamen will
perform well until hot weather arrives in April or May. Some
gardeners have success in over-summering their roots. The plants
are expensive, so it would be desirable to keep them more than
Charles Martelli, the manager of Milbergers, recommends
that the containers with the cyclamen roots be set on their
side in a shady corner of the yard until September where they
are turned upright and you begin watering them again. I have
had limited success with this method and am looking for a better
Primula, also called primrose, grow much like
pansies. They are relatively short plants (8 to 12 inches) and
form clumps that are covered with blooms until hot weather arrives.
Primula, however, requires shade to survive and offer more striking
bloom colors than pansies. Primula is available in red, yellow,
white, blue, and several bicolors. The blooms bring to mind
the bright colors that circus clowns use on their face. There
is no pastel option with primulas; this is serious color.
Plant and care for primula in the same manner
as cyclamen, with an added requirement. Primula is a favorite
food of slugs, snails, and pill bugs. Be generous with the slug
bait. Refresh the bait every week if you use the flakes and
every three weeks if you can find the pellets. Organic gardeners
may want to try beer traps. Sink a plastic cup into the soil
every 4 to 5 feet around the garden. Fill the cups half full
with beer. The slugs, snails, and pill bugs will leap to their
death in the beer. Replace the beer bait when the cup fills
with the pests.
Despite claims to the contrary, cheap or even
stale beer seems to work as well as good beer. I am suspicious
that gardeners who have a favorite beer for slug traps make
the selection based on their taste preferences. Such gardeners
have been known to drink as much beer as is used as bait to
protect pansies or primula.