Cymbidium Orchids, or Boat Orchids, are amongst the most attractive, popular, and long-lasting orchids available throughout the world. Not only are they lovely in corsages and flower arrangements, but Cymbidiums also make excellent houseplants. The name Cymbidium comes from the Greek word Kumbos that means cavity and refers to the shape of the base of the lip of the flower. Cymbidiums have been cultivated for thousands of years in Eastern Asia, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Borneo, northern Australia, and the Himalayas but only became popular in Europe during the Victorian Age. Today, because of the many hybrids that have been developed, they thrive throughout the world. Cymbidiums have long thin grass like leaves. Sturdy stems or spikes emerge from the leaves and each spike can produce up to 15-30 beautiful waxy looking flowers. These blooms, which often last for months, come in yellow, red, pink, orange, light green, yellowish green, white, cream, and even brown. The only flower colors not produced are blue and black. There are over 52 varieties of Cymbidium Orchids, each with a different color and pattern to their flowers. These showy plants have the added advantage of being able to bloom during the winter when other orchids cannot. Although Cymbidiums require a little extra care, their beautiful flowers make it all worthwhile.
Cymbidium Orchids like as much bright, indirect light as you can provide, but avoid placing them in the direct sun. Light green upright leaves indicate that your Orchid is getting the proper amount of light. Dark green leaves tell you that the Orchid needs more light; yellow leaves mean it is getting too much light.
The easiest way to kill a Cymbidium Orchid is by over-watering. When watering, thoroughly drench the plant and then allow the excess water to quickly drain out the bottom. The top 50% of the soil should dry out before the next watering. You can prevent over and under-watering by checking the roots monthly to be sure they are staying whitish green and plump. Following these few watering tips will help prevent watering problems: never let an Orchid sit in water; be careful not to get water on the leaves or flowers; and never use water from a softener. Soil type, temperature, time of year, humidity, and pot size all influence an Orchid’s watering needs. Orchids dry out a little faster in the winter because of the heat and low humidity in your home.
High humidity is a necessity for an indoor Cymbidium Orchid. If your home or office does not have at least 50% humidity, place the Orchid on a wet pebble tray. Be sure the plant is sitting on the pebbles and never in the water. Do not mist the leaves to increase the humidity as this causes fungal and bacterial diseases.
Temperature control is another important factor if you want a Cymbidium Orchid to bloom. Ideal temperatures during the day should be 65-70 degrees. Nighttime temperatures should be 10-15 degrees cooler for the blooms to set. This is especially important during the fall when the flowers are just starting to develop. Cymbidiums can handle temperatures as low as 45 degrees F (7 C) and can even withstand 32 degrees for a brief amount of time. These plants do not do well in temperatures above 80 degrees F. The higher the temperature the more important good air movement around the plant is.
Never feed an Orchid while it is in bloom; this discourages the plant from flowering and distorts the shape of the beautiful flowers. Fertilize only when the plant is actively producing new leaves. When you do fertilize, use a balanced nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium mixture (20-20-20).
One of the nicest things about Cymbidium Orchids is that they bloom in the winter when other Orchids do not. The flower spikes set during the fall and winter when it starts to get cool at night (50 degrees) and the nights are long. If the temperature in your home doesn’t get that low in the evenings, you may want to consider putting your Orchid in an unheated garage or covered patio overnight and bringing it back inside during the day. Once the flower spikes appear it is best not to move the plant to a different location or keep the room too warm until the buds open. The blooms of a Cymbidium Orchid last longer if temperatures stay between 60-70 degrees. Be sure to stake the flower spikes so the blooms are above the leaves of the plant. Do not fertilize an Orchid while it is in bloom.
Cymbidium Orchid diseases are usually caused by a fungus or virus. These can quickly spread to all your Orchid plants if you’re not careful. Viruses appear as pale streaks in the leaves and are difficult to prevent. As the problem worsens the leaves become pitted and bleached-out looking. Fungal infections cause yellow, brown, and then black leaves. Roots develop black spotted areas, and the plant can no longer absorb water. Fungal infections are usually the result of over watering, poor air circulation, and wet foliage. Always keep infected plants away from your other plants or throw them out. Sterilize your scissors, knives, or other tools with alcohol before going from plant to plant. Identifying which disease is affecting your Orchid is very important so you can determine the proper treatment. Orchid fungal diseases can be treated with any plant fungicide sold at your local garden store. Another popular product for Cymbidium diseases is the Bordeaux Solution, which is a mixture of water, hydrated lime, and copper sulfate.
If Mealy Bugs appear on a Cymbidium Orchid, dab them off with a Q-tip dipped in alcohol. Use a soft cloth dipped in soapy water to remove Spider Mites, Aphids, or Scale. Cymbidium Orchids should never be sprayed with the Green Solution.
Many of the new hybrid Cymbidium Orchids are small enough to grow in 5”-6” pots that easily fit on a windowsill. Orchids like to be pot- bound so don’t rush to move them to a bigger pot before they are ready. Use a clay or plastic pot that allows an inch or two of space around the pseudo bulbs. Whichever pot type you use, be sure there are plenty of drainage holes. When repotting a Cymbidium Orchid, shake off the excess soil and throw out any pseudo bulbs that are shriveled and dried up.
Cymbidium Orchids must be grown in a special orchid soil or potting medium and never in regular houseplant soil. Regular soil blocks air from reaching the roots and prevents water from quickly draining. Orchid medium usually contains orchid peat moss, bark compost and Osmunda fiber and can easily be found online or at any garden center.
Plant division is the easiest way to propagate a Cymbidium Orchid and should be done in the spring when the plant has finished blooming. As Cymbidiums grow, they produce pseudobulbs that develop above the soil line. Pseudobulbs store water and nutrients for the plant, and new leaves emerge from them. Cymbidiums should be divided every three or four years or whenever they have totally filled up their existing pot. To propagate a Cymbidium, gently split the pseudobulbs apart; be sure each new section has at least three healthy pseudobulbs. Center the bulbs in their new container. The lower 1/3 of the bulbs should be below the planting medium, and the medium should be about 3/4″ below the rim of the pot. Be sure the soil is tight and firm around the bulbs.
Cymbidiums appreciate a resting period; so, once a year move your Orchid to a cool dark area for a month. After it has rested return it to its usual bright location. This helps increase the number of blooms.
A Cymbidium Orchid is a perfect gift for any special occasion. Even a novice plant lover can learn to care for this beautiful plant.
Orchids are non- poisonous plants.
Judy Feldstein is the founder of Foliage Unlimited, one of the largest interior plant design, sales, & maintenance companies in Arizona. Judy’s website HousePlant411.com helps plant enthusiasts identify, select, and care for houseplants.