Tuesday 24 November 2015

Indoor cyclamen outside

Cyclamen persicum for Autumn bedding

I used to rail against garden centres when they sold the florist cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum to grow outside as Autumn bedding. For several years now I have enthusiastically grown them this way!
In our UK climate if you plant  ‘indoor cyclamen’ outside in early September with luck you will have ten weeks of colour before severe winter cold kills them. If you live in an urban heat island they might last even longer. In balmy South West Scotland I even saw them in Spring! I don’t know if they had been bedded at that time or had remained outside all Winter.
What used to really rile me was when florist cyclamen were displayed amongst the truly hardy Cyclamen hederifolium. If they were not even hardened the greater my ire.

Now garden centres don’t even distinguish between Cyclamen persicum designated for inside or out! Nor do they have to. Other than a possible element of hardening-off there is no need - most varieties behave exactly the same. I am not even aware that modern varieties are any hardier than the old ones. (There would seem to be a market for more hardy ones and it would be surprising if no breeding was being attempted. On the other hand what is the incentive to sell plants that live longer?).

I don’t know why bedding-out of cyclamen has become popular over the last twenty years. Are we experiencing milder Autumns? Are we more ‘short term’  and ‘immediate gratification’ gardeners than we used to be? Are the plants just cheaper?

In 2014 I bought my cyclamen in pots
This year I bought my cyclamen in six packs at Aldi. Six sturdy young plants cost £2.99. I splashed £8.97. What extraordinary value to brighten our Autumn. The way to purchase such plants at superstores is to buy within a very few days of stocking. Our growers are superb but as to keeping plants alive shops are shocking! Go to Aldi on a Saturday morning when new stock has just arrived.

Bedding out

Plant them in tubs or in the ground. Perhaps better in tubs as they can be displayed near a window or an entrance. If there is an element of shelter which gives some frost and wind protection so much the better. Purchased plants  have a small rooting volume so don’t overlook watering them when dry. Although watering is important, persistent heavy rain is a greater threat. Your container must have ample drainage and your compost must be well drained.

It seems to me that outdoor florist cyclamen stand up to minus four degrees centigrade of frost. Prolonged spells are more damaging than short ones. Some gardeners extend their plant’s life by putting tubs under shelter if it is forecast very cold.

Last year I was too parsimonious in planting and they were too far apart. Bed out more densely, they won’t grow much bigger at this time of the year.

How hardy can Cyclamen persicum really be? 
I had a plant in the garden in a sheltered corner, under a roof overhang and growing amongst Cyclamen hederifolium that survived the double Winter of 2010! Botanist friend Mike refused to be impressed and observed that it got quite cold in Persia too!

Still here in 2012

Not much better in 2013

Last year it flowered!

The plant was not very impressive, and remained above ground for only a very short time. Such things only excite crazy gardeners like me!
Did it survive because it was well established? Perhaps it benefited from mycorrhizal association that established cyclamen sometime enjoy? Perhaps the excellent drainage and dryness helped? 

Cathi’s plant must have been in two years. It popped up in January and by late February it was quite bedraggled!

Last early Spring I noticed a cyclamen with magnificent foliage markings in the dark passage-way between Cathi’s house and her hedge. It must have been there for at least two years as I knew I had not planted it myself. A single plant of a previously bedded out Cyclamen persicum had survived. I wonder if it will reappear? I doubt it.

In my piece about The National Kabschia Saxifraga Collection at Waterperry in Oxford I photographed a Cyclamen persicum pictured growing under minimal overhead protection.

At Waterperry growing in very sharply drained compost

Straws in the wind. Sensible people don’t try to grow hardy cyclamen permanently outside. Not being sensible I have bought some species Cyclamen persicum seed from Chilterns! I envisage some combination of bedding and overwintering in my cold greenhouse.

Two years to grow two seedlings in my unheated greenhouse. I must be mad!
Only an enthusiast would grow their own plants from seed when they are so cheap to buy.

How to grow Cyclamen persicum as a house plant
I used to recommend not to even keep indoor cyclamen when they finished flowering and just throw them away. Although it is a long time since I grew them inside, if I did so now I might enjoy the challenge of keeping them for several years. I know gardeners who say they go from strength to strength. For other folk they just fade away!

I rescued my battered outdoor florist cyclamen in mid December last year and overwintered them unwatered in my cold greenhouse. These are the same plants in their second year

There are three secrets to growing healthy cyclamen indoors.

  1. Give them good light and place them close to the window. Even on a frosty night they will be okay.
  2. Keep them cool. Do not put them near radiators. Keep them outside the curtain at night unless it is extremely cold.
  3. The real key is good watering. They do not like to be at maximum wetness for long periods. Inexperienced gardeners often misunderstand this advice and wrongly give them their water sparingly in dribbles!
Let your plants become very dry, almost wilting and then thoroughly water. Some gardeners let them drink up from their saucer for five minutes, others dunk in the sink. These practices are excellent but unless normal watering just runs away through a dried peat compost you just generously water from the top.
This watering policy is met in an extreme form when watering house plants such as streptocarpus when it is best to let them really wilt before giving them a thorough soaking. Orchids too like to go a long time between waterings before soaking in the sink recharges their water absorptive natural velum root coating.
As cyclamen leaves turn yellow in Spring cease watering almost completely until new growth emerges in Autumn. 
As mentioned by this time most folk will have turned them into compost or even wasted their potting compost by throwing it in the green bin.

Last thoughts in late November 
It has been a very mild and wet Autumn. Only two days ago we had our first frost. Quite a hard one.

The hard frost knocked this one back and it looks rather crestfallen. As I look out of my window this morning it looks a little better.
I have been very pleased with the outside Cyclamen persicum which has now given us ten weeks of pleasure and I anticipate a week or two more. 
The extreme rainfall has been a feature which for many gardeners might have caused a problem. What a contrast the wet compost has been with the dry regime that I have recommended as desirable inside.
My plants have withstood the rain very well and there has been hardly any fungal disease and no plant death!
I attribute my success to the fact that my plants are in deep containers - about ten inches depth of compost (well in my case sandy soil). I have explained in this post how in wet conditions a deep soil profile has a more favourable ratio of oxygen to water than a shallow one when at maximum water holding capacity after heavy rain.
The other feature of this mild Autumn is that the plants have filled out in their containers more than I expected.

This plant was slightly less exposed to the recent hard frost and has not turned a hair.

My previous posts about cyclamen
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen coum

I have recently revised my 2012 post on green manure


  1. I have only ever grown indoor cyclamen outside once. Then the snow did the most damage to them. They are really easy to grow from seed and I had so many of them one year that I did grow them inside the cold greenhouse where they did quite well. I think it is the wet that they don't like rather than the cold. We did once have a huge cyclamen inside which we had had for several years. It grew much better before we had double glazing and central heating.
    I can't bring myself to put them outside as it seems that they are being sacrificial lamb's.

  2. I remember your interesting post about cyclamen Sue. Feel free to put on a link if you would like to.
    As to sacrificial lambs I feel that is the fate of most houseplants including cyclamen inside when the general public get their hands on them. They seem to treated as cut flowers with roots and generally have a limited life expectancy
    I can't remember whether you collected your own cyclamen seed. Freshness is so important.
    Modern strains seem so different in time to a mature plant from seed. I remember at Askham Bryan forty years ago it was an 18 month crop. Nowadays a late Winter sowing produces a commercial crop in six months

    1. I've sown both bought and collected from indoor, coum and hederifolium. I've written lots of posts on cyclamen and these can be filtered using the search box and typing cyclamen. This is the link to the sowing from seed post I am always loathe to throw plants away as our plant hospital windowsill will testify. Currently is is home to an impatiens, begonia and several regal pelargoniums that were cut down and are regrowing.
      Yesterday I bought a bronze pot mum for the supermarket that is destined for the garden next year.
      By the way you should see the state of cut flowers when I eventually bring myself to throw them out

    2. Thanks for the link Sue.
      As to keeping your flowers when they are ready for compost ---- I do assume you are Yorkshire!

  3. I agree with your assertion that plants like these are sold in Garden Centres as "cut flowers with roots". It is symptomatic of our consumer society. The plants are mostly bought by people who are probably not gardeners. I'm afraid I am one of those who wouldn't know (without the benefit of a label) whether a Cyclamen was an indoor one or an outdoor one! :(

    1. I think you do yourself an injustice Mark but thank you for the hint that new gardeners and the consumer public might not know which cyclamen I am talking about.
      Most cyclamen sold in florists and supermarkets are C. persicum. Only good garden centres sell the hardy kinds.
      Florist cyclamen are usually larger, more colourful with a wider range of colours including bright red and scarlets and have a longer flowering season. A few have a nice scent and very attractive foliage markings - more so than many but not all hardy varieties
      Some garden centres confuse gardeners by wrongly displaying as 'hardy' those florist cyclamen that have been hardened off and display elsewhere the same cyclamen that have not been hardened. Confusion is further spread by them wrongly considering the larger varieties less tough

  4. Hi Roger, it is quite true that Cyclamen persicum will withstand dry cold in its native habitat but the plant which we are now offered is a far cry from the original and after being grown initially for indoor culture has now been "hardened up" to provide late autumn/early winter colour, it does say a great deal for the flexibility of Cyclamen as a genus. Our local "Friends of the Park" have actually planted out a few dozen C.persicum particularly under trees which look great for the time being, mind you I am surprised they haven't been nicked!
    Yet again we come back to the problem as highlighted by Mark that many plants are sold under false pretences so how is gardening going to flourish when the uninitiated are being ripped off and disappointed by an industry which seems to only live for the short term profit.

  5. I think your point about dry cold is a good one. I take this view with some of my cacti that overwinter bone dry in my cold greenhouse
    In fact I have bought my pot of cyclamen pictured in my post into my unheated greenhouse yesterday. It had fully recovered from my picture of it looking so sad. Before the next really hard frost I will bring the others in to keep for next year….
    As to your point about the commercial industry, I attended a lecture by a commercial seed breeder recently and he was so sad he was so inhibited by having to breed plants that would fit on Dutch trolleys


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