Friday, December 29, 2017

Solving the Mystery of Cyclamen Care

I will be honest– despite their reputation as easy-care houseplants, Cyclamen confound me. They seem to wilt the second they get too dry, and when I try to compensate for my neglect by overwatering them, their ungrateful leaves turn yellow.

I have to concede that cyclamen have lots of great pluses. The flowers float like butterflies over their deep green foliage. Even the heart-shaped leaves, with their silvery-green markings, are beautiful.

I'd like to do better by my cyclamen. It's not just a gardener's pride on the line. They're cheerful houseplants to have around in the dead of winter. They don't mind bright, indirect light and that makes them the perfect choice for my kitchen windowsill.

So I used this post as an excuse to learn a bit more about cyclamen care and will share some of the tips I've discovered along the way.

Cyclamen that are sold as houseplants at this time of year are often referred to as "florist's cyclamen".

In their Mediterranean homeland, Cyclamen persicum are a winter flowering plant. They come into growth in the autumn and bloom through the winter and early spring. Then they go dormant as the dry summer months approach.

Here are a few basics:

Light: Cyclamen like bright, indirect sunlight.

Temperature: Too much sunlight and heat will only serve to encourage your cyclamen into early dormancy. They prefer cool conditions, but they are not frost-hardy. An indoor daytime temperature of 65-70 degrees (18-22 Celsius) is perfect. Most homes are a little cooler at night and that's their preference too.

Water: Watering is where most people, myself included, go wrong. As I have discovered the hard way, cyclamen are very sensitive to soil moisture levels. When you do water, soak the soil thoroughly and let the excess water drain out of the pot. Then allow your cyclamen to dry out somewhat. More cyclamen die from overwatering than they do from drought. Water only when the soil just below the surface is dry to the touch.

One way to improve your success with cyclamen is to water from the bottom. That way you are assured that the moisture will reach right down to the bottom of the plant's roots. To water from the bottom, find a deep saucer or a container large enough to accommodate your cyclamen's pot and fill it halfway with water. Place your cyclamen into the container of water and wait until the soil in the cyclamen's pot is evenly moist (about 20 minutes).

If you opt to water from above, water the soil directly and avoid the foliage and central tuber. Water can rot the crown of the plant (particularly when the plant is in a dormant state).

However you choose to water, make sure you allow excess water to drain away completely. Like so many plants, cyclamen don't like soggy soil.

Dead leaves or flowers can be removed by simply giving them a sharp tug.

Humidity: Cyclamen like high humidity. If your house is as dry as mine, this can be a challenge. Setting the plant down on a shallow tray of water filled with pebbles can help keep the air around your plant moist.

Soil: A good quality all-purpose potting mix is best. If you peek through the leaves, you can see that cyclamen are planted with the tuber just slightly above the soil line.

Fertilizer: Fertilizing once a month with a water-soluble fertilizer is plenty. Too much fertilizer and your cyclamen will not rebloom.

Common problems:

Yellow leaves: Overwatering and too much heat will cause the leaves of your cyclamen to yellow. Yellow foliage in late winter/spring may also be a sign that your cyclamen is going into dormancy.

Wilted leaves and flowers: Wilted flowers and foliage are a sign of improper watering. The sudden onset of wilting may be an indication that the soil is too dry. Water your plant thoroughly and pinch off any leaves or flowers that do not respond.

Faded Foliage: Cyclamen are pretty resistant to indoor houseplant pests, but foliage that looks faded may be a sign of a spider mite problem. Look for fine webbing and check the undersides of the leaves for these tiny insects. If your cyclamen is infected, check your other houseplants as well. Spider mites often spread from one houseplant to another.

Depending on the severity of the infection, I'd consider disposing of the plant.

If you've caught things early, gently rinse or wipe the foliage clean. Isolate the cyclamen from other houseplants until you have the infestation under control.

Dormancy: After a cyclamen blooms, it will transition slowly into a dormant state. The leaves will begin to yellow and wither. At this point, you should stop watering your plant, and allow the leaves to die back. Then place your cyclamen in a cool, dry place for 8-10 weeks.

To bring a rested plant out of dormancy in the fall, move it back into the light and resume your normal watering regime.

I think what I need to do now is focus on getting my watering right.  How about you? What's your experience with cyclamen? If you have any great tips, please share!


  1. Good and interesting article about the Cyclamen. As a houseplant they are real nuisances, the hardy ones in the garden are much easier to grow, I love them most.
    Wish you and yours a Happy and Healthy 2018 with the dogs.

    1. Happy and healthy 2018 to you too Janneke. I am relieved to hear I am not the only one who has struggled to grow indoor cyclamen! I wish the outdoor type were hardy here. I have always thought they’d be nice to grow.

  2. Very interested in your post as I have been determined to give Cyclamen a try. I will start off with the outdoor Cyclamen coum. Have a healthy and happy 2018.

    1. You have such a green thumb Alastair that I am sure you’ll be ver successful with outdoor cyclamen. All the best to you and your family for 2018!

  3. I agree that Cyclamen are not as easy to grow indoors, as they require the higher humidity. The longest I ever got one to live was for a couple of years. During each dormant period, the plant would seem to get smaller and weaker, but the blooms were enjoyable. I did grow the outdoor variety of Cyclamen and they were about as maintenance free as you can get. I did nothing and they just kept returning year after year. Maybe I'll give the indoor variety another try with your helpful tips! Have a Happy New Year!

    1. It’s funny that indoor cyclamen have a reputation for being easy to grow. I think many of us have struggled with them. Thanks for sharing the fact that the outdoor type are so much easier. All the best to you too Lee for the new year!

    2. Jennifer, I think this may be one of those plants that got its reputation as an "easy" houseplant back before central heating and air conditioning were as ubiquitous as they are today in the States; when my mom was filling her apartment with houseplants in 1965, finding a windowsill that never got above 65F in the winter was a cinch, finding one that *did* would be harder. Plus, without central heating, you didn't get regular sustained drafts of hot dry air right next to your windows!

    3. Modern forced air heating does make growing cyclamen more of a challenge.

  4. I have killed so many Cyclamen. Thank you for tips! I hope to turn my reputation around.

  5. I used to have fairly good results with my cyclamen. I even discovered that some have a mild and sweet fragrance -- if you get close enough. I love their loves best of all. You've inspired me to go get one, even if it will likely go into dormancy fairly soon. Happy New Year to you and yours, including your four-legged family. Wishing you all things green and fresh in the 2018 -- Happy New Year!

    1. Oh goodness, how did that happen? Should read "love their leaves".

  6. We've had pretty good luck with our Cyclamen (indoor), and I'd always heard that they were difficult to get to re-bloom, but ours even re-bloom! :-)

    This year, my husband realized that one plant had set seeds, so we tried to grow them (in peat pots), and it worked beautifully. Downside? I have more Cyclamen than I know what to do with!

    Thank you for the information here, Jennifer, and I wish you the happiest of New Years.


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