Cymbidium Basic Must-Know Gotta-Have Essentials

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Lady Cymbidium, of the Spoiled Brat Genus, takes her tea with lemon

From the moment I acquired my cymbidium from Home Depot .. wait, what? Doesn’t everybody buy their orchids at the local big box home improvement outlet?

As I was saying, from that moment, I was enchanted with the graceful leaves, the delicate stem of perfect orchid-like flowers – that is, by the ones I’d seen in home decorating magazines and adorning wealth-laden apartments on TV. The real one? Not so much. It was nice, but it felt far from what I’d expected. Now this had nothing to do with where I bought it and, probably, more to do with where we live. We’re desert-dwellers, California Zone 10, “High Desert Areas of Arizona and New Mexico” per Sunset Magazine.  This might be code for “we kill almost anything that grows.”

I brought home Lady Cymbidium, and spent the afternoon surfing the web for some operating instructions. After the first few oft-conflicting sites, I was wondering about the wisdom of taking on this particular prima donna. I have met teenagers less picky than a cymbidium.

Temperature:  Cymbidium tolerates high summer heat if it can have cool mild nights (50-65 F). Keep away from frost.

Light: Cymbidium wants morning and afternoon sun, but not mid-day sun. If it has a light green leaf with just a touch of yellow, it’s getting plenty of sun. If its leaves turn dark green, it needs more sun.

Feeding: From February to June, feed with HIGH nitrogen fertilizers (25-9-9). From August until January, feed with LOW nitrogen fertilizers (6-25-25). Feed one teaspoon to a gallon of water once a month.

Repot: Repot every two to three years from February to June with a well-draining soil. In mild summer, use fine bark. In warmer summer areas, use a medium orchid mix.

Location: When you get your cymbidium, find a spot for it and leave it there, moving it as little as possible. When acclimated, cymbidium stays healthiest if not moved.

Watering: When you receive cymbidium, do not water for 10 days. Then water it once a week. Make sure all residual water drains before putting it back in its surrounding pot.

So… I watered it sparingly, kept it out of bright sunlight unless it wanted bright sunlight, in which case I put it in bright sunlight unless it wanted shade. After a few weeks, it lost its flowers, then a couple of leaves. THEN I found out that these grow from one side to the other, not up and out, and it was doing its level best to grow out of the pot by the end of April.

This afternoon, even though it hasn’t been two to three years, and even though I don’t have fine bark or even a good dull roar, Lady Cymbidium got repotted.  Even though several sites had warned just how to do this – stand on the left foot, recite this mantra while burning that incense and sipping THIS tea – I just basically took it out of one pot, wibbled it a bit and stretched out a few weird roots, and put it in a bigger pot. No ceremonial tap-dancing involved.

While I was shoveling non-bark planting medium (aka soil) back in around the root ball, I threw in a couple of lemon slices. Don’t ask why – it just seemed like the right thing to do for a plant reputed to have such a bad attitude. Maybe tomorrow I’ll toss in a tea bag to go with it. The way I figure, if the tea and lemon trick works, I’ll write a Cymbidium Care website that includes tea and lemon as must-haves for your 8-month-old cymbidium, along with her other observations, and that should drive some cymbidium experts right up the wall!


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