How to Grow and Care for Cyclamens

Three varieties of florist's Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum).
Three varieties of florist's Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum).

Cyclamen - Cyclamen persicum

The tuberous-rooted cyclamen is surely the most beautiful of all the winter-flowering house plants, and to those who succeed in keeping it, also the most satisfying.  To many people however, cyclamen can be the most frustrating of plants, for it can virtually die before your eyes.

The secret of success is to get the plant acclimatized to your own home.  Keep it in a cool room permanently at first, and maintain a high level of humidity by standing it on a saucer of wet sand or packing damp peat around the pot.  The cooler you keep cyclamens, the longer they will last.

The cyclamens we buy from shops have been selected and bred from Cyclamen persicum, which comes from Asia Minor, where it was discovered in 1731.  The name is taken from the Greek kyklos, meaning circular, from the way the flower stalk of some species twists into a spiral when the seed is formed.

The original species of Cyclamen persicum all have small, delicate, pleasantly perfumed flowers, and rounded, plain green leaves.  The modern, large-flowered varieties, which are often easier to keep as house plants, have no perfume, and their leaves are beautifully marbled with white or sometimes a silvery green in different patterns.  The flowers, which appear in autumn through to spring, may be pure white, dark red, or various shades of pink, salmon, mauve and purple.

Plants which are already in bud normally appear on the market from early winter through until spring.  Those that are bought early in winter are more likely to last well because they will not have suffered such a drastic change of conditions between the grower's greenhouse and the shop.  The corm (tuber) should protrude slightly out of the potting mixture, and you should check for any sign of rot near the corms by gently parting the leaves.

Patterns on a green leaved hybrid of Cyclamen persicum.
Patterns on a green leaved hybrid of Cyclamen persicum.

How to keep humid

Cyclamen must be kept humid indoors, but do not spray. Stand pot in saucer with water, pebbles or gravel. Make sure pot base is clear of water.
Cyclamen must be kept humid indoors, but do not spray. Stand pot in saucer with water, pebbles or gravel. Make sure pot base is clear of water.
Or, put pot in outer container packed with damp peat.
Or, put pot in outer container packed with damp peat.

Proper care guide

Atmosphere:  Cyclamens should be kept away from draughts and fires, especially gas fires, and strong cigar smoke.  Smokey atmospheres and draughts result in leaves discoloring and collapsing.

Cleaning:  Use a soft, dry paintbrush if the leaves get dusty.  Never use leaf shine.

Feeding:  Add liquid fertilizer to the water and apply once every 14 days during the growing/flowering season.

Humidity:  Cyclamens need plenty of humidity if they are to survive indoors.  This can be achieved by standing the pot on wet sand, pebbles or gravel, or in an outer pot of moist peat moss.

Light:  Cyclamens should be given bright light without direct sunlight.  An east-facing windowsill is ideal.

Temperature:  Keep cyclamens cool at all times.  A temperature of 45-60° F (7-15° C) during the day, falling by about 10° F (5° C) at night is ideal.

Water:  Cyclamens should be watered twice a week when the plant is growing and flowering.  Always water from below so that the corm (tuber) does not get wet by placing the pot in a shallow water-filled bowl; this permits the potting mixture to take up as much water as it needs.  After 10-15 minutes the soaked pot should be lifted out and allowed to drain.

Special points

Remove dead flowers as they fade, taking care that the entire flower stalk is removed along with the flower. This is easily done by twisting the stem and pulling sharply. Any damaged or yellowing leaves should also be pulled away cleanly.

How to divide corms

1. Divide old corms when leaves have died down. Prepare 2 small pots with drainage and loam-based potting compost.
1. Divide old corms when leaves have died down. Prepare 2 small pots with drainage and loam-based potting compost.
2. Remove corm from pot and gently prise away old soil.
2. Remove corm from pot and gently prise away old soil.
3. Lay corm on flat surface and cut it in two with a sharp knife. Each section must have leaf buds. Dust with sulphur dust.
3. Lay corm on flat surface and cut it in two with a sharp knife. Each section must have leaf buds. Dust with sulphur dust.
4. Re-pot both in usual way. Keep at temperature recommended for seeds.
4. Re-pot both in usual way. Keep at temperature recommended for seeds.

After flowering

When cyclamens have finished producing flowers, many people prefer to discard them.  However, they can be brought into flower for another year, and perhaps for several more years, in the right conditions, although the flowers tend to get smaller as the plant grows older.

When the plant has finished flowering, remove any remaining dead flowers and leaves, and let it dry off completely.  Leave the corm in the pot and put it on its side out of the way.  In mid or late summer, you will find new shoots appearing of their own accord.

The corm should be re-potted at once to about half its depth in fresh, acid potting compost.  Cyclamen flower better if they are slightly pot-bound, so do not use too large a pot.

Water the plant sparingly at first until the leaves are well developed.  Thereafter, treat the plant as a mature cyclamen, following the procedures outlined under Proper care above.

Propagation

Cyclamen persicum can be propagated from seeds or by dividing the old corms after the leaves and flowers have died down (see above right). Seeds sown in the summer of one year and kept at a temperature of 55-60° F (13-16° C) will flower in the autumn of the following year.

What goes wrong

Problem
Cause
Treatment
New leaves small, no flowers.
Needs feeding.
Feed.
Leaves shrivel and collapse.
Too hot and dry.
Water and move to a cooler place.
Leaves turn yellow and fall apart.
Too hot and too dark. Gas or smoke fumes may also cause yellowing of the leaves.
Move to a lighter, cooler and more airy place.
Scorched leaves.
Direct sun and water on leaves.
Move plant out of direct sunlight and make sure watering is done from below.
Leaves distorted and sticky with green insects.
Greenfly.
Spray with pyrethrum or a systemic insecticide.
Gray mold on leaves.
Botrytis.
Spray with benomyl-based fungicide.
Corm rotting.
Water getting into the corm.
If plant is resting without leaves, try cutting out rot with sharp knife and dusting with sulphur dust. If plant is growing there is nothing to be done.

As an outdoor plant

In areas where winter temperatures remain above freezing, Cyclamen persicum may be used as bedding plants.

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Comments 2 comments

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

I've never grown these, but they're lovely. Great tips!


nicomp profile image

nicomp 6 years ago from Ohio, USA

Great information. I didn't know what a Cyclamen was.

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