caring for a cyclamen plant

How to Care for Cyclamen Indoors (Complete Guide)

caring for a cyclamen plant

Often given as gifts, and seemingly simple to care for, cyclamens can be surprisingly fussy.
 
Taking a bit of time to get a better understanding of their quirks and needs will help you to get the best out of what they have to offer.
 
This guide will give you all the information you need to enable your cyclamen to survive and thrive in your home.

From caring for these charming, bright, cheery little plants, to picking them out and prolonging blooms, propagating and onwards.

An Introduction to Cyclamen Plants

Cyclamen are tuberous perennials. They used to belong to the Primulaceae family but have recently been re-categorized as members of the Myrsinaceae family, following much debate.

They have dark green heart-shaped leaves with attractive silver mottling and flowers with five reflexed, twisted petals. The characteristically upwards swept flowers come in varying shades of white, pink, and red.

Arrays of beautifully fragrant flowers bloom in winter, bringing a welcome burst of color to many an otherwise bleak garden or household.

There are over 20 species within the genus but the most commonly available and popular plants for keeping indoors are varieties of the Florist’s or Persian cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum). Garden varieties are intra-specific hybrids of C. persicum origin that now bear little resemblance to the parent plant. Breeding has resulted in a much larger plant with broader flower colors and forms.

They can be kept outdoors or indoors, but this guide will focus on keeping cyclamens as houseplants.

Common Varieties, Forms, and Cultivars of Cylcamen

Popular Cultivars:

  • ‘Concerto Apollo’
  • ‘Halios Bright Fuchsia’
  • ‘Halios Violet’
  • ‘Halios White’
  • ‘Laser Rose’
  • ‘Laser Salmon with Eye’
  • ‘Laser Scarlet’
  • ‘Laser White’
  • ‘Miracle Deep Rose’
  • ‘Miracle White’
  • ‘Sierra Fuchsia’
  • ‘Sierra Light Purple’
  • ‘Sierra Pink with Eye’
  • ‘Sierra Scarlet’
  • ‘Sierra White with Eye’

Varieties and Forms:

  • C. persicum var. persicum (winter and spring-flowering)
  • C. persicum var. persicum f. persicum (white to pale pink flowers)
  • C. persicum var. persicum f. albidum (white flowers)
  • C. persicum var. persicum f. roseum (pink flowers)
  • C. persicum var. persicum f. puniceum (red flowers)
  • C. persicum var. autumnale (autumn-flowering)

Appearance and Design

Cyclamens are small plants. They generally grow up to 12 inches in height, although dwarf varieties are also available that only reach a maximum of around 6 inches high.

Upright, vibrant flowers sit atop long delicate stems arising from a base of dense, dark foliage. Marbled patterning on the leaves makes the plant interesting even when it is not flowering.

Make a statement with cyclamen by arranging a collection of plants of similar shades. Create contrast with your selection rather than buying matching colors to keep your look modern and interesting.

Cyclamens cascading along tables make striking but affordable centerpieces. Linear arrangements on window sills make cheerful winter features.

Get creative with container shapes, colors, and materials to make your cyclamens stand out. Glass, metal and ceramics can add a new twist to the classic look of these plants. Consider taking the opportunity for some arts and crafts by decorating your own container, or decorating a potted cyclamen as a unique gift.

Try pairing cyclamens with complementary floral partners such as primroses, snowdrops, ivy, and mosses to add structural diversity and variety.

Red cyclamens are a lovely idea for a splash of Christmas color. Try surrounding a potted plant with seasonal evergreen foliage like ivy, holly, or mistletoe to make a show-stopping festive feature piece.

Purchasing, Price, and Availability

Cyclamens are cheap and widely available all year round. You can find them in most garden centers at very reasonable prices.

Their flowering season makes them ideal for the holidays, when color, ease, and value are appreciated more than ever!

The best time to buy cyclamens if you want longevity is during the fall. Selecting plants with some unopened buds will give you the longest-lasting blooms. Look for vigorous plants with firm stems and green foliage. Avoid plants showing signs of distress such as yellowing, discoloring to the leaves or drooping flowers.

Origins and Native Habitat

The Persian cyclamen is native to Northern Africa, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Western Asia. It is the national flower of Israel.

The plant naturally occurs along rocky slopes, amongst shrubby areas and woodlands, mostly on calcareous or loamy soils.

Cyclamens are at home in cool, humid conditions. If you want your plant to stay alive and bloom for long periods then try to place it in a part of your house which is the closest to this type of environment.

Cyclamens thrive in the leaf litter or mossy undergrowth of trees. You can try to recreate this microhabitat by adding some moss or leaf litter to your container, pot, or arrangement. Adding some perlite or vermiculite can mimic the native rocky microhabitat.

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The Cyclamen Season

This is vital cyclamen knowledge! Cyclamens have a life cycle that includes a dormant phase

Don’t be fooled if, following a brilliant bloom, you are left with a seemingly lackluster, withering plant come spring. Your precious plant is not dying, it is just going into a dormant state.

At this point don’t assume the worst and throw the plant out, just let the leaves yellow and allow the plant to rest. Remove the dead leaves and flowers and move the plant to somewhere cool, dark, and dry for the next few months. It will rejuvenate and be ready to start growing again with renewed vigor in the fall.

If you get the positioning right (see below) cyclamens can be in flower from fall right through to mid-May.

Do not be tempted to water or fertilize your plant during the dormancy period, it won’t need it and it may even damage or kill it.

Keep an eye on your plant from September and at the first sign of new growth give it a thorough watering, by soaking the soil from below for about an hour and then draining excess water off. Then move your plant into a brighter more humid position for the flowering season.

If the tuber seems crowded in the pot or container following the dormant period, consider re-potting it into a larger pot or container.

Sometimes adverse conditions, like too much heat or light, can trigger an early dormancy, so if your plant is suffering do check you’ve picked an optimal position.

If you prefer, you can move your plant outdoors in a shady and cool spot for the summer dormancy period.

With good care, these plants can live up to 20 to 30 years old!

The Cyclamen Season Summary

  • Fall – new growth, time to soak, revive and re-position dormant plants, a great time to buy new plants
  • Winter – peak season, flowers bloom
  • Spring – flowers die, leaves yellow and wither, dormancy begins, move plants to cool, dry and darker areas
  • Summer – dormant season

Positioning Cyclamen: Light and Temperature

Cyclamens like cool temperature, ideally between 50°F and 70°F – optimally around 55°F. Keeping towards the cooler side of the range will prolong the life and flowering period of your plant. If your house is too warm, cyclamens will fail to thrive and will most likely gradually die.

Most modern heated houses are warmer than this, so you might need to find a particularly cool room or spot. However, cyclamens do not do well in drafts, so avoid any cold gusts. They are equally perturbed by extreme heat sources, so avoid placing them close to radiators, fires, stoves, or heaters.

Indirect bright light is the best situation for cyclamens. Too much light and heat will cause yellowing and may kickstart dormancy. A bright area, away from the sun’s rays during the day is perfect. East or west-facing rooms or windows usually provide a good balance.

In short, you are dealing with a goldilocks of a plant here – just try to keep things fairly cool, moderate, and constant.

Ideal Soil For Cyclamen Plants

A rich, well-draining, potting soil is required. A general-purpose potting soil or one specifically designed for either cyclamens or African violets, such as this one on Amazon, will work well.

Adding vermiculite or perlite to the soil and a layer of moss and/or dried leaves around the base of the plant will aid drainage and moisture retention. The moss or leaves will also help to maintain a more stable microclimate.

Cyclamens prefer slightly alkaline soil, pH levels below 5.5 should be avoided.

Choose a pot or container that will allow bottom watering: ideally a pot or container with lots of holes in the bottom combined with a tray or saucer.

Re-Potting Cyclamen Plants

When re-potting your cyclamen plant it to the same depth it was growing in the old pot. The tubers should be kept slightly above the soil line. Do not bury the tubers too deep, they should be slightly visible.

Dormancy is the best time for re-potting.

Watering Cyclamens

Cyclamen don’t like getting their stems or leaves wet so it is best to water them from below, rather than above.

Do this by ensuring your pot or container has drainage holes at the base, then place it on a plant tray, saucer or dish. Fill the bottom tray, saucer, or dish with water and allow the plant to soak the water up from below.

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You will soon get an idea of how much water to give based on the uptake.

Always remember to drain off any excess water within a couple of hours. Letting your plant sit in water for prolonged periods will cause it damage or invite pests.

Watering or spraying the stems and leaves OR leaving them sitting in water for too long can leave these plants vulnerable to rot and disease.

Aim for an even and moderate moisture level throughout the soil. You want to let the soil dry out a little between waterings, but you don’t want to let it dry out completely.

Letting the soil dry out a little between waterings lets air circulate around and between the roots. This provides a level of prevention and protection against soil pathogens.

Humidity For Cyclamens

Cyclamens require a humid environment. Heating systems and air conditioning can create air conditions that are too dry for cyclamens to flourish.

Improve the humidity for your cyclamen by:

  • Positioning your cyclamen in a bathroom
  • Running a humidifier close to your cyclamen plant
  • Using a pebble humidity tray

Putting your cyclamen in a bathroom can help to increase humidity because of the added humidity from the shower and/or bath steam.

You can pick up a humidifier for very little cost these days, such as this one on Amazon. Not only will it help your cyclamen to grow well, but you might also find it makes your breathing and skin a little more comfortable over the winter months too.

Setting up a pebble humidity tray is easy because you should already be using a drip tray, saucer, or dish. Simply add some pebbles to this, place the pot on top of the pebbles, and add water below the stones. The heat of your house will make the water evaporate, creating a mini steam room for your cyclamen.

Fertilizing Cyclamens

Fertilizer is not always required, but it can help to give your plant a boost when new growth starts in the fall.

You can fertilize your cyclamen whenever the leaves are still green. Use half a dose of liquid-based fertilizer (I highly recommend this one on Amazon) every 2-4 weeks, as required.

Organic compost tea works well as a fertilizer for cyclamen.

Never fertilize your cyclamen during the dormant period – it could kill your plant.

Stop fertilizing your plant once the flowers go past their prime in late winter to spring.

Propagation Cyclamens

Propagating cyclamen is simple and easy. Gently tease the tubers apart and divide individual tubers into their own containers. Each tuber will then grow into a new plant. Most of the plants you buy would have been grown this way.

Cyclamen can be grown from seed but it is a slow and tricky process. It can take a year before the seedlings start to bloom. This is probably a task best left to very experienced gardeners.

Toxicity

Beware! Cyclamen plants are toxic to humans, dogs, and cats. Ingestion will cause severe discomfort. Keep children and pets away from these plants. Make sure you wear gloves or wash your hands after handling your cyclamen.

Common Cyclamen Pests and Diseases

Keeping your cyclamen indoors protects it from many pests and diseases, but it still may be prone to attack by some of the following.

Spider Mites

Spider mites will feed off the leaves of your cyclamen. You may notice yellow spots on the leaves and tiny webs between the leaves.

An organic pesticide can be used to clear up an infestation. You should see an improvement within a couple of weeks.

Spider mites like dry conditions, so raising the humidity using one of the aforementioned methods can also be used as a preventative measure.

Fungus Gnats

Your plant might suffer from fungus gnats if the soil is too damp for too long. They are a nuisance but are unlikely to cause any major damage to the plant.

Make sure you let the soil dry out sufficiently and regularly between waterings.

In the meantime, place some sticky tape or a sticky trap around the container to catch the gnats.

Cyclamen Grey Mold

This is a disease caused by the fungus Botrytis cinerea which spreads rapidly in humid conditions. It causes a grey, fuzzy mold on infected plant parts and attacks the stalks of both leaves and flowers, causing them to collapse.

Small discolored spots may be present on the flowers, which will eventually shrivel and turn brown.

The best prevention is good hygiene. Remove dead leaves and flowers from the plant swiftly and maintain good air circulation. Do not overcrowd plants.

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Common Problems

Yellow Leaves

If your cyclamen is getting yellow leaves during the flowering season and the crown section (center of the plant) looks fine this could be a sign that your plant is getting too warm. Try moving it to a cooler spot or further away from direct sunlight. If your plant is still suffering the air could be too dry or you could be under-watering.

If your plant is getting yellow, wilting leaves after flowering in late winter or spring and the crown is deteriorating it could just be naturally moving into its dormant state. Don’t fret, simply support the plant on its transition into slumber by following the guidelines detailed within ‘The Cyclamen Season’ section.

Faded, Deformed Leaves

Fading, dirty, or odd-looking leaves are likely to be caused by a bug infestation. Try wiping the leaves with a damp cloth soaked in neem oil.

Droopy Leaves and/or Flowers

This is usually caused by over-watering or under-watering.

A soft drooping plant, with a soft crown section, is most likely due to over-watering. Reduce watering, re-pot, and keep your fingers crossed, but the outlook is not good if your plant has got to this stage in the start or middle of the season.

Pay closer attention to soil moisture levels. If in doubt, consider using a soil moisture gauge.

Short Flowering Time

This could simply be a result of purchasing at the wrong time. If not, it could be too warm, too dry, or under-watered.

History, Uses, and Random Facts

Now you know how to give your cyclamens long and healthy lives, why not get to know a little more about them?

The cyclamen plant was first mentioned from records in France from 1620, but it was probably present before it was first recorded. Variety breeding was first recorded in the 1860s, in England.

The word cyclamen comes from the Latin word cyclamnos, which comes from the Greek word kuklos, which means circle, cycle, or wheel. It is thought that this refers to the circular shape of the tubers or the way the flower stalk circles back on itself as the fruit develops.

Alternative common names for cyclamen include Persian violet, alpine violet, and sowbread. The name sowbread developed because of the way that pigs like to dig up and eat the tubers.

Cyclamen tubers have historically been used to make soap in some cultures because they lather when mixed with water.

The roots have also been used to create toxic concoctions to sprinkle over water-bodies and stun fish, causing them to rise to the surface and be easily collected by fishermen.  

In the Mediterranean cyclamen plants symbolize empathy and devotion.

In Japan, cyclamens are considered to be a holy flower of love.

Other Common Cyclamens

If you like indoor cyclamens you might also like to consider these other cyclamens for the garden.

Cyclamen heredifolium

Commonly known as ivy-leaved cyclamen, this is a hardy species that can tolerate cold winter weather. With white or pink flowers, this popular autumn-flowering plant is versatile and easy to grow.

Cyclamen coum

Another hardy garden variety, this cyclamen has small bright flowers that appear in the middle of winter.

Cyclamen graecum

This variety is a lot more difficult to grow so would suit a more experienced gardener who is happy to take on a challenge! If successful, such a gardener would be rewarded with gorgeous vivid velvet-like foliage and delicately sized fragrant flowers from summer.

Closing Thoughts

On first impressions, cyclamens are unassuming, cheap, and cheerful plants that appear to be fairly simple and easy to look after.

These popular plants, however, on closer inspection and investigation, prove to be a little more complex. The beauty of the cyclamen is that the more you give the more you get back.

The karmic nature of these little flowers means that the more you learn about them and the more effort you put into getting the conditions just right for them, the longer they will flower for you and the longer they will keep going.

Let’s be honest, many amateur houseplant enthusiasts would be likely to give up on the charismatic cyclamen after one flowering season without any further support or guidance, especially if unaware of the dormant period of these sleeping beauties. Let’s hope that this guide has changed that. If you’ve read this far then you now know exactly what to do to get the most of your cyclamen.

May you enjoy many years of beautiful winter blooms!

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