Thursday, May 28, 2009

Arranging Orchid Flowers

Nothing is more elegant than orchids in a flower arrangement. They’ve always represented the pinnacle of good taste and sophistication. The key to using them for such purposes is to keep it simple and not to let the elegance of the orchids get overwhelmed by too many other elements.

A super-simple homemade orchid flower preservative
Here’s an easy recipe for making your cut orchids last longer. Combine one 12-ounce can of a lemon-flavored soda drink (like Sprite or 7-Up), an equal quantity of water, and 1 teaspoon of household bleach. The sugar in the soft drink serves as food for the flower, the citric acid lowers the pH (increases the acidity), and the bleach kills the bacteria in the water that can plug up the water-conducting network in the flower stem.

Understanding the three basic flower-design elements
When it comes to flower arranging, flowers and greens comes in three basic shapes — line, mass, and filler. All of these play a key part in the construction of an attractive flower arrangement:
  1. Line flowers are tall and are used to give your arrangement height and width. Various branched orchids with buds (for example, oncidiums and cymbidiums) are used to create this effect.
  2. Mass flowers give your bouquet weight or mass and are generally round or full-faced. They’re usually the focal point of color and interest in a bouquet. Examples are cattleyas and their relatives, as well as paphiopedilums and angraecums.
  3. Filler flowers have stems with many little flowers and usually have fine textured foliage. Examples are miniature oncidiums.
Here are some tips on how to make simple, yet elegant, arrangements:
  1. Line flowers, by themselves, can make a striking arrangement in a tall, cylindrical vase. Select a vase or container that is in proportion to the flowers. The vase should be about one-half to one-third the size of the total arrangement. For instance, 3-foot-tall spikes of cymbidiums or oncidiums need a vase 12 to 18 inches tall.
  2. You can arrange mass flowers by themselves in a low, wide vase or container (see Figure 4-4).
  3. A small arrangement of filler flowers by themselves can add a light, elegant touch to any room. Many of these filler flowers are well suited for drying.
  4. Some flowers can be used as more than one element. For example, phalaenopsis sprays, especially the multifloral types, can be used as line elements, while large single flowers can be used as mass flowers.

Supporting the orchid flower stems
Having some method of supporting the stems of orchids in an arrangement, so you can arrange them to face the direction you prefer, is usually a good idea. Here are several methods and materials you can use:
  1. For a clear vase, add marbles or rocks.
  2. Crossing the top opening of the vase in a tic-tac-toe pattern of florist’s tape works well.
  3. Frogs (pincushions on which the orchid stems are impaled) work well in shallower containers.
  4. Florist foam is most popular with professional arrangers because it’s easy to use, effective, and retains water well so that the flowers last. It’s usually used in low containers.
Don’t cut the orchid flowers until they’re fully open. Otherwise, they may never have their proper shape or complete color.

Making your orchid arrangement last longer
To make your cut flowers last longer, follow these suggestions:
  1. For cymbidiums, wait about ten days to two weeks after they’ve flowered before cutting; for cattleyas, wait several days. Cut the orchids only when they’ve fully opened.
  2. Before you put the orchids into a vase, their stems should be recut at an angle under water. To keep them fresh, recut them every several days.
  3. Condition the orchids first, before arranging them. Place their stems in warm (180°F/82°C), fresh water and let them sit somewhere cool (around 50°F/10°C) overnight.
  4. Make sure all leaves that will be submerged under water in the vase are removed.
  5. To use orchids’ short stems (like cattleyas) in taller arrangements, insert the flower stem into orchid tubes (waterholding test tubes, available at your local florist) and then tape the tubes to a wood stake for more height.
  6. Add a commercial or homemade solution of floral preservative (see the nearby sidebar) to the warm water containing the flowers. Change this water and solution every three to four days.
  7. Place the arrangement out of the direct rays of sunlight and in a cool room.
  8. Double the life of your orchid flowers by placing the arrangement in the refrigerator at night or when you’re away from home.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Displaying Orchid Plants In Your Home

When you’re showing off your prized blooming plants in your home, here a few tips to keep in mind:
  1. Be sure to protect your furniture by placing the orchid plant pots on waterproof pads, like cork platters.
  2. If you place your plants on saucers, be sure they’re waterproof. Terra cotta platters are porous and moisture will seep through and can cause serious damage to unprotected wood furniture.
  3. Place felt or rubber protectors under cachepots, platters, or saucers so your furniture won’t be scratched.
  4. Place the blooming plants where they get bright light but not hot, late-afternoon light, so the flowers will last longer.
  5. If the growing pot is encrusted or ugly, insert it into a larger ornamental pot or basket. Choose simple green, white, or neutral colors that don’t compete with the orchid flowers.
  6. Place a layer of sheet moss or Spanish moss on the surface of the pot. This is a nice touch for covering up the sometimes unattractive potting material.
  7. Display the orchid on a pedestal or higher elevation so you can view it at eye level (see Figure 4-3). Few orchids are as attractive when they’re viewed from above.
  8. Think about how you will light your orchids to display them best. Many people are only able to view their orchids during the work week in the evening, so artificial lighting plays an important part in viewing them. Track lights work great. Use halogen or other bulbs that produce white light or as close to sunlight as possible so the orchid flowers will be rendered accurately. Regular incandescent light produces a yellow/red light that will make reds glow but that really dulls blues and greens.
  9. Group orchids with other tropical foliage plants. These provide an attractive backdrop for the orchid flowers.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Helping Your Orchids Look Their Best

After growing the plants for months on the windowsill, under lights, or in a greenhouse, they can look a little rough around the edges. The leaves are probably dusty and/or blemished with chemical deposits, older leaves may be wilted or dead, and some of the tips of the leaves may be brown.

When the plants are in flower and you want to show them off to their best in your home or get them ready to exhibit in an orchid show, here are a few suggestions to keep in mind:
  1. Clean their leaves. A simple way to polish the leaves is with milk. Dampen a paper towel with milk and rub off the blemishes. This will give a very attractive sheen that is harmless to the plant.
  2. Carefully remove any dead or severely damaged leaves.
  3. If you’re planning to bring your orchid to a show, be sure that you tape to the pot the name of your orchid plus your own name so that you don’t lose the plant. Also, make a list of what plants you’ve entered so you have a record.
  4. Trim off the brown tips of leaves with very sharp scissors. The sharper they are, the cleaner the cut and the less leaftissue damage will result. When trimming, follow the natural shape of the leaf, as shown in Figure 4-2.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Staking and Grooming Your Blooming Orchids

Orchids deserve to look their best when they’re putting on their show. Proper staking and grooming can make a big difference in how orchid flowers appear.

Figuring out how to stake
Flowers and spikes of orchids can be heavy and, if they aren’t staked properly, they’ll open at an awkward and disconcerting angle. This can be a distraction, because the most interesting and
alluring perspective to view orchids is usually the head-on view.

Staking techniques vary somewhat with the type of orchid. The two major types are the spray orchids, like phalaenopsis and oncidiums, or those with single flowers or just a few on one spike,
like cattleyas and most paphiopedilums.

For spray-type orchids
Be sure to start this process before these orchids are actually in flower. This will ensure that the flowers are oriented correctly when they open. Here are the steps I recommend:
  1. As soon as the flower spike is about 12 inches (30 cm) long, insert a vertical bamboo stake (you can get a green one, so it blends in better) close to where the spike originates at the base of the plant (see Figure 4-1).
  2. As you insert the stake, twist it to work it around roots to minimize damage to them.
  3. Attach the first tie on the lower part of the spike close to the first node (the bump in the flower stem). Use twist-ties or Velcro, not sharp string or wire, which could damage the stem.
  4. Attach another tie a few inches higher on the flower spike.
  5. Put additional ties every few inches as the flower spike grows.
  6. Place the last tie a few inches below where the first flower buds are forming. This allows the spike to form a natural arch with the first flower open at the highest point and the others gracefully following suit right below that one.

Flower spikes always grow in the direction of the strongest light. After the flower spike reaches about 12 inches (30 cm) tall and the buds are starting to form, never change the plant’s orientation to the light source. If you do, the spike will try to reorient itself and you’ll end up with a twisted, distorted spike with flowers opening in all directions.

When the flowers are fully open, they’ll stay that way, so you can then move the plant anywhere you want.

For single- or few-flowered orchids
Staking these orchids is simpler. When the bud or buds start to swell on the flower spike, insert a vertical bamboo stake close to where the spike originates at the base of the plant.

Be sure to do this before the flower has opened so that the bud will orient itself to gravity. If the flower spike is at an angle, the flower will adjust itself to open perpendicular to the angle the flower stem is pointing. If you tie the spike up after it has opened, it will keep its original orientation and will look awkward.

In the last few years, orchid growers have discovered one of the best ways to attach upright flowering stems to bamboo or wood stakes: spring-operated baby hair clips! They’re available in all colors, are inexpensive, and frequently are formed in whimsical shapes of butterflies or dragonflies, which fit well with the orchid look. Plus, they work well!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Caring for Orchids in Their New Home

Bringing an orchid plant into its new home can be traumatic for both the plant and you! You have to get to know each other. Most orchids you buy will have come from a very high-light, high-humidity environment of a commercial greenhouse. You bring them into your home environment, which is usually less bright with lower humidity, so the plant has to make some adjustments. Doing this with the least amount of distress is your goal, and in this section, I help you get there.

In Chapter 5, I give you the details of routine orchid care, but here I want to give you some tips that will make the short-term transition easier for both of you.

If the plant is in bloom
Here are some tips that will make the flowers on your new orchid last longer:
  1. Place the plant somewhere in your house that’s bright, but where it won’t get direct sunlight, except possibly in the morning. Too much harsh sunlight can bleach out the flowers.
  2. Keep the plant on the cool side — not above about 75°F (about 24°C). Flowers stay fresher longer this way.
  3. Be sure to keep the plant well watered. Even though the orchid plant stops growing much when it’s in bloom, theleaves and flowers still need water.
  4. Don’t let any bees or flies in the room where your orchids are blooming. If the bees or flies pollinate them, the flowers will collapse afterward.
  5. Don’t put the plant close to ripe fruit. Fruit gives off ethylene gas, which can cause flowers to collapse prematurely.
  6. Keep your orchid plants away from strong fumes like paint thinners or other pollutants. These can cause the blossoms to fade.
  7. Don’t spray the flowers with water or place the blooming plant in a room that is highly humid with no air movement. This can cause spotting on the flowers from fungal diseases.
If the plant is not in bloom
Before you add your new, not-yet-blooming orchid to your collection, follow these tips:
  1. Look under the leaves and at the younger growth to make sure there are no bugs.
  2. To be on the safe side, isolate this new plant from your collection for at least three weeks. This will allow time for hidden insect eggs to hatch out.
  3. As a further precaution, spray the plant thoroughly with an insecticidal soap. Use a paper towel to wipe off the excess spray. This will not only kill any soft-bodied insects but will also clean the leaves.
  4. Consider repotting the orchid into your own potting mix. That way you’ll be assured that the potting mix is fresh and you’ll know its watering requirements.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Humidifiers, Heaters, and Ventilation Equipment

Your home environment is designed to make you, not necessarily your plants, comfortable. Fortunately, many of your living requirements are the same as the living requirements for most of the orchids in this book. In some cases, though, you’ll need to modify your orchids’ growing space to better suit them.

The importance of providing sufficient humidity for better health for both you and your orchids is detailed in Chapter 5. To humidify an entire room, there are at least three possible approaches, covered in the following sections.

Evaporative-pad humidifiers
With these units, fans blow across a moisture-laden pad that sits in a reservoir of water. Evaporative-pad humidifiers are my first choice for home humidification because
  1. They’re reasonably priced and readily available.
  2. They don’t spray the room with droplets of water that can carry mineral deposits and bacteria.
  3. They circulate air at the same time.
  4. They only increase the humidity to about 50 to 60 percent (most have an adjustable humidistat, which measures humidity). This is a level that is beneficial to plants, but not sufficient to cause moisture damage to the house.
  5. They require no plumbing and very little maintenance just change the moisture pads one or two times a season.
Cool-mist humidifiers
Cool-mist humidifiers can be effective for small areas, but with constant use, they can cause deposits of minerals on leaves and be a bacteria carrier.

Greenhouse-type foggers or humidifiers
If you have a greenhouse or a very large growing area that really needs a lot of humidity, a greenhouse-type fogger or humidifier is for you. These units can be pricey. They’re plumbed into a constant water supply that is controlled by a float (much like a toilet bowl). The humidity level can be regulated by a separately purchased humidistat.

Adequate air circulation is very important in orchid culture. Fortunately, many convenient and inexpensive pieces of equipment do this job admirably. Here are some of the best choices:
  1. Ceiling fans: These are readily available and do a super job of moving large volumes of air in a figure-8 pattern at a low velocity. Most of them have reversible motors, so they can either be set to pull the cooler air from the floor (usually the summer setting) or push hot air down from the ceiling (usually the winter setting).
  2. Oscillating and standard fans: You can find these in all blade sizes, and most have variable speeds. All will do the job, but you’re better off getting one with a larger blade size and running it at low speed. This will move more air but not at as high a velocity, so the plants won’t become dehydrated by a strong air current. Also, for oscillating types, splurge on a better-grade model that has metal or heavy-duty gears; otherwise, they’ll strip in short order, and you’ll then have a stationary fan.
  3. Muffin fans: These are very small, handy fans (3 to 6 inches/ 8 to 15 cm) that are used to cool electronic equipment like computers. They’re great for bringing a gentle, quiet breeze to a small corner of your growing area. You can find them at electronic or computer-supply stores or in catalogs.
For more information on the importance of ventilation and air movement, see Chapter 5.

If you’re like most people, you’ll rely on your home heating system to provide most of the heat for your orchids. You can supplement that with small electric heaters or water-resistant heating mats commonly used to start seeds. If you’re growing under lights, you can enclose your growing area in plastic film to help retain heat produced by the lights and ballasts.

Thermometers and hygrometers
I have to admit, and my wife will quickly concur, that I’m a nut about temperature and humidity monitoring. I’ve got remote sensors all over my home that tell me maximum and minimum temperature and humidity levels each day. As I explain in Chapter 5, temperature differentials are important to know about if you’re interested in getting your orchids to bloom. Thanks to modern digital thermometers and hygrometers that are simple to use and not expensive, you can keep track of temperature and humidity with little effort.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Watering Accessories

Mastering the art of watering is one of the critical keys to success in orchid culture (see Chapter 6). These accessories deliver water, and in some cases fertilizer, gently and effectively.

Water breakers
Water breakers are attached to the end of a hose to diffuse the water and prevent it from washing out the orchid potting material (see Figure 3-4). They deliver a large volume of water, but in a very gentle way — and they work really well.

You can find water breakers that deliver different volumes and water patterns such as mist, fine shower, jet, or flood. Some watering heads can be dialed to whichever of these forms you want —
very handy.

You’re usually better off choosing the water breaker that delivers the finest steam of water possible. This will be most useful for the broadest range of watering applications.

Water-flow regulators
Water-flow regulators are attached to the hose before the water breaker to regulate the volume of water. The simplest ones are manual on/off valves. I find the thumb or squeeze valves are easiest to use more precisely and determine the volume of water you want to deliver to your orchids (see Figure 3-5).

Buy the best-quality hose you can find. The better ones will not kink and will last much longer.

If hoses tend to get in the way, consider the newer “coil” hoses. They take up much less space and can be attached to a sink spigot. Again, buy the best grade you can find — the cheaper ones tend to kink very easily.

Watering cans
Many of the sprinkling or watering cans on the market are close to worthless for using on orchids. They deliver too much water too fast and are awkward to use in tight indoor spaces. The best type to use, for most situations, is one that holds 1⁄2 to 1 gallon (2 to 4 liters), has a long spout (so you can reach orchids in the back row), and has a removable water breaker (sometimes called a rose) on the end of its spout that delivers a very fine stream of water (see Figure 3-6). The watering can may be made of metal or plastic, but the water breaker should be made of metal, preferably a nonrusting one, like copper.

Sprayers and misters
You can use sprayers and misters for misting the orchids to temporarily increase the humidity, to clean the leaves, or for applying pesticides. If you’re going to use any chemicals in them, the plastic sprayers are less prone to being affected by these corrosive materials
so they’re a better choice than metal ones.

One type of hand sprayer that I’ve found particularly effective for applying insecticides is a teat sprayer because its spray head points up instead of straight forward like standard sprayers. These are actually used to wash off cow udders (hence, the name), so they’re sold at farm-supply stores. But for orchid growers, they serve admirably to apply these chemicals to the undersides of leaves, where the bugs usually hang out (see Figure 3-7).

Fertilizer injectors
Commercial growers use a device called a fertilizer injector that “injects” into the water a small amount of water-soluble fertilizer each time the plant is watered. In this way, the orchids are constantly fed a very diluted amount of fertilizer instead of larger amounts every two weeks or so, as is frequently done. These units tend to be on the expensive side and may be a luxury item, unless you have quite a large number of orchids to fertilize.

A much cheaper way around this is to use a simple siphon mixer. Several brands are on the market, but they all work basically the same. You attach the siphon mixer to the spigot before the hose. A flexible hollow rubber tube is inserted into a concentrated solution of fertilizer. When the spigot is turned, a suction action created by the water flowing through the hose draws this concentrate through the tubing so it flows into the water in the hose and is diluted while
it’s being applied to the orchid plants.

To get the most benefit from a siphon mixer, here are a few tips:
  1. Use a completely soluble fertilizer so it won’t plug up the unit.
  2. Use a water breaker that functions with a low volume of water. The water flow coming out the end of the hose will be significantly reduced when the siphon mixer is attached.
  3. Be sure the unit you have also has a backflow preventer. That way, when you turn off the water breaker, but not the spigot, the back pressure won’t cause the concentrated fertilizer solution to flush back into your house water or back into your fertilizer concentrate.
  4. To be on the safe side, use the siphon mixer only for applying fertilizers, not pesticides.
  5. Be careful to dilute the fertilizer to the correct concentration. These usually inject the fertilizer on a 1:16 fertilizer-to-water ratio, but always read the directions that come with the unit.
Deionization and reverse osmosis units
Deionization and reverse osmosis units are used to purify your well or tap water to reduce or eliminate concentrations of salts that can be harmful to some particularly sensitive orchids. The
units aren’t cheap and can be cumbersome and bothersome to use. So, before you consider getting one, make sure you need it.

Here are some things to consider before you buy:
  1. If your orchids and other houseplants have been growing, then don’t worry about using a deionization or reverse osmosis unit. Most households can get by with the water they have.
  2. If you’ve had water problems or just want to be on the safe side, check with your public water provider to see what the average total dissolved solids (TDS) is in your water. If you have your own well, you’ll need to have a test done at a private water lab
• If you have 60 parts per million (ppm) or less of TDS and less than 5 ppm of sodium,
you’re home free. Your water is of good quality for orchids.
• If your water tests at 60 to 120 ppm and you have up to 10 ppm of sodium, all except the
most sensitive orchids should be okay, but you’re on the edge with water quality.
• If you have readings higher than 120 ppm for TDS or 10 ppm of sodium, you may have
more orchid-growing success if you use better-quality water. To do this, you could collect
rainwater (you can buy special rain barrels for this purpose that hook up to your
downspout), or consider buying a reverse osmosis or deionization unit.

If you’re on the higher end of the TDS level, be particularly careful not to overfertilize.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Orchid Potting Tools

The tools and supplies in this section make the potting process easier. For specific potting techniques and guidelines.

Potting tools
Potting is a combination of force and finesse. These tools make the process easier and more effective.

Regular steel-clawed hammers can be useful for breaking clay pots containing overgrown plants that can’t be removed any other way. But for most purposes, a rubber mallet comes in more handy. It’s used frequently to pound in stakes or clamps that hold newly transplanted or divided orchids in their pots.

Dibbles and planting sticks
Getting the potting material to settle in around the roots of the orchids is important because large air spaces can cause the orchid roots to dry out or not form properly. Dibbles and planting sticks are used to push the potting material into these air spaces.

Torches for sterilizing tools
Dirty cutting and potting tools can spread diseases. Preventing disease by sterilizing any tools that come in direct contact with orchid root and leaf tissue is always a good idea. You can use chemical solutions to do this (for instance, a 1:10 ratio of household bleach to water), but chemicals are very corrosive and some are toxic. A very simple way to sterilize metal tools is to flame them with a
propane or butane torch. Both are available in small handheld sizes.

Potting supplies
The orchid tag that comes with the orchid or the one you make yourself contains very important information that you want to protect. Knowing the correct name of the orchid is crucial information when you’re looking up cultural information. Also, many times the tag includes the orchid’s parents’ names, which can also provide helpful cultural clues. If you want to enter your orchid in a show, it may be disqualified without proper labeling.

So the important message is: Keep a legible label in the pots of all your orchids. Maintaining a separate list of your orchids is also a good idea. To make it easier, assign numbers to each of your plants and place this number on the label. This serves as a safety net in case the label is damaged or lost.

Many types of labels are available, in all different sizes and colors. Which size or color you choose is a personal choice — the material they’re made of is a more important consideration.

Label markers
Using the right marker can mean the difference between being able to read the name of the orchid three years after you bought it and not. Table 3-2 lists some advantages and disadvantages of each type.

Clips and stakes
Numerous types of stakes and clamps are used to hold the orchid in its pot when it has been transplanted and its roots are inadequate, by themselves, to anchor the plant. Figure 3-2 shows some samples of metal stakes. Bamboo stakes are also available.