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Celebrating Orchids

I have mentioned this in the newsletter, but I did get a call about orchids on my voice mail, and so I thought I would write more about orchids and their care.  As I have mentioned, I purchased a wonderful pure yellow cymbidium orchid, and have had problems getting it to bloom.  It has suffered through a transplant, a broken pot, and lack of sunlight.  It also suffered from too much sun in one location as well as not enough sun in another.  I moved it again to another spot in my landscape and it now has 4 spikes getting ready to bloom.  I was somewhat concerned the other day when we had that windstorm that blew it from its ledge.  I thought that perhaps the spikes had been damaged, but fortunately that was not the case.  If you know your biology, you should be impressed with these numbers.  There are over 1,400 different genera of orchids.  There are around 35,000 species and hybrids of all of these.  It should be no surprise that in the San Francisco Orchid Show they fill up the entire auditorium at Fort Mason’s Festival Pavillion.   


There is a great book on the market that describes over 100 varieties and how to take care of them.  The title is “100 Orchids for the American Gardener” and Elvin McDonald is the author.  The photography, rather than just show the flowers, shows the entire plant including the foliage and roots. 


The most prevailing question people have about orchids is how much light.  All orchids need protection from the heat of the afternoon sun, including noontime sun.  So if they are kept in the house, direct sun in the morning is beneficial.  And that will work for all orchids that you would keep in the house.  These include, Cattleya, Dendrobium, Miltonidium, Oncidium, and Phaleanopsis.  Outside orchids such as Cymbidiums can tolerate temperatures close to freezing.  Other outside orchids such as Lady-slippers are good companions in fern gardens and will tolerate cooler temperatures. Cymbidiums and Lady-slippers require temperatures in the winter between 38 to 55 degrees to force blooming.  These types of orchids need the outside variable temperatures to thrive.  If treated as a houseplant they will not bloom because they require direct morning sun.  They will tolerate sun in the late afternoon but hot sun can not be tolerated.  I had a great bed of cymbidiums in my home in San Rafael under a California bay tree.  Nothing else would thrive there, but my collection of cymbidiums loved it. 


Watering is one of the most important questions.  Indoor orchids have problems when they are watered too often and the water is left to drain in a saucer and that water is recycled.  The best method of watering these types of orchids is to take them to the kitchen sink, turn on the water and when it warms to a comfortable temperature, soak the root zone two or three times.  Let it drain and place it back in its home turf.  Outside orchids require normal garden watering.  If they are in pots that drain well, a couple times a week is all they require.  If they are in pots on a deck and have a tray underneath, fill the tray with rocks or pebbles so that the root system doesn’t stand in water. 


Fertilizer is a must for all orchids.  People laugh at me when I recommend VF 11 all the time, but I have had great success by adding this fertilizer every time I water.  In searching for answers for fertilizer questions, I have tried to find an organic fertilizer solution.  Many orchid fanciers would rather find a fertilizer that would automatically feed their plants without any mixing.  I have found that Dr. Earth Rose Food and EB Stone Organic Vegetable fertilizer work well on all orchid plants.  In any case, once the plants start to bloom, I spray the flowers with a solution of VF 11.  When I was a retail nurseryman, I found that this kept the blooms healthier for a longer period of time.  This spray also would set up successive blooms on the Moth Orchid. 


Problems with orchids can happen and here a couple of causes that are easily corrected.  1. The plant looks healthy and the foliage is dark green and healthy but doesn’t bloom.  This problem could be the fertilizer.  Too much nitrogen in the pot can make lots of growth, but may well set up a problem with aphid, and not blooming. Not blooming is caused by not enough light.

2.  The leaves are limp and the color lacks the normal waxy appearance.  Root rot or irregular watering can cause the problem.  The plant may linger in this state for months and never recover.  There is no cure and it is a good idea to start over with a new plant.

3.  The flowers on a new plant fade and fall almost instantly when brought into the house.  This is caused by a dramatic change in light and temperature.  Keep away from sources of heat or cold.  The top of a TV set can fry the root system.  Flood lights can also cause the flower drop. 

4.  The foliage seems to be damaged by the cold weather.  Don’t despair, leave the plant alone and it will recover from even the worst of cold weather.  This is particularly true of outdoor orchids.  Indoor orchids can also come back from cold weather if they are returned to their normal locations.


There is one other item to be aware of. You might get hooked on orchids and that can be financially disastrous.  That, of course, is up to you.

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