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Cyclamens provide companion to poinsettias

Those of you who have never grown a cyclamen are missing one of the great pleasures in cool-season gardening. The cyclamen is one of the most popular Christmas plants in Europe, but it lost its place on the pedestal to the poinsettia here in the United States. That's OK because we have room for all Christmas plants.

You simply cannot beat the cyclamen for the number of flowers it produces and its long period of bloom. It comes in the traditional holiday colors of red and white, but the shades of pink and purple will leave you mesmerized as well.

Many times we don't appreciate the contribution of foliage to the overall beauty of the plant. Cyclamen is one example of a plant whose foliage contributes significantly to the plant's beauty. Most cyclamen you see for sale have some pattern of silver or gray variegation in their heart-shaped leaves.

Another thing I like about the cyclamen is their ability to tolerate cool conditions. Cyclamen love temperatures from 40 to 60 degrees. That is the average temperature range outside during the holidays for many parts of the country. This means the pot near the front door where a geranium bloomed all summer now can be filled with cyclamen for Christmas.

Most think about using them indoors, and with a little care, your cyclamen still will be blooming as Valentine's Day approaches. In a recent column, I talked about cyclamen making a great combination with poinsettias. There are so many great choices for cyclamen companions that will really stretch your imagination and make you wonder why you never thought of them before.

I'll start simply. Just like the Diamond Frost euphorbia partners well with poinsettias, it also is incredible with cyclamen.

One of the showiest partnerships can be created using Goldilocks lysimachia. This will work with any color of cyclamen flower as you get the real contrast from the lime green foliage of Goldilocks that tumbles outward from the container.

Another stunning companionship can be made with variegated forms of the common sage Salvia officinalis. It's not creeping like Goldilocks but makes a great mounding, slightly spreading partner.

Lastly, consider ajuga as a partner. Some of the highly variegated forms could be a clash of variegation, but some of the chocolate-colored leaf selections provide just the right amount of pizzazz you are looking for.

Keep the cyclamen evenly moist but never soggy. When watering, I like to use a little can with a spout to place the water around the edge of the container without watering the crown or center of the plant directly.

I mentioned earlier that cyclamen may very well be blooming for Valentine's Day, but honestly, it's not uncommon for them to bloom from the holidays through April. This winter seems to be a little unusual, so if yours is on a porch or patio and bone-chilling temperatures are in the forecast, set the cyclamen inside until temperatures moderate. This usually happens rather quickly in zones 7-10.

Poinsettias may be the premier holiday plant, but if you are not growing cyclamen, too, you are missing out.