Keeping Cymbidium orchids alive and bringing them into flower again is actually fairly easy. At this time of year you’ll find Cymbidium orchids for sale in greenhouses, garden centers, florists and grocery stores, and you don’t have to be afraid that these are fussy plants. If I can keep a Cymbidium alive and flowering from year to year, you can too. Here’s what you need to know about my favorite orchid.
If possible, buy a plant that’s just starting to flower and check to see if it’s been watered while in the store. Garden centers and greenhouses are good about watering their plants but sometimes grocery stores or box stores aren’t as attentive. If your orchid has dried significantly before being sold the flowers may not open. Ideally, it’s good to buy a plant shortly after it’s been delivered to the retail outlet.
Place the Cymbidium in a bright location but not in hot, direct sun. An eastern or north-eastern window is perfect. Water the plant every two to four days depending on the temperature in your house…warmer homes will need more frequent watering of plants. Let the plant drain into a tray or the sink after watering, and then return it to the window but don’t let the pot sit in any water. Cymbidiums can last for two months or more as long as they don’t dry out!
After the blooms fade cut off the old flower stems and either start to fertilize with a high-nitrogen orchid food or apply some time-release fertilizer that is also higher in nitrogen. I use this time release fertilizer:Osmocote 274850 Outdoor and Indoor Smart-Release Plant Food, 15-9-12, 8-Pound Bag
In the spring, repot your Cymbidium into a larger, clay pot using orchid bark. Sun Gro Horticulture Black Gold Orchid Mix Once the night time temperatures are above 50 degrees put the repotted orchid outside in a dappled shade location and water it every two to four days depending on the weather. Water more frequently in hot, dry periods and less often if the weather is cooler. Needless to say, if it rains you don’t have to water it at all! Reapply the time-release fertilizer in late-June.
Leave your orchid plant out in the fall but don’t let it stay out once the night temperatures fall below 40. This chilling period is important for stimulating flowers but you don’t want the plant to freeze. So in areas where the first frost isn’t until into October, as it is on Cape Cod, you should leave the plant out through September. But if you live where it’s likely to go below 40 in September watch the forecast carefully, leave the Cymbidium out as long as possible, but bring it indoors before frost.
Cymbidium orchids flower best on the new growth that is formed during their time at “summer camp” – this is why a repotting is so important as it allows the plant to push out new growth. Once you bring your orchid indoors in the fall, water it weekly and watch for the start of bloom spikes. After the flower stalks appear you don’t want to let the plant get totally dry as these will shrivel…but you don’t want to keep it swampy wet either. A spritz of water using the sink sprayer every couple of days should be perfect for this plant.
Is my memory deceiving me, or did Mr. Magoo, in the old cartoons, used to moan about the plants in his flower bed by saying, “Oh, my Cymbidiums!” Does anyone else remember this? I can’t find any mention of it yet that’s what I remember him saying when the dog crashed through his garden or some other sight-challenged catastrophe occurred.