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by Noe Smith
Getting your culture right is never easy, especially if you are relatively new to this Cymbidium growing game. Who and what do you believe from all the varied culture tips, views and opinions out there? The fact that every experienced and successful grower seems to do things completely differently from each other doesn’t help the new grower.
What often confuses beginners is that "experts" often only give part of the story when it comes to describing their cultures. This is not a deliberate attempt to confuse, just that they have been growing cymbidiums for so long they tend to gloss over or omit the basics and concentrate on their results from a new fertiliser, potting mix, or similar. This tends to make newer growers think that all they need to do is copy so-and-so's fertilising or use their potting mix, to achieve the same results; of course, this is seldom the case.
The truth is that successful Cymbidium culture relies on getting a combination of cultural factors right, miracle fertilisers, secret potting mixes, or any single factor won't give you success if one or more critical factors have been overlooked.
So what are the basic and critical factors which are required to grow Cymbidiums well?
Just like any other plant, Cymbidiums require light, air, water and food to grow; get the basic combination right and you will be well on your way. Once you get the basics sorted, then you can fine-tune various aspects to improve (hopefully) the results you are getting.
Now Cymbidiums are pretty tough (as are most orchids despite what we have been led to believe); they generally won't die on you unless you get things seriously wrong, so let's look at the basics, one thing at a time.
A question worth asking before we start is what does a healthy Cymbidium look like? It is often the case that looking at your plants will give you some important clues as to what, if anything, might be wrong with your culture.
A healthy Cymbidium should have mid-green coloured foliage, not dark green, or yellowish; the leaves should be more-or-less erect, not floppy; and the plant's bulbs should be plump and smooth, not wrinkled or shrivelled-looking. The leaves should not have brown/black tips (if you live in South Australia this may be a common sight and is very hard to avoid due to the water quality supplied in that state), or brownish/bleached-looking areas where they curve out.
There will be a little variation, particularly where the parentage of some plants includes Cymbidiums which naturally have long, wide, floppy leaves, or those that are naturally more light-sensitive or prone to leaf markings, but in general, if most of your plants look a certain way, the odd one out may just look different due to it's genetic make up.
The part of a Cymbidium we can't see (without knocking the plant out from its pot) is the root system. A poor root system can be the cause of a range of problems and can contribute to poor plant growth. Root systems usually end up in poor condition due to a number of factors: too little water, too much water, poor or broken-down potting mix leading to poor drainage, excessive fertilising, or incorrect pH (ideal pH levels for a Cymbidium is around 5.5 if you want to check). A process of elimination should help in identifying which issues may be causing any problems you have and hopefully by the end of this article we will have covered all of the cultural factors necessary to help you adjust your culture if needed.
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