Growing and Caring for Cyclamen

Camera close-up of cyclamen blooms.

Even if you’ve never heard of cyclamen, also called shooting stars, chances are you’ve seen these Mediterranean members of the primrose family. Cyclamen are very popular flowering houseplants that are exceptionally beautiful and very striking. They’re commonly sold in supermarkets, retail stores, and florist shops, and their popularity continues to grow.

These attractive flowers look as if they’ve been turned inside out, and they boast various shades and intensities of red, pink, lavender, and white. Cyclamen are also known for their beautiful deep green foliage adorned with interesting silver patterns and shading that resembles the finest marble. The foliage can be lobed, kidney-shaped, round, or heart-shaped, and it's just as lovely as the flowers perched above on long sturdy stems.

If you intend to keep these flowers in your home, read on for more information about proper care methods.

Ideal Growing Conditions

When grown outdoors in their native environment, cyclamen go into dormancy at the onset of summer, and they come back to life as the damp, cool weather arrives in the fall. For this reason, cyclamen are best suited to cooler temperatures in the home.

If possible, keep your cyclamen in an unheated room that maintains a daytime temperature of no more than 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Evening temperatures should range between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Lower evening temperatures greatly revitalize this cool-natured plant. High temperatures will initially cause the foliage to yellow and the flowers to fade rapidly. Eventually, it will die if not allowed to cool.

Although cyclamen require cooler temperatures in order to survive, they appreciate a lot of light, especially from late fall to early spring. Place your plant in an area that is well lit, but out of direct sun.

Watering and Feeding

Cyclamen don't usually die prematurely through lack of care. Most people who kill their plants do so with kindness and an overabundance of water. Cyclamen grow from round flat tubers. These organs of storage that maintain life during periods of dormancy will rot when continuously saturated.

Water your cyclamen when the soil has dried, but don’t allow too much time to pass before watering again. Avoid watering the center of the plant so you don't soak the tuber, and avoid getting water on the plant's stems and leaves as well. Since cyclamen are best suited to cooler temperatures, they appreciate a cool drink rather than a warm one.

Saturate the soil well, and allow the excess water to exit through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Proper drainage is necessary in order to keep the tubers healthy.

If you find your cyclamen is exhibiting signs of over-watering (yellowing and rot) consider eliminating watering from the top by sitting the cyclamen in a saucer of water for 10 to 15 minutes instead. This eliminates direct contact with the tuber and protects it from rot. Always remember to remove your plant from the saucer after the allotted time.

Fertilize your cyclamen using a water-soluble fertilizer recommended for use on indoor plants, mixed at half strength. Apply every three to four weeks, starting about a month after you receive the plant.

Care After Blooming

Most cyclamen are in bloom when purchased, and they are generally available from October through March. With appropriate care, they can be expected to bloom for weeks on end before entering their dormant period. In order to survive the dormant period and bloom again months later, they require proper storage.

After the blooms have died, the foliage will begin to turn yellow. This doesn't mean the plant has died. It’s simply entering the dormant period. Some people make the mistake of throwing away their plants instead of attempting to repot the tubers in the fall. Gently remove dead stems and blooms by twisting them off at the base and pulling them away from the bulb. Never cut them as you would with other plants.

Stop watering the cyclamen when the leaves begin to turn yellow and wilt, and store the pot in a cool, dry location away from direct sunlight. It can be placed outside, in a spot shielded from sun and from rainfall. The leaves will continue to fade and wither away. Once all of the foliage is withered and dry, the tubers can be replanted.

Replant the tubers in a pot that's one size larger than before, in a mixture of sterile potting soil and peat moss. Plant the tubers with the growing point facing upwards and the concave side (if one exists) facing downwards, and make sure the tops of the tubers protrude from the soil to help prevent them from rotting. This is usually only necessary once every two years.

Don't water the newly-planted tubers. After the foliage begins to grow, water the tubers as before. If the foliage doesn't emerge by late fall, and the tubers appear to be firm and healthy, water them anyway. Wait for the new foliage to emerge before watering them again, and move the pot to a well-lit location.

Cyclamen Mites

Cyclamen mites can take over and destroy a plant if not noticed early and eradicated. If the leaves of your cyclamen are twisted and curled, and if buds appear deformed, your plant is probably infested with cyclamen mites. Either dispose of the plant, or take the following steps to save it.

Remove the damaged parts, and submerge the entire plant in water that's 110 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes. An alternative form of treatment is to use systemic aerosol insecticide. Carefully read the product label for complete instructions on precautions and warnings.

With the right tricks up your sleeve, you can ensure your cyclamen blossoms flourish and remain an attractive, healthy addition to your home décor.