Every time I write an article, or feature an orchid on my blog I get comments from people who think that growing orchids is hard, that you need a temperature-controlled greenhouse, or a tropical island to grow these exotic beauties.
The truth is it’s easy to grow orchids, well, at least some orchids. The two I think are the easiest are cymbidiums and phalaenopsis.
Both these types of orchids require surprisingly little care.
We would put our corsages into the refrigerator after we were done wearing them so they would keep longer. We never did anything with them; we just kept them in the fridge and looked at them through their clear plastic boxes between mayo and the peanut butter.
I think the last corsage I saw was on the mother of the bride at the last wedding I attended.
Corsages are usually made with cymbidium orchids. So I couldn’t believe it when my mom started growing orchids—and they actually survived. Not only that but they thrived. And she grew them outside.
I don’t live in the tropics. I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California and I grow my cymbidiums outside. When they bloom some time in April, the blooms last five to seven weeks.
I buy cymbidiums and keep them inside until their blooms fade.
When their blooms fade I put them outside with my other cymbidiums.
It’s cymbidium season right now
I keep some of my cymbidiums under a large redwood tree and some on my porch. I buy them when they are in bloom, some I received as gifts. I keep them in my house until the blooms fade then I move them outside and wait until the next April because they bloom like clockwork during that month.
Their flower spikes start in February and open in April. I keep them in the same containers until they split open and my friends notice. “Hey Chigiy, did you ever think of transplanting those orchids?” The truth is it makes me nervous to transplant cymbidiums. I hear a voice inside my head saying “If it ain't broke, don’t fix it.” After all they bloom like crazy. I had 48 spikes on one plant two years ago.
As it turns out orchids love to be pot bound. They actually grow better this way.
I know that you can’t keep cymbidiums outside in most of the country because it get too cold but last year I never covered my orchids—even during the terrible cold snap we had when temperatures dropped into the 20’s for 10 days straight, and I didn’t lose a single plant.
Give them plenty of water March through September.
They love lots of light. I keep mine under a tree because it is a convenient location for me. They do pretty well there but they could probably stand a little more sunshine. The ones on my porch get a little more sun, but they seem to bloom the same amount as the ones under the tree.
I’ve read articles that say you should only water cymbidiums with rainwater. I do water them with rainwater, well, when it rains anyway. The rest of the time they get watered with regular chlorinated tap water and with the same frequency as my other nearby plants, because they are on the same watering system.
I have heard different recommendations on fertilization. I’ve heard you should use a balanced fertilizer year round. I’ve heard you should fertilize year round but cut recommended dose to half strength through fall and winter. I’ve heard you should not fertilize when the plants are blooming. I’ve heard you must flush with rainwater every fourth fertilization. Goodness. I get so confused that I decided it would be best not to fertilize at all. Guess what? My plants still bloom.
I think this year I might try the fertilization thing, just to see if it makes a difference.
Let me tell you a story. I had an orchid once. One of my friends gave it to me at my last baby shower. Why? Because she knew that I would enjoy an orchid more than another onezie or teething ring.
Anyhow, I was given this beautiful phalaenopsis. It was in bloom when it was given to me of course and it continued to bloom for four years straight–no kidding.
A famous professor friend of mine who lives in the rainforest of Costa Rica once told me that if I wanted my orchid to continue to bloom that I should never fertilize it. A few months later I was at this orchid booth at a farmer’s market and I was talking to the grower and he told me I should be fertilizing my orchids every time I watered them. So I started to fertilize my orchid with the four-year blooming record. It stopped blooming and it never bloomed again. I still have it. It hasn’t bloomed in four years.
So now I don’t like to fertilize plants when they’re in bloom.
I also learned to listen to famous professors friends rather than Joe Blow from the farmers market.
Cymbidiums also like good airflow and humidity I’m told. My plants get good airflow because I keep them outside but I live in a fairly dry place. Unless it rains, the whole humidity thing is a big question mark. If you are trying to grow orchids by the book, Cymbidiums like 50-75 percent humidity.
I have also read before that in order for cymbidiums to spike they need cool nights throughout the spring and summer months. Some orchid growers think it’s necessary to add ice water to the soil during this time. I’m not sure about this. I live in a place that has relatively hot dry summers and in general warm summer nights. My orchids spike just fine. Perhaps if you lived in the desert areas this would be necessary, although you probably can’t keep cymbidiums outside in the desert during the summer.
If you live in a place that has snow in the winter, you will have to keep your cymbidiums inside for the duration, but you can put them outside when the weather warms up.
That’s my way to grow cymbidiums.
But wherever you live, you should contact your local orchid club and see how the locals do it.