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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

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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 garbage.

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 weeks.

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 one year.

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 one.

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.