Cyclamen brings a festive addition to your houseplant collection

Cyclamens can be a hard plant to grow and maintain, since they are picky about a number of factors. However, they are often available in stores and offer an interesting addition to the plants around your home.

There are about 23 species in this genus, all native to the Mediterranean region. The Clemson University Cooperative Extension says they typically grow between six and 16 inches tall, have heart-shaped leaves, and flowers with colors such as red, pink, and white. This palette makes them a particularly popular choice for home décor around Valentine's Day as well as Christmas.

It is generally easier to purchase a cyclamen plant instead of trying to grow one of your own. But if you enjoy the appearance, you may decide to give it a try using the plant's tuber.

Cyclamens are very particular about their growing conditions, which usually makes them a poor choice for your outdoor garden. Ann Whitman, writing for the Gardener's Supply Company, says indoor plants will do better if you are able to recreate their native Mediterranean conditions. The plant usually goes dormant during the hot, dry days of summer, so it is a good choice for fall, winter, and spring.

Try to keep the plant from getting too hot or too cold. Jennifer Schultz Nelson, writing for the University of Illinois Extension, says cyclamens can tolerate temperatures as low as 40 degrees and as high as about 68 degrees. Make sure the plant is not placed too close to a heating vent or window, where it will be subject to drafts.

Since cyclamens are sensitive to temperature, you should look for a place where it will receive sunlight but not directly. Whitman suggests placing it near a window facing east or west, although a window facing south can also work if it doesn't heat up too much.

Cyclamen's can be very finicky about water. In general, their soil should be kept moist but not soggy. You can usually let the plant go for a few days without watering, adding more only when the soil feels dry. The Clemson University Cooperative Extension recommends watering only on the edge of the pot, since the tuber might rot after central watering.

The plant will also benefit from an occasional passive watering. The English gardening professional Sarah Raven says she places cyclamen pots on a saucer with half an inch of water once a week, allowing the soil to absorb the moisture overnight. Dump out any water that has not been absorbed.

Deadheading flowers can help keep cyclamens in bloom longer. Whitman says stems should be cut near the base of the plant once a flower fades. You should also remove yellowed leaves and any dropped seed capsules.

Cyclamens will go dormant during the summer, so many people will simply throw the plant away at this point. Nelson says you can leave the plant alone during this time, since the tuber has stored enough water for dormancy; in fact, continuing to water the plant can drown it out. If you resume watering in the fall, the cyclamens will likely bloom again.

Even if you know this fact about cyclamens, you might still opt to discard the plant after its leaves and flowers drop off. The Clemson University Cooperative Extension says it can be difficult to force the plant to bloom again, since insufficient light levels in the home often result in a leafier plant with smaller blooms.

If you want to try to reinvigorate the cyclamen after its dormancy period, keep it in a shady area until new leaves appear. Repotting the plant with new soil can be helpful. Once the leaves have started to grow, move the plant to a sunnier location and resume regular watering.

Cyclamens can also benefit from an application of fertilizer once they start growing again. Marie Iannoti, writing for the home design site The Spruce, recommends using a low nitrogen houseplant fertilizer.

Starting cyclamen from seeds is generally only advisable if you are an experienced gardener. The Clemson University Cooperative Extension says germination will proceed erratically, can take between nine and 15 months, and may require greenhouse conditions for the best results.

Cyclamens generally don't have many problems. Ensure that there is adequate air circulation to avoid diseases, and use insecticidal soaps to treat pest problems.

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