Magazine article Sunset

Orchids for the Holidays

Magazine article Sunset

Orchids for the Holidays

Article excerpt

One look at the exquisite flowers of cymbidiums explains why they are favorites of gardeners who grow them outdoors in mild-winter areas of the West. These cool-season orchids are easy to grow, particularly in coastal gardens, and they bloom with very little care.

Standard cymbidiums grow 3 to 4 feet tall, have long, strappy leaves, and produce large flowers 3 to 5 inches across. Bloom season for standards usually runs from early winter to spring.

Less well known are the miniatures, which bloom earlier than the standards; their peak season is November to January-just in time for the holidays. These plants are generally restrained in size, usually growing 1-1/2 to 2 feet tall, with flower spikes 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 feet long.

The flowers of miniature cymbidiums are also smaller-1 to 3 inches acrossand appear in greater numbers than the flowers on standards, with some miniature varieties producing as many as 42 flowers per spike. Some miniatures may also produce two spikes per bulb. The flowers come in nearly every color (except blue and true black), including new shades of apricot and orange. The blooms of most miniature cymbidiums have dark, contrasting lips, but you'll also find few albino flowers-with no contrasting lip color-such as Golden Elf 'Sundust', a clear yellow variety, and Lovely Bunny 'Othello'.

Breeders have been improving miniature cymbidiums by creating hybrid plants with enhanced fragrance, repeat bloom habit, and greater heat tolerance-characteristics that are found in Golden Elf 'Sundust', Peter Pan `Greensleeves' (green with a maroon lip), and 'Nut' (light tan to chocolate brown). All the hybrids in this new group grow about 14 inches tall, and bloom when nighttime temperatures are in the upper 50s.

Many nurseries and garden centers sell miniature cymbidiums during the bloom season. You can also order them through catalogs, which is one of the best ways to obtain unusual varieties; for sources, see page 96. Orchid society shows and sales also offer a great selection.

GROWING TIPS

This should give them the chilling-a differential of at least 20deg-they need to set flower spikes. Next spring, move plants outdoors again. Other options are to grow them in a cool greenhouse or to choose one of the new heat-tolerant hybrids suited for indoor culture. …

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