Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Or is it Cymbidia? Either way, their time is now!

In my first book Orchid Growing for Wimps, I included Cymbidium orchids on the "don't try these at home list." That may have been unfair. The truth is NOT everyone can re-bloom these plants indoors, usually because they can't deliver the temperature manipulations necessary to produce a bloom spike. I've succeeded the past three years, and if you can do a few simple (but specific) things, you can, too.

The genus Cymbidium includes about 100 species and hybrids originating from a range of climates. Those we grow as houseplants generally require cold temps in order to bloom. In nature they grow at high elevations (in Asia) where temperatures don't drop below freezing, but get into the 40s. To mimic this, I leave my Cymbidium outdoors till night time temperatures are about 45 degrees, then I bring them inside and keep them in the coldest possible spot. Maybe you have a drafty window or an unheated guest room. If you can keep your Cymbidium at about 50 degrees from the time you bring it indoors, you should see bloom spikes in February. Watering once every 7-14 days will suffice, depending on how much light your plant gets. Even if you don't have an indoor cool spot, it's worth trying if you can leave the orchid outdoors to catch the 40 degree temperatures in fall.

I've collected several over the years, from friends and clients who gave up on ever getting them to re-flower. Of the three I own, two have bloomed every February for the last three years (no, not always the same two!). They all get the same treatment, so I can't explain why one flowers and the other doesn't. Maybe plants need a rest now and then, just like we do.

Cymbidium have so much to recommend them: the flowers are large and showy, they last for months at a time, and the plants are truly low maintenance if you can give them the cold treatment in fall. This is a plant that knows what it likes and will readily oblige you with bloom if you treat 'em right. Ready to give them a try?


Anonymous said...

Cylmbidiums can be heavy feeders,want lots of sun in summer, but need to build up their tolerance--gradually into more sum. Leaves should look "yellow green".

Ellen Zachos said...

Hi Anonymous! I've read the same advice in more than one source, yet summer after summer my Cymbidiums are in almost full shade and I have yet to feed them. Fortunately I'm a rule breaker from way back. It's worth trying Cymbidiums even if you can't grow them by the book. But I promise to feed mine this summer. Really. Then maybe all 3 will bloom next year!

TC said...

Our priest retired a couple of years ago and he gave me a couple of orchids that he didn't have room for in the retirement home. He said they hadn't bloomed in years and he didn't even remember what the blooms looked like. I've yet to see stems emerge. I'm thinking it's time to give the ugly (but healthy) leaves a leave of absence (read: compost it!). What do y'all think? (I really missed not being at the Philly Flower Show this year. It's the first I've missed in years.)

Ellen Zachos said...

Hey T.C. We were both (me & OE) at The Show yesterday and you won't be surprised to hear that attendance was down (lots of snow!). It was nice to have smaller crowds on the show floor, but I missed seeing many of the usual Garden Writer Crowd.

Here's what I suggest you do with your orchids. First, threaten them. I make it very clear, verbally, to my plants that if they don't step up and pull their weight by such and such a date they're compost.

Next, take a picture of your orchids and email it to me at acmeplant@gmail.com. If I can i.d. them for you maybe I can give you some growing advice!

TC said...

Thank you Ms. Ellen, look for a photo from tc@thewritegardener.com on the morrow, when I'll have better lighting.

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