How to Grow and Care for Cymbidium Orchids (Boat Orchid)

These winter-blooming beauties tolerate brief frost and can last for months

cymbidium orchid plant

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

Cymbidium orchids, commonly called boat orchids, are a much more cold-tolerant flowering orchid plant than many other species of orchids. They feature large blooms in winter on flower spikes with long, thin leaves. The flowers can last up to three months. Cymbidiums grow best in moist, loamy, acidic humus and prefer dappled sunlight, warmer temperatures, and humid climates like their natural habitat of tropical and subtropical Asia and Australia.

Common Name Cymbidium orchid, boat orchid
Botanical Name Cymbidium spp.
Family Orchidaceae
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size 12-30 in. tall, 12-24 in. wide
Sun Exposure Partial
Soil Type Loamy, moist, well-draining
Soil pH Acidic
Bloom Time Fall, winter, spring
Flower Color Pink, green, yellow, white
Hardiness Zones 10-12 (USDA)
Native Area Asia, Australia
closeup of cymbidium orchids
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida
closeup of cymbidium orchid
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida
cymbidium orchid buds
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

Cymbidium Orchid Care

Here are the main care and growth requirements for cymbidium:

  • Provide dappled sunlight; direct sun can burn the plant.
  • Plant in loamy, acidic humus-type soil.
  • Keep soil moist; do not allow it to dry out.
  • Tolerates a light frost and has a vast temperature range from 40 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Give orchid fertilizer bimonthly or plant with slow-release fertilizer pellets.


During the growing season, cymbidium orchids appreciate dappled sunlight. If your orchids are outdoors, ensure they are not in direct sunlight, which can burn the plant. A few hours of morning sunlight paired with shady afternoons should be perfect.

A southeast- or east-facing window is ideal if you are growing your orchids indoors. Under the proper light conditions, the leaves should appear apple green instead of dark green. A dark green plant is likely not receiving enough sunlight to provoke a good bloom.


Cymbidiums are semi-terrestrial orchids. They grow naturally in loamy humus, sending thin roots into the soil. They are ideally suited to conditions easily replicated at home: a rich, loose, organic potting mixture.

Most growers recommend that the best soil for cymbidium orchids is a combination of fir bark, perlite, peat moss, and other loose organic material that will lower cymbidium orchid's pH. A commercial paphiopedilum orchid mix will usually serve these plants well.


Water these plants frequently during the growing season (i.e., the spring, summer, and fall). You can also use ice cubes, a premeasured way of making sure you don't overwater your orchid. And remember, the purer the water, the healthier the plants. Accumulated salts from tap water can cause damage, such as leaf-tip dieback, in which the leaf tips turn black and die. So make sure to flush water through the potting mixture.

During the winter bloom, reduce watering. However, don't let the plant completely dry out. Instead, keep the potting mixture slightly damp to the touch.

Temperature and Humidity

Cymbidiums are considerably more tolerant to cold weather than some other popular orchids. The larger varieties of cymbidiums need an extended cold period to provoke a bloom, while the miniature types aren't entirely as dependent on cold weather.

Cymbidiums have been known to briefly withstand freezing temperatures, though frost will eventually kill them. Nights with temperatures down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit should be fine. Conversely, cymbidiums can also withstand summer heat without wilting, as they are suited to the temperate regions of Asia, where there is considerable variation in seasonal and day-to-night temperatures.

Outdoors, these orchids can tolerate most humidity levels except for very dry climates. And indoors, they like a humidity level of around 40% to 60%. If you need to raise the humidity, place your plant's container on a water-filled tray of pebbles. Ensure the bottom of the container isn't touching the water, as this can lead to root rot.


During the growing season, feed with a weak orchid fertilizer bimonthly. Or scatter slow-release pellets in the ever-increasing media at the beginning of the season. Avoid a high-nitrogen fertilizer, as this can cause rapid foliage growth at the expense of the orchid's blooms.

Types of Cymbidium Orchids

According to the American Orchid Society, there are about 100 species and hybrids of cymbidium orchids. Some notable species include: 

  • Cymbidium dayanum: Known as Day's cymbidium or the Phoenix orchid, this species sports white flowers with stripes of burgundy.
  • Cymbidium erythrostylum: This plant is native to Vietnam and features white flowers with red in the center.
  • Cymbidium tracyanum: Known as Tracy's cymbidium, this orchid has large, fragrant, yellow-green flowers with brown stripes.
  • Cymbidium goeringii: Also called the noble orchid, it's one of the cold hardiest of cymbidiums, hailing from cooler zones of Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea.
  • C. floribundum: Commonly called the yellow margin orchid, golden leaf-edge orchid, or golden-edged orchid, its petals and sepals are usually red-brown. It has miniature flowers averaging about an inch in size, with about three dozen on a floral spray.
  • Cymbidium aloifolium: The aloe-leafed cymbidium is a species of orchid found in China and southeast Asia from Burma to Sumatra that is rare, featuring pretty yellow, red center flowers on pendant spikes. 
  • Cymbidium ensifolium: Also called the four-season orchid, the golden-thread orchid, spring orchid, burned-apex orchid, and rock orchid, this heat-tolerant orchid features 3-inch blooms with yellow or green petals and sepals with red or brown lines.
  • Cymbidium kanran: Commonly called the cold-growing cymbidium, this winter bloomer produces multiple flowers with slim, pointed petals and has a pleasant, musky fragrance.
  • Cymbidium sinense: Native to China and Northern Vietnam, it produces dark red flowers with a sweet fragrance. In China, it's called the "New Year's orchid," as it generally flowers during the Chinese New Year in February.


After the flowers have faded, using sterilized scissors or pruners, cut the stems down to the base of the plant to encourage it to bloom again next year. Prune away any dead roots emerging from the top of the soil and clip or pinch off any already loose dead, dying, or discolored leaves.

Propagating Cymbidium

Although they can be grown from seeds after many years of patiently waiting, cymbidiums are easiest to propagate by division during repotting in the spring. During the summer, they usually grow quickly, sending up new pseudobulbs (stems) topped with long leaves.

Dividing the roots if they crowd the pot can make the plant healthier; however, cymbidiums flower best when a little root bound. Here's how to divide cymbidiums:

  1. You'll need a new pot, moist orchid compost mix, a sterilized knife, heavy-duty scissors, or pruners.
  2. Remove the rootball from the pot by holding your hand over the top of the soil surface and turning over the pot. Healthy roots are thick, whitish-cream-colored rhizome strands. If the roots appear to be one big mess leaving little room for growth, your cymbidium is ready to be divided.
  3. Use a sterile knife, heavy-duty scissors, or pruners to cut through the rhizome strands. Divisions should have three bulbs each. Plant the rhizomes in a pot on top of a bed of damp orchid compost.
  4. Once seated in the center of the pot, top it off and line the sides with the moistened orchid mix. Don't water the plant for three weeks. Continue to mist the plant over that time.
  5. Begin watering when you notice new growth beginning, usually within three weeks.

How to Grow Cymbidium From Seed

Propagating orchids by seed is notoriously difficult and not recommended because the minuscule seeds need extremely specific conditions that are hard to duplicate; typically, horticulturists use sterile laboratories for germinating and cultivating orchids. Once germination occurs, it can take up to two-plus years to notice leaf growth. After that, plant growth can take up to four to eight years to develop blooms.

Potting and Repotting Cymbidium

They can be grown in containers outside during the spring, summer, and fall and moved inside at the first threat of frost. For best results, start with a store-bought plant and wait until after flowering in the spring to repot it (or put it in the ground).

The best type of pot for a cymbidium orchid is a clay pot since water wicks away from the plant faster. Also, repot when the leading pseudobulb (stem) reaches the pot's side. When repotting, only go up one size; cymbidiums bloom best when a little pot bound.


Cymbidiums are not frost-tolerant, so when frost is expected, bring it indoors. Place it in a bright, cool section of your home, preferably in a south or east-facing window. It will continue to need moderate to high humidity.

Common Pests & Diseases

A well-grown cymbidium should be resistant to most insects and diseases. But as with all orchids, there is some risk of aphids, spider mites, scale, and other insects. Try treatment with natural neem or horticultural oil before using chemical insecticides, and follow label directions.

How to Get Cymbidium to Bloom

Cymbidiums naturally bloom during the winter, which is ideal if your plants are indoors for display. Cymbidium orchids like bright light and cool evening temps to bloom. A combination of falling temperatures and reduced water triggers the bloom. Cymbidium flower spikes are heavy and will need support.

Bloom Months

Cymbidiums can bloom from October through May, depending on the species or hybrid and your climate and environmental conditions.

How Long Does Cymbidium Bloom?

Cymbidiums can bloom from one to three months, although six to eight weeks is more likely.

What Do Cymbidium Flowers Look and Smell Like?

Cymbidium scents vary based on the species, ranging from bright notes of citrus, apple blossom, sandalwood, vanilla, musk, jasmine, and lily of the valley. Some may have no fragrance.

The flowers vary in size, color, and shape. All flowers develop on long sprays (inflorescences) of abundant flowers. There are also hybrid and miniature types—flowers range from 1/2 inch to 4 inches in diameter. Some petals are long strands or wisps, while others are broader and showy.

How to Encourage More Blooms

To potentially get cymbidiums to rebloom, prune the flowering spike. The flowering spike stem needs to appear still healthy and green. Look at the lowest node or bump on the orchid spike (where a flower didn't already bloom from) and trim to 1 inch above that node, or bump, on the orchid spike. Then, move the plant to a cool spot from 40 F to 60 F, simulating winter. Withhold water for longer stretches (every 10 days or so), and only occasionally mist the plant so it has at least 40% humidity.

Feed every two weeks from autumn to spring with a balanced liquid fertilizer at quarter to half strength to encourage blooms for the coming season. To promote flowering to start, switch fertilizer to tomato fertilizer, feeding every week in August and September at quarter to half strength.

Caring for Cymbidium After it Blooms

After your cymbidium orchids have flowered, cut the stems down to the base of the plant to get it to bloom again next year. Or, if you're attempting to rebloom, read the notes above (How to Encourage More Blooms).

Deadheading Cymbidium Flowers

Allow the flower to wither and the flowering stem to brown, then cut the stem to the base.

Common Problems With Cymbidium

Cymbidiums are wonderful orchids to grow in temperate regions. They are also among the easiest and most reliable houseplants to grow.

Blackening Leaves

To revive a dying cymbidium, check the water, light levels, and soil. Insufficient water is usually the main culprit. Blackening leaves or black leaf tips signify a cymbidium dying or dying back. Eventually, the blackening moves down to the rest of the leaves.

Cymbidiums prefer moist soil. Too much light will cause blanching of the leaves, then browning. Give the plant afternoon shade or move the plant to a partially shaded spot. Over time, fertilizer salts build up and leave a crust on the surface of the planting mix; remove 1/4-inch of the top layer and add fresh orchid mix or flush with water once a month to remove the salts and improve the soil.

Failure to Bloom

Insufficient light and improper temperature control are the two biggest reasons a cymbidium fails to bloom. Cymbidiums need dappled light or bright, indirect light and a 20-degree temperature swing at night.

Leaf color is a good indicator if they are getting the right light. Leaves should be yellowish-green. Dark green leaves indicate insufficient light, while bleached or scorched leaves mean it's getting too much light. Temperatures should ideally be about 80 F during the day, dropping to 60 F at night.

If the plant has had sufficient light, correct temps, regular fertilizer, and a reduction of water, then when cool temperatures arrive, such as 60 F during the day and 40 F at night, a flowering spike should grow. Once the plant reaches freezing temperatures at night, bring it inside or move it to a non-freezing location.

Brown Spots

Yellow to brown spots on your cymbidium orchid can indicate a lack of water. To avoid that condition, never allow the soil to get dry. Also, don't get the soil too moist or soggy since that can lead to mushy root rot. Increase watering if the soil isn't consistently moist. Any water remaining in the bottom tray should remain lower than the pot's base to avoid root rot.

Brown spots can also signify several viral infections, such as cymbidium mosaic virus, botrytis, or ringspot virus. Plants rarely recover from these viruses. It's best to destroy those plants.

  • When is best time to buy cymbidium orchids?

    It's best to buy cymbidiums already in bloom. Although you can find them year-round, cymbidiums usually bloom from mid-autumn to mid-spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Peak bloom time is winter when you most find cymbidiums for sale.

  • What is the lifespan of cymbidium orchids?

    Cymbidiums are one of the longest-living species of orchids. Orchids have the reputation of being able to live up to 100 years. However, that's in their ideal climate and natural habitat. Expect cymbidium orchids to live up to 15 to 20 years as a houseplant with proper care. Orchids planted in the ground in the correct zone have a longer life expectancy.

  • How long do cymbidium flowers last?

    As far as blooms go, cymbidium flowers last long. You can expect a potted or in-ground cymbidium to bloom for one to three months. A cut cymbidium can last up to 6 weeks in a vase of fresh water.

  • Will cymbidium orchids flower again?

    In most cases, cymbidium orchids will bloom only once from one stem. The plant should rebloom the following growing season. You can force a rebloom on the same stem after flowering if you "trick" the plant into thinking winter has arrived by lowering temperatures, withholding water, and pruning the flowering stem to just above a healthy, unbloomed node along the stem.

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  1. Cymbidium Culture Sheet. American Orchid Society Website