The boat orchid, or Cymbidium orchid, is a flower commonly used in flower arrangements and corsages. This is because of the size of the blooms, which can grow as big as six inches across. These blooms can last between eight to twelve weeks if properly cared for.
The boat orchid is native to the Himalayas, but has since found its way to many parts of the world. The large blooms and patterned lip are what makes the boat orchid such a great choice as an indoor plant.
In this article, we will discuss this orchid’s proper cultural care and the correct way to propagate it. If you are considering the addition of the boat orchid to your collection and wish to learn more, just keep reading.
Boat orchid care
1. Watering requirements
There is no set schedule that you should follow when watering your boat orchid. The frequency of watering will depend on several factors, such as the climate where you live, the season and the current weather.
A boat orchid grown in a cold climate, during the winter, with plenty of snow and rainfall will not need to be watered as much as one in a place with a warm climate and little to no rainfall.
It is best to properly soak the potting medium with water less frequently, rather than water it lightly and often. These plants also prefer distilled or filtered water as opposed to tap water. You can also collect rainwater to use on the plant.
While it is good not to overwater the plant, do not let the potting medium dry out too much between waterings either.
The easiest way to determine whether the plant needs to be watered is by touching the top two inches of the potting medium. If the potting medium is dry, water the plant, but if it is still damp, wait one or two days before checking it again.
Try not to get any of the leaves wet when you water your boat orchid. You can take the pot to the sink or a basin and let water flow directly onto and through the potting medium while keeping the leaves dry. Water droplets on the leaves can encourage the growth of fungi, so avoid getting the leaves wet whenever possible.
You should make sure that the pot you use for your boat orchid has drainage holes at the bottom and that the potting medium is well-draining so that any excess water will simply flow out.
Overwatering is one of the biggest mistakes a plant owner can make. It can lead to root rot, which is when the roots of the plant die from being constantly wet or standing in stagnant water. The dead roots will become susceptible to opportunistic pathogens which will make the rot spread even faster to the rest of the plant.
If you suspect that your boat orchid has root rot, remove it from its pot and shake off as much of the old potting medium as you can. Inspect the roots properly and remove any that have turned brown or black, because those are the rotten ones. Dispose of the rotten roots properly and spray the remaining healthy roots with a fungicide. Replant the orchid in a pot with sufficient drainage holes, using fresh, well-draining potting medium.
2. Soil requirements
Because the boat orchid is an epiphyte, meaning it naturally grows on the sides of trees and other plants, you need to plant it in a potting medium that is specially designed for orchids.
The main factors to keep in mind when choosing a potting medium for your boat orchid are great air circulation and water drainage for the plant’s aerial roots.
Orchid bark is one of the most popular choices of substrates to include in the boat orchid’s potting medium, because it promotes airflow and also gives the roots ample space to grow into. The addition of sphagnum moss and peat is also encouraged, because these will help to retain some moisture and acidify the soil, which the plant likes.
You can also add perlite to the potting medium to make it even more well-draining and less prone to overwatering.
The perfect mix of components will also depend on the climate, season and weather where you live. If you live in a place that gets lots of rain, you will need to add more draining components and less water-retaining components. If you live in a warm place, you will need to add more water-retaining components in case the potting medium dries out faster than is optimal for the plant.
3. Light requirements
The boat orchid likes a lot of light, but it should always be indirect light. North- and east-facing windows are ideal because they let in the right kind of light for most of the day. If the only available window lets in harsh light, you can always place a sheer curtain over the window to diffuse the intensity of the light.
It is completely fine to place the orchid outdoors during the summer to help encourage blooming, as long as it is kept under a garden net or under the shade of a large tree. Never leave the plant out under direct sunlight, because it will only take a couple of hours for the foliage to burn.
These plants only get stippled light through the forest’s tree canopy in the wild, so simulating that situation is best for these plants.
You can tell that your boat orchid is getting too much light if the leaves turn a yellow color as opposed to a more yellowish-green, which is their norm.
In the winter, when sunlight is scarce, set up some grow lights to help your plant and keep it happy.
4. Temperature requirements
Because boat orchids are native to the Himalayas, they do much better in cold climates than many other orchid species.
Keep the plant in a place with temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer, and with night-time temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. As long as the temperature around the plant does not get into the extremes, it should be completely fine.
Exposing the plant to temperatures that are 20 degrees lower than normal can also trigger it to produce flower spikes. The moment you see the buds, though, you need to place the plant somewhere warmer again.
The temperature drop during spring evenings can also trigger blooming.
If the plant is kept indoors, do not place it where warm or cold drafts can hit it. The warm or cold air can cause the plant to dry out very quickly.
5. Humidity requirements
Because these orchids live in colder regions, they do not need as much humidity as other orchids that come from jungles. This orchid is fine with a humidity level of 40 to 60 percent. The normal humidity inside most homes is usually around this level, so you do not have to do much in terms of catering to the boat orchid’s humidity requirements.
However, if you do live in a place that has a dry climate, you can help the orchid out by placing its pot on top of a pebble tray filled with water. When the water in the tray evaporates, it will moisten the soil in the pot as well as the plant’s foliage. You can also place the boat orchid near other plants that enjoy a slightly higher humidity, so that together they can create a microclimate around their little group.
If you have the means, you can also buy a humidifier to help automatically regulate the humidity in your home without you needing to worry about it.
Some people mist their orchids, but that is not as effective in maintaining humidity around the plant when compared to the other techniques listed above. Misting also leaves droplets of water on the leaves, which can encourage the growth of fungi and will ultimately lead to more problems than solutions.
6. Fertilizer requirements
Fertilize the boat orchid with a balanced fertilizer designed specifically for orchids. It is best to dilute the fertilizer to half or a quarter of the strength suggested by the manufacturers.
Fertilize the plant after the blooms have fallen off, as a way of replenishing the nutrients that the plant has used to produce the flowers.
In the summer, when new buds are starting to appear, feed the plant once a week. In the fall and winter, feed it only every two weeks. Do not give the plant too much fertilizer, because this can lead to mineral buildup in the potting medium and toxicity in the plant.
Boat orchid propagation
- The boat orchid has pseudobulbs that grow on the outside part of the plant and support the foliage. There are dormant pseudobulbs in the center of the plant as well.
- You can propagate boat orchids by separating these pseudobulbs from the parent plant and placing them in their own pots, where they will soon grow into their own boat orchids.
- The best time to propagate the boat orchid is right after the blooms have fallen off, at the tail-end of spring.
- Remove the orchid from the pot and shake off as much of the potting medium as you can. Untangle the roots as gently as possible, trying not to damage them.
- Use a sterilized knife to cut off each pseudobulb. The outer pseudobulbs will be easier to remove, and once you have dealt with these, you can start dividing the inner bulbs.
- Place each bulb in its own pot, in a potting mix of four parts bark chips to one part perlite.
- After a few weeks the roots will have developed, and after a few months new growth will appear. In about a year, the backbulb will produce an entirely new plant.
- Soon the bulb will grow a second pseudobulb and you can then transfer the plant to a bigger pot.
- The propagated orchids can take up to several years before producing their first bloom.
The boat orchid is a beautiful plant with fragrant flowers that measure up to six inches across. It is native to the foothills of the Himalayas, and thus more tolerant of cold weather and lower humidity than most orchid species.
The boat orchid only needs to be watered when the top two inches of potting medium are dry, and it likes bright, indirect light, well-draining potting medium, room temperature and humidity, and frequent fertilizing.
This orchid is propagated by separating the pseudobulbs from the parent plant and planting them in their own pots. It can take several years for the bulb to produce a plant mature enough to bloom, so you need to be patient when propagating these plants.
Image: istockphoto.com / MAsummerbreak