Orchid Wise

Basic Growing

How to Grow Cymbidium Orchids

Are orchids easy to care for?

Cymbidium Orchids are easy to grow and flower if you treat them well.  They are very tough plants, but if you don’t given them reasonable conditions, they will grow larger but not flower well (or at all).  They are just like you and me; give them the right conditions and they will be happy and flower profusely year after year.

In southern Australia, we are extremely fortunate to be able to grow our cymbidiums under simple growing conditions.  Cymbidium orchids are an outdoor growing plant and whilst they will survive indoors, they may not re-flower.

Growing Cymbidium orchids can be very rewarding when you have plants in flower across many months!

Many growers have success growing them under a tree, or pergola.  Whilst this is not regarded as ideal, so long as their plants receive good, filtered light (50% to 70% shading) and very regular watering, many will achieve good results.  Conversely, others will just manage to grow lots of deep green leaves, with no flowers, under these conditions.  A newcomer might also find it hard to figure out how things should be done when different growers recommend different ways of growing.

Cym. Blazing Fury 'Deep Throat'

This is all part of the fun!  We each take what we need from the advice we are given and local conditions play a vital role in getting the balance right.

In addition, regular applications of correct strength fertiliser, and good pest and disease/virus detection, may improve results.

Do Cymbidium orchids like sun or shade?

Most growers fail to get flowers, because their plants are in too much shade (often total shade, or too much shade for long periods of the day).  Cymbidium orchids will take the winter sun, but need to be shaded in the Spring/Summer and Autumn.  A great balance is to grow them under a 50% shade cloth.

Can Cymbidiums take full sun?

Ideally not.  They need a good strong filtered light to perform at their best, but not too much!

The foliage (leaves) on your plants should be a yellowish green.  If they are deep green the plant is probably growing in too much shade and will be less likely to flower next flowering season.  If the leaves are a very light green/yellow, then the plant is probably growing in too much sun.

Too little water will also greatly reduce the chance of flowering (they need to be kept moist and humid at all times).

We have some growers who set up elaborate, controlled environment growing houses.  These high tech growing environments are expensive, and can give spectacular and superior results, but are out of reach of most ordinary growers.

In Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and similar climatic areas, we can get very satisfactory (even spectacular) results, growing our cymbidiums in a simple shade cloth covered growing house.  

Growers in cold areas, for example Tasmania, may need extra protection, and possibly even heated conditions to succeed.

Many orchid club members have a shade house of less than 25 square metres in area.  From a quite small area, a good grower could have hundreds of flowering plants over a flowering season lasting eight or nine months, or even longer with careful variety selection.

It is also beneficial to have an area protected from the elements for plants in flower; therefore protecting them from rain and other elements that may damage the buds.  Many growers bring the plants in flower into their homes.

A thriving orchid will give you a terrific show of flowers, usually every year!

Positioning of the growing house is very important.  Many suburban backyards will experience shading from trees and buildings, and neighbouring properties.  Try to locate your growing house in an area which receives full sun, for as long as possible, over the whole day.

I’m asked all the time – How do I care for an orchid?

I think the secret to knowing how healthy your orchid is, lies in the roots.  Healthy thick white roots equal a healthy orchid.

How often do you water a Cymbidium orchid?

The next most important condition to provide is a source of regular watering.  Cymbidiums need to be watered often in the hot months, and only as necessary in winter.  Autumn and spring watering could be every second or third day.  The plants need to be kept moist and humid at all times.  We generally water most days during summer, two or three times a week in spring and autumn, and only if it does not rain in winter.  

It is relatively easy to judge if a plant requires water, by picking up the pot.  If it is lightweight, it requires watering.  If it is heavy, delay the watering until it is lighter.  Regularly pick up a plant & get to know how heavy they are when wet, and when they are dry.  Most successful growers, employ an automatic watering system and they are pretty easy to install and set up.  

Good quality water is also a must for healthy plants.  Naturally, rainwater is best, but try to avoid hard tap water with too many chemicals or salts…..some varieties of Cymbidium (mostly species Cymbidiums) do not react well to poor quality water and a side effect of this is brown or black leaf tips and black spots on the leaves and poor growth.  

Personally I find this to be the case with Cym. Floreat (Cym. mastersii x Cym. elegans), however, here in Adelaide, a lot of my plants develop brown tips when I run out of rainwater and need to use our awful tap water…

Feeding

Cymbidium orchid fertilizer is always something everyone asks about, from the novice to the experienced grower.  Giving the potting medium doesn’t hold a lot of nutrient, your orchids will need fertilising to give best results (we need feeding, so do they).  Therefore, good results can be obtained by using slow release fertiliser every six months or so, but many growers liquid fertilise regularly using commercial liquid fertiliser (most brands are good).  

If liquid feeding, try to fertilise weekly in summer, tapering to irregularly in winter.  The dosage rate recommended by the manufacturer should not be exceeded.  Lower rates (50% reduced) are recommended and produce excellent results, provided they are regularly applied.  Please have a read of our more extensive article on Fertilising here.

Other factors to consider

Your Cymbidium orchid will also benefit from good air movement around the plant.  Plants breathe and require a continual supply of fresh air.  This will help deter fungal infections and insects and maintain a healthy plant, recreating what the plant would have been subject to in nature.  It is also beneficial not to cram too many pots into a small area…..your orchids will benefit in many ways by being given some space to grow.

Plants need re-potting regularly or when they outgrow the pot they are in.  They should be re-potted at least every 3 years because the potting mix breaks down over time.  In addition, some plants will need dividing at this stage too.  A good quality potting mix, or medium, is also essential in providing the right mix for your orchid to thrive.  They will need an open and free draining mix to grow in so the roots don’t rot.  

Healthy roots are a white/cream colour and quite hard and meaty.  If yours are brown and soft, they are starting to rot and need attention.  Your plant is probably too wet and orchids do not like wet feet!

And do not plant your Cymbidium orchids in the ground in sand or soil as the roots will rot, given the poor drainage, and you will lose your plant.

Light

Firstly though, I cannot over emphasise the importance of providing your plants with good light.  Strong filtered light is the key to growing and flowering your Cymbidium orchids at their best.  Poor lighting and incorrect watering is undoubtedly the main reason why many Cymbidiums do not flourish and flower.  Get these conditions right and your plants have a great chance.

Originally written and compiled by Graham Morris from the Cymbidium Orchid Club of South Australia and edited and updated for use on this site.

Another good article on Cymbidium culture can be found on the Cymbidium Orchid Society of Victoria website.

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