8 Tips to Successfully Grow Cymbidium Orchids for Shows

by Flower El

Here are eight tips to help you towards being a first-class cymbidium orchids grower for the shows:

1. Help your plant to flower.

By now you would know that good culture and sufficient light is necessary for triggering a cymbidium to flower.

Here’s the tip: drop the Nitrogen in your fertilising program. Look for a fertiliser that provides twice the level of Potassium (K) as Nitrogen (N) and apply this during the months of spike initiation to maximize spike production.

We use a highly soluble NPK crop specific fertiliser. N: 11.5% P: 3.5% K: 28%. You may not be able to purchase a product with exactly those numbers. Perhaps your nursery supplies outlet has products with combinations like 7:11:27, or 10:8:18 or 10:5:20. They are perfectly fine, but formulations that are said to be balanced, such as 20-20-20 are to be avoided.

After the spike initiation phase, you can resume a higher nitrogen level which has the added benefit of greening up the leaves.

2. Choose quality plants.

Good orchids are no longer expensive, however you must be selective in your acquisitions. There are many who have made hybrids and are full of glowing predictions for these new marvels, wonderful qualities and traits to come. Unfortunately from our experience, many crosses have been made with plants of questionable value – the outcome years down the track is a clutter of plants of average merit.

As you build your collection, you need to be selective, constantly refining the criteria for those orchids that will satisfy your taste and interest. For example, if you have a plant that is difficult to flower, get rid of it. Non bloomers have no place in your collection. They need to make way for cymbidiums of better quality.

3. Specialise with a specific type of cymbidium.

You may wish to specialise with a specific type of cymbidium. For example, some people only grow Cym canaliculatum and its offspring. They become knowledgeable about that line, expert in their culture and spike initiation. Your area of interest may be some other species, a colour you like, a certain size category (miniature, intermediate, standard), style (pendulous, or naturally self-supporting upright), time of the year (early, mid, or late), and so on. Hone in on the area you derive the most pleasure.

Depending on your varieties, you may consider experimenting with variations to the normal upright presentation. If flower placement is high on your list of desirable features, consider a natural high arch. Common in Asian presentations, the high arch can give a visually stunning waterfall effect especially when three or more spikes are perfectly trained. Spikes are trained downward at the commencement of the first bud at a 45-degree angle from the plant’s foliage with the aid of a yo-yo. The effort might be rewarded with acclamation from judges, or if not, your peers.

Many a grower has sworn with exasperation when their potential champion is damaged a week out from the show. Knocked off the bench, or a bud or two chewed by a hungry insect. Or cold weather slows down the opening of buds. Perhaps the plant doesn’t open its buds until a week after the show. Worse still, a poor flowering, or some minor mutation rules the orchid out from achieving the highest accolade. A way around these mishaps is to grow at least three of each variety for safety, and exhibit the best of these.

What is our recommendation?

OK, you are open minded, you’re looking for a cymbidium we would recommend that will knock the socks off your local judges.

When push comes to shove, we suggest the direction to pursue is an alba, preferably white, with a dollop of yellow in the labellum.


In 1969 Alvin delivered a landmark paper at the sixth World Orchid Conference, sharing his knowledge into the genetic laws governing the outcome of albinos in his grex the Sleeping Beauty’s. He described the advantages these types have over coloured varieties, namely clear colours, no staining, no red overlays.

Considerable hype followed, with Merv Dunn from Valley Orchids in particular promoting these Pure Colours as the pinnacle cymbidium type. Years later it became apparent there were some problems – sluggish growth and comparatively shorter shelf life when spikes are cut. As a consequence their popularity diminished, and many abandoned albas. This is where we believe opportunity awaits. Clever hybridisers have revisited the type, and by concentrating on remedying these faults, superior types have emerged. Fast growing, long lasting albas will elevate the standard of this type, and we believe become the dominant showbench cymbidium in years to come. Talk to your commercial grower outlining your needs and get ahead of the pack.

4. View your orchid as a body builder.

Cymbidiums are really strong feeders so you can feed, feed, and feed, but don’t overdo the salt. Remembering salt toxicity leads to stunted roots, poor flowering and leaf tip dieback, it is important then to fertilise your orchid without creating a problem.

After spike initiation, every time you water, also provide nutrients for growth. How much? As a body builder does, small meals often–or in plant parlance, 150-200 EC units of additional dissolved salts. It is important for growers to have a good understanding of what EC is all about and why it matters. Water has an electrical conductivity or EC which represents the total dissolved salts in the water. For example, tap water contains sodium and chloride – an EC value with no nutritional value for plants. Fertiliser is made up of nutritional salts, dissolved and injected into your water supply. This additional nutritional value is known as EC+, and when added to the water’s residual EC, gives the total EC of your fertiliser water solution applied to your plants.

You can collect water leached from your pot’s drainage holes (after fertilising) and measure it with an EC meter. If your measurement is 500 – 800 micro siemens you are within the range for healthy fertilising. Over 1000 and you can be sure your fertiliser is going to waste, and the plant will struggle with salt toxicity.

The purer the water, the more fertiliser can be applied to reach the desired EC maximum.

5. Use Gypsum in your potting mix.

Farmers have used gypsum for centuries, and for good reason. As a fertiliser it is a source of Calcium and Sulphur and has proven itself to be a great stimulant for root growth. It also enhances porosity of the substrate, and in doing so improves water infiltration. Further, it also manages the calcium status of the potting mix, a factor we believe is just as important as NPK regarding cell structure. And finally it is a great tonic for potting mixes to prevent them becoming too acidic.

Gypsum can be applied as a top dressing anytime. It is also a mild fungicide. The Australian Avocado industry uses it as part of their program to control rot. Another one of gypsum’s advantages is its ability to reduce aluminium toxicity, which often accompanies substrate acidity. Consider it a cleansing agent, or as the beauty and health industry would put it, a detoxifier. Top-dress your orchids twice a year and reap the benefits, or do as we do, include it as part of your potting mix.

6. Implement a careful pruning strategy.

The modern premium cymbidium produces three new leads from each established bulb. And each lead produces two flowering spikes, six in total. They are flowering factories and may well win best specimen. But to comply with the judge’s broomstick-saucer model, it means you must channel the plant’s reserves into one or two spikes only. How do you do this?

First step, “prune” two of the three leads at their immature stage of development. By prune we mean use a sterile knife and cut the leads off close to the bulb. There is no need to treat the open wound, however you can use a dab of sulphur if you want added security to seal the cut. Some months later, assuming your plant has spikes, and buds have emerged from the protective sheath, you may find your plant has plus 20 buds on the raceme. At this formative stage, snip six or seven buds from the end of the spike. Your intervention will result in entire plant’s flower production energy being dedicated to a single spike with a medium range of buds. Expect a powerful raceme, and blooms of larger size for its type – just what impresses the judges and wins the ribbons!

7. Avoid the freeze.

You have your potential champions in spike, housed in your flowering facility, protected from the elements. Your orchids are dry. The absence of water may cause various growth problems such as wilting inflorescences. It is a bitterly cold winter day. Most would avoid watering, and yes there is a lot to be said by erring on the side of caution. But you are seeking the Grand Prize, and you need to enhance culture at every opportunity. Like the dedicated athlete, you will not pass up the opportunity to maintain your daily training regime. The trick is to heat a water source to 22 C, and then use that to irrigate your plant. Dutch commercial growers are constantly looking for small gains, knowing full well there is a cumulative effect for these improvements. Adoption of this advice will keep your plant in an active state, thereby maximising its true potential

8. Train your cymbidium sixth sense.

This last secret has little to do with science, more with intuition. The secret is you. Train your eye, attune yourself to your orchid growing area. Take notice of your plants. Spend time looking and observing and at the same time check for pests, hydration, leaf structure and appearance. Pick up a pot and feel the weight. Know by feel when a pot is wet or dry. Always be on the lookout for questionable leaf markings. Pounce on a plant that may be virus infected. Quarantine and have it tested.

A well maintained and clean environment will reward you with healthy stock. Be on the lookout for plants that have had growth spurts, and could be potted up into a larger container. Check your spacing, know your growing area’s capacity, for in six months foliage growth may compromise the light level by shielding neighbouring plants. Do you know the leaf and plant structure of different species-derived hybrids?  Note the glossy fine foliage of the Cym ensifolium lines, the squat bulbs of Cym tigrinum hybrids, the spade shaped leaves of Cym devonianum-derived plants, the spear like Cym canaliculatum foliage, and so on. Knowledge builds and is the foundation that supports your enjoyment and ultimate success.

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