Busting the myth that orchids are hard to grow

Cymbidium orchids are one of the easiest to grow. Picture: Shutterstock.
Cymbidium orchids are one of the easiest to grow. Picture: Shutterstock.

Orchids have always fascinated gardeners and many believe these somewhat mysterious plants are difficult to grow, but really they are quite easy, as long as some basics are applied.

Cymbidium orchids are one of the easiest and really come into their own during August, which is their main flowering period.

The longevity of their flowers is one reason for orchid popularity, flowers can last up to six weeks or more on the plant. The trick is to get them to flower next year too.

Cymbidiums, or cymbids, produce long strap-like leaves that arise from a swollen pseudo-bulb. The roots of cymbids are quite thick and water-absorbing, so growing media needs to be very free-draining. Specialist orchid mixes are recommended for best results.

More lifestyle:

Cymbids don't like cold wet roots so ease off on the water during winter. They require dappled light for the best part of spring-summer, too much sun during summer will burn the leaves which can reduce flowering.

Leaves should be a nice mid-green colour, deep-green leaves are an indication that plants are not receiving enough light, which can reduce flowering.

Position cymbids where they are shaded and protected during spring and summer, then move them into more light as weather cools during late summer and autumn.

Fertilising cymbidiums is critical to good flower production. During the growing season of spring, orchids need a nitrogen-based fertiliser to promote healthy foliage growth.

There are specific orchid fertilisers which take the guess work out of application. Nitrogen-based fertiliser should be used after flowering, then switch to a potassium-based, flower-promoting fertiliser in late summer.

These are usually liquid fertilisers that need to be applied once a fortnight. If your cymbid becomes congested in its pot it can be divided in spring after flowering.

Be sure to divide clumps with at least three pseudo-bulbs left on each division, any less and it will take another year or two before flowering again. Re-pot using an orchid mix as normal potting mixes hold too much moisture.

Orchids are often attacked by snails; scale insects are also quite common and keep plants off the ground to prevent worms and slaters entering the mix and regularly check plants for pests and diseases.

  • John Gabriele is a horticulture teacher with a love for green spaces.