How to Grow and Care for Cyclamen in the Garden
Growing Cyclamen outside in the garden can be easy if their conditions are met. Species that are hardy to frost can survive some very cold winter temperatures and add colorful interest when there isn't much going on in the garden. Mimicking the natural growing conditions of these species can increase success in growing Cyclamen outside in the garden.
Hardy cyclamen can survive brief and sometimes prolonged periods at temperatures below 0 degrees especially with snow cover. It is difficult to know how well they will grow in zones as low as 4 though growers have had success. It may depend on finding a favorable micro climate in colder winter areas. Weather buffers of trees, shrubs, buildings, amount of moisture, sun, etc. can make a difference in successfully growing cyclamen in severe cold. It is good to keep in mind that winter is their growing season when they need light and moisture. My opinion is some may survive three months of snow cover but they are not likely to thrive. As a general rule they will grow best in areas where average winter temperatures are above the freezing mark.
Species for the garden in order of hardiest are hederifolium, coum, purpuracens, cilicium, pseudibericum and repandum. C.hederifolium and coum being the easiest to grow. For specific growing information for these species see Hardy Species.
Cyclamen hederifolium in partial sun along garden walkway
Hardy Cyclamen are ideally suited to growing in a shaded rockery or naturalized in the light shade of woodland borders. Here they combine with ferns, hardy perennials, and spring flowering bulbs of Scilla, Erythroniums, and Fritillaries. Planted in beds of their own they will create a colony of amazing color. Hardy cyclamen are one of the few flowering plants that will grow in the dry shade, one of the most challenging spots in any garden. Cyclamen roots are noncompetitive and can be planted among the roots of trees and large shrubs, both deciduous and evergreen. Trees and shrubs provide protective shade, buffers cold winter weather, and their roots absorb excess moisture improving drainage.
Since cyclamen plants are small it is nice to plant some where you can observe them up close, near walkways, entryways and outdoor living areas. Cyclamen also make excellent potted plants. There is much written about cyclamen pot culture and many growers and collectors grow exclusively in pots under glass. More information on planting in pots see Cyclamen Pot Culture.
Soil and Water
Sandy to clay soils are acceptable but should be well draining and loose with grit, compost or mulch. Wet and soggy soils with poor drainage will cause tubers to rot. Raised beds are proper if poor drainage can not be modified with the addition of mulch or compost. Fertilizers are not necessary but adding some bonemeal won't hurt. A layer of compost or mulch applied over the dormant tubers in summer is all that may be needed to provide nourishment while also discouraging weeds. Mulch can also preserve and even out the supply of moisture.
Hardy Cyclamen need watering in late summer and early fall to break dormancy and encourage new growth. An adequate supply of moisture is needed while the plant is in growth through fall, winter, and spring. Nature usually supplies enough moisture in these seasons, if not then watering by some other means may be neccesary. In summer when plants go dormant most species need some small amount of moisture to keep roots from dying back which will decrease bloom. A few species like hederifolium can do with very dry summers and minimal water if they are well established.
Pests are few and rarely the cause of trouble. Root weevil, aphids, slugs, snails, mice and squirrels possibly might do harm. Root weevils do not eat the foliage and leave their telltale notches but their larvae can burrow into the tubers making them vulnerable to rot. Weevils usually aren't a problem unless the tubers have been planted in a previously infested area. Applications of beneficial nematodes in fall and early spring will reduce their numbers. Aphids usually only appear when the leaves are in decline and the plant is headed for dormancy. Aphid infestations are not heavy and are very temporary. Slugs and snails might sample a blossom or leaf but generally find other plants more to their liking. Mice and squirrels will eat maturing seeds and can wreak havoc if you are trying to collect seed. Squirrels can also be a nuisance as they sometimes uproot tubers maybe taking a bite out of them. We have eastern red fox squirrels here but they have only uprooted a few tubers while burying nuts in the fall. If squirrels are a big problem the planted tubers could be covered with half inch mesh or chicken wire when dormant. Tubers will be protected and growth will be unhampered. Moles can cause problems as their tunneling may push tubers right out of the ground. We haven't any gophers here and I have never heard of them eating tubers. If you have any information on pests I would be pleased to receive it. Trapping is usually most effective if moles and gophers are a significant problem.
Heavy deposits of tree leaves in fall should be brushed aside so growing cyclamen leaves get light. Avoid any raking or the tops of the tubers may be damaged. In freezing weather a light cover of leaves or evergreen boughs will help protect the plants, removing them as soon as possible. In late spring or early summer the plants leaves will start to yellow and the plant will enter dormancy. This will be delayed in areas of moister deeper shade. I have not found it necessary to remove dried foliage from the tuber when completely dry. Seed can be collected when the firm pods feel soft or let the ants spread them about. In a few years a colony will develop.