Many orchid nurseries will tell you that cymbidiums are the easiest orchid to grow. Not really, many...like bletillas and dendrobiums...are easier. Others, like vandas and phalaenopsis, are harder. Cymbidiums are really more in the middle.
Cymbidiums are terrestrial orchids that are native to mid and southeast Asia. Terrestrial means that they grow naturally in the ground, as opposed to epiphytic orchids that cling to the sides of trees and rocks.
You can see in the header above which zone I live in. I'm in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains east of Los Angeles at an elevation of 600 feet. It gets extremely hot here in the summer and occasionally dips below freezing in the winter.
Thinking of their natural habitat, you can see that cymbidiums thrive on heat and humidity. They can tolerate a couple of nights down to 28 degrees but more than that, you better move them inside until the thermometer rises again.
This is our cymbidium bench. It's on the north side of our house which many orchid growers will tell you will not work but it seems to work for us. They tell you this because the prime motivator for orchids to bloom is sunlight.
One of the few professional gardening jobs I had was at an orchid nursery. We told our customers that they needed 55% sunlight. That is, if you put the plant in direct sun, you could cover them up with the shade cloth that blocked out 45% of the light...which we conveniently sold.
In reality, as you can see on our bench, you need good light but not necessarily 55%, or any direct sunlight at all.
They only really need water once a week in cooler months, maybe twice in the hot season. Our bench has an automatic sprinkler at each end to take care of this (see our Poor Man's Sprinkler System to see how I do this).
You might imagine that with big blooms and buds like these that the flower stems might get very heavy and break off. You would imagine right. A stiff gust of wind can easily snap them in two.
To prevent this, you need to stake the flower stems. I use a cheap bamboo stick and a twist-tie. I cross the twist-tie between the stake and stem to provide some cushion and separation from the stake.Being a Cheapskate, I naturally recycle these stakes year after year, until they literally fall apart and I can't use them any more.
Fertilize during the non-freezing months once a month to every couple of weeks with a fertilizer that has at least 10% potassium. I use a liquid 10-10-5 fertilizer that works good on my entire garden.
The blooms on cymbidiums are thick and waxy. They can easily last two months indoors. Theoretically, they can last longer outside but they are subject to pollinators out there. Once pollinated, they will fade and drop off quickly.
You can tell when a cymbidium bloom is about done when the central lip turns red.
I repot ours about every three years. The one above was repotted last summer. Notice the mix still looks fresh and there is a couple of inches for the plant to grow in each direction. Even the little weed seems to like it.
This plant is in need of repotting this year...you can't even tell it has any mix. When you repot it, you can also put those dead-looking bulbs in their own small pots and new plants will grow from them.
I'll post another report on repotting a cymbidium later this year, you want to avoid repotting during the blooming season. Right after they're done is the best time.
Their pretty tough, hardy, don't take a lot of fawning over. That's the number one killer of orchids right there...treating them like their a delicate, fragile, little snowflake. Go ahead...let them show you what they're made of. The rewards are great when you let them go their own way.
Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
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