By: Sandy Feather ©2009
Penn State Extension
Q. I received a cyclamen plant for the holidays. It is a very striking plant, with the most lovely and unusual flowers. I have never had one before, and I hope you can tell me how to care for it.
A. The florists' cyclamen grown for holiday plants are derived from Cyclamen persicum, which is native to the Mediterranean. Their unusual flowers with strongly recurved petals come in shades of white, pink, mauve and purple. Those flowers, coupled with attractive silver-marbled round or heart-shaped foliage have earned cyclamen increasing popularity as holiday plants. Cyclamen grow from tubers. In their native habitat, cyclamen go dormant during the hot, dry summer months, then begin to grow again as the weather becomes cooler and rain becomes more plentiful.
Cyclamen have interesting recurved petals
They are a little challenging to grow as houseplants, because cyclamen prefer a cooler temperature regimen than people generally find comfortable. They perform best with daytime temperatures no higher than 68°F and night temperatures between 50 and 55°F. You may have to move them to an unused room where the heat is turned off to achieve those cool night temperatures.
If you maintain daytime temperatures above 70°F, the flowers will pass very quickly and the plant will go dormant, cutting short the time you have to enjoy its striking beauty. If you have a bright, slightly drafty window that other houseplants disdain, that might be the ideal location for your cyclamen. When they are actively growing and blooming, cyclamen prefer bright light. They do well in an east-facing window most of the year, but during the gray days of winter, a southern exposure provides better sun.
It is important to keep cyclamen constantly moist, but never soggy wet. That would cause the tubers to rot. Wait until the soil surface is dry to the touch before watering, but never allow the plant to dry to the point of wilting. When you water, try not to get the water right on top of the tubers themselves, especially where the stems and leaves emerge from the tuber. If the pot is wrapped in decorative foil, take the pot out of the foil and move it to a sink. Water thoroughly, until water pours out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Allow the pot to drain thoroughly before replacing the foil wrap and returning it to its usual spot. Allowing cyclamen - or any plant - to stand in water that has collected in the decorative foil (or saucer) is an invitation to root rot and premature death.
White cyclamen in a mixed pansy planting
You can use a water-soluble fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro or one of the Peter's formulations for flowering plants. Mix it at half-strength, and apply it every three or four weeks while your cyclamen is blooming. Avoid the temptation to over-fertilize, lest you force all foliage and fewer flowers. If you can provide the right light, temperature and watering practices, your cyclamen should bloom and brighten your home for two to three months. Remove dead flowers as they fade by gently tugging at the stalk. It should pull out easily. If it does not, give it a day or two and try again. This avoids damaging the tuber or pulling out healthy leaves.
Generally, florists' cyclamen are grown to be enjoyed through the holidays, and then discarded once they stop blooming. The same is true of many seasonal plants such as poinsettias and florists' azaleas. They cannot be planted outdoors because they are not winter hardy in our climate, and it can be a challenge to make them bloom again under normal household conditions. But if you are the kind of gardener who enjoys the challenge of getting last year's poinsettia bloom again, you can keep your cyclamen to enjoy again, too.
Lovely pink cyclamen at Phipps Conservatory
When it stops blooming, the foliage will begin to yellow and die, signaling that it is going dormant. Quit watering at that point, and move the pot into a cool place, but one that will not freeze - perhaps the interior wall of an unheated integral garage. After the foliage all dies (which can take up to two months) gently remove the dead leaves, again being careful not to damage the tuber(s). If the plant appears crowded in its original pot, you can move it into a one a size larger. Avoid choosing a much larger container, because the larger soil volume can keep the tubers too wet for too long a time. An ideal potting mix for cyclamen retains moisture yet drains well. A mixture of peat and perlite works very nicely. Be sure to replant your cyclamen so that half of the tuber protrudes above the potting mix.
In the summer, place the pot outdoors in a sheltered location where it receives morning sun, but shade from the hot afternoon sun. It is a good idea to protect it from rain too, at least until it starts actively growing again. Once new leaves begin to grow, water and fertilize as normal. Take your cyclamen indoors in early September to protect it from a killing frost. Place it in the brightest window you have, and it will begin to set flower buds. This re-bloom may not be as spectacular as it was when you received it – after all, it was grown under ideal conditions that are difficult to duplicate in most homes.