Friday, February 19, 2010


Forgotten in a corner of my garden are two Cymbidium orchids. Tim had bought them for me years ago.  Without doing my research I assumed that they were extremely sensitive to heat so I placed them in a shady corner of my garden where they hardly ever got any sunlight.  Last year during the later part of fall, I moved them to the backyard where they got the southern sun everyday and got watered more often.  The results are these stalks of flowers.  I can only imagine what would have happened if I had taken the time to fertilizer them.

These flower buds, called spikes, inspired me to do some research and in retrospect, analyze the cultural management I gave to my plants and their growth behavior.   Right now I have more confident in growing Cymbidium...I've learned some lessons.

Summary of lessons I learned:

1. Differential Temperature.  The differential temperature between the nights and days is the most important factor in flower initiation.  Depending on the species there should at least be 10 to 20-degree differential before the spikes (these are the flowers) would start to grow.  Where summer temperatures are high, air circulation plays an important role in alleviating the adverse effects of heat.

2.  Maintained Moisture.  Since orchids are tropical in nature, moisture should be maintained to optimize their performance.  In places other than the humid tropics, watering or misting is a necessary part of orchid growing.  Water frequently so as not to allow the growth media to get too wet. It is important to keep the roots cool or at least cooler than the existing atmospheric temperature.  Watering need to be adjusted depending on the following factors: season, relative humidity, temperature, type of pot and type of media.

3.  Regulated Light.  As much as Cymbidium orchids love light there is also a limit to that. Unfavorable light conditions can be determined through the behavior of the leaves.  Healthy leaves are shiny firm light green which curve outward gracefully. Yellow green leaves indicate too much light.  Increase shade or move the plants where they get less exposed to light; Folding and drooping of the leaves indicate low light.  Shading is almost always necessary during the hot summer months.  Shading helps reduce evaporation and transpiration. 

4.  Less Amount and More Frequent Fertilization.   Cymbidiums are epiphytic which means that they get their water and nourishment from the water vapor (in the air) that comes in contact with their roots.  Fertilization is important especially during the growing period (warmer months).   Applied fertilizer can be washed off easily with watering therefore it would seem practical to frequently apply small dosage of the nutrients.  Some growers suggest once every ten days or three times a month.  The use of slow-release fertilizer will effectively reduce the frequency of application.

5.  Growth Medium.  The two important characteristics of the growth media are good-moisture holding capacity and good drainage.  Remember, the orchid gets the water from the air. 

I hope that I have inspired and encouraged some home gardeners out there to do an experiment with Cymbidium.  After all they are easy and beautiful.  Who knows, I too might buy another Cymbidium plant from Costco.

Stroll in your garden, it's good for you and your plants.

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