Chinese cymbidium orchid & general care

by Lala

I hope all of you who celebrate Christmas have had a wonderful one. This Christmas has been very different but still so lovely for me in Shanghai. This is my first wintery Christmas. In the world of orchid lovers, winter is Cymbidium time!

Today’s post is about quite a special orchid which I have wanted to add to my collection in South Africa for a long time. However, I could never find one. The orchid is fragrant. The scent reminds me of Dove soap, ha! It is also delicately variegated, which is something I love and look for in every plant I grow….be it roses, fruit, succulents or indeed orchids.

Is this not just gorgeous?


In the English speaking world, Cymbidiums are also commonly called “Boat Orchids”, because the Latin root word of the botanical name means “boat”. This is due to the shape of the traditional, big flowered ones popular outside of Asia. Here in Asia, Cymbidiums are called “Grass Orchids” if one translates the words directly. The flowers are also not the usual shape found elsewhere.

Here collectors and growers prefer the small, star shaped ones you see on my plant above, rather than the ones from my plants in South Africa below.


How I have grown cymbidiums

Back in SA, I learned so much from the Plantae Orchid Club about growing different types of orchids. Cymbidiums are no different. Usually, one would buy these orchids in bloom. It is fine to enjoy them indoors until the flowers fade. Once the flowers are wilted and dry, you need to cut the orchid spikes. Here is a video on how to do that for Cymbidiums & Phalaenopsis:


After trimming the spike, I placed my cymbidiums outdoors to grow in very bright shade. They can take lots of morning sun, but from midday onwards they need protection. The cymbidiums are fine to grow outdoors all year in Gauteng province, as long as you protect them from direct heat and freezing temperatures (I used double layers of white frost cloth this year).

I keep the cymbidiums evenly moist. Orchids like Phalaenopsis and to an extreme extent, Cattleyas, prefer to almost dry out before you water them. Most cymbidiums prefer to be kept hydrated (but not soggy). A notable exception is a massive succulent cymbidium I have at home called “Australian Midnight” that is happy with only 500mls (two cups!) of water ALL YEAR. I reduce the watering in winter. Water & cold temperature will freeze the roots.

I cannot always give general advice on how much water is best for each orchid, because our climates, humidity, air-conditioning, indoor vs outdoor & other gardening habits are so different. It takes a bit of trial and error. I am learning some new things because of the big change in my growing conditions, where the seasons are opposite and it is much more humid and colder than where I have been growing orchids before.

If your cymbidium is very big & crowded, you can re-pot it into a slightly bigger pot, immediately after flowering. Do remember though that keeping the cymbidium in the same pot for many years gives very rewarding displays of many flower spikes. Re-pot if the media has gone bad, the basket or pot is breaking or the plant is jumping out of the pot. When you do re-pot, remember that orchids do not like to be in a very big pot. They thrive in tight spaces.

Usually cymbidiums are sold in bloom in winter. So by late winter or early spring, the flowers are gone and you can re-pot. Don’t delay this until late summer or autumn, because you may disturb the formation of flowers for the following winter.

Cymbidiums are terrestrial and semi-terrestrial orchids. They don’t need wood chips like phalaenopsis. You could buy a specific cymbidium potting mixture, or add sphagnum moss and perlite to a phalaenopsis mix.


I will not be re-potting my Chinese cymbidium. It still has a lot of room to grow in its pot for several seasons. It is planted in a very soil like mix, which I can tell is not actual soil. I need to investigate it further. The plant itself is very happy. I am keeping it indoors during winter, because I do not know what tolerance at has for freezing temperatures. I have seen pictures of some in the snow. I am investigating the growing conditions a bit further, although it is a little difficult as this orchid is most likely a hybrid and not a species. None of the orchids I have bought in China have labels. I rely on my existing knowledge, image searches and expertise from my orchid club’s chat group.

Cheers for now and happy orchid growing.

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