We must be getting close to spring time. Like clockwork my Cymbidium orchids are in full bloom and one of the highlights of a garden in transition. The winter-flowering plants, like many of my succulents and aloes, have finished their show. I am still a few weeks away from the spring-flowering plants taking center stage. So along with Clivias, Cymbidiums take this window of opportunity and they certainly make the most out of it this time of year.
Cymbidiums are a very popular orchid for quite a few reasons, including the long bloom (some times up to eight weeks) and the fact they like cooler temperatures (which makes them great plants for your Mediterranean garden). Coming from the cool mountain regions of Asia, they actually prefer our cooler winter evenings over the more tropical conditions where a lot of other Orchids come from.
When proper care is given to their prerequisites, you can get fantastic results growing them in the ground. In fact this is the only way I grow Cymbidium orchids in my garden. I have found the temperature, humidity, watering, and feeding requirements to be less restrictive than most people will have you believe. My plants have survived two straight days at 107 degrees and four days in a row below 32. They have survived a week with less than 10% humidity and they get no differential watering treatment from other plants in the garden. For me the drainage and light requirements should be the focus of your attention. Considering Cymbidiums are semi-terrestrial plants, if you do decide to grow them in the ground you must make sure your drainage is excellent. My soil is solid DG with a good organic top layer. Each year I add a 2-inch layer of shredded fir bark as mulch, and the plants love it. I have never lost a Cymbidium to rot.
Light can be a little tricky. I have found that placing them in filtered light on the north side of my house or a fence gives the best results. It protects them from the low sun angle in winter that can burn, but allows for filtered light positions the other 7-9 months or so. Many people I know choose a planting area on the east side of their house. This gives them year-round filtered light position in the garden. The most important thing is filtered light. An east side of the house planting can be risky if you have low sun angle light coming through and you are hit with a Santa Ana. This is why I prefer planting on the north side of the house. Remember, if you do choose a northern side of the house planting, not to plant right against the wall. If you do, your plants will only see about two months of light after the sun has reached its highest spot in the summer sky. So move the plants out a bit to give them more months of sunlight.
If all their requirements are met and you end up with beautiful flowering orchids, you will inevitability run into two issues. The first is, why do most the flowers’ stalks drop and want to lie on the ground? Unfortunately there is no way around this unless you wish to stake them up. I stopped staking them a few years ago, and now I just let them do what they will. As you can see below, some flowers will be strong enough to stay upright, while others are just too weak to hold the heavy blooms.
The second issue you will run into is keeping snails off the flowers. It only takes one night for a snail to chew into a developing flower stalk and destroy that bloom. And even if you get past that stage, snails and slugs love to eat the flowers before they open. As a preventative, I lay down snail bait around my orchids every flowering season. I found it too frustrating to wait an entire year for a plant to bloom only to lose an entire flower stalk overnight to a snail or two. You can see below that even when I combat the snails I still lose some flowers each year.
Cymbidiums have been artificially bred for over a hundred years now. So you can imagine how many different varieties and flower colors are available. While most my Cymbidiums are what they called “standard ” hybrids, I do grow two “miniature” hybrids as well. In talking to some long-time orchid growers they say the “miniatures” can actually handle hotter weather. For me they are simply what the name suggests: smaller versions of the “standards.” The one pictured below was sold to me as a lime green-flowering “miniature.”
I find that maintenance is minimal once planted in the right spot. I usually only spend one day a year fussing with them, and this simply involves cutting out old pseudobulbs or dividing large clumps. With so many other chores to do around the garden, it is a welcomed luxury not to have to tend to a plant more than once a year. So find that special place in your garden that will support a Cymbidium orchid, plant it, and wait next year for your reward.