Cymbidium Orchids are one of the most improved of all orchid species. Extensive hybridisation over the past 50 years has transformed the 50 wild species into many thousands of named hybrids.
The name is Greek for "boat" in allusion to the shape of the orchid's lip and the shape of the unopened bloom which does remotely resemble a small covered canoe.
These tree perching epiphytes come from temperate regions of Asia and resent tropical heat as much as severe cold. They love rather constant moderate conditions with strong light, but not scalding sunshine, relatively high humidity and a constant supply of moisture, but never overly wet and never really dry. Plus a light but regular schedule of feeding. Cymbidiums being epiphytic ('air' plants) respond very well to both liquid and especially foliar feeding. They are often grown in granulated bark, osmunda fern fibre, or a similar very porous medium which allows excellent air circulation around their thick, corky roots. Food is stored in enlarged pseudobulbs which produce a cluster of long, tapered flax-like leaves.
A single flower spike usually arises from the basal side of each pseudo-bulb as it matures. Flower spikes begin to emerge sometime in Mid Autumn onward. Dependent upon variety,the flower spikings can continue to emerge through Spring and occasionally into Early Summer. Each variety has a specific blooming time which is unique to that particular cultivar and they usually bloom the same time each year. Each year the flower spike will be very similar on a well-grown plant, producing between two and thirty flowers on the arching spike, which can be tall and upright or trailing. The pseudo bulb usually produces a single spike, sometimes two before it begins to form a small new pseudo-bulb right next to the parent. This small shoot and bulb develop through the warmer Spring and Summer months before it matures the following Autumn and begins to bloom again.
Where Winter temperatures remain above freezing and the climate in not excessively wet, Cymbidiums may be grown in the garden. In the right micro-climate they can soon spread to make large clumps with an appearance somewhat similar to Hemerocallis, the Day Lily. Taller growing Cymbidiums with erect and tall flower spikes can look quite impressive as a clump. But the dwarfer Cymbidium species, especially those with a trailing flower habit are lost amongst the foliage.
For most Gardeners living in climates which become more extreme, Cybidiums are usually grown in containers or bags or baskets. These are grown and often flowered indoors or in the cool glasshouse, or sunroom from Mid Autumn through Winter and in to Spring. Then they are taken outdoors for the warmer Summer months. There they often grown on rather rapidly, producing most of their next season of growth and maturing their pseudo-bulb in preparation for the next season of flowering.
While each Cymbidium pseudo-bulb only produces one or two flowersspikes before it matures, the plants themselves can be quite long-lived. Well-grown Cymbidiums can spread for decades when grown in the ground or in the crotch of a tree. Usually when grown in a container, each pseudo bulb will take a year or two to reach maturity and flowering. Then will retain its leaves the following year as the next pseudo-bulb develops next to it. And finally begins to shed its foliage in the following season. But often that bulb will remain green for another season before it finally fades to brown and withers.
In the Autumn as bud shoots begin to form, start regular liquid feeding with a plant food high in potash and phosphorous to promote better quality blooms. This should be light but regular feeding. Once flowering finishes, the plant may have a short period of rest and dormancy. Then once signs of new shoots begin to emerge, usually in the Spring, change to a higher Nitrogen feeding ratio which will promote robust and strong leafy growth. Keep them moist and humid and warm in bright light but never burning sunshine during their growth stages.
During the short period of dormancy, once flowering finishes, Cymbidiums can be divided and repotted into a special orchid compost. This is only necessary once the plants appear quite crowded in their container or whenever growth appears to become weak and blooming is scant. To repot them, simple remove them from their container. Remove most of the old, brown pseudobulbs and dead, corky roots attached to them. These will appear tan or brown and papery. New Living roots should be retained. These are bone white, firm and often show a creamy green growing tip. Spread these outward in their growing container. Then fill in around and over the top of them with fresh orchid bark mix.
While holding the plant firmly, shake the pot and add more mix, then reshake the pot so that the mix fills in all the holes around the roots. Fill the pot with orchid mix right up to the bottom of the pseudo-bulbs but not covering them. Shake a little more so the mix settles in and then water in thoroughly. Often the mix will settle. Then add a little more to even the mix up around the base of the orchid. Once complete, the Cymbidium should sit proud above the mix and not wobble loosely in its container. If it does, run one or more stakes down the side of the bulbs, being careful not to pierce its roots. Within a few weeks the plant should anchor again firmly.
As soon as the weather warms the pots can be moved outdoors into morning sun or light shade for the Summer. Cymbidiums have few pests or diseases. The worst are often fungal rots that result from chilling and especially over-watering. The signs of this are often blacks spotting on the foliage or bulb rot. When plants produce copious bright green leaves and few if any flowers this is often due to low light or too much Nitrogen feeding. Very small, stumpy, yellowish growth or limited growth often can be caused by too much sunlight or a dry and hot environment; occasionally from a lack of feeding.
The biggest threat to successful flowering are slugs, snails and caterpillars. These often seek out the young and tender flower buds even when they are partially hidden within the developing bud spike. At that stage the developing buds are very tiny and delicate. The flower petals have no protective sheath around them so are very vulnerable to damage. Even the smallest bit out of a small developing petal, while it seems almost invisible at the time, will soon expand to a gaping hole that will ruin the flower petal as it expands. The time to be most watchful and protective is in those early days of Autumn and Winter flower bud development. Any damage then will ruin a years' worth of growth.
As bud spikes develop, they are very fragile, especially after watering and on cool days. If moved quickly or knocked about, they often snap off. Most Orchid Growers carefully stake each blooming spike as it begins to develop just to insure against this possibility. This is best done on a sunny and warm day when the plants are in a dry state. At those times the flower spikes are the most supple and pliable thus much less likely to snap when touched.
Well grown Cymbidiums are an exotic delight that is well worth the small effort it takes to grow them. There are many dedicated followers of Cymbidium culture with thousand of orchids societies around the world. Those who would really like to learn more should research and contact their local orchid club.There they will meet a new world of orchid lovers with a vast wealth of knowledge and access to all the information and materials plus the expertise to get started in the right direction
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