June 17, 2024

How to Care for Cyclamen During Dormancy

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Wondering if your cyclamen is dead? Depending on the season, it could be going dormant. Learn more about cyclamen dormancy period now on Gardener's Path.

A vertical shot of a cyclamen plant with vivid purple blooms in a tin pot set against an out of focus lit backdrop. Green and white text run across the center and bottom of the image.

Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) houseplants are indoor winter favorites in the United States and Canada.

Not to be confused with their hardy relative, C. hederifolium, these little beauties are native to the Mediterranean region and are only hardy outdoors in USDA Zones 9 to 11, which means for most of us, they share our indoor spaces.

If you have a potted cyclamen, you probably received it as a gift or purchased it yourself during the fall or winter, when the adorable little blossoms are in full bloom.

A vertical shot of a cyclamen plant with vivid purple blooms in a tin pot set against an out of focus lit backdrop. Green and white text run across the center and bottom of the image.A vertical shot of a cyclamen plant with vivid purple blooms in a tin pot set against an out of focus lit backdrop. Green and white text run across the center and bottom of the image.

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In their native climates, these plants come alive with flowers during the winter months, when temperatures are cool, and humidity is high.

For those of us struggling through the bleak, dark, and cold winters, these colorful winter bloomers are a welcome respite.

I don’t know about you, but the last few weeks of February in Zone 5b can be a mental struggle at times. This is when I dig deep into my Scandinavian roots to find enjoyment and comfort in simple, small pleasures.

My cyclamen’s green, heart-shaped leaves and cheerful little flowers certainly help boost my mood just enough to push through until spring.

As with many flowering plants, cyclamens go through a dormant period. If your plant is looking a little unhealthy, you might be wondering what’s going on.

Is it dying? Well, it might be, but chances are it’s just heading for a seasonal siesta, aka a dormant period, and everything is totally fine.

For the full story on cyclamens and how to grow them, check out our comprehensive guide.

In this article, I’ll walk you through all you need to know about the dormant period for C. persicum.

Here’s a look at what’s ahead:

What You’ll Learn

  • What Is Cyclamen Dormancy?
  • What to Expect
  • Care During Dormancy
  • Preparing for New Growth
  • Troubleshooting and Common Challenges
  • Dormant or Dead?

Ready to learn more about the life cycle of cyclamens? Let’s go for a spin!

What Is Cyclamen Dormancy?

In their native habitat, cyclamens flower in the winter and go dormant in the summer.

In the United States and Canada, this dormancy period typically begins in May or June, depending on local climate conditions, and lasts about six to eight weeks.

As temperatures rise and the days become longer during the late spring and early summer months, the plants naturally respond to environmental cues by entering dormancy.

This is characterized by a decrease in growth, the gradual yellowing and withering of leaves, and a pause in flowering.

A horizontal close up of a cyclamen plant in a terra cotta pot with several yellow and wilted leaves.A horizontal close up of a cyclamen plant in a terra cotta pot with several yellow and wilted leaves.

It’s important to note that the exact timing of the onset of dormancy can vary a little depending on factors such as geographic location and specific local climate conditions, which as you know can vary from year to year.

Cyclamens are sensitive to temperature changes. When temperatures rise, they perceive this change as a signal to slow down their growth and prepare for a long nap.

The lengthening of daylight hours in late spring and early summer can also influence dormancy.

Humidity and precipitation are factors as well. In the Mediterranean climate, summers are typically dry. Reduced rainfall and dry soil conditions signal the plant that it’s time to conserve energy and go into hibernation.

Even your temperature-controlled indoor microclimate can directly affect whether a cyclamen goes dormant or not.

If your space is humid and cool, dormancy may be delayed or the plant may not enter a deep dormancy, instead continuing to produce leaves and/or flowers at a slower pace. Or to confuse us further – possibly not go dormant at all.

A horizontal photo of a potted cyclamen green foliage in a dark brown planter sitting on a table indoors.A horizontal photo of a potted cyclamen green foliage in a dark brown planter sitting on a table indoors.
Photo by Tabitha Caswell.

In Zone 5b, for example, my four-year-old C. persicum has never gone completely dormant. Here’s why: although our days become significantly longer in the summer than in the winter, I’ve got mine sitting in a spot in my kitchen that receives indirect light from an east-facing window.

This means the sun passes over by noon and this side of my house is shaded for the rest of the day. My cyclamen is probably perplexed.

On top of that, our summers are very hot and humid where I live. My air conditioner is running practically all summer long, so my plants don’t really get a chance to feel the summer heat.

And although air conditioning removes some humidity from indoor air, in some regions it’s not enough to mimic a Mediterranean summer.

Think of it like this: the trigger for a cyclamen to go dormant in its native environment is a combination of hot, dry conditions, reduced precipitation, and extended daylight hours. In short: dry heat and long days.

Indoor conditions such as air conditioning, humidity, and light are all variables that will dictate whether or not your plant enters dormancy as you would expect.

If you’re reading this article and wondering why your cyclamen doesn’t seem to go dormant, you’ve found your answer. Chances are, your plant is happily growing as if in an endless Mediterranean winter in your home – it’s a little confused and doesn’t have a clue what to do.

A vertical shot of a miniature pink flower cyclamen plant in a blue stoneware planter on a wooden tabletop.A vertical shot of a miniature pink flower cyclamen plant in a blue stoneware planter on a wooden tabletop.

Although it’s nice to see your plant blooming nonstop, keep in mind that this is not ideal for the overall health of your plant. Just as we need our eight hours of sleep every night, the rest period is crucial to allow them recharge and rejuvenate.

For this reason, it’s unwise to try and force it to continue growing when it should be resting. Later, I’ll cover the subtle signs to watch for and to help it into and through its dormant period.

Likewise, you should not attempt to abruptly force it into hibernation. If the plant is blooming like crazy, don’t immediately change its care routine and environment! It is possible to force hibernation, but it should be done slowly over a period of gradual tapering. Read on to learn more.

It’s best for you to observe your plant’s behavior closely and adjust its care routine accordingly as it does (or doesn’t) transition into dormancy.

What to Expect

When your plant is headed for hibernation, it’s nice to know what to expect. If you’re a type-A plant parent like me, you’ll feel better once you understand what’s ahead.

A horizontal shot with fresh white cyclamens in a vintage golden ceramic pottery pot. A star, wreath of pine cones and birch branches encircle three lit white candles against a rustic wood backdrop.A horizontal shot with fresh white cyclamens in a vintage golden ceramic pottery pot. A star, wreath of pine cones and birch branches encircle three lit white candles against a rustic wood backdrop.

During dormancy, the plant undergoes significant biological changes to adapt to the less favorable environmental conditions of summer. This phase is a completely natural part of its growth cycle.

The dormant period helps the plant to conserve energy and resources. It redirects energy away from active growth and flowering, storing it in the tuber for the next growing season. This means you should expect to notice changes.

As I’ve mentioned already, leaf changes are the first obvious sign. You’ll also see reduced production of new stems and leaves. Slowing of growth also causes a pause in flowering.

What’s happening is that while life above ground appears to be resting, the tuber stores nutrients in preparation for a new growing season, which is all normal for a cyclamen.

Care During Dormancy

During this critical phase of your plant’s life cycle, it’s important to give it proper care to help it transition smoothly into and through dormancy. To ensure continued health and vitality, there are a few things you need to know.

Leave the tuber in its pot. Unless you’re checking for signs of life or rot, there’s no need to remove it from its resting place. Treat it like a sleeping baby – do not disturb it.

Cyclamens prefer to be drier during dormancy than they do during the growing season. As their growth slows, they require less water – some moisture is still necessary, but not much.

In the spring when flowering has finished and leaves begin to turn yellow, gradually reduce your watering routine. This allows the soil to dry out between waterings and helps to simulate native conditions.

Wait until the soil feels dry to the touch before watering each time. For example, if you were watering every four or five days during the winter, extend to a full week, and continue to add an extra day or two each time you water.

A horizontal close up of cyclamen tubers.A horizontal close up of cyclamen tubers.

If in doubt, use your finger to check the moisture level of the soil. Stick your finger deep into the soil. If it feels dry, then go ahead and water. If it still feels slightly moist, wait a bit longer and test again before watering.

When you do water, it shouldn’t be a heavy soak. You don’t want to overwater, as this can encourage root rot. Err on the side of underwatering rather than overwatering.

Continue to provide minimal moisture for the length of the dormant period, which will be six to eight weeks. You should be watering much less frequently compared to the plant’s active growth period. 

I also need to mention fertilizer. Refrain from fertilizing during this time. Your plant’s nutrient requirements are reduced when it’s not actively growing, so hold off on feeding when blooms fade. Keep reading to learn when to begin fertilizing again.

You may be wondering if you should trim or remove withered stems and foliage at this time. The simple answer, mimicking the cycle in nature, is you don’t need to do this. Yellowed leaves and withered stems will die back and fall off on their own. Once detached, remove the material from around the top of the tuber.

If your plant looks unsightly and you just can’t leave it alone, it’s okay to use clean, sharp scissors to gently snip off dry and withered foliage and stems that haven’t detached on their own.

This might improve your plant’s appearance and make you feel better, but it really won’t affect its performance one way or the other.

If you choose to trim it, just be careful not to “prune” it too early and cut off too much living tissue. This could stress the plant before it enters dormancy. It’s best to wait until the foliage is dry and withered or completely dead to trim.

Preparing for New Growth

As your C. persicum prepares to break dormancy, you’ll notice some key signs.

This will mark the plant’s transition back to active growth, and for plant enthusiasts, it’s a very exciting phase to witness!

A horizontal close up shot of new buds on a cyclamen plant.A horizontal close up shot of new buds on a cyclamen plant.
Photo by Tabitha Caswell.

The emergence of new growth signals the end of the dormancy period. The most obvious sign is the appearance of small, tightly furled leaves. Once the foliage starts to unfurl, you’ll see the formation of flower buds, typically close to the center of the plant.

Flower buds appear rather quickly, within the first few weeks of breaking dormancy, but they will take another one to three weeks to begin opening.

The growth rate of foliage and flower production will speed up and become more noticeable as it reaches its peak during the winter.

If you see new foliage growth, but no flower buds forming, read more about reasons why your cyclamen isn’t flowering in our guide.

A horizontal close up of a cyclamen leaf. The leaf is dark green with light green veining and patches extending out.A horizontal close up of a cyclamen leaf. The leaf is dark green with light green veining and patches extending out.
Photo by Tabitha Caswell.

As far as care during this time, when you notice signs of new growth start to increase watering gradually as the plant wakes up. Be cautious not to overwater but aim for consistent moisture in the soil.

Resume fertilization with a water-soluble fertilizer formulated for flowering plants.

This will provide the necessary nutrients for the formation of healthy new leaves and flowers. I have two recommendations specifically for these plants.

If you don’t mind the smell of fish, and you’re not allergic to it, I prefer Neptune’s Harvest Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer available from Arbico Organics.

A vertical close up shot of a bottle of Neptune's Harvest fertilizer.A vertical close up shot of a bottle of Neptune\'s Harvest fertilizer.

Neptune’s Harvest Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer

With an NPK ratio of 2:3:1, this product is higher in phosphorus, perfect for boosting flower production. 

If you aren’t a fan of fish, you can try Jack’s Classic Blossom Booster.

Jack’s Classic Blossom Booster

For flowering houseplants, this one is a good choice too. Find it at Amazon.

Regardless of which fertilizer you choose, remember to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for dilution and frequency of application.

Ensure your plant receives bright, indirect light. Just don’t expose it to harsh, direct sunlight as this can scorch the leaves.

One helpful and noteworthy point to mention is about repotting. A cyclamen houseplant should typically be repotted every two to three years.

You’ll know when it’s time because it will become crowded in the pot, will not produce as many blooms, and the growth may be less vigorous in the winter.

This means the soil could be depleted and/or it needs a larger pot for more room to grow. I’ve mentioned that it’s unwise to disturb your tuber when it’s dormant. So when should you repot?

Right after it wakes up. Repot only after new growth has emerged and you’re confident that your plant is healthy.

Troubleshooting and Common Challenges

During the dormant period, it could be tempting to ignore your plant because it is not actively producing leaves and flowers. But it’s not entirely free from potential issues.

While some issues might not become apparent until it fails to wake from dormancy, there are still some signs to watch for.

  1. Pest infestations: while in dormancy, a cyclamen may still be vulnerable to pests like spider mites, aphids, or mealybugs.
  2. For those “confused” plants that haven’t entered into complete dormancy keep an eye out for signs of these pests, such as webbing or stippling on any remaining leaves, or the visual presence of insects. Promptly address them to prevent damage.
  3. Disease risk: fungal diseases, such as root rot, can become a concern if the soil remains consistently wet during dormancy. Ensure the soil has good drainage and is kept slightly moist, but not waterlogged. 
  4. Temperature fluctuations: sudden and extreme temperature changes can stress your sleeping tuber. You want to aim for a cool temperature but avoid rapid shifts or freezing conditions.
  5. Physical damage: we all know accidents happen but please take special care of your cyclamen during this time. Dormant, unsightly plants can sometimes be pushed aside or moved to odd locations where they might not get as much TLC as your other specimens.

Remember that the tubers are delicate and physical injury can disrupt their growth cycle. So be gentle and embrace this awkward-looking stage. Take it as an opportunity to educate guests in your home and explain why you’re nursing a sleeping plant that appears to be dead.

Dormant or Dead?

So how do you know if your cyclamen is just preparing for a little summer nap or if it’s actually in trouble? Timing is the most obvious clue, which we’ve already covered.

If the plant was dormant during the summer, and now it’s the middle of winter when your cyclamen should be putting on new growth and flowering, but it isn’t looking great, you might be wondering if it’s dead.

Before things get that far, there are some important visual cues to be aware of, and the first is the condition of the leaves.

It’s normal and natural for cyclamen leaves to gradually turn yellow and wither as they age, even during the winter growing season. As they enter the dormant period, this becomes more pronounced.

A horizontal close up of a cyclamen plant with wilting yellow leaves in the foreground.A horizontal close up of a cyclamen plant with wilting yellow leaves in the foreground.

Leaves will become dry and flimsy but can also retain some firmness. You might also notice the leaves completely dry and/or drop off entirely. This is normal.

So, assessing the leaves alone may not be enough to determine if your plant is dying, especially if you’ve never witnessed a cyclamen enter and emerge from dormancy. The next logical step you can take is to inspect the tuber and roots for signs of life.

Cyclamens grow from tubers, which are underground storage organs – round and sometimes flattened or disc-shaped. Healthy tubers are firm with a consistent exterior surface color that can vary depending on the variety, usually in various shades of brown.

When should you inspect your tuber? If it’s not showing signs of new growth by September, or the very latest October, it’s time to take it out of the soil and have a good look at it.

Gently remove the tuber from the pot and shake off as much soil as possible. It’s okay to give it a quick rinse and then pat it dry, but don’t soak it.

Healthy roots should be firm and white or light beige in color. Dormant roots appear dry and a bit shriveled, but they should still maintain a degree of firmness. If the roots look black, if they are mushy, or have a foul odor, they are most likely suffering from rot.

Healthy dormant tubers can appear shrunken, and slightly wrinkled. But if the tuber is soft, mushy, or squishy, and/or discolored it might be doomed – either dying or already dead.

If you’re looking at the tuber during this inspection and you’re still not sure if it’s alive or dead, you can perform a “scratch test.”

Gently scratch the surface with your fingernail and if you see a bit of green or light-colored tissue show itself beneath the surface, you can rest easy because your plant is probably alive.

But if your scratch test reveals brown or gray tissue beneath the surface of the tuber, I’m sorry to say it’s probably a goner. Say a few words of thanks and send your poor buddy to its grave.

The Simple Pleasure of Cyclamen

With its charming winter blooms and unique growth cycle, your cyclamen plant requires an understanding of its seasonal rhythms and a little TLC to help it live its best life.

A horizontal close up of vibrant pink cyclamen flowers.A horizontal close up of vibrant pink cyclamen flowers.

Respecting its dormant phase with the right balance of moisture, light, and temperature will encourage longevity and vitality in your plant. Watch for obvious or subtle signs, and adjust your care routine as the seasons change.

If it’s late fall and your cyclamen hasn’t emerged from hibernation, it’s possibly dead. If you want to know for sure, you can employ the “scratch test” to confirm before tossing it.

We’d love to hear from you! If you have any questions or insights about cyclamen dormancy, or if you just want to show us your winter-blooming beauty, please drop a note or photo in the comments below. Share the hygge!

And if you’d like to add more winter interest to your indoor plant kingdom, have a read of these articles next:

  • 23 Colorful Houseplants to Warm Up Your Home This Winter
  • How to Grow and Care for Amaryllis Flowers
  • How to Encourage Orchids to Rebloom

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