The delicate flower hovering over the leaves like a flock of butterflies was just the start. Everything about this dainty plant drew me in: the slender and graceful stems, the heart shaped foliage, the lovely tracery of silver veins and variegations on the leaves.
There were flowers in candy pink, scarlet red, coral pink, violet-purple, pale pink kissed with darker pink, and pristine white. Could they possibly be fragrant, too? Faint aromas of lemon drifted up in affirmation. And that was the start of my love affair with florist’s cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum).
It looked like a fussy houseplant with its orchid-like refinement and elegance. I took one home to try it out and discovered that, for the most part, cyclamen are easy to grow. Here in NC, we mostly enjoy them as winter companions bringing blooms into the house when there are few to be had outdoors. They have a long bloom time, typically flowering through winter and into mid-spring.
If you observe two key cultural habits, you’ll be growing cyclamen like nobody’s business. The first is to put the plant’s pot into a deep saucer and water it by pouring water into the saucer instead of watering the crown of the plant. Cyclamen don’t like to be over watered, or under watered for that matter, and don’t do well when the crown stays wet.
I know; that does make them sound fussy when I said they weren’t, but it’s simpler than it sounds. Just water into the saucer when the soil surface feels dry, and then pour off any excess water after 10 minutes.
The second key to success with cyclamen is cool temperature. Next to the heater vent is not the place for them. Ideal temperatures are between 40°F and 50°F at night and less than 68°F during the day. If you keep them above 70°F inside a humidity-deficient home, they will decline over time. I find that a north or east-facing windowsill away from heater vents is a great spot for cyclamen. They like the cooler temps and bright, indirect light near the window. If you don’t have a cool window, you can chill things out by putting ice cubes in the saucer or on top of the soil instead of watering.
Conventional practices tell you to fertilize cyclamen every 3 or 4 weeks with a half-strength solution of water soluble fertilizer labeled for indoor plants. No doubt this is correct and proper, and will result in floriferous plants. That said, I have a confession to make: I never do that. A few times a season, I remember to add some Neptune’s Harvest kelp/fish fertilizer to the plant’s water and the plants do fine. Overfeeding usually stimulates an abundance of leaves at the expense of flowers, anyway.
Florist’s cyclamen are not generally meant to be a year-round plant. At least not here in Raleigh. When spring returns and temperatures rise, be prepared to see the plant stop flowering and the leaves start to yellow. At that point you can choose between composting or letting it go dormant. If you opt for the latter, gradually cease watering in spring as the plant goes dormant. If you keep them indoors, watering very sparingly, or place them outside in a shady spot. In fall, they may resume growth at which point you can bring them back inside and begin regularly watering and feeding them again.
Hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) are a species grown outdoors, different from the florist’s cyclamen houseplant. Their flowers on stems 2 to 4 inches tall begin appearing during the months of September, October and November, with the foliage continuing through winter into spring.
This Mediterranean native need shade, well-drained soil and protection from the excessive moisture of Triangle summers. Try planting them under trees, where few other plants will grow. The trees will suck up the excess moisture. They also are a good addition to the rock garden.
The best time to plant or transplant hardy cyclamen is during their dormant season, after they have finished flowering. Garden centers often carry the corms or tubers in the bulb department.
Tina Mast is communications director at Homewood Nursery & Garden Center and can be reached at [email protected]