Orchid lessons

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Cymbidium orchid in the garden of my sister Holly in Sydney

I think that many of us gardeners have languishing away somewhere a bedraggled pot of what was once a beautiful flowering Cymbidium orchid (Cymbidium, Large-flowered Hybrids) that we may have been given as a gift. Usually, it never blooms again but we hold onto it just in case. I have never known what to do to encourage them to reflower but I recently visited my sister's garden, which is a triumph of orchids, in colours of pinks, whites, maroons and yellows.

They all started from one pot she was given many years ago, which she divided and repotted many times; she acquired a few others and looked after them all properly and now, each winter, she has magnificent success, the orchids decorating her garden with their exotic sculptured inflorescences over a long period.

Cymbidium orchid in the garden of my sister Holly in Sydney

Asked what the secrets are, she told me that they do need fortnightly fertilising with proper orchid food throughout the year. There are two sorts of food, one for growth after flowering and a different one from January onwards as the flower spikes are initiated. Regular watering is also important, especially in the warmer months; avoid overwatering in winter.

Plenty of sun is also very important, though avoid direct sunlight on hot summer afternoons. Some people put them in a part-shaded position from September to May and then in full sun for the rest of the year. The colour of the leaves may be a sign of whether they are getting enough sun: they should appear yellow-green, rather than deep green, which is a sign of too much shade. Leaves which are too yellow, however, indicate that too much sunlight may be being received.

Cymbidium orchid in the garden of my sister Holly in Sydney

Dividing the plants every two to three years, after flowering, is also vital. My sister apparently uses an axe for the job! She keeps groups of the bulbs together and puts single ones into a different pot with one another, as these will eventually flower. She throws away any old backbulbs that are black, soggy or empty. Good-quality, free-draining orchid mix should be used for the repotting operation and containers should be around 30cm in diameter. The plants should be protected from snails and cabbage grubs.

Eeek! I confess I have never done any of these things to my poor old potted orchids, but I am vowing to turn over a new leaf and try the recommended techniques - maybe next winter, I too will be rewarded with some orchid blooms to brighten the garden scene. The pots can be grouped under trees or on tables, paving or steps. They can also be brought indoors for short periods when in bloom. As they are in fact epiphytic plants in the wild, I would like to try growing them in the fork of a tree one day. Our climate is perfect for these stunning plants; in very frosty regions, the buds can be damaged. For more information, visit the Orchid Society of NSW.