Demise of an Orchid – a horticultural tragedy in three acts

cymbidium and how to repot

Not my cymbidium. This is what I wish my cymbidium had looked like.

Now posting firmly to the list of Plants I Won’t Try to Grow Again: Cymbidium. Bleh. A whole three months into this gardening venture and already I’m developing firm (and probably misinformed) opinions about what I don’t like to take care of.

Act One, Scene One

This was a gorgeous stem of flowers hovering above graceful arched leaves, growing slowly and with stately resolve toward the side of its original too-small pot. It would faintly sigh, a most ladylike lament, as if it would not dream of complaining, but “this pot does cramp my toes, and I’d be ever so grateful…”

Act One, Scene Two

So I did my best. I watched the videos about how to repot a cymbidium, such as this one:

If I could have brought my repotting station anywhere near the computer, I would have watched while I was working. Instead I’d get as far as I could then rest the poor thing gently on its side while I ran to consult the video gurus once again.

Act One, Scene Three

Slice – separate – sort out roots, hack off roots, reposition in moist extremely well cultivated stuff – wait a week for it to settle down, then resume normal care.  Yep, did that.

Someone forgot to tell MY cymbidium that it is supposed to enjoy this transplanting, hacking, resting, separating, potting stuff. It acted miserable for the first two days of being told no food, no water – you’re supposed to be resting!

“Like hell,” it muttered, turned toes-up and fainted. Thus begins Act Two of the Shakespearean tragedy, “Demise of an Orchid.”

(INTERMISSION – Champagne & Tea in the Lobby)

Act Two, Scene One

So I played along. I coddled and begged, pleaded and fed, adjusted ambient light, location, background music, scents and sounds — to no avail. Maybe it didn’t like the color of the new terra cotta pot.

Act Two, Scene Two

We played out this lament, Cymbidium and I, for the better part of two months. It’d get better. I’d ask how it felt. Swan song, limp leaf, blackened stem, gentle on-deathbed-feebly-reaching-for-ceiling sigh. “Leave me to my agony,” soft cough. “I see a light… so bright, so warm, so welcoming…”

Act Three, Scene One

So about an hour ago I dumped it and its histrionics out into Bunny Buffet Land. No more drama queen plants. From here on out, the only drama queens allowed in this household are our cats, Chatterbox and Growler – and they wouldn’t dream of being potted.

 <-> The End <->

Cymbidium Basic Must-Know Gotta-Have Essentials

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!