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The Easy Growing Sort

Unlike many fussy orchid varieties, cymbidiums are a great patio plant and thrive here with a dose of proper care.


Many orchids have a reputation of being demanding, fussy plants. Not cymbidiums.

"Cymbidiums are a great patio plant that thrive in Southern California," said Tony Glinskas, chairman of the 21st annual Fascination of Orchids International Show and Sale through Sunday at South Coast Plaza. He has more than 400 cymbidiums growing in his Huntington Beach yard.

"Although our climate's humidity is lower than cymbidiums prefer, they grow and bloom here anyway," said Glinskas, past president of the Orange County branch of the Cymbidium Society of America.

Cymbidiums are the easiest orchid to grow, said Zeny Harrington, owner of Garden Grove-based Tropical Gardens, which will have a display at the show.

"Cymbidiums tolerate low and high temperatures much better than many other orchids and do very well outside here," she said.

Indigenous to southern and eastern Asia and parts of Australia, cymbidiums have been cultivated for thousands of years and were revered in ancient China. These leafy, evergreen plants have pseudobulbs, each having eight long, narrow, strap-like leaves.

Some are upright growers, others pendulous. The flowers, which come in many sizes and every color but blue, grow from the base of each plant's newest pseudobulb. They bloom from November through May.

Bring cymbidiums into your home or garden and you'll fall in love with them, said Patricia Rowland, owner of the Garden Grove-based Rowland Collection, which will exhibit at the orchid show.

"When properly cared for, cymbidium flowers will last from a month to three months on the plants and for two to three weeks as cut flowers," said Rowland, who has grown and hybridized cymbidiums for more than 40 years. "Once you understand a few basic rules about caring for them, you'll find this orchid to be enjoyable."

For successful cymbidium growing, Glinskas, Harrington and Rowland offer the following tips:

* Watch watering. It's important to keep cymbidiums well-watered. They should never dry out, especially during the summer, because they will lose the next season's flowers. Let water run through the pots for at least 60 seconds. Watering early in the day is preferable. To determine if a plant needs water, stick in a finger and check for moisture, or pick the plant up. If it is light, it's time to water.

* Encourage air circulation. Though cymbidiums like moisture, they do not want to be kept soggy because water-logged roots are at risk for fungus and decay. Plants do best when grown in an elevated location, such as on a plant stand or a wooden bench. Pendulous varieties hang well. It is important not to crowd pots.

* Provide adequate light. The main reason cymbidiums don't bloom is inadequate light. Most cymbidiums should be grown in partial sun. Morning sun and afternoon shade is ideal, as is growing them under 30% shade cloth. You can acclimate them to full sun if you are along the coast, but gradually to prevent sunburned leaves.

* Fertilize regularly. Cymbidiums should be fed every three or four weeks in the spring and summer, and about half that often in the winter and fall. Use an all-purpose, well-balanced fertilizer at half-strength. Avoid using fertilizers containing urea.

A cymbidium is receiving the proper amount of fertilizer for blooming when the leaves are yellow-green in color. If the leaves are a deep green, the plant is probably getting too much nitrogen.

* Repot occasionally. Cymbidiums, like many orchids, do best in tight quarters. In general, they need repotting every two to three years.

There are two reasons to repot. When the plant outgrows its existing pot or when the potting mixture has broken down and become mushy. You can tell that a plant has outgrown its pot when the plant is less than an inch from the outer edge of the pot or is hitting the side of the pot.

Repotting mixtures vary widely but generally include fir bark. Some growers add perlite, peat moss and charcoal. To repot, remove the plant from the container, throw out decomposed potting mix and remove any roots that have rotted. You can pot up the entire plant or, if it has become too unwieldy, separate the clump by hand and repot in two or more containers. Make sure each new pot has at least three bulbs and that the plant fits snugly. Too big a pot can result in no flowers.

* Enjoy indoor display. Bringing a blooming cymbidium into the house for viewing pleasure is possible. It's best to do so during the day and put the plant back out at night. Indoor air is too dry and will dehydrate the flowers quickly.

* Protect from frost. Though cymbidiums can tolerate low temperatures, when there are warnings of frost, it is best to place them in the garage or under a tree or house eaves.

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