Caring for your Cymbidium orchids

Cymbidium orchid

These orchids have an enduring appeal and are much sought after as both pot plants and cut flowers.  Although there are miniature groups, the ones most commonly available through garden centres and flower shops are the standard variety that can grow into very large plants indeed, and have flower spikes of up to 50 inches. 

In the wild, Cymbidium orchids live in diverse conditions and are found in Japan, China, throughout the Himalayas and down into India.  They are also present in Thailand and Malaysia and even in Australia where they live in arid desert conditions.  They grow as epiphytes on trees and rocks. Depending on which country they are in, Cymbidiums can tolerate a huge range of conditions so it is well worth establishing the origin of the type you have bought – do they live in bright sunlight, in warm moist conditions, or are they from a desert region somewhere?

Cymbidium orchid

Because they are tolerant of a wide variety of habitats Cymbidiums have a reputation, along with Phalaenopsis, for being an ideal house plant for beginners at orchid growing – in other words, they are difficult to kill!  Although this is true, and the plant will survive well even if neglected, getting it to flower can be much more of a challenge.  Find out where your plant would live in the wild and then try to emulate its natural conditions – if it likes hot, bright sun it will flourish in a greenhouse in summer.  If it comes from a rain forest in Thailand, treat it as you would a Phalaenopsis.  The flowers are gorgeous and will last for several weeks.

Other kinds of Orchids as House Plants...

Watering your orchid pot plants

By far the best way to water orchids is to place them in a sink or other container of lukewarm water which comes up to the top of their pots.  Because they are not growing in densely packed soil or compost, the water will easily rise up from the bottom of the pots and saturate the roots.  The plants should be left for several hours, or overnight, and the watering should be repeated on a weekly basis (although most plants will easily survive a 10 interval if you are away).  At the same time as watering, spray the leaves with a fine water mist.  Feeding should be kept to a minimum and stepped up only once new growth or flower shoots appear. Never overdo it – food is not high on the agenda of survival for plants that live perched up in trees with their roots exposed!

What about our native wild orchids?

Yes, we have many native wild orchids throughout Europe and around 30 species in the UK.  Most of them are rare, endangered or in serious decline due to the destruction of their natural habitats. They will not survive being dug up and moved either to gardens and greenhouses or to window ledges. It is also an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act to dig up any wild plants without the landowner’s consent.

Where to see wild orchids

There are many local and national nature reserves where wild orchids can be seen at the right time of year, and the network of local Wildlife Trusts can advise you on the best time to visit and also arrange for you to take part in some of the many tours that they organise during peak flowering times.