Friday, October 7, 2011


In the spring of 1990, during the month of April or May, my cousin and his wife drove up from New York for a visit. They surprised me with a blossoming gift, a plant I’d never seen before. No more than 12 inches tall, with flowers resembling butterflies with their wings closed floating over heart-shaped, dark green leaves beautifully marked with silver patterns, the little flowering houseplant that was presented to me was the most remarkable thing I’d ever seen. I proudly placed my new gorgeous addition right in front of my living room window for the world to see. I didn’t know what type of plant it was and I did not own any houseplant books (until a few years later) that I could pore through to pinpoint its identity. I was, basically, flying by the seat of my pants when it came to houseplant care with every plant in my home - and hoping for the best. My level of knowledge had not evolved anywhere near where it is today. Back then, I grew my houseplants with the philosophy that many beginners share: place the plant in soil, put it in front of a window and give it some water now and then; that’s all it needs.

My mystery plant didn’t care for that philosophy. Two weeks later it was in the trash.

Within two days of having received this pretty bloomer, a few of the flowers faded and dropped to the floor. I wasn’t alarmed right away; I figured it was normal for flowers to die as they got old. But I also figured they’d be replaced by new ones. No such luck. Further into the week, I realized there was definitely something wrong when all the flowers decorated my floor and no new buds were in sight. In addition to that, the leaves had begun to yellow and wither, and within the first week half of them were gone. For the next seven days, I watered frantically wondering if the plant was merely thirsty, not realizing that I was intensifying the unstable situation. I also moved the plant into the sunniest and warmest spot, hoping that the brighter location would rejuvenate its health. No go.

By the end of the second week, every single leaf had turned yellow and was pulled off. There was nothing left in the pot; no flowers, no leaves, no stem. No sign of life. I’d never seen a plant deteriorate so quickly, especially under my care. This little plant was a blow to my plant-raising ego. Just how bad were my houseplant skills? Frustrated by its poor performance, I tossed plant and pot in the trash. It was, after all, dead. That’s what I assumed at the time.

Although I felt a little bad when my pretty bloomer bit the dust (mainly because it had been a sincere gift), I don’t brood over houseplants so I promptly forgot about it and never bothered to learn its identity. I literally dismissed it. It wasn’t until two or three years later as I was poring through my accumulated houseplant books late one night that my fussy bloomer came to mind. I flipped through the pages, eager to track down my mystery plant and finally give it a name. The new addition, which I had proudly placed right in front of my living room window, and which had greatly challenged my skills, was the beloved cyclamen. And it hadn’t died at all. It had simply gone dormant for the summer! The poor plant had ended up in the trash needlessly when all it had wanted to do was take its summer nap to be ready to bloom again in the fall. It was quite an amusing revelation.

As always, a little knowledge goes a long way.

Caring For A Cyclamen

An impressive and compact blooming plant, the cyclamen boasts flowers that range in shades of white, pink, lavender and red. In addition to the regular-sized, widely-recognized cyclamen, there are now charming miniatures available in greenhouses that share the same overall splendor as their larger counterparts but with smaller and more delicate leaves and flowers. Both small and large versions are in their prime when they arrive at your local greenhouse. If you choose wisely, this plant can stay in bloom for several weeks. To select a healthy specimen, check for sturdy stems, vibrant flowers, several unopened buds and leaves that are shiny and firm. Stay away from plants with yellowing leaves and fading blooms. Make sure to conduct the general inspection that you do with all new plants: presence of insects, water damage, signs of disease.

In your home, provide your plant with bright light but not direct midday rays. Cyclamen typically grow in woodlands where they are partially shaded from intense sun so they are able to adapt to bright but filtered light. Direct exposure to midday sun can damage their delicate leaves. A north or east-facing window is ideal. Both will provide adequate light and keep your plant healthy. A cyclamen, like most houseplants, will also not object to the subtle and brief morning sun of an eastern windowsill.

The cyclamen is native to southern Europe and countries around the Mediterranean. But despite its origins, it prefers cool conditions. Unlike many other flowering plants that want to stay warm, this one prefers cool, wet winters and long, dry summers and will bloom happily with limited daylight. Indoors, under your care, your cyclamen prefers a cool spot (no warmer than 20°C (68°F) during the day and a cooling down to 12°C (55°F) or even 10°C (50°F) at night. Temperatures like these are difficult to provide because they’re not very people-friendly. But if you are able to provide this element, it’ll boost flower longevity and the overall well-being of your plant. An environment that is too warm can cause yellowing of leaves, flower bud loss and premature fading of blooms.

Growing from tubers that are half buried in the soil, cyclamen do not appreciate when their potting mixture is flooded but do prefer to be kept sufficiently moist; this plant should never be allowed to dry out completely while growing actively. Soil that is kept too wet, too often can cause yellowing of leaves, premature bud loss and the fatal result of plant death due to rot. You can water the soil from above but with great vigilance; make sure you never pour water directly on the plant’s tuber, leaves or flowers. Try to water from the edge of the pot to avoid problems. Typically, since cyclamen are rather fussy plants, it’s recommended to water only from below. Immerse the pot in a shallow container with tepid water and let the plant stay in there until the soil is glistening with moisture. Lift the plant out and allow it to drain well. You can also water by filling up the saucer under your plant’s pot and allowing your cyclamen to draw up moisture. After half an hour, dump the excess; roots should never be allowed to stand in water or they will rot.

Humidity is very much appreciated by this beauty so keeping the levels healthy will be very beneficial to your plant; it is especially crucial while the plant is flowering. Setting the pot on top of a pebble tray filled with water or investing in a humidifier are just a couple of ways to help maintain higher levels of humidity. While your plant is in bloom, feed it every 2 – 3 weeks with a mild liquid fertilizer.

Recycling A Cyclical Cyclamen

Most people consider cyclamen to be temporary houseplants. They receive them as gifts during the holiday season or pick them up during the dreary days of the fall season to add a much-craved spring feeling to their homes. They enjoy these hearty bloomers during the winter and discard them as soon as the flowers fade. Very few people know that these compact and charming plants can be persuaded to bloom every single year after a period of rest. Cyclamen follow a routine cycle – from dormancy to full bloom – throughout each year. The schedule that they follow is an advantage. Once you understand it and allow your plant to go through it, you’ll be able to easily encourage yearly blooms from a thriving plant.

Cyclamen are Mediterranean plants and follow three simple rules:
Begin growing in early fall
Grow through winter and spring with flowers in tow
Go dormant in the summer (while there is no rain and too much sun)

For those of you who have been to Mediterranean countries, you understand about the lack of rain and loads of sun during the summer. Once that season hits, it is perfectly natural for cyclamens to revert to their natural habitat’s ways and want to take a nap for the summer. Even the people in the Mediterranean have their afternoon siestas during the summer.

In late April or early May most cyclamen show signs of being tired and will normally go dormant for the summer. Just when they go dormant is determined to some extent by their growing conditions. Too much heat and sun will encourage early dormancy. But the same cyclamen, if kept in cool conditions, may continue right into mid-May and beyond. Primarily, it’s the temperature that determines most of the outcome. Too much heat is interpreted by them as summer and summer means it’s time for a cozy snooze. For the most part you can expect that by the end of April, most of these plants want to go dormant. My suggestion is to let your plant lead as much as possible and it will let you know exactly when it’s ready for its nap.

A nice summer siesta outdoors in full shade in your garden is a great place for it. The shelf of a potting bench - where it will be shaded and dry - sounds like a terrific place. As long as rainfall and the sun do not hit the plant directly, it’s fine. All the leaves will go yellow and dry. This process sometimes takes as long as a couple of months. Remove all dead foliage and flowers – gently. A nice cool place is essential and so is allowing the soil to become completely dry. Water sparingly and do not feed at all during this period. Don’t be afraid of this resting period. It’s not only necessary for most cyclamen, it’s welcomed by them. A summer siesta is almost always needed by the tuber; it helps with the next blooming season.

In late summer or early fall, bring the plant back indoors. Remove the tuber from its pot and shake off as much of the old potting mix as you can. Repot the tuber in a fresh mix, place it in a bright but cool location and water minimally until you see new growth. Once new growth appears - a sure sign that your cyclamen is awake – begin feeding and increase watering to normal levels. Following these simple steps should result in a cyclamen that will fill up with buds and bloom right through the winter.

If you don’t want to (or can’t) place your plant outside, your year round indoor cyclamen will also appreciate a dormancy period. After the plant has finished blooming, gradually withhold water until the foliage has died back, making sure to remove all the dead leaves. Leave the tuber in its pot and store it in a cool, dark area for 3 to 4 months – generally throughout the entire summer season. In late summer, follow the same rules as above by placing it in a brighter location with cool temperatures, watering minimally until you see signs of awakening, and then feeding and watering normally when new growth appears.

More often than not, your plant will begin its dormancy period without any help from you. In late spring, once the flowers are gone, the leaves will begin to turn yellow on their own, signifying that your plant wants (and is ready) to take a rest. Do not force your plant to continue growing at this point; your plant is giving clear signs that it wants to take a break. Some cyclamen don’t go entirely dormant but simply slow down their growth. Others lose all the older leaves and then slowly replace them with new ones over the summer. Regardless of your plant’s unique temperament, all cyclamen benefit from a little rest and relaxation, which will rejuvenate them into being great bloomers once the fall season arrives.

It’s unfortunate that most cyclamen inside homes are confined to the dustbin after a few weeks the same way my own was. With proper care, they can bloom year after year. Don’t toss out your cyclamen, recycle it instead.

1 comment:

  1. How to take plant care during holidays? Choose the pots; make sure there are holes in the bottom of your container to allow water to flow out freely, etc.