Gardeners everywhere treasure houseplants that bloom during the dull, gray days of winter. A real gem is the cyclamen. Cyclamen are available in supermarkets, flower shops, and garden centres from late fall well into spring. These gorgeous plants have flowers with petals that flare back from the center and seem to be turned inside out. Heart-shaped leaves are dark bottle-green and are beautifully marked with silver patterns.
In their natural habitat in the dry regions of the Mediterranean, the colours range from white to pink or mauve. Many of the modern day varieties come in tones of shocking pink or fire engine red. They are the result of decades of breeding and cannot be found in nature. The vast majority of commercially available cyclamen are strains of cyclamen persicum. You’ll see both large and miniature varieties. No matter what type you favour, choose plants that are sturdy with lots of buds hidden among the foliage. Avoid those with yellowing or dead leaves because that signals heat or moisture stress.
While in bloom, give your cyclamen the conditions it needs to thrive, and then recycle it to bloom again. Here’s how:
Caring for your Cyclamen
Provide medium light levels out of direct sun. Keeping the plant in a north or east-facing window during the winter months will be just about right.
Despite its Mediterranean origins, cyclamens like cool conditions. Even, cool temperatures greatly enhance flower longevity. Night temperatures of 10º to 16º C are ideal, although they can tolerate temperatures slightly higher. Too warm a temperature makes the plant leggy, or may cause the pattern in the leaves to fade or turn yellow. It can also cause the flower buds to wither.
Cyclamens appreciate moist but not saturated soil. Soil that is too wet can be fatal, causing unopened buds to rot and fall off and leaves to turn yellow. It’s best to water frequently, using very small quantities of water each time. To prevent the tuber from rotting, avoid pouring water directly on the plant or the tuber. Instead, add water at the edge of the pot. The soil should never be allowed to dry out while the plant is actively growing.
To maintain humidity during the winter months, fill a shallow pan or tray with water. Set the cyclamen on an inverted dish or a layer of pebbles, just above of the water.
Usually, commercial greenhouses plant cyclamen in ‘soiless’ potting mixes that are often too light. If you want to keep your cyclamen from year to year, a better mixture is two parts sterile potting soil, one part peat moss, and one-part builders’ sand. If you decide to repot your cyclamen, place the tuber in the pot with the top half protruding above the soil (to protect it from rotting), and then pack the soil firmly around the tuber.
While in bloom, feed your cyclamen very two weeks or so with an all-purpose (20-20-20) liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half the recommended strength.
Propagating from Seed
Cyclamen are self-pollinating and set seed easily. The flowers stalks curl into a spiral and hang down, drawing the seedpod to the soil. When the ripe seedpod starts to split, the seed can be harvested and sown. Sow the seed in a potting mixture and then cover with a thin layer of sand or other gritty material. Put the seeds in complete darkness and keep the soil evenly moist and cool until the seedlings emerge after about one month. Expect to wait 18 months to 2 years for the plant to flower.
Recycle that Cyclamen
Few people seem to know that besides being a real looker, this flowering houseplant can easily be encouraged to re-bloom after a period of dormancy. Here’s how:
· After the plant flowers, gradually reduce watering until the leaves have faded and died down.
· Leave the plant in its pot and store it in a cool place.
· After about a month, remove the soil and dead leaves from the dry corm and repot the tuber in fresh sterile, potting mixture. Keep the corm showing just above the soil to prevent crown rot.
· Cyclamens bloom more profusely when pot-bound; so keep your cyclamen in the same pot until the tuber fills the pot. Then, repot into a container that is 3 to 5 cm larger than the previous one.
· Bring the plant into the light and start watering it sparingly, keeping the soil barely moist until the leaves are well developed.
· Increase watering and bring the cyclamen into a bright (but not sunny) location.
· Feed with a week solution of fertilizer about every two weeks.