Orchids Take Root in S.B.

by Virginia Hayes

A drive along the South Coast reveals many things, not the least of which is that this region is home to many nurseries. Fields of potted plants stand in regimented rows, and bowed or pitched roofs of greenhouses cover many more acres. One of the biggest contributors to this nursery industry is the growers of orchids. Cymbidiums in particular abound. There is good reason for this, as this genus finds our mellow climate just to their liking.

The first cymbidiums to be grown commercially here came about as a sort of rescue effort. Plants threatened by the ravages of World War II in England were shipped to nursery colleagues here for safety. Because they did so well, divisions of them remained behind even after the original plants were returned to their British owners. Now, our area is among the largest producers of cymbidiums and other orchids in the world.

The earliest blooming cymbidiums are just beginning to flower now. Most of these are miniature varieties and will be followed by their normal-sized cousins after the first of the year. Because the flower spikes last so long, it is easy to have just a few plants and still have a cymbidium in bloom for about nine months out of the year.

While many of the local nurseries that produce cymbidiums are wholesale only, there are several that welcome the public. Take a stroll down their aisles and you will likely fall under the spell of these fabulous flowers. Don’t be afraid to adopt a few for your own garden. Easy to care for, cymbidiums require fast-draining soil mix made up of woody bark or sawdust, peat, and sand (readily available pre-mixed and bagged for sale at nurseries). Stand them in partial shade and water regularly. There are many choices of fertilizers formulated specifically for orchids and regular feeding will keep them growing and blooming. Many growers alternate a high-nitrogen fertilizer to promote healthy leaf growth with a high-potassium formula to foster more blossoms, and now is the time to make that switch from nitrogen to potassium for the majority of varieties that bloom later in the season.

Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to

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