The genus, Cyclamen, contains about 20 species which are all native to the Mediterranean region. Hardy cyclamen species are small perennials for shade or part shade. They are not covered here.
Florist’s cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) was introduced in Western Europe in the early 17th century and has slowly gained popularity in the United States. Cyclamen is a tuberous potted plant that flowers during the winter months. The flowers reflex back from the center and are available in single, double, fringed, crested and frilled forms. Cyclamen has a mounded growth habit with green foliage mottled with silver and ranges in size from 6 to 16 inches in height. Its heart-shaped leaves and blooms in shades of white, pink, rose, purple and red make it a popular selection for Valentine’s Day. However, the bright red, pink and white flower forms are becoming increasingly popular for Christmas as well.
Cyclamen prefer cool temperatures and bright indirect light. Ideal daytime temperatures are 60 to 65 °F with night temperatures around 50 °F. If temperatures reach above 70 °F, buds will fail to develop. Avoid placing cyclamen plants near heat vents, as this will cause the soil to dry out too quickly. Cyclamen prefer to be kept moist but not soggy. Water when the potting medium feels dry to the touch, and always water along the edge of the pot or from below to avoid causing the tuber to rot. With proper care cyclamen will continue blooming up to 4 weeks. Removal of spent flowers can also help to encourage more flowers to develop. When deadheading, grab the spent flower stem securely and pull off completely from the crown of the plant.
In their native habitat cyclamen typically go dormant after flowering (coinciding with the Mediterranean’s dry season). As the plant goes dormant, leaves yellow and fall off so that energy can go into replenishing the tuberous root. Most people discard the plant at this point. It is very difficult in the home environment to re-bloom a compact, high quality cyclamen plant. Typically, light levels are not high enough in the home which results in weak plants with smaller blooms that are lighter in color and leaves that have elongated petioles. However, if you enjoy a challenge, it is possible to force cyclamen to bloom again.
To encourage reblooming, keep the soil from completely drying out during the dormant period. Then, place the dormant cyclamen in a shady place until new leaves emerge. In mid-September, when new leaves start to grow, move the plant to a bright (full sun) location and water the soil thoroughly. Continue to water it regularly and fertilize it monthly with a liquid houseplant fertilizer. Keep the cyclamen in a location with 50 °F night temperatures and 60 to 65 °F day temperatures. With proper light, adequate moisture and cool temperatures, cyclamens will rebloom by mid-winter.
Cyclamen can be propagated by seed and vegetative division; however, both propagation methods are difficult. Growing cyclamen from seed is discouraged, even though this is the only method used by professional growers. Cyclamen seed germination is slow and erratic, and 9 to 15 months are needed to produce full-sized blooming plants, even under the best greenhouse conditions. Vegetative propagation of cyclamen can be problematic as well. Cyclamen persicum has few growing points on each individual tuber, and tubers are prone to desiccation and rot, once cut. Due to the difficulty in propagating cyclamen, it is recommended that gardeners just purchase new plants.
Cyclamen are relatively problem free. Occasionally they are attacked by aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites or thrips, which can be controlled with insecticidal soap. Plants infested with cyclamen mites are best discarded, since this pest is difficult to control.