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!

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