Friday, January 22, 2010

Speculating on cyclamen


At first I thought it would be easy to discuss cyclamen success. After all, I’ve kept one alive and flowering for 10 years. But I’ve also killed one or two, and when I looked up advice on this plant (from books and university horticulture sites, not “about” or Suite 101) I found some disturbing conflicts.

So I’ll just describe what I do, and then we’ll get into the other advice. My cyclamen is kept in a sunny window, indoors, at all times. It gets watered when it is obviously dry, and it’s been repotted a couple times, but into small pots. The soil seems rock hard; the thing is clearly pot-bound, but it seems to like it that way. The flowers start coming in November and keep it up through February. (That’s a performance I would only expect from the most stalwart of summer annuals.) I never fertilize it. I don’t know why; I guess I just can’t be bothered. Dead leaves and spent blooms are pulled off on an ad hoc basis. Sometimes we’ll take it into the sink to water it, because it’s better—and this is true with all houseplants, pretty much—to thoroughly soak it and then let it dry. It should also never sit in water.


So. Those are my “trade secrets.” Let’s consider what the experts say. One of my houseplant books (an old Time-Life volume by James Crockett) speaks of keeping day temps to 65˚ or under. I can actually meet that requirement in my chilly dining room, but I’m thinking many indoor gardeners could not. Crockett also advises regular fertilization, and a potting mix light on the soil and heavy on sand and peat moss.

The University of Minnesota agrees that cyclamens won’t be happy in houses heated to above 70˚, and it also recommends a dormancy period after blooming, sometime in late spring. The plant should not be watered and placed out of direct sunlight (perhaps outside) until fall. I don’t like dormancy advice. Dormancy is tricky. I feel there’s a thin line between “putting a plant to sleep” and killing it, and though I reluctantly accept this strategy for hippeastrum, I thoroughly reject it for cyclamen. It's not something that is universally recommended for them, either.

There are a few other good sites and books, but few have much new to say. My feeling is that most people love their cyclamen—and probably most of their houseplants— to death. They worry too much. I say don't worry, accept the strange behavior of your houseplants, try to keep them happy as best you can, and don't give up.

17 comments:

Kathy said...

Dormancy did not work for my cyclamen. It gaveth up the ghost. Am looking for a new one to try again.

Diane said...

Cold and sunny sounds perfect for my house, and yet every cyclamen I've tried died just about the moment it came through the door. Maybe I should try again...I assume the stores will have lots available in February.

Randall said...

I just assume that any cyclamen that I buy will be ephemeral and enjoy them for as long as I can keep them alive.

Leslie said...

Mine go dormant much of the summer but they are planted in the ground. They get fairly regular water all along.

jodi (bloomingwriter) said...

Cyclamen usually do well for me I keep mine in my office, the coolest room in the house (furthest from woodstove, catches a lot of wind on corner of house). Sometimes I put them outside in the summer and forget to bring them in; I've also planted them outside and pushed it to see if they could make it through the winter (they couldn't, but the soil stays too wet overwinter where I planted them. Every now and again I get one that seems healthy then just collapses and croaks on me, so I always assume it got soaked or chilled before I rescued it from the store.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

After reading your post I want to go get a cyclamen and try again. I think my problem might be that I don't have a window that is sunny enough.

Hilda said...

I seem to get some kind of wilt, or fungal problem on cyclamen. Does anyone else have this problem?

The flower and leaf stems just literally go limp and collapse; if I leave them on the plant they turn mushy. This can happen pretty much all at once or more gradually.

It started happening a few years ago, and it's affected every cyclamen I've had since them. I'm thinking perhaps I need to get rid of all the potting soil in the planter I use for cyclamen, and scrub it out with bleach.

Would love to hear if anyone else has experienced this or dealt with it.

Anonymous said...

I have had cyclamen that bloom for me year after year. Here in zone 8, I leave them out on the front porch. I only bring them in if it's going to go down into the 20's. If you have ever wintered over fuchsias, you know that you water them occassionally during the dormancy. Treat cyclamen the same way.

Don't induce dormancy by not watering. Let it go into dormancy naturally from warm temperatures. Even dry climates get occassional rain, so water them maybe once a month. Our summers are cool enough in Seattle that they may not go dormant at all. I put them outside in the shade with my orchids. I do feed mine with a weak solution.

Deirdre

thewritegardener said...

Ellen Zachos has been giving me information about how I might get an orchid to bloom. She said I should give it an ultimatum: Bloom or get tossed! And she said I should speak directly at the plant using a mean voice. Do houseplants like mean people?

Your cyclamen is beautiful, and the leaves are beguiling. I've had them as houseplants before but don't have much luck keeping them very long.

EAL said...

Hilda, are you sure it is not from the tuber rotting? You really have to be careful with watering.

Jean said...

Good advice. I eventually got rid of or moved outside all of my houseplants. Some are inside now because of the extreme weather but I tell you, they're not looking happy. It must be nice to have such a reliable bloomer as your cyclamen. Makes me want to try it too.

garden girl said...

I had one for three years, until killing it somehow this fall. Maybe I shouldn't have put it outside over the summer.

lisa said...

Who knew that the same thing killing my cacti would kill my cyclamen too? Heh, now that I'm a "reformed rotter" the cyclamen get anoher chance. You described my biggest peeve with houseplants: people who don't fuss grow great plants, seemingly by accident! Turns out I'm just too much a spaz...gotta relax and "let it be"...ohm... :)

Kerri said...

Thanks for the Cyclamen tips, Eliz. They're such a gorgeous plant. My mother always grew them. I hope to find a new one in February. My last one was a beauty and rebloomed several times before it gave up the ghost for no apparent reason. I tend to underwater if anything.
Keeping one alive for 10 years is an impressive feat!

Judy Lowe/Diggin' It said...

In my experience, the cool temps and watering are the two keys. I was interested to hear about your "hard" soil. The question I answer most frequently about cyclamen is about what happens when the plant wilt (from too little water). If you catch it soon enough, it will perk back up, but I've always thought there was a fine line between not drowning the corm and keeping the plant watered enough. A beautiful plant, though. worth the effort.

Layanee said...

I love that 'hands on' and very down to earth advice. I have killed my share of cyclamen, or rather, just discarded them after bloom to make room for other treasures.

Amy Greenan said...

I feel as if I am an accidental cyclamen expert, without really knowing that was the case! I have one that is about two years old that almost always has blooms (it went through one period I can remember with only leaves). I have another younger one that seems to be going into a leaves-only phase now, and I just bought another a few weeks ago that is blooming nicely.

They all sit in my kitchen windowsill, which gets a decent amount of sun, eastern facing. I generally let them completely dry out between waterings -- I have to be careful to water them before they start wilting! When that's the case, it's like they've totally collapsed or something. A good watering and a few hours later the plant is happy again.

We keep out thermostat set to 68 degrees, though no doubt it is colder next to the window like they are.