If you ask me, one of the highlights of December is when the cyclamen arrive at the nursery. Juxtaposed with the traditional reds and greens, their colorful blooms lend a bright hue to the holiday season. That said, there’s just one drawback. Over time, the flowers often start to droop and the leaves may even turn yellow.
Still, caring for cyclamen doesn’t have to be stressful. All it takes is an understanding of where the plants come from, and why temperature is key to their success indoors.
CYCLAMEN ARE MEDITERRANEAN
Yes, they may look like locals, but cyclamen are actually native to the Mediterranean, a climate characterized by hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. The name comes from the Latin cyclaminos (meaning circle), a reference to the shape of the plant’s tuber.
In their natural environment, cyclamen typically prefer sheltered spots under trees or within rock crevices. Although there are both summer- and winter-blooming species, most flower in the winter and die off in the spring.
Wild cyclamen growing in a rock crevice
Much of North America, though, is ill-suited to plants that bloom in the winter. As a result, cyclamen are usually sold as houseplants. And of all the varieties sold, the most popular is Cyclamen persicum. This species, bred specifically for indoor use, is the parent of most of the florists’ varieties on the market today.
Florists’ cyclamen, C. persicum
WHY WE LIKE THEM
There’s no doubt that a cyclamen’s biggest draw is its vibrant flowers. Held aloft on long, delicate stems, each blossom has five petals that either bend upwards or out. Common colors are pink, deep cherry red, lavender and white, although these days, new hybrids include hot pink. And the petals of one recent introduction called Stargazer face downwards.
Yet, beautiful flowers aren’t the only appeal of this tender species. The leaves are equally showy, and just like the flowers, grow on a stem all of their own. Color and shape vary greatly across varieties. Some leaves look like ivy while others are rounded. And many are heart-shaped with a pointed tip.
Even the undersides of the leaves are striking, ranging in color from deep green to a rich red or purple.
The distinctive leaves of florists’ cyclamen.
CYCLAMEN CARE: THE FOUR ESSENTIALS
So how do we get our cyclamen to thrive indoors? It’s all about the temperature, followed by ample light, proper watering and regular feeding.
Here are the four most important things you need to know.
1. KEEP THINGS COOL
Remember, in their native habitat, cyclamen flower in the winter in humid, cool environments. This means that if your house temperature is over 68° F during the day, your plant may start to decline. You’ll know when this is happening because your cyclamen will tell you. When the temperature is too high, its leaves will start to turn yellow and its flowers will droop.
To avoid this, place your cyclamen in a cool location (but away from cold drafts). And make sure to keep it far from heat sources like radiators.
2. PROVIDE LOTS OF NATURAL LIGHT
The Mediterranean region is known for its abundant light. It follows that cyclamen like that, too. Place your plant in a well-lit spot — a couple of hours of sunlight a day is ideal. But remember, in their native habitat, cyclamen prefer dappled shade or the shelter of rocky crevices. Never place them in direct sunlight.
3. WATER WHEN THE SOIL IS DRY
Like all flowering houseplants, cyclamen are sensitive to both over- and under-watering. Water your plant only when the top of the soil is dry to the touch, taking care to avoid the leaves. Wetting the leaves can cause rot.
After saturating your plant completely, make sure that all excess water has drained from the bottom of the pot. No plant likes to sit in standing water.
3. FEED THE FLOWERS
Unlike plants in the wild, container plants must look to their pot to meet all of their needs. Feed your plant every one to two months with a water-soluble fertilizer at half strength. But don’t overdo it. Too much fertilizer will produce more leaves, but diminish blooms.
GETTING YOUR CYCLAMEN TO REBLOOM
After blooming, cyclamen go into a dormant state. In their native habitat, winter-blooming species sleep for the summer. However, if you’re interested in coaxing your houseplant to rebloom indoors, allow the leaves to die back and stop watering. Place the plant in a cool, dark place, remove any dead foliage and let it sit for two months.
Once your cyclamen has finished dormancy, take it out of storage and begin watering it again (following the same regimen as above). When the leaves start to regrow, resume normal cyclamen care.