August 25, 2022

Sensational cyclamen

Cyclamen’s bright cheerful blooms and sweet scent provide the perfect pick-me-up for dull winter days.

Widely available cyclamen provide a welcome burst of colour both indoors and outdoors during winter

Cyclamen remain one of the most popular blooming gifts for any occasion. Drop into your local florist or garden centre and you’ll soon see why their elegant, upturned petals and patterned, heart-shaped leaves bring such a wave of joy and happiness to all who receive them.

A hardy perennial, cyclamen have, over thousands of years, naturalised across the woodlands of Europe and beyond. Drifts of pink and white cyclamen light up the English winter countryside and are a true delight for any lucky visitor to stop, admire and enjoy.

Grown from tubers, cyclamen, like other bulb plants such as daffodils, have a distinct vegetative and dormancy cycle. For most cyclamen, flowering occurs at various times across autumn to spring.

Once blooming has finished, flowers die and foliage too withers back to the safety of the underground flat, woody tuber for protection against summer heat. There it stays until the onset of autumn coolness and rain trigger the tuber, sending leaves and flower buds upwards and another glorious cycle begins.

Predominately used as house plants in South Australia, sadly, many cyclamen never reach their full potential. This is either due to owners unsure how best to care for them or, once the plant has naturally died back, they think it’s dead and toss it into the green bin.

Thankfully, looking after a cyclamen is not difficult, there are just a few things that keep them happy and blooming year after year.

As with most indoor plants, light is very important. Cyclamen enjoy a well-lit spot close to, but not in, direct sunlight. If you can easily read a newspaper in that location there’s enough light for your cyclamen.

As most cyclamen are cool-loving plants, they perform much better indoors away from blazing fires and glowing heaters. The cooler the spot the better. Too warm and your cyclamen will prematurely drop flowers and die down.

To help balance an evening in a toasty lounge, pop your potted flowering cyclamen outdoors overnight and bring in the morning to help it reset for the day. Cyclamen also do well living on a well-lit and protected patio.

Watering is critical. Full drip trays under pots and overzealous waterers are the cyclamen’s natural enemy. A common sign your plant may be overwatered is yellowing leaves and, as these plants can also look limp, it is often mistaken for underwatering.

The easiest way to find out whether watering is needed is to poke a moisture meter (or your finger) into the soil. If wet, leave alone. If dry, water by either placing the pot into a dish of water for five minutes, allowing capillary action to draw water into the mix, or pour water around the pot sides careful to avoid splashing the centre of the plant where rot can develop.

Fertilise with a dedicated flower fertiliser that is high in potassium to aid flowering such as Thrive for Flower & Fruit Soluble Plant Food monthly or a once-off slow-release feed such as Eclipse Slow Release Fertiliser for Pots, Plants and Garden Beds when the leaves appear.

Watch out for aphids, mealybugs, mites and other sap-sucking insects which love indoor plants, not just cyclamen. Tackle any infestations with a spray of Pest Oil or Eco-Oil.

Cyclamen can look a bit sad when they’ve finished flowering, but they’re just going dormant for summer.
While your cyclamen is dormant, lay it on its side in a shady part of the garden, ready for it to come back to life in autumn.

As flowers finish, remove to avoid them going mushy and attracting disease. Simply pinch the flower stem at the base, twist and pull cleanly away. Cutting, rather than pulling, stems leaves short stubs where moisture may sit and encourage rot to develop.

Once your cyclamen has stopped blooming and the leaves begin to wither, don’t panic. It is all part of the life cycle taking goodness back to the underground tuber and allowing a natural period of dormancy over summer.

You can take these bare cyclamen pots outdoors and place them on their side under a shady tree. Lying them on their sides ensures the pots remain well-drained and avoids the worry of tuber rot. Bring back inside once autumn arrives.

There are more than 20 species of cyclamen, each with their own unique flowering times, growth habits and preferred planting locales. The level of perfume will vary from variety so give any plant you are buying the sniff test to determine the best scent for you.

Cyclamen persicum hybrids are the most common indoor flowering types available in garden centres and florists. Putting on a spectacular floral display through winter, modern hybridising has given us a dazzling array of bloom colours in hues of white, pinks, reds and purples.

Cyclamen hederifolium, often sold in large punnets, is a cold lover that enjoys the great outdoors and does well planted under deciduous trees in rich, leaf littered soil, around rockeries or, even better, in large pots dotted around the garden for a splash of welcome mobile winter colour.

Cyclamen coum is an outdoor cyclamen that is very tough. Requiring little more than some dappled shade, it produces winter to spring flowering and is another for garden and pot alike.

As with any plant that has a habit to naturalise, it is important to keep cyclamen in your garden and prevent it from becoming a garden escapee. Keeping them in pots, especially ones you can easily tip on their sides over summer and put upright in autumn, is a great way to enjoy bursts of brilliant winter colour that stay in your yard.

Cyclamen offer a wonderful way to brighten your winter outdoors and indoors. Visit your local garden centre and prepare to be intoxicated by the huge selection available. There’s always room for one (or a few) more cyclamen at home!


This article first appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of SALIFE Gardens & Outdoor Living magazine.

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