Flowering Cyclamen plants start showing up for sale as houseplants around the winter holidays. With flowers in shades of pink, red, or white, you can find them blooming on shelves in garden centers and even grocery stores. Even the foliage is attractive, often having silver marbling on the top sides of the leaves. The entire plant, when in flower, reaches only about 8 inches high. Cyclamen make excellent houseplants, blooming for weeks and requiring very little care.
Cyclamen is a small but diverse genus of plants. Many species are hardy, generally in USDA Hardiness Zones 7 and above. But the one we are talking about here, Cyclamen persicum, is often seen for sale throughout the fall and winter, in less hardy zones, as a houseplant. Cyclamen persicum aptly referred to as the Florist’s Cyclamen has sweet-scented small (½ to 3/4 inch) flowers that are produced on long stems, held upright above the foliage. It is a tuberous perennial with heart-shaped leaves common to cyclamen.
Florist cyclamen can be grown outside, but it is questionable whether it will survive if temps go below 50 degrees F. / 10 degrees C. It is a native of the Mediterranean and North Africa. When grown outside, expect Cyclamen persicum to bloom in late winter or early spring. Greenhouse cyclamen are usually forced into bloom sometime around the holiday season into late winter.
- When leaves are present, the plant is actively growing. Water whenever the soil feels dry about an inch below the surface. Avoid getting water on the crown of the plant, which could cause it to rot.
- As the flowers begin to fade, gradually allow the plant to dry out for 2-3 months. It's going into a dormant stage (see below) and any excess water will cause the tuber to rot.
- New growth will probably start to appear sometime in September. At this point, resume regular watering and feeding. If you moved your plant outdoors for the summer, bring it back indoors before the weather turns cold. A good rule of thumb is to bring it inside while it's still comfortable with the windows open.
Humidity: High humidity, especially during winter, is crucial. Keep the cyclamen on a tray of water with a layer of pebbles or something else to form a shelf for the cyclamen pot to sit on. Do not let the cyclamen itself sit in the water or the roots will rot.
Fertilizer: Feed with a low-nitrogen fertilizer every couple of weeks while in full leaf.
Light: Give cyclamen bright, indirect light in the winter. While your plant is dormant during the summer, keep it out of bright light. You can move it to a shady spot outdoors in summer. Just make certain it is not getting too much water.
Temperature: Cyclamen do not like extreme heat, but they are not frost-hardy. Do not expose it to temperatures below 50 degrees F. Also avoid drafts as well as hot, dry air.
- Cyclamen generally go dormant for the summer. They don’t like the lack of rain and excess heat, so they take a siesta. By April cyclamen start getting tired and the leaves will begin to yellow and die. Exactly when they go fully dormant depends on their growing conditions. If they are houseplants and the heat is kept high, they’ll peter out more quickly. On the other hand, some don’t ever appear to go fully dormant.
- During the summer, dormant cyclamen can be kept indoors, in a cool, dark spot with good air circulation or outdoors, in a shady spot. If you put yours outdoors, be sure to turn the pot on its side to keep the rain out. If the soil gets too wet during dormancy, the tuber will rot. A little water isn’t going to do any harm, but you don’t want the soil to remain wet.
- You can re-pot with fresh soil and a slightly larger pot while the plant is dormant.
- Begin watering again in September. By then you’ll probably be seeing new growth starting.
- Make sure you bring the pot back indoors before a frost.
There are many wonderful cyclamen hybrids available and since they stay in bloom for a long period, you can choose your plant while the flowers are open and know exactly what you are getting. Some notable varieties to look for are:
- Sierra Series: Larger flowers (2-3 inches) in white, pink, salmon, scarlet, lilac and purple
- 'Scentsation': An open-pollinated variety with a strong fragrance. Flowers in pinks and reds.
- 'Victoria': An open-pollinated variety that has ruffled white flowers with red mouths and margins.