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GROWING CYCLAMEN AND SPINACH
There is a special vegetable and an outstanding flower that should be planted in the garden this month. They are spinach and cyclamen.
Spinach transplants are available in area nurseries right now. The vegetable can be used fresh in salads, boiled as a green, and used in recipes such as quiche. It is one of the most nutritious vegetables available. High in iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber, and other nutrients, spinach is a health food par excellence. If you or your children thought spinach is not tasty, try it fresh from your own South Texas garden with a favorite dressing.
Prepare the vegetable garden for spinach transplants by incorporating 2 to 3 inches of compost into the soil and then spreading 1 cup of slow-release lawn fertilizer over every 50 sq. ft. of bed. Spinach planted every 2 ft. will fill the row. If you have drip irrigation lines, place the transplants on an emitter so they can be easily watered every two days until they become established (10 days).
Fertilize the plants every four weeks with 1 cup of fertilizer side dressed along every 10 feet of row. If you harvest the spinach one leaf at a time, as you need it, and never remove more than one-third of the leaves at any one picking, the plants will produce until the end of April or when the weather gets warm.
Coho spinach, the variety available in San Antonio, is a transplant resistant to white rust, the major spinach disease. Insects are not a major problem. Slug and snail bait works to keep the pill bugs and slugs under control.
Cyclamen has a leaf that is nearly as lush as the spinach and it also should be planted in November, but that is where the similarity ends. Cyclamen is an all-star winter blooming plant for the shade. You won’t eat it, but you will admire cyclamen. The blooms are red, white, pink, or maroon. The flowers stand above the attractive 3-inch heart-shaped leaves on stalks that reach about 1-foot tall. Unless the weather gets extremely cold, cyclamen will have blooms every day all winter until April. Use cyclamen as specimen plants or massed as a single color or in a combination of white and any of the other colors.
Cyclamen are not inexpensive plants. Four-inch plants may cost $6. They are very beautiful so worth the investment, but the key to reducing costs is to over-summer a portion of your plants. Cyclamen does not like heat so the task is not always easy.
Some gardeners remove the roots from the garden in late April or early May to store in a paper sack in an air-conditioned room in the house. I have never had much luck with that tactic. I also tried leaving the plants in a container and stored them in the house without watering them. That tactic was also unsuccessful. The most effective tactic so far has been to grow the cyclamen in containers sunk in the flowerbed all winter and then plant around them in the summer with caladiums or other shade-loving plants. It also works to store the containerized plants in a shady corner of the yard where they can be watered once every two weeks. Replant those that live into the flowerbed at this time of the year and be generous with the soluble fertilizer (Peters, Schulz, Miracle Grow, etc.) and Osmocote. The new plants you purchase at the nursery are in full bloom and pumped up with nutrients, so your over-summered plants will require some special attention to catch up.
Cyclamen are available in 4-inch containers on up. The larger the plant, of course, the more the cost. I like to buy 4-inch plants and then step them up to gallon containers before placing them in the garden. The cost of your initial plant is less and it has some room to grow.
Most of us first experienced cyclamen as a houseplant. Up to a few years ago I characterized it as a short-lived houseplant, but I was wrong. Cyclamen will live a number of years and bloom almost continuously if they are watered faithfully when the soil surface dries to half an inch, is fertilized every three or four weeks with soluble fertilizer, and placed in a window with morning sun. In the air-conditioned house cyclamen is much more tolerant of light than they are outside. In my yard the best cyclamen bed is on the west side of the house shaded by a 40-foot live oak. A little dappled sun reaches the plants for a few hours each day.