How to Grow Cyclamen Plant (Sowbread)

cyclamen plant guide

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Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) is one of the most beautiful flowering houseplants. Also known as florist cyclamen, they are easy to care for and grow elegant, brightly colored flowers against cute, heart-shaped leaves patterned with light and dark green. These attractive plants have a long history with humans, originating in the Middle East, Mediterranean, and southern Europe. Long considered medicinal by Europeans, they were frequently planted near places of worship as a symbol of deep, abiding love and devotion, since the tuber-like root bulbs of wild cyclamen varieties can be divided and replanted over and over again.

Today, cyclamen are prized as ornamental houseplants that flower in winter and are often given as holiday gifts. While these members of the primrose family are typically meant to be thrown away after their seasonal blooms fade, it’s possible to keep them flowering year after year with the proper care. 

  • Botanical Name: Cyclamen persicum
  • Common Name: Cyclamen, Sowbread
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Mature Size: 6 to 9 inches tall and wide
  • Sun Exposure: Partial
  • Soil Type: Well-drained
  • Soil pH: 5.5
  • Toxicity: Toxic

Plant Varieties

The bloom cycle for cyclamens begins in the fall with the appearance of pink, red, white, or pale purple flowers. Florist cyclamen, which are derived from wild Persian cyclamen, are typically available as houseplants and will grow to about a foot tall.

Wild or hardy varieties like sowbread (C. coum), ivy-leaved cyclamen (C. hederifolium), and Neapolitan cyclamen (C. neapolitanum) get to be about six inches tall and are grown as perennial outdoor garden plants. 

Best Growing Conditions for Your Cyclamen Plant

You’re likely to see cyclamens in shops and plant nurseries from early fall through early winter. Their blooming period can last as long as eight weeks, typically December and January. When choosing a specimen, carefully check behind open blooms and choose a plant with many unopened buds, which will give you a longer bloom period. 

As your cyclamen's flowers fade, remove the dead blooms to help promote the opening of new buds. 

When you get yours home, place it a spot with lots of bright, indirect light and cool temperatures. After flowering, move your cyclamen to a shaded, dark place. Take care to keep cyclamen out of the reach of your pets, as it’s toxic to cats and dogs. 

Unlike many houseplants, cyclamens do best with cooler night temperatures, ideally in the 40s, although they can still survive with nights as warm as 65 degrees. Consider keeping your cyclamen in an unheated portion of your home to best simulate these conditions. Cool temperatures can extend the bloom period up to an additional two months. 

Plant Care

While it’s flowering, your cyclamen needs careful attention. Feed it with houseplant fertilizer every 2 weeks and water frequently enough to keep the soil consistently moist.

When blooming stops in late winter, the plant will go dormant and begin to lose its leaves. Water it very sparingly in spring. When summer comes, move your cyclamen to a warm and dark or shaded spot in your home, and stop watering completely for two to three months. 

The warm-weather dormant period is a good time to repot, which should happen every other year or so. Fill a pot one size larger with standard potting soil and replant the tuber, making sure that the soil level around the tuber in the new pot is the same as in the old pot. 

In late summer, you can resume watering your cyclamen again, taking care to soak the plant deeply the first time. Move it back into an unheated or cool spot in your home with bright light. Soon, you should see new leaves emerging from the plant. If you’ve given the plant good care and the right conditions, it will flower for you again in winter.  

Common Growing Problems

If you allow the soil to dry out while the plant is in flower, the blooms may die off. On the other hand, if the plant gets too much water, the leaves will start to droop. Cyclamens prefer the soil moist, but not boggy.

How to Propagate Cyclamen Plant

Unfortunately, florist cyclamen can’t be propagated from dividing tubers, as hardy cyclamen species, which are typically grown as an outdoor perennial, can be. The cut sides of the tuber typically don’t heal correctly, and the tubers just rot after being planted.

Commercially, florist cyclamen is propagated by seeds, which must be planted under specific light and temperature conditions around 18 months to two years before the plant will bloom. For this reason, it’s best to simply purchase a new plant if you want another one, or follow the care directions above to keep the same cyclamen plant blooming year after year. 

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