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.