How to Grow Cyclamen, Your New Favorite Winter Houseplant

updated Jan 31, 2024
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Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Tom Hoerup

When the weather turns cold and outdoor plants have turned brown — or have been buried in inches of white snow — houseplant-lovers know they can turn their attention indoors and still be surrounded by greenery. However, even indoor houseplants are usually governed by the seasons, and typically experience limited growth during winter months. There are exceptions, though, including the beautiful flowering cyclamen.

According to plant expert Brock Ingham, the cyclamen is unconventional. “It’s like the rebel of the plant world in my eyes, blooming away when everyone else is taking a break,” he says. When other plants are dormant during winter months, cyclamen seizes the spotlight by using that season to produce vibrant blooms set against heart-shaped leaves. As with the popular poinsettia, many people receive these hardy houseplants as gifts during the holiday season.

Quick Overview

How to Care for Cyclamen

Place cyclamen plants in bright, indirect light. During growing periods, keep your cyclamen’s soil moist (but not wet). During dormant periods, water your cyclamen less frequently.

However, the one caveat of giving or receiving a winter flowering plant is that sometimes, after the blooms have died, those plants are sadly relegated to trash bins or to less attended areas of the home where they tend to dry out and gather dust. But it doesn’t have to be that way! With some care, your cyclamen can flourish and be ready for next year’s blooming season. Here’s what Ingham and other experts said about how easy it is to care for these plants, making the case to keep them around all year.

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What Are Cyclamen?

Cyclamen are flowering plants native to the Mediterranean, where they typically grow in fall through early spring and go dormant in the hot, dry days of summer. You’ll likely find them in nurseries, florists’ shops, and home centers around the holidays.

Cyclamen have low, bushy leaves with shapes that range from rounded to heart-shaped. Its taller flowers stand straight up in the middle of the plant and bloom for about three months. Flower colors range from white to shades of pink, purple, and red.

Cyclamen prefer cool weather, and in some areas they can be grown outside successfully. However, they have an ideal temperature range of 50 degrees to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, so should be grown inside anywhere the weather drops below this range.

While you can grow cyclamen from seed, it’s easiest to buy these plants in their mature form. Mature cyclamen plants will have a large tuber from which the roots and leaves emerge. It looks a little like a potato, and rests just below the surface of the soil.

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Is Cyclamen Perennial?

If given the right conditions, yes, cyclamen is perennial and can bloom year after year.

If you’re planning to grow cyclamen in outdoor containers, remember to bring those inside if temperatures will be dipping below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Indoors, make sure that cyclamen receive adequate light and water.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Tom Hoerup

What Kind of Soil to Use for Cyclamen

Although cyclamen aren’t terribly fussy, the proper soil will help them thrive. “I properly care for a cyclamen by making sure that it is planted in well-draining soil, preferably mixed with peat moss or bark to provide proper air circulation and avoid root rot,” advises Lindsey Hyland, founder of Urban Organic Yield.

Zahid Adnan of The Plant Bible suggests a slightly acidic mix made from potting soil, perlite, and orchid bark. The soil should drain well, so adding a bit of sand is acceptable to encourage water to move throughout.

What Kind of Light Do Cyclamen Prefer?

Ingham recommends placing cyclamen in a cool spot with bright, indirect light. “I usually place mine near a window that gets plenty of light but doesn’t heat up too much,” he says.

According to Hyland, a north or east-facing window works nicely to provide enough brightness without being too intense to harm the plant or cause scorching.

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How to Water Cyclamen

Like any plant, it’s essential not to over- or under-water your cyclamen. Hyland stresses the importance of checking the moisture level before watering, as too much can cause the leaves to turn yellow.

Adnan recommends watering when the top inch of soil feels dry and adding liquid from the bottom, as wetting the leaves can cause fungal issues. “Water cyclamen from the base, allowing the plant to absorb water through its roots,” he advises.

Proper watering coupled with adequate air circulation can also keep pests, such as aphids and spider mites, at bay.

During dormant periods, cyclamen requires less water. Allow soil to dry more fully between waterings; too-damp soil can cause the tuber to rot.

How to Care for Cyclamen

You can go the extra mile for your cyclamen by pruning and adding fertilizer when appropriate. During the growth period, Hyland fertilizes her plant every two weeks with a low-nitrogen fertilizer, and Adnan agrees. “During the growing season (fall to spring), use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every two to four weeks to support healthy growth and blooms,” he says.

According to Adnan, removing spent flowers and yellowing leaves can also help encourage continuous blooming and maintain the plant’s overall health.

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When Do Cyclamen Go Dormant?

Spring sees the entrance of longer days and warmer temperatures, which starts the blooming season for many plants. However, once summer arrives, cyclamen take a break and go dormant. During this time, their flowers fall off and their leaves yellow and wither.

It can look like the cyclamen is dead, but in dormancy, the nutrient-packed tuber is keeping the plant alive below the surface of the soil.

You can tell the difference between a dormant cyclamen and a dead cyclamen by pushing some of the soil back to look at the tuber. It should be firm. A soft, shriveled, or mushy tuber is a sign that your cyclamen is not in good condition.

“During this time, I move them to a cooler, well-ventilated area and reduce the frequency of watering,” Ingham says about how he cares for his cyclamen during the summer. So once your cyclamen shows signs of dormancy, instead of tossing it, you can safely store it out of sight and prepare it for its next bloom.

Other names for Cyclamen

Depending on where you live or the season, a cyclamen may be incognito using another name. So, if you’re shopping specifically for a cyclamen, keep in mind that it may have a different label.

One popular rendition is sowbread, and although it isn’t an appealing moniker, the version does have practical meaning. “Cyclamen is sometimes referred to as sowbread, a name derived from its tuberous roots, which were historically fed to pigs,” says Adnan. 

Other alternative names include Persian violet — due to cyclamen’s resemblance to a traditional violet — and shooting star, which is less common. 

Are Cyclamen Safe for Pets?

Cyclamen are toxic to both pets and humans. All parts of the plant can irritate the stomach lining and cause serious issues such as vomiting and diarrhea. “It’s important to note that while they are beautiful and beneficial, all parts of the cyclamen plant are poisonous if ingested, so pets and children should be kept out of reach,” says Hyland.

Placing the plant high up on a shelf or cabinet might help assuage worries in some cases, but if your pet (or kid) is a climber, then it’s best to pass the plant on to someone else.