Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
February, 2001
Regional Report

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Cymbidium orchids, with many showy, colorful blooms on each flower spike, are my favorites.

Cymbidium Orchids

Gardeners all across the country are envious of our ideal climate. Warm days and cool nights make Northern California perfect not only for human habitation, but also for growing cymbidium orchids.

What Cymbidiums Like

Unlike tropical orchids, such as the popular phalaenopsis and dendrobium, cymbidiums are native to the cool mountain regions of Asia and Australia. They need nighttime temperatures of 45-55F to produce their spectacular flowers. High daytime temperatures don't seem to harm these hardy orchids, so long as it cools off at night.

Light Needs

Cymbidiums will tolerate extreme heat as long as they're protected from direct sunlight. They prefer filtered light. You can tell if your cymbidiums are getting too much or not enough light by the leaf color. The foliage should be a bright, yellow-green color. Dark green indicates not enough sun, while yellow, spotted foliage indicates too much. Many people have success growing cymbidiums on the east side of the house, where the plants receive full morning sun but are shaded from the stronger afternoon sun.

How They Grow

Cymbidiums grow from egg-shaped pseudo bulbs that rest on the surface of the potting medium. Strappy, grass-like foliage emerges from these pseudo bulbs. Individual leaves sometimes grow to 5 feet or more, depending on the variety. Cymbidiums are handsome plants even when not in bloom. The foliage makes this orchid a handsome background plant during its nonblooming season.

Flower Buds and Spikes

In late winter, flower buds form low on the plant and quickly grow into tall flower spikes. If the plants are grown outdoors, protect new flower buds from hungry snails. The flowers are spectacular. As many as 35 individual blooms can form on a single spike. Each flower spike can last as long as 8 weeks on the plant and as long as a month when cut and displayed indoors in a cool location.

The individual flowers range in size from 2 to 5 inches in diameter, depending on the variety. Plant breeders have developed a wide spectrum of colors, including white, green, orange, burgundy, bronze, pink, and purple.

Keeping Them Fed

There is a trick to commanding peak performance from your cymbidium orchid plants. When plants are actively growing, March to October, cymbidiums need ample water and frequent applications of a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Fertilize with a complete liquid fertilizer (22-14-14) every 10 days from January to July. From August through December switch to a low-nitrogen, bloom-inducing fertilizer (0-10-10) applied on the same schedule.

Repotting Your Orchid

Transplanting should be done only when the bulbs crowd the pot and after the blooms are finished for the season. When dividing the plants, keep a minimum of three healthy pseudo bulbs per division. The selected bulbs should be solid and firm in texture with some roots attached. Place the divisions in fresh potting soil in a small pot that allows only 2-3 inches between the bulbs and the rim. The plants prefer to be just a little bit crowded.

The preferred soil mix is 2 parts composted bark, 2 parts peat moss, and 1 part sand. Perfect drainage is a must. It's advisable not to use a saucer under your cymbidium orchids to prevent the roots from standing in water. If you must use a saucer, place a layer of gravel under the plant to keep it up out of the standing water.

Surviving Outdoors

Cymbidium will survive a frost, but if a hard freeze is predicted, it's best to pull the plants under the eaves for protection. Don't throw out plants that have frost damage - new growth will emerge from the pseudo bulb as soon as the weather warms again.

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