Despite their diminutive size the cyclamen is a popular and reliable way of adding color to winter and early spring gardens. Tiny plants, often reaching no more than 8 inches high, hardy cyclamens are distinctive woodland perennials. They do best growing in shady areas or forest style planting schemes.
There are also tropical cyclamens. These are also known as the florists variety and are often given as gifts during the festive period. These are best grown as houseplants
Unusually for flowering plants the often sweet scented blooms open before the plants foliage emerges. Their flowers coming in shades of pink, red and white reach up to the skies. Below these flowers sits heart shaped patterned foliage.
Despite their small size, these plants make a colorful, fragrant impact on any space. While indoor varieties are commonly given as a gift during the festive season, outdoor varieties add early season color to the garden.
Adding further to the interest, the spent flowers give way to seed pods. As the pods ripen it buries itself in the ground, like a tiny corkscrew. This unusual method of self-seeding allows the plants to steadily spread through the garden.
Before we discuss how to grow cyclamens we will look at some of the different varieties available.
Alpinium varieties flower in early spring. Their usually pink-purple flowers are sweetly scented. Another sweetly scented variety is Cilicium. These produce purple or pink flowers during the autumn months.
Flowering from January until March one of the hardiest varieties is Coum. This variety produces blooms in shades of pink, purple and white that sit above heart shaped foliage. Purpurascens is another hardy variety. It produces variegated foliage and delicate pink flowers during the summer months. Mirabile is not the hardiest variety but it can survive mild frosts. Its scented white or pink flowers sit above broad heart-shaped foliage.
As well as their attractive flowers, the foliage of the cyclamen is also of interest. Many varieties produce foliage that is patterned or variegated.
Hybrid varieties are also available. These tend to have a longer flowering period. Scentsation is an open-pollinated variety. Flowering in pink and red shades the plant also produces a strong fragrance. The Sierra Series is another popular hybrid range. These produce large flowers, up to 3 inches in size, in shades of purple, red, pink and white.
How to Grow Cyclamen Plants
Cyclamens are largely easy to care for. In the right conditions. Once established, they will return year after year, providing early season color and interest.
Hardy cyclamens do best in partial or deep shade positions. They also prefer rich, well-draining soil.
Depending on the variety gardeners not in USDA zones 5-9 may have more success growing cyclamens as part of a container garden. This method enables you to grow them either as indoor plants or outdoor plants that can be sheltered during the coldest periods.
After flowering the plants will die back, entering a period of dormancy. This is perfectly natural. It is also vital for cyclamens, allowing them to gather and store energy before returning, just as vibrantly, the following year.
How you choose to grow these flowers affects when they become dormant. Houseplants, especially those kept in warm conditions quickly fade and become completely dormant. Others in cooler climates will be slower to fade. Some may only become partially dormant.
Usually cyclamen flower during late winter or early spring. Plants growing in greenhouses or indoors can be forced to flower earlier, during the holiday season.
Cyclamens prefer shady positions where they are protected from exposure to extreme heat and light. Overly warm or bright conditions can cause the plants to either enter dormancy or emerge from their dormant state too quickly. This can cause long term damage and may lead to the plants failing completely.
Positioning Your Cyclamen
While they dislike full sun positions, cyclamens do appreciate bright, indirect light. This is particularly important during the winter months when the plants are at their most active.
During the warm summer months make sure the plants are cool. A dark or partial shade position with good air circulation is ideal. Indoor plants are best positioned near a bright south, east or west facing window.
If you are planting cyclamens in flower beds or borders enrich the soil before planting. This can be done by working in organic matter such as homemade compost. If you are planting in containers a soilless potting mix is ideal. Cyclamens will also thrive in a general purpose soil mix as long as it is loose and well draining.
Mulching with an organic material can benefit cyclamens in a number of ways. During the warmest months, mulch helps to keep the tuber of the plant cool. It also prevents too much light from reaching the plant, allowing it to remain dormant. Applying an organic mulch helps the soil to retain moisture. This means that the soil doesn’t quickly dry out, helping your plants to remain hydrated.
Planting Cyclamen Bulbs
Despite its self-seeding habit, cyclamen is rarely propagated from seed. It is more commonly purchased as a grown plant. Alternatively you can grow the plants from tubers.
Plant bulbs or tubers in late summer or early fall.
The soil should be well worked and enriched with organic matter such as homemade compost. Plant tubers so that their top sits just below the soil’s surface. Space the tubers 6-10 inches apart. Mulch the soil after planting.
Potting Cyclamen Plants
It is a good idea to repot plants as soon after purchasing as possible. Purchased plants are often in containers for an extended period of time causing their roots to compact.
Repotting allows you to check the health of the plant as well as providing it with a suitable, clean pot filled with a good potting medium.
You will need to repot your cyclamens every two years. This helps to encourage the plants to maintain a good, healthy growth habit. The best time to repot cyclamens is during the summer when the plants are dormant.
Repot cyclamens into containers that are either the same size or slightly larger than the container currently holding your cyclamen. Your chosen container should be clean and have drainage holes in the bottom.
Half fill the new container with fresh potting soil. General purpose soil can also be used.
Regularly re-pot plants growing in containers. This helps to keep them healthy. It also prevents the roots from becoming compacted. Root systems that run out of room to spread can cause plants to become stunted. It may also prevent flowering.
Lift the tuber out of its old container. Carefully brush away any old soil that clings to the tuber. Be careful not to damage the tuber as you do this.
Position the tuber in the center of the new container.
Fill the container almost to the top with soil. The top of the tuber should sit just above the soil line.
Place the cyclamen in a dry, shaded position until the end of summer. Resume watering in September. New growth will soon emerge.
Cyclamen Plant Care
Once established cyclamen plants are refreshingly easy to care for.
Watering and Feeding
Water when the plants are actively growing. This period begins as new growth emerges. Water only when the top inch of soil feels dry. The easiest way to gauge this is by sticking your finger into the soil.
Water the soil well. If the plants are growing in containers continue watering until water begins to drain from the bottom of the container.
Always water around the plant. Don’t water the crown of the plant. An overly damp crown can cause the plant to rot or become diseased.
Continue watering until the plant begins to fade. This marks the beginning of its dormant period. Cease watering when the plant starts to fade. Allow the soil and plant to dry out for two or three months.
It is important not to get the soil wet while the plant is dormant. This can cause the tuber to rot. Dormant plants that are left outside should be protected from as much rainwater as possible.
Regularly water plants when they are actively growing. Remember to water the soil around the plant, not the plant itself. Wet tubers can develop rot or disease. Cease watering when the plants become dormant.
When the plants are flowering and producing foliage you can apply a low-nitrogen fertilizer. A liquid version is easily diluted and incorporated into your watering routine.
Fertilize no more than once a month. Apply the fertilizer at half its recommended strength. Over fertilization can lead to cyclamen plants struggling to re-bloom. While organic fertilizers are reliable you can also make your own plant feed. These are just as effective as commercial products and come with the bonus of allowing you to know exactly what you are putting in your soil.
Cyclamen plants don’t require fertilization during their dormant periods.
Temperature and Humidity
Hardy cyclamen varieties dislike extreme heat. They also struggle in drafty or windy positions and if the air is overly dry. Their natural environment averages 50-65 ℉. Select a position that best offers similar temperatures.
If growing as a houseplant avoid daytime temperatures over 68 ℉ or nighttime temperatures over 50 ℉. These conditions are too warm and can cause the plants to struggle, enter dormancy too early or die. The first indication that the temperature is too warm is a yellowing of foliage. Flowers also fade quickly after blooming if the plants are too hot.
While hardy varieties dislike extreme heat, houseplant varieties thrive in humid conditions. Remember to check the label or plant information when choosing your cyclamen. This information will help you to provide the ideal conditions for your chosen plant.
Cyclamens sold as houseplants are tropical. They shouldn’t be exposed to temperatures below 40 ℉. Hardy varieties do best in USDA Zones 5-9. However you should always check the label or plant information before purchasing to see its specific requirements.
Florists or tropical cyclamen plants like high humidity levels, especially when they are actively growing and flowering. Place plants growing in containers on trays filled with pebbles or gravel and water. This helps to raise humidity levels. Just make sure that the bottom of the container isn’t sitting in the water. This can cause the roots to become overly wet and rot.
If you place your plants outside during the summer months remember to bring them back in before the weather begins to cool. This should be long before your first predicted frost date. Ideally it should be while you can still keep your house windows open without feeling too cold or uncomfortable.
Prune spent flowers away to encourage more flowers to emerge. This is best done by cutting the stem near the base of the plant. If you allow the spent flowers to remain seed heads may emerge. If these aren’t removed the plants will self-seed and begin to spread.
Remove any yellow or withered leaves from the plant. This helps to keep plants healthy and appealing to look at.
Cyclamens can be grown from seed but this process is time consuming. It takes at least a year before cyclamen seedlings will begin to flower.
An easier method of propagation is to divide the tubers. Both houseplants and hardy cyclamen plants can be divided. However hardy varieties have a better survival rate.
Florist or houseplant varieties should be divided in the early summer, after April, when the plant is dormant. Hardy varieties should be divided in early fall before new growth emerges.
To divide the plants cut away any remaining foliage. Carefully dig up or remove the cyclamen bulbs and wipe away any remaining soil.
With a sharp, clean knife cut the bulb. Each section should have a nub, similar to the eye of a potato. This is important, it is from these nubs that foliage will emerge.
Plant your separated tubers either in flower beds or new containers with the nubs slightly above soil level. Water around the tuber, don’t water the tuber itself. At this stage the plants are susceptible to root rot.
Caring for Outdoor Plants
In the fall remove dying foliage from the plants. This can be done as part of the garden fall transition process your garden undergoes at the end of every summer.
Lightly mulch around the plant. This helps to protect it from the cold winter temperatures. It also helps to keep the plants covered so that they don’t receive too much light.
Organic mulches help to protect the tuber while it is dormant. As the mulch breaks down it enriches the soil, giving the plants a further boost as they begin to grow again.
After Flower Care
After flowers become spent, cyclamen plants enter their dormant state. This sees the leaves yellowing before falling away from the plant.
Hardy cyclamen plants go through this process naturally without the need for any intervention on your part.
Cyclamens growing as houseplants may require some extra intervention to guarantee re-flowering.
As the plant begins to die back, cease watering. Place the plant in a cool, dark place. You can help by removing the dying foliage if you wish but be careful not to damage the tuber.
Keep your cyclamen plants in the dark for two months.
With the proper care and attention cyclamen plants will survive their dormant period, re-emerging to flower again. To help the plants survive this period aim to keep them as dry as possible. They will also appreciate a dark or semi dark position.
Following this period the plant will be ready to re-emerge from its dormancy. Water the plant, making sure to soak the soil thoroughly. To ensure the soil is well watered place the container in a deep saucer or dish of water. Leave the container there for an hour, allowing the soil to absorb as much moisture as it requires. Allow excess water to drain away and place in a lighter position.
Soon foliage or new growth will emerge. Once this is visible resume normal cyclamen care.
Common Pests and Problems
Healthy cyclamen plants are usually problem free. Spider mites can attack house plants. Infestations are best cured by raising the humidity levels around the plant. Spider mites prefer the dry and won’t survive in humid conditions. Wiping the foliage of the plant with a damp cloth can also remove spider mites.
Another problem for houseplants can be fungus gnats. These like wet soil. While irritating they rarely damage the plant. A yellow sticky trap can be used to control the pests.
Mice or squirrels can dig up and disturb the tubers of hardy varieties.
Cyclamen grey mould can affect even healthy plants if they are growing in overly humid conditions. This can cause a fuzzy grey mould to appear on the plants causing foliage and stems to collapse. Chemical controls are available. Adopting good growing practices such as maintaining good air circulation and not overcrowding plants will help to keep plants healthy.
Flower drop is a sign that your watering routine is inadequate. The plant is either too dry or too wet. Check the soil level, a soil moisture gauge, can help. If the soil is dry water the plants well. If the soil is wet cease watering until the plant has dried out. When you resume watering, amend your routine to water less frequently.
Despite their delicate appearance, if cared for properly, these are pleasingly robust and easy to cultivate plants. As well as fragrant, colorful flowers, the plants also provide interest by way of their variegated foliage.
An attractive plant, cyclamen plants are a reliable garden addition, especially in shady areas. They are also a great way to provide early season color. They are also popular houseplants and can be used in a container garden.
Whichever variety you grow you will find that they are vigorous, pleasingly robust and easy to care for. Despite their delicate appearance, cyclamens will reliably add color and fragrance to your winter home or garden year after year.