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Cyclamen coum Roseum
© Jason Ingram

Cyclamen: How to care for cyclamen and growing tips

Published: January 26, 2022 at 3:16 pm

Cyclamens are a welcome sight in the colder months when little else is in flower. Plant expert John Hoyland recommends his 12 favourite cyclamen and gives advice on how to care for them. Words John Hoyland, photographs Jason Ingram

Cyclamen are a genus of about 20 tuberous perennials grown for their pink and white flowers that appear at a time when few other plants are flowering. Most cyclamen are found around the Mediterranean and across southern France, Italy, Greece and into Turkey. Cyclamen habitat ranges from deciduous woodlands to scrubland and rocky areas. Some cyclamen species flower from September to December, others from December to March. Most grow to about 10cm tall although established tubers can reach the size of a dinner plate and produce dozens of flowers.

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Don’t confuse hardy cyclamen with the florist’s cyclamen that you see for sale during the winter. These are forms of a tender species, Cyclamen persicum, that have been cosseted throughout their lives and will not survive outdoors. They are often sold as houseplants in the colder months; they should flower indoors for around six weeks in a cool, bright room.

How to care for cyclamen

Where to grow cyclamen

In general, hardy cyclamen prefer poor, well-drained soils in full or part shade. Hardy cyclamen are easy to grow as long as you avoid heavy soils that are apt to get waterlogged. If you do have very wet soil it is probably best to grow cyclamen in pots or raised beds. Cyclamen are at their happiest around the base of deciduous trees and large shrubs. These are areas that are cool and shady in the summer but light and moist during the autumn and winter.

Planting cyclamen

An important consideration when growing and caring for cyclamen is whether to buy them as dry tubers or as already rooted plants in pots. Potted plants are more expensive but will establish more quickly and flower immediately; tubers will take some time to establish and probably won’t flower the first year after planting. Plant container-grown cyclamen at the same level as they are in their pot and plant tubers about 3cm to 4cm below the surface. If you are planting tubers, make sure that they are the correct way up. The flat or slightly indented face is the top.

How to propagate cyclamen

The sweeps of cyclamen that are seen in the wild are a testament to the nifty ways in which the genus has developed to ensure that its seed is distributed efficiently. Cyclamen seeds are held in capsules on the end of spring-like stems that unwind to deposit the seed as close to the ground as possible, increasing the chances of germination. Seed distribution is further assisted by ants, birds and small mammals. Attracted by the sweet coating covering the seeds, ants take away the seeds to a safe place, eat the sugars and leave the seed to germinate. Small birds that are attracted to the sweet treats eat them and then redistribute the seeds through their droppings.

The oft-quoted advice of collecting cyclamen seed and sprinkling it around has never worked for me. The expanse of cyclamen in my own garden have been produced by simply letting nature do the work and (very occasionally) collecting and sowing the seed of a species I wanted to encourage.

Cyclamen seed should be sown as soon as possible after it ripens in trays or shallow pans. I use John Innes seed compost with a small amount (about 10 per cent) of perlite and the same amount of leaf mould. The seed should be sown thinly and covered with about one centimetre of horticultural grit. Leave the containers in a shady place outside, keep the compost moist and wait. Germination is irregular, with some seedlings appearing after a couple of months and some waiting a year or so. Leave the young plants in the trays for a second year to develop a tuber and then plant out in the garden when they are dormant, roughly between May and August.

The best cyclamen to grow

1

Cyclamen hederifolium 

Cyclamen hederifolium
© Jason Ingram

The ivy-like foliage of Cyclamen hederifolium quickly follows the emergence of the flowers, making attractive ground cover until the following spring. White, pink and ruby pink flowers appear from late August to the end of October. 10cm. AGM. RHS H5.

2

Cyclamen mirabile

Cyclamen mirabile
© Jason Ingram

Cyclamen mirabile is an autumn-flowering cyclamen species with flowers that are usually pale pink in colour, with a sweet scent. Its leaves are rounded, serrated and imprinted with a frosted pattern that resembles a maple leaf. 10cm. AGM. RHS H4.

3

Cyclamen coum f. albissimum ‘Lake Effect’

Cyclamen coum f. albissimum 'Lake Effect'
© Jason Ingram

Cyclamen coum f. albissimum 'Lake Effect' is a form with pure-white cyclamen flowers that, unusually, have no colouring on the base of the petals. The leaves are deep green with a leathery texture and no markings. Flowers from late December. 10cm. RHS H4.

Buy Cyclamen coum f. albissimum 'Lake Effect' now from Ashwood Nurseries

4

Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Lysander’

Cyclamen hederifolium 'Lysander'
© Jason Ingram

The distinctive leaves of Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Lysander’ are perhaps the most showy of any cyclamen. They have deeply serrated, almost holly-like edges, which are dark green, while the centre is silver. Pale-pink flowers from August to October. 10cm. RHS H5.

5

Cyclamen coum subsp. coum f. coum Pewter Group

Cyclamen coum 'PewterGroup'
© Jason Ingram

A variable group of Cyclamen coum. The best forms have pewter (not silver) leaves that have a thin margin and central midriff of green. The flowers range from pink to deep magenta, opening in late winter and spring. 10cm. AGM. RHS H5.

Buy Cyclamen coum Pewter Group from Ashwood Nurseries

6

Cyclamen coum ‘Tilebarn Graham’

Cyclamen coum 'Tilebarn Graham'
© Jason Ingram

The deep-pink flowers of 'Tileburn Graham' each have a dark-magenta blotch at the base of the petals, and are held above pewter-coloured leaves. Although the flowers are on the small side, they are produced in abundance in late winter and early spring. 10cm. RHS H4.

7

Cyclamen coum subsp. caucasicum

Cyclamen coum subsp. caucasicum
© Jason Ingram

A variable cyclamen group from the Caucasus that has heart-shaped leaves with a finely scalloped edge. There is usually a distinct dark stain in the centre. The flowers appear from late winter to early spring and are squat and pale pink. 10cm. RHS H5.

8

Cyclamen confusum

Cyclamen confusum
© Jason Ingram

An autumn-flowering species that originates from the island of Crete. It’s similar to Cyclamen hederifolium but has slightly larger flowers. The flowers, which appear from late September to October, have a delicious honey perfume. The leaves have a glossy sheen. 10cm. RHS H4.

Buy Cyclamen confusum now from Ashwood Nurseries

9

Cyclamen coum subsp. coum f. coum Silver Group

Cyclamen coum Silver Leaf Group
© Jason Ingram

Attractive silver-grey cyclamen foliage with a rounded shape and slightly serrated edge. The flowers, from early winter to early spring, are generally shell-pink, but deep-magenta to rose-pink shades and white forms do occur. 10cm. RHS H5.

Buy Cyclamen coum Silver Group now from Ashwood Nurseries

10

Cyclamen coum ‘Ashwood Snowflake’

Cyclamen coum 'Ashwood Snowflake'
© Jason Ingram

Raised in 2007 at Ashwood Nurseries, this cyclamen is difficult to get hold of but worth the search. Pure-white flowers open from pink-tinged buds in late winter. The pewter leaves have a dark-green centre. 10cm. RHS H5.

Buy Cyclamen coum 'Ashwood Snowflake' now from Ashwood Nurseries

11

Cyclamen coum subsp. coum f. coum (Pewter Group) ‘Maurice Dryden’

Cyclamen coum 'Maurice Dryden'
© Jason Ingram

A vigorous cyclamen cultivar that is widely available. The rounded leaves are a matt pewter colour with a dark-green edge. Appearing from late winter to early spring, the white flowers have a raspberry stain at the base. 10cm. RHS H5.

Buy Cyclamen coum 'Maurice Dryden' now from Ashwood Nurseries

12

Cyclamen coum subsp. coum. f. coum 'Roseum'

Cyclamen coum Roseum
© Jason Ingram

Cyclamen coum subsp. coum f. coum ‘Roseum’ is a long name for such a delicate plant. Its pale-pink flowers, held above small, rounded leaves, appear in December and last until March. 10cm. RHS H4.

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Buy Cyclamen coum subsp. coum f. coum ‘Roseum’ now from Ballyrobert Gardens

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