With their butterfly-like flowers in a sparkling jewel-box of colours, cyclamen are totally irresistible. At this time of year, you’ll find them selling everywhere — from nurseries to supermarket checkouts — and they make the perfect potted bloomer for indoors or protected spots outdoors, such as verandahs and balconies. And it’s not just the flowers that shine — the grey-green foliage features all sorts of silvery flecks and marbled variations that add to the whole effect.
There are few flowering plants that present themselves as perfectly as cyclamen, so the impact when you get them home is instant. All you need to do is make sure they survive — and for that, you need to become a cyclamaniac!
Two vital things
The first thing you need to know about cyclamen is that they’re cool-climate growing plants, which flower naturally in winter. So when we place them indoors, we’re actually placing them outside their natural comfort zone and, as a result, they need a little extra TLC. Their chief dislike is overheated rooms, so the essential advice is to place them outdoors overnight (make it a ritual before you go to bed each evening). Of course, if you grow cyclamen outdoors, this won’t be necessary, but make sure they’re in a sheltered location under eaves where they’ll be protected from wind and rain.
The second essential rule of cyclamen care is to water them correctly. Cyclamen plants grow from a corm (similar to a bulb), which can rot if it’s kept constantly wet. The soil needs to partially dry out between waterings, so check it by sticking your finger into the mix — only water when the top 2–3cm is dry. Concentrate the water around the edges of the pot and not onto the corm itself (a narrow-spouted watering can is your friend here). Alternatively, you can also water them by sitting the pot in a shallow basin of water, so that it absorbs moisture by capillary action from beneath. Lift it out and let it drain well afterwards.
Enjoy the variety
In terms of variety, there’s quite a range of sizes on offer, from large flowered forms through to cute miniatures, with mini-sized blooms and foliage to match. Whichever you buy, there’s no need to repot them when you get home – just sit the plastic pot inside a decorative outer container. In the case of the miniatures, you can arrange a whole row together in a trough, to create a sort of window-box effect. The large flowered types work just fine on their own – a single specimen in a decorative ceramic pot will give a coffee table tons of impact. It’s like having a bunch of flowers, but one that goes on blooming for months.
The perennial question among cyclamen lovers is “will it bloom again next year?” And the reality is: probably not. Most often, in the second year, the plant will produce a nice crop of leaves but no blooms. However, the threat of failure never stopped a keen gardener, so here’s the procedure if you want to have a go!
At the end of the flowering season (usually October), move the pots into a cool shady location outdoors and lie them on their sides, so that the potting mix stays dry. During the heat of summer, give them an occasional moistening so that the corm doesn’t shrivel up, but don’t let them stay wet. When new leaf growth starts to appear, around February/March, repot them into fresh potting mix and place them in a semi-shaded spot in a normal upright position. Gradually increase watering and apply a soluble fertiliser from time to time. If you’re lucky, by late autumn or early winter, fresh buds will appear and the cyclamen cycle will begin all over again!