I don’t profess to be any sort of expert when it comes to gardening or caring for houseplants. If we were to add up all the plants I have successfully cared for in my adult life before moving into this apartment, the total would be: one. A cactus, named Spike, whose care I took over for a while from a friend and then gave to another friend. I forgot to water him most of the time. He did not die.
But since moving into my apartment in July of last year, I’ve become interested in caring for plants. It brightens my home quite a bit to have little green guys on all the windowsills, and it’s an opportunity for me to learn. There’s great joy (and sometimes great frustration) in admitting that one is a beginner and trying to learn from there.
Today I’m learning about….. cyclamen!
I bought little Venetia here from Trader Joe’s several weeks ago, not knowing what she was. I believe I described her as “some funky kinda orchid thing” to a friend. At that point she had beautiful white flowers. I set her on my nightstand, with occasional trips to the windowsill for extra sun, and watered occasionally. She did pretty well for a while!
Cyclamen have beautiful flowers; they kind of look like they’re upside down, or like a butterfly is pretending to be a flower, or like a deconstructed post-modern tulip. They come in many colors, but mine is white.
Photo copyright Royal Horticultural Society 1996: RHS
So Venetia bloomed for maybe a month. Then the flowers started falling off, and the stems started drooping, and the leaves got wilty and then crunched. Sad!
What I know now, but didn’t know then, is that this means the plant is not dying, but instead going into dormancy. Cyclamen come from the mediterranean, where winters are mild and moist and summers are dryer. When summer comes along, it’s natural for the flowers to die, the leaves to wither, and new growth to stop.
Cyclamen flowers grow from a tuber, which is a great crossword puzzle word that you rarely get to use in real life. Like a bulb, a tuber sits underground for an extended period of time before stimulating growth. Once I learned this, I went to look at my plant (murmuring tuber, tuber, tubey-tuber under my breath) and sure enough, there’s a little mound sticking up slightly out of the soil. It almost looks like the top of a mushroom and it’s firm to the touch.
This presents an exciting challenge for the beginning gardener. If I play my cards right, I could have a perennially blooming plant. AND the cyclamen’s growth period is opposite of most of the other plants around, so as the days are getting darker and cooling off, my beautiful flowers should come back into the limelight.
Here’s what I have to do next.
Cyclamen Care After Blooming
After a cyclamen blooms, it will go into a dormant state. Going into a dormant state looks very much like the plant is dying, as the leaves will turn yellow and fall off. It isn’t dead, just sleeping. With proper cyclamen plant care, you can help it through its dormancy and it will rebloom in a few months. (Please note that hardy cyclamen planted outdoors will go through this process naturally and do not need extra care to rebloom.) When taking care of a cyclamen after blooming, allow the leaves to die and stop watering the plant once you see the signs that the leaves are dying. Place the plant in a cool, somewhat dark place. You can remove any dead foliage, if you would like. Let sit for two months.
Taking Care of a Cyclamen to Get it to Rebloom
Once a cyclamen has finished its dormant period, you can start to water it again and bring it out of storage. You may see some leaf growth, and this is okay. Make sure to completely soak the soil. You may want to set the pot in a tub of water for an hour or so, then make sure any excess water drains away. Check the cyclamen tuber and make sure that the tuber has not outgrown the pot. If the tuber seems crowded, repot the cyclamen to a larger pot. Once the leaves start to grow, resume normal cyclamen care and the plant should rebloom shortly.
Read more at Gardening Know How: Cyclamen Plant Care – Tips For Taking Care Of A Cyclamen https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/houseplants/cyclamen/cyclamen-care.htm
I flubbed this process a little already, because when the leaves had mostly died off, I successfully revived it by adding more water rather than letting it go dormant. So I’m cutting you off, Venetia! No more water for you, you little spendthrift! You are banished to the bureau, where it will stay relatively cool and dim.
I’m not sure how successful this will be – first because I didn’t go right to dormancy but have had a second growth period (look how healthy these leaves look! As a side note, I love the heart shape of the leaves.). And secondly because my house does not stay very cool in the summer. With no central air, even in New England, we get some pretty warm days. But it will be a good experiment.
On a less practical note, I’m touched by the idea of a plant that sleeps all summer and reawakens in the winter. When stillness and heavy cold set in, my mediterranean Venetia will be abloom. All the world around me scorns winter, it seems, and wants heat and sun. I’m the opposite – heat makes me grumpy and summer days are too long to fill with creativity and productive thought. But I’ve always found myself re-energized when autumn arrives, filled with new purpose and excitement for chilly days and snow. I am putting every effort into embracing summer, but I’m pleased that when the cooler days come, and I start feeling that fall sparkle, it’ll be time to flood Venetia’s soil with water and say “wake up!” so we can both get ready to bloom.