Seed ripens in early to mid-summer following flowering, no matter whether the species flowers in the spring, summer or autumn. In the case of the summer flowering Cyclamen purpurascens and C. colchicum this means that seed takes the best part of a year to ripen.
Seed is ready when the end of the seed capsule, where the style used to be, starts to peel open (above left) and the pod is slightly soft when gently squeezed. At this stage the seeds will be a pale brown colour and most likely very sticky (above right). In nature or the garden, this stickiness aids distribution as ants love it and carry off the seed to eat the sticky coating, before discarding it. If not collected at this stage, over a period of weeks the seed will dry out and darken in colour while the capsule opens fully.
If not sown straightaway, seed should be stored in labelled packets until you are ready to sow it. Paper envelopes are recommended unless the seed is completely dry, if stored in plastic while still damp it is likely to develop mildews and moulds and is generally no longer viable.
The best time to sow
The best time to sow seed is immediately after the pods open and in most cases this means in July and August. This is the time at which the seeds have maximum viability. It used to be considered that fresh seed was essential to success. While undoubtedly the fresher the better, most growers find that they have consistent success anyway provided certain steps are included in the process.
We would recommend that stored seed is sown (in the northern hemisphere) during the second half of August or September. It seems that germination of both spring and autumn flowering species is quicker and more consistent if sown during this period and completed by the end of September.
Seed sown after that will germinate, but will take longer and may be more patchy. Some growers feel that if seed isn’t sown by the end of November then it is better to hold it over until the following year.
Preparing the seed
By the time you are ready to sow, stored seed it is likely to be dry (as above) and whether from your own plants, the Cyclamen Society seed distribution, or elsewhere, should be soaked in cool or slightly tepid water for about 24 hours.
Add a drop of washing-up detergent to the water to act as a wetting agent. This will stop seeds sitting in a little bubble of air where they would remain dry. Don’t forget to label the pots of soaking seed (above left).
The seeds will swell as they take on moisture and will look a bit plumper (above right). When you are ready to start sowing, let the seeds dry just a little, possibly on a paper kitchen towel, so that they don’t stick together. This will make sowing easier.
Among growers, there is probably more discussion about the compost mix than anything else as people tailor it to their watering regime and what is easily available to them. However, although some growers succeed with just soil-less compost, all that is required is a well-drained compost and most use three principal components:
- Some form of loam or loam-based compost, for example John Innes No 2 or No 3. Unsterilised garden soil is not really suitable.
- Some form of humus, for example, peat, coir, well composted bark, leaf mould, or multi-purpose soil-less compost.
- Grit: either potting grit (below far left), alpine grit (below left) or Cornish grit are good, but not grit sand. The grit shouldn’t be too large, and angular or sharp pieces are better than round. Some growers use perlite as a grit substitute.
Precision is not necessary, but mix together well, roughly two parts of loam to one part grit and one part humus. The resulting compost should be damp but not wet and should be of an ‘open’ nature (above right).
Pots and pans
There is no necessity to provide cyclamen with extra deep pots, standard pots are perfectly adequate whether they are round or square. Where larger quantities of seed have been harvested or purchased it may be more practical to use seed trays, but these are often rather shallow so obtaining ones that are a little deeper can be an advantage.
Many growers find that 7 cm or 9 cm square pots are most practical as they allow seed to be space sown at regular intervals and are very economical of bench or frame space.
Alpine or potting grit should be used as a top dressing for seed pots, for this purpose perlite cannot be used as a substitute.
This top dressing discourages mosses, liverworts and algae with which cyclamen seedlings find it difficult to compete. It also allows for overhead watering that would otherwise disturb the seed and may create a hard pan on the surface of the compost.
Assemble all the items before you start: pots, compost, labels, top dressing and seeds.
A tea strainer is useful for draining the seeds from their soaking liquid without losing them.
Fill a pot with compost and tap the bottom on the bench to settle it. You should end up with ½-1 cm of space above the compost.
For preference, space sow the seeds about a centimetre apart, just pressing each one into the surface of the compost. You should get 9 or 16 seeds in a 7 cm pot (above left) and 25 or 36 seeds in a 9 cm square pot (above right).
Ensure you label the pot with the name of the plant. Some growers like to add the date of sowing. There is no need to cover the seed with compost, though you can use a very thin layer if you wish. Finish by top-dressing the pot with grit up to the rim of the pot.
Water well either from the bottom (by standing the pot in a few cm of water until the surface becomes moist) or from the top with a watering can with a fine rose. The pots should be placed in a shady cold greenhouse or cold frame and should not be allowed to dry out at any time
If you have a lot of seeds from a good harvest, these can be space sown or scattered in a seed tray (above left) and top-dressed with grit in a similar way (above right).
After a month or so seedlings should appear, first as small specks of green cotyledon leaves (above left), that will expand over a few weeks (above right} and in a few species you may see some indication of the colour that the true leaves will be when they appear. Autumn-flowering species generally germinate first, with spring-flowering ones appearing a little later.
Cyclamen purpurascens and C. colchicum often don’t show their first cotyledon until the summer after sowing, when mature plants of the species are growing new leaves.
Seedlings should be allowed to grow on in their seed pots for either one or two growing seasons. If possible you should keep them growing on as long as possible before they go dormant in their first summer so that they put on as much growth as possible.
They are ready for potting on when their small tubers are no longer translucent and are at least a pale opaque brown. The tubers above left would be considered too young by most growers, while those above right will be ready when they next go dormant.
All the above Cyclamen hederifolium tubers are ready for potting on except for the two on the extreme left. Seedling tubers are generally potted on while dormant during their second summer and this should preferably be done towards the end of the dormant period just as the roots are starting to come into growth.
The same compost mix can be used for potting on as was used for sowing seed, though some growers like to add a handful of bonemeal or a dose of Osmocote to the mix.
Most seedling tubers will fit nicely into a 7 cm square pot, but if the seedlings have been left in their seed pot for a few years and the tubers are larger, then a 9 cm pot should be used.
Fill a pot with compost and make a hole in the centre with your finger or a suitable implement.
Insert the roots of the seedling tuber into the hole and push the compost to hold it in place with the tuber just about level with the surface
Tap the pot on the bench to settle the compost around the roots of the plant. You should end up with ½-1 cm of space above the compost with the tuber level with the surface.
This common planting depth is suitable for all species at this stage, as plants will find their own depth over time. See our page ‘Cyclamen for Garden & Greenhouse – A Gardener’s Guide’ for information on planting depths for mature plants.
Top-dress the pot with alpine grit and add a label to the pot. Water well either from the bottom or from the top with a watering can or hose with a fine rose.