The giving and receiving of flowering plants on holidays is a time-honoured tradition, but one fraught with fears. Unlike a box of chocolates or a pair of gloves, a living plant needs care to stay healthy. Holiday houseplants, like cyclamen, are of particular concern to most people, as their flowering cycle and general care are unfamiliar to even experienced gardeners.
Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) appear in grocery stores and garden centers between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Flowers with backward-curving petals resemble shooting stars, and their heart-shaped petals are embroidered with intricate silver designs. Under the right conditions, the plants will flower continuously for a few months.
Like many other plants in their native eastern Mediterranean climate, cyclamen bloom naturally during fall, winter, and spring when the weather turns cool and humid. During the hot, dry summers, cyclamen become dormant; their foliage yellows and dies and the plants show no signs of growth. They store energy in their round bulbs for the next flowering period.
The key to keeping cyclamen happy and healthy is to replicate their natural environment as closely as possible. They thrive in cool temperatures that drop to as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit at night and climb into the 60s during the day. For maximum sunlight, place them near a bright, south, east, or west-facing window.
Cyclamen are a bit picky about watering. It’s best to let the soil dry out a bit between waterings, but not to the point of wilting. If the pot feels light or the soil just below the surface feels dry, water it thoroughly and let it drain. Pour the remaining water out of the saucer so that the soil does not remain soggy. Fertilize with regular houseplant fertilizer designed for flowering plants.
To allow the plants to flower, remove the flowers when they are ready by cutting off the stems near the base of the plant. Sometimes the petals fall off, leaving a round seed pod that resembles a flower bud. Remove these too. True cyclamen flower buds are long and pointed. Also remove yellow and wilted leaves.
Allow the soil to dry out in spring and place the pot in a cool, dry place over the summer. The plants will look dead, but as long as the tubers remain hard and turgid they are just dormant. Start watering in early fall and move back to a cool, bright window for another blooming period.