Q: I was given a flowering plant with pink flowers that look like falling stars. The flowers are on stalks that extend about 4 to 5 inches above the plant. The plant also has attractive leaves with silvery markings. Any idea what this is and how to take care of it?
N. S. of Belleville
A: The timing of this gift with your description indicates that this is probably a cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum). There are six main types of the large plant: Triumph series, which are the largest, about 12 inches in height; the Rex series, which are compact with leaves boldly marbled in silver; the Decora has pastel- colored flowers and leaves edged in silver; the Sweetheart series with fragrant flowers; the Firmament series with extremely large flowers; and the Ruffled series, which has fringed flowers.
There is also an intermediate size called the Turbo/Laser series. These plants are 9 inches tall and have 35 to 40 flowers blooming at one time.
There are also miniatures that grow to only 6 inches tall. There are four in that series: Mirabelle has extremely small leaves; Tiny Mites has extremely small flowers in a wide range of colors; Puppet has scented flowers — each color flower produces a different scent; and finally the Kaori series, which has scented flowers with a distinct darker eye at the lower part of the flower.
These plants can bloom for months if the air temperature stays at 60 degrees or slightly lower. They should be grown in bright light but not direct sunlight. A north window is ideal. Keep them away from hot dry air such as near a heat register. If treated properly, they can bloom for several months. But in the wrong conditions, they will last only a few weeks.
Do not overwater these plants as the bulb will rot. After flowering has finished, you can slowly wean them off water for a dormant period. In the fall, slowly begin to add water again to bring them out of dormancy.
In the early 1900s, this was a very popular plant because it thrived near leaky, drafty windows. It was also one of the most popular plants to be given around Valentine’s Day.
But watch out for the cyclamen mite. This small pest can be found on the undersides of the leaves, causing leaves to curl and stems to twist. If you find these little pests, it is best to throw away the plant.
Q: The handles of my gardening tools have cracked or splintering wood. Is there a way to prevent this from happening?
C. H. of rural Washington County
A: When wooden handles on shovels, rakes and hoes begin to dry out, they may split. When you notice handles becoming lighter in color or you notice ridges forming on handles, rub boiled linseed oil over the entire length of the handle. Do this in late fall or during the winter as this oil will stay sticky for about four to five weeks. Usually you are not using them for gardening as this time.
This oil can be found in the paint section in a hardware store.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do it now:
- Be alert for snakes. This year on Groundhog Day some were already found out of hibernation because of the mild winter.