When it's gloomy outside with winter flowering shrubs buried under snow, having flowering plants inside can be a great boost to the spirits. I was just at Gentile's, a cheap and cheerful produce store, and they had small-flowered, indoor cyclamen banked up on the tables for $2.50 each, it's about as pretty and inexpensive as anything you can find in a pot at this time of year.
Most indoor cyclamen are Cyclamen persicum hybrids and are derived from a wild species native to the Middle East. Modern hybrids include miniatures and those with silver marbled leaves, frilled petals, and fragrant blooms. They can vary in height from 6” to 12” and come in a range of colors from white to crimson and magenta. They're in a different league to the large-flowered, large-leaved brigade which look coarse and overblown in comparison. Somehow the smaller cyclamen scale seems right this time of year, mine are lined up along my kitchen windowsill -- if there was not still a foot of snow outside the window their hardy cousins, Cyclamen coum as well as snowdrops and aconites should be poking their way up in the spring border outside the window.
I love having a range of similar colors spread around windowsills or running down the center of the kitchen table. Cyclamen bloom for several months and will flower again in future years. If you’re buying a plant, choose one with plenty of buds showing under the foliage and avoid any plants with drooping or yellow leaves. I dislike the plastic pots they come in and either hide them in another container or repot them. Be careful not to disturb the roots when doing this and if you are re-planting them into a larger container add some grit to the potting soil. They actually do better when slightly root-bound so I usually just tease them gently into a similar sized pot.
After gently firming the roots into the new pot or bowl I cover the surface with dried leaves or an emerald-green cushion of moss. If you have time, try spreading the flowers out from the base. They tend to clump together, but teased out gently and evenly between the leaves, the flowers look lighter and more elegant.
They enjoy temperatures between 45-55 degrees farenheit, which despite my family’s comments is far colder than our kitchen. You should choose a brightly lit situation away from direct sunlight and heat sources. They can endure or rather tolerate temperatures at around 60 to 70 degrees as long as this is not consistent and lasts for only a few days -- not all winter which is what my cyclamen seems to thrive in. If the temperature reaches above 70 degrees, which is comfortable for most people, it will go into dormancy. I don’t think my kitchen ever reaches above 70 in the winter which probably helps.
To prolong the bloom, spent flowers should be removed by twisting the stem and giving a sharp pull, to avoid leaving part stems behind.
As far as watering goes, they don't like much which suits my hit and miss house plant care. The worst thing is a constant dribble of water. Once a week I sit the pots in the sink and really soak them for a few hours so the whole root ball gets a good drink and the soil rehydrates. I then drain them and leave them for another week or so without water. They should really dry out before watering so the tuber doesn't rot, if I forget the flowers start to droop slightly and I guiltily soak them and wait for them to perk up.
Follow the life cycle
Cyclamen persicum are Mediterranean and follow the common pattern of coming into growth in the autumn, growing through the winter and spring and then going dormant while there is no rain and intense sun in the summer. To mimic this as closely as possible, when mine start to taper off in the late spring I shove them into the mass of house plants eeking out a survival in the mud room. I stop watering when they stop flowering and let the leaves go yellow and wither. During the summer I move them to a shelf outside the mudroom, which I couldn't say is cool but is in deep shade and then totally forget about them.
When I start thinking about taking cuttings and bringing in my tender perennials at the end of summer, there are usually a few leaves sprouting on the cyclamen, and I soak them thoroughly. As they are tubers it’s best to water from the bottom and let the plants soak the water up for 20-30 minutes. You can water from the top but you shouldn’t let the water get on the tuber as it can cause it to rot, for this reason you should not allow it to sit in water for more than an hour. As new growth appears it’s good to replace the top inch of compost in the pot with fresh compost and resume regular watering.
They have become friends whose blooms I’d miss very much in the winter months. Their presence on the windowsill has also made me realize I don't have nearly enough of the hardy garden Cyclamen coum outside. They look best in carpets as big as you can throw them, almost as lovely in leaf through the autumn as they are when in flower. My favourites are the deepest magenta colour forms which look good growing outside or arranged inside in a small glass with snowdrops or a few early primroses.