How to Plant, Grow and Care For Cyclamen Plants
Are you looking for a new indoor plant to add to your houseplant collection? There are many reasons why Cyclamen might make the perfect fit if you don't already own one. In this article, gardening expert Emily Horn walks through all the basics of growing Cyclamen including their maintenance and care.
What is a better way to show your love and affection towards your beloved than cyclamen? Cyclamen generally blooms from November to April. With bright flowers coming in a wide variety of white, pink, red, purple, and bicolored, there is a perfect shade of cyclamen to match the style of your garden.
There are some people who prefer to treat these houseplants as annuals, but you don’t have to toss them after they bloom! These tuberous perennials come back year after year. They just need proper care during the active growing months, and you can basically neglect them during the dormant summer months until they are ready to bloom again.
So, how exactly am I supposed to grow a plant like a cyclamen at home? Let’s take in-depth look at the environmental conditions needed to make growing cyclamen at home a success.
Cyclamen Plant Overview
Plant Type Houseplant, Tuberous Perennial
Species Cyclamen persicum
Native Area Mediterranean
Exposure Partial Shade
Height 6-16 inches
Watering Requirements Moderate
Pests and Diseases Aphids, Thrips, Scale, Tuber Rot
Soil Type Loamy, Moist, Well-Draining
Hardiness Zone USDA 5-8
Cyclamen is a very widely grown plant in the houseplant community. This genus is a part of the primulaceae, or primrose, family and features about 23 different species. The most common species is the Cyclamen persicum, or florist’s cyclamen.
Cyclamen persicum is native to the Mediterranean. The typical weather pattern of the region is that of cool, wet winters transitioning to a hot, arid climate during the summer months. Often found in the shadows of rocky crevices through the mountains, cyclamen has adapted its growing season as a method of species preservation.
The foliage is attractive even when they are finished blooming. They have lovely heart-shaped leaves that are laced with white or light green patterns. The edges are usually serrated or jagged. The undersides of the leaves are sometimes pale green or reddish in color.
Cyclamen blooms in the winter and are popular holiday plants around the home, often given as gifts during this time. The petals are turned upward and bloom in white, pink, red, and sometimes purple. They have a slightly sweet smell. Once the warm summer months approach, the plant will go dormant.
At the base of each cyclamen is a rounded tuber, or storage organ, in which roots and flowers sprout from. This tuberous base can grow to be about 6 inches when grown in a pot. The word “cyclamen” is derived from the Greek word “kuklos,” which means “circle.” This is said to be in reference to the circular tuber.
Cyclamen is generally sold during the winter when it is in bloom. You can find them at most garden centers, nurseries, and even online stores. When selecting a cyclamen, choose one that has lots of buds that have not yet opened with plenty of sturdy leaves.
Once you’ve selected the best cyclamen for your home, you will most likely want to repot it in a more decorative container. Begin by choosing the right pot. Because cyclamen are sensitive to overwatering and tuber rot, it is important to choose a container material that will draw moisture away from the soil, such as terra cotta or clay.
Regular plastic containers can also work. Just be sure that whatever container you select, it has drainage holes at the bottom. The size of the container or pot should not be much bigger than the one the plant was purchased in.
Cyclamen needs loose, well-draining potting soil that also retains moisture. Purchase a potting mix that is designed to drain well, or mix your own with perlite to improve drainage. Also, add coconut coir to retain some of the moisture.
Now that you have the plant, the pot, and the soil, you are ready to plant your cyclamen. Gently remove the plant from its original container and lightly shake out the roots to remove some of the soil. Replant it with the top of the tuber above the soil line, gently pressing down to secure the plant in the pot. To establish the root system, water immediately after planting.
Once planted, place the potted plant in a cool spot in the house. It should receive bright filtered light, so getting direct sun from a window is not ideal.
How to Grow
Cyclamen add pops of color and life to what may seem like a drab space in the winter months with a little bit of know-how. However, there are a few factors to understand before growing them in your home. Let’s take a deeper look at these winter-booming flowers’ needs for light, water, soil, temperature, and more.
If you were to explore cyclamen in its place of origin, you would find it tucked in underneath large plants, receiving filtered sunlight at most, but more commonly, in the shade.
If you like to grow cyclamen in your house, I’d advise keeping it near an east, west, or north-facing window so long as any of these areas receive 4-6 hours of sunlight each day.
My preference is to use a northern exposure. Many people avoid using the north windows of the house, but in all honesty, it has the most consistency when it comes to light and temperature.
If the only option you have is a southern-facing window, use treatments such as curtains or blinds. The curtains will filter the light as it enters the window, decreasing the intensity.
This light fracturing will simulate sunlight filtering through a tree canopy. The increased light levels of a southern exposure may require more frequent watering, so monitor your cyclamen if it’s under higher light.
When it comes to temperatures, cyclamen like it on the cooler side. With a preferred temperature range of 50℉-70℉, if temperatures consistently stay above 70℉, cyclamen go into self-preservation mode, otherwise known as dormancy.
In a cyclamen’s natural environment, temperatures above 70℉ mean the dry season is approaching. Because there is less water available during the dry season, plants like cyclamen go dormant in order to survive.
Cyclamen can tolerate temperatures as low as 40℉. Once temperatures go below 40℉, the leaf tissue will begin freezing, and you run the risk of incomplete flower formation. Any existing flowers may fail to open.
There are some plant breeders who are currently developing varieties of cyclamen that can withstand higher temperatures. In doing so, enjoying cyclamen as a year-round houseplant, as opposed to a winter holiday decoration, will become the norm.
Without a doubt, cyclamen like humidity, but it can be difficult to maintain within your house. With regular use of air conditioning and furnaces, as well as opening windows and dehumidifiers, the humidity levels in our homes are sub-par for cyclamen and other houseplants. Bathrooms are a good place for houseplants that love humidity, like cyclamen.
If you don’t have a good spot in a bathroom, or you just want to enjoy your cyclamen elsewhere in the house, there are several relatively easy and inexpensive ways to increase the humidity around your indoor plants.
The first way is to mist your plants with a simple spray bottle a few times a week. Just be careful not to mist too much, as this can cause the plants to drip with moisture. This can lead to rotting or other fungal diseases.
Another way to increase the humidity in the air is to run a cool mist humidifier near your cyclamen. This option is good for people who would have difficulty remembering to regularly spritz their plants.
Grouping plants together will also increase the overall humidity surrounding your houseplants. When you have multiple plants near each other transpiring, the humidity in that small space will increase. The only thing to consider is airflow. Leave enough space so that the plants can breathe!
Using a pebble tray is a more decorative yet effective way to increase the humidity around your plants. Put small pebbles or decorative rocks in a saucer or tray in a single layer. Place your houseplants on top of the pebbles. Then, fill the tray with water to cover the pebbles. As the water evaporates, the humidity will increase. Check your tray regularly and replace the water as needed.
Cyclamen prefer soils that are consistently moist but not soggy. When I demonstrate this level of soil moisture to my student employees at the greenhouse, I have them add water to a container of dry soil. After adding the water, they begin to work the water into the soil with their hands, similar to kneading bread dough.
Once the water is incorporated into the soil, I have them grab a handful and squeeze. The ideal moisture level is to have the handful of soil maintain its shape but be crumbly and not exude water when squeezed.
If the soil is too wet, water will drip from their hand before the squeeze, and upon the application of pressure, the soil will resemble a sponge being wrung out. If the soil is too dry, when squeezed, no shape will be maintained.
Always err on the side of underwatering if you are unsure of whether or not to water your cyclamen. Plants can rebound much easier from a lack of water than they can from being overwatered. Worst-case scenario, if you underwater your cyclamen tuber for too long, the leaves will yellow and drop, which most likely means it is readying itself for dormancy.
If you determine that your cyclamen does, in fact need to be watered, you can water one of two ways. Regardless of your method of watering, be sure to avoid getting the center of the tuber wet. If water sits in where the leaves and flowers emerge from, you run the risk of the tuber rotting.
The likelihood of getting the tuber’s top wet typically happens if you opt to water your cyclamen from the top. If you go this route, water off to the side of the tuber to the point of the water draining out of the bottom of the pot. When the water runs through the entire soil profile, you know that the soil is entirely wet the whole way down.
The second method of watering would be bottom watering. Place your cyclamen’s pot in a saucer or container that has sitting water. Through the drainage holes, the water from the saucer will go up into the soil.
Once the water has reached the soil surface, the top of the pot will look wet. Dump out any remaining water from the saucer and place the pot back into the saucer. Any excess water will drain back down into the saucer, which helps prevent overwatering.
Cyclamen do prefer rich soil. That is typical of understory plants, or plants that naturally reside under large plant specimens. The leaves that fall from the taller plants create a rich humus as they decompose. This nutrient-filled soil is ideal for the shorter plants growing beneath them.
If your cyclamen is growing in your house, chances are it is not receiving rich leaf humus from plants growing above it. So, this is where a high-quality potting mix comes into play. Most potting mixes are peat moss based, which is well suited for cyclamen.
Peat moss is slightly acidic in nature, similar to that of leaf humus. In addition, when peat moss is wet, it will adequately maintain enough moisture for your plants to grow healthily.
If you choose to repot your cyclamen, do so as the plant begins to show signs of breaking dormancy. Because active new growth is about to start, having fresh soil will help provide the nutrients to grow.
Be sure to keep the top of the tuber above the soil line. Otherwise, the tuber will have difficulty sending up new leaves and flowers, plus water can collect on the tuber and cause, you guessed it, rot.
Cyclamen have beautiful heart-shaped leaves. With their dark green color, often interlaced with silver, they are very attractive. However, most people do not grow cyclamen for their foliage alone. The flowers often steal the show.
It can be difficult for a homeowner to get cyclamen to bloom again. Even in a greenhouse, growing the somewhat fickle cyclamen can be hard. Supplemental feeding, through the use of fertilizers, can help you achieve the reemergence of flowers the second time around.
The type of fertilizer used, as well as the timing of the fertilizer application, are extremely important when attempting to get your cyclamen to rebloom. Use a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus for these particular houseplants. Follow the application rate listed on the box to prevent the possibility of burning the roots with excessive salt build-up.
If your cyclamen has already flowered, a general houseplant fertilizer should sufficiently feed your plant for the remainder of its growing season. Again, check the application rate on the packaging, so the fertilizer is the most effective.
The timing of fertilizer application is also important. You want to provide nutrients when your cyclamen is actively growing. Watch for the beginning signs of dormancy breaking (leaves emerging from the center of the tuber) before you start applying any fertilizer.
Likewise, if you are near the end of spring, and notice that the leaves are beginning to yellow, avoid fertilizing your cyclamen. The growth is slowing in preparation for rest, and adding fertilizer is not only a waste of time/money, but it could also cause mixed signals to go through your plant, delaying dormancy or even preventing dormancy from occurring.
Dormancy is listed in many of the aforementioned sections on how to care for your cyclamen plant. But it is an important topic when growing cyclamen at home. Many of us are aware that outdoor plants go through an annual rest period or dormancy.
The leaves will turn color and drop at the temperature, and light levels decrease the closer we get to winter. Although difficult to imagine, our indoor plants are also capable of dormancy.
Cyclamen grow during the cool, wet seasons of winter and spring in the Mediterranean. As the temperature increases and the frequency of watering decreases, cyclamens begin preparing for dormancy or a rest period.
In the late spring, you will begin to notice the leaves starting to yellow. Eventually, the yellow leaves will dry, become crunchy, and then fall off entirely. Your cyclamen will look dead. But it’s not dead. It’s just resting.
Move your dormant cyclamen to a cool, dark spot for its rest period. There is no need for sunlight and no need for water. It’s resting. As you get closer to fall, check in on your cyclamen on a regular basis to look for any signs of new growth.
Once leaves begin emerging from the center of the tuber, you can slowly move your cyclamen back to its normal home. Be sure to gradually move your cyclamen towards greater light. Imagine being in a dark room for a period of time, and then somebody randomly turns on the overhead light without warning. That’s how your cyclamen will feel if you do not allow it to adjust to light again.
How Dormancy Affects Watering
Dormancy will impact how often you water your cyclamen. While your cyclamen is dormant, it is not photosynthesizing. Rather, it gets its energy to survive from carbohydrates stored inside the tuber/stem.
Since it is not actively making food, the amount of water required for survival is null. In fact, if you were to regularly water a dormant cyclamen, chances are you would end up rotting out the tuber due to the excessively wet soil.
You will see new leaves beginning to emerge when your cyclamen breaks dormancy/begins actively growing again. When these leaves become visible, resume your regular watering regimen.
Pests and Diseases
Cyclamen are prone to the usual houseplant pests: aphids, mealybugs, scale, and thrips. They are also susceptible to a variety of bacterial, fungal, and viral infections. However, most of those diseases occur in a greenhouse setting rather than in a household situation.
One of the most commonly recognized insect pests in the plant world is aphids. They come in a variety of colors ranging from orange, brown, black, yellow, and green. They may be winged or wingless, but there are two characteristics they all have in common.
First, the body is pear or teardrop in shape. Second, it has cornicles sticking out the end opposite the head, which actually look like tailpipes or spikes.
Aphids are problematic because they like to destroy the soft, succulent new growth of plants by sucking out the sap and cell contents. This often leads to the curling and wilt-like appearance of the new tissue despite adequate soil hydration.
Fortunately, aphids have soft bodies, meaning they don’t have a shell, waxy coating, or thick exoskeletons. This makes them highly susceptible to many non-chemical and chemical types of pest control.
Using a combination of plain water and a small amount of liquid dish soap is a great way to combat an aphid attack. In a quart-size spray bottle, add warm water to the 32oz line. Add 1-2 drops of liquid dish soap to the water and shake to combine.
Spray the aphids with this solution to the point of runoff. The point of runoff is when you spray the leaf heavy enough that the solution runs over the entire leaf surface and down the stems/branch.
Commercially available horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps work well to control aphids as well. Follow the recommended rate of application on the label.
These small, white fuzzy-looking insect pests like to hang out along the underside of leaves, near the midvein, or in the tiny crevices where leaves meet stems. Mealybugs’ source of food is the juice or sap, that is contained within the plant tissues.
A side effect of a mealybug infestation is the presence of honeydew, or a clear, sticky substance commonly found on leaves located beneath the mealybugs. Since the mealybug eats plant juices, ie plant sugars, the honeydew is in essence, excrement. The excrement is a wonderful site for sooty mold, a common fungus, to establish.
Despite being unsightly, sooty mold is a problem because the black ‘sooty’ mold covers leaf surfaces, decreasing the area which a plant can use to photosynthesize.
With the mealybug sucking out the plant juice and the sooty mold decreasing the areas to make food, the combination of the two can be lethal to your cyclamen.
Mealybugs can be controlled using insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils. The distinguishing cottony appearance can protect the insect from topical pesticides.
Though recommended for other plants, you shouldn’t spray mealybugs off of plants with a pressurized stream of water. We are trying to avoid getting the cyclamen tuber wet, so spraying might eliminate the pest but also make conditions prime for tuber rot.
You may also use a cotton swab dipped in 70% rubbing alcohol as a means of control. Dip the cotton swab into some alcohol poured into a cup. Then dab the insect directly with the alcohol-dipped swab. As the alcohol evaporates, it dries out the insect, causing death.
Scale and mealybugs are closely related. Scale is usually a brown or black insect that attaches to the midrib of leaves and eventually works its way down the stems of plants. They pierce and suck the juices from the cells of plants.
The major difference between scale insects and mealybugs is scale tends to have a hard body compared to the soft body of a mealybug. I say that scale has the “hard candy shell” or even a helmet-type appearance.
This shell/helmet protects the scale insect from harm, including topical pesticides. Another method of control for scale is to prune out any infested tissues. But with cyclamen, that is virtually impossible, given the plant’s design.
Thrips are tiny, rice-shaped insects that prefer to live in young plant tissues, primarily flowers. These tiny little bugs are a problem because not only do they cause damage to the plant by scraping off layers of tissue, but they are also vectors to many plant diseases, especially viruses.
The easiest way to determine if your cyclamen has thrips is to take a white sheet of paper and gently tap a flower or leaf over the top of the paper. Thrips will fall off the plant and onto the paper.
To me, one of the most common thrips, the Western Flower Thrips, has an orangish color head and thorax, with a brown-to-gray abdomen, and is shaped similar to a grain of rice.
Chemical controls that are sprayed on plants are not very effective against thrips because thrips find the tightest spaces on a plant to live in. They will hang out in unopened flowers and under leaves, or in the case of cyclamen, within the folds of the tuber.
Cyclamen are prone to mites, primarily Two Spotted Spider mites and Cyclamen Mites. Sometimes the mites are visible, as in the TSSM, or are very well hidden, like CM. One symptom of a TSSM infestation is webbing on your plant leaves. Upon closer observation, you will see small, tan to transparent bugs inside the webbing. Those ‘bugs’ are TSSM.
Cyclamen mites do not form webbing. Rather, they hang out under leaves and inside developing flowers, making them difficult to detect until there is a serious infestation.
Symptoms of mite infestations include twisted or contorted leaf growth. Leaves may look darker green than normal or give off a bronze coloration. Flowers will sometimes not form entirely, fall off prior to opening, or open underneath the canopy of the leaves.
A non-chemical means of controlling mites is to increase the humidity around your cyclamen. It doesn’t matter if you use a pebble tray, humidifier, or misting bottle. Mites despise higher humidity.
Beyond increasing the humidity around your cyclamen, there is not much that can be done to salvage a plant that is heavily infested with mites. It is wise to put the plant in a plastic bag and seal the bag completely, discarding it in the trash.
Mites, even cyclamen mites, are not host specific, meaning they will travel to other plants inside your house. If you don’t dispose of the infested plant as soon as possible, you risk infecting your entire plant collection.
Tuber rot is caused by a bacteria in the genus Erwinia. Commonly referred to as soft rot, the tuber will go from being a firm, fleshy stem to a slimy, squishy, foul-smelling glob. The leaves will begin to yellow and droop, looking as though they may be lacking adequate moisture.
Overwatering is a major contributing factor to soft rot. Make sure the soil is moist but not soaking wet. Proper planting depth is also key in avoiding soft rot. If the tuber is planted too deep, water will collect inside the crown, making an ideal spot for bacteria to grow. Keep the upper ⅕ of the tuber above the soil line when planting.
When it comes to flowering houseplants, cyclamen makes my top ten list for sure. With the green and silver foliage surrounding wispy flowers in shades of pink, red, and white, it is a stunning addition to any houseplant collection. But as I review my text above, I can see why some people may be intimidated by a higher maintenance plant such as cyclamen.
Now that you are familiar with the nuances of growing cyclamen don’t let it intimidate you. As it is with all plants, being able to provide the preferred growing environment is more than half the battle. Just remember that low light, cooler temperatures, even soil moisture, and proper planting depth will all but guarantee success.