Dissecting Cymbidiums

Cymbidiums may not be native to Hawaii like the bamboo orchid, but it has become a true kama’aina on its own.

Sure, most orchids can survive in Hawaii with the proper amount of attention and care, but Cymbidiums are perfectly suited for life in paradise “as is” needing the absolute bare minimum in order to not just survive, but thrive.

This was the focal point of the Cymbidium talk-story given by Bob and Jennifer Harris of Orchidpeople at the monthly KDOC meeting on April 10.

Bob candidly opened up the discussion by admitting to the group that he was addicted to orchids. And while he and Jennifer do love orchids of all kinds, they have a particular obsession to Cymbidiums.

This is, of course, easy to account for.

“Cymbidiums are easy to grow and they are the orchids I kill least,” Bob said with a smile, noting that these “are not your wimpy cattleyas.”

Cymbidiums prefer the temperature range not to vary more than about 20 degrees, and these warm-loving orchids are happy at elevations from sea-level to 2500 feet.

“They love food, light, and love,” Bob said, running through the basic checklist of Cymbidium needs. “They like lots of sun, lots of water. Their leaves can turn yellow even. Ideally, at least half a day of full sun every day. Like shade only when really, really young.”

Upon fulfilling those basic requirements, the Cymbidiums will grow very fast. Cymbidiums need to be up-potted rapidly until blooming stage, and then must be divided after flowering.

So the problem for the Cymbidium orchid grower quickly switches from “how to keep this orchid alive” to “how to deal with this massively spreading orchid”.

Bob held up a potted cymbidium which had just finished its bloom, then grabbed the base of the orchid and pulled the big ball of roots out of the pot, removing as much of the wood bark medium as possible. Then, as Jennifer surgically placed the orchid on its side, flat on the table, Bob produced a cordless reciprocating saw, which was armed with a special pruning blade.

The power saw easily cut through the roots, as Bob chopped off the bottom half of the root ball. These excess roots can be discarded, or placed in ziplock bags with some wet bark to root even more orchids.

The cymbidium was then held upright, and Bob split orchid(s) along the plant’s natural lines between the bulbs. Normally when it is time to repot a cymbidium, there will be dead bulbs in the middle, so finding a spot to cut should present itself when you are repotting.

Bob then removed any other dead roots or backbulbs with a steak knife, and noted that this cleaned clump could be left sitting for a few days to dry before repotting. The remaining stumps (with the leaves) are placed into new pots and filled with medium. Use orchid bark and/or cinder, because cymbidiums like a lot of water and need good drainage so that the roots don’t rot.

Cymbidiums do like to be fertilized, and for best results you should feed them regularly. From there, give the cymbidiums water and light and it won’t be long before you are splitting them.

“They are easy to divide and multiply rapidly,” Bob said, “one needs lots of friends to share them with.”

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For more information on Cymbidiums, visit www.orchidpeopleofhawaii.com or find them on Facebook at facebook.com/orchidpeople

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