Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
December, 2003
Regional Report

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Despite their exotic and delicate appearance, cymbidium orchids are deceptively easy to grow.

Success with Cymbidium Orchids

If you've avoided growing orchids because you're daunted by their delicate appearance, or you've heard they're terribly demanding, it's time to take the plunge by bringing an orchid into your home. Orchids are hardier than you might imagine, and if you can successfully grow flowering houseplants, you can successfully grow orchids, as well.

Of the thousands of known types, only 10 are suitable for growing as houseplants, and of those 10, cymbidium, phalaenopsis, dendrobium, and cattleya are the most widely available. Cymbidium is considered the beginner's orchid because it is the easiest to grow.

How They Grow
Cymbidiums grow from oval-shaped pseudo-bulbs that rest on the surface of the potting medium. Strappy, grass-like foliage emerges from these pseudo-bulbs, with individual leaves growing from 2 to 5 feet long, depending on the maturity of the plant. Because of the foliage, cymbidiums are handsome plants even when not in bloom.

Flower Buds and Spikes
In late fall, flower buds form low on the plant and quickly grow into tall flower spikes, which open in early winter. Large-flowering forms produce 12 or more individual blooms on a single spike, with each spike lasting up to 8 weeks. Individual flowers range in size from 3 to 5 inches in diameter, depending on the variety. Flower colors range from white to orange, burgundy, bronze, pink, and purple, each with a yellow throat and dark red markings on the lip.

For peak performance, cymbidiums need ample water and frequent applications of high-nitrogen fertilizer during their active growth period. Feed with a complete liquid fertilizer (22-14-14) every 10 days to 2 weeks from January through June, then switch to a low-nitrogen, bloom-inducing formula (0-10-10) from July through December.

Light Requirements
Cymbidiums prefer bright, indirect light, but will tolerate filtered morning sunshine. Leaf color will indicate whether your orchid is getting just the right amount of light ? yellow-green foliage means it's happy; dark green foliage indicates not enough light, and yellow spotted foliage means too much sunshine. An east-facing window should provide just the right exposure for a cymbidium.

Cymbidiums will eventually become overcrowded and you'll want to divide and replant them. Wait until flowering is finished, then unpot and divide, keeping 3 healthy bulbs per division. Make sure each bulb has both roots and foliage attached, and replant the divisions in fresh growing medium. Plants prefer to be just a little bit crowded, so choose pots that provide only 2 to 3 inches of space between the bulbs and the sides of the pot.

The best growing medium for orchids consists of 2 parts composted bark, 2 parts peat moss, and 1 part sand. To ensure perfect drainage and prevent the roots from standing in water, place your pots of orchids on a gravel-filled tray. Water draining from the pots will be kept well away from the roots, and as the water evaporates it will increase the humidity around your plants.

Moving On
Once you've experienced success with cymbidium orchids, you'll be ready to try your hand with dendrobiums and cattleyas. Each has a distinct personality, all have similar growing requirements, and every single one will reward your efforts with exceptionally beautiful flowers.

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