Basic Orchid Care and Repotting 

Douglas Vye, of the Ottawa Orchid Society, spoke on basic orchid care. Doug has been growing orchids for more than 20 years and his focus was on what to do after the blossoms have fallen to encourage new blooms. Doug had handouts on orchid culture from the American Orchid Society on five common types: Phalaenopsis (moth orchid, perhaps easiest to grow); Dendrobium (similar care; quite a few bloom in winter, but deciduous and leaves fall); Oncidium (slower growing, commonly called “dancing lady” as blossoms seem to have arms and a ruffled skirt); Cymbidium (plants look like a clump of grass; temperature critical as a light frost needed to set flowers – think of Showy Lady’s Slipper), and Cattleya (corsage orchid).

Doug’s goal was to let gardeners know what they were getting into when growing different orchids. Key is to simulate the environment where the orchids evolved. Some bloom November-December and others May-June – although hybrids may bloom just about any time. In nature many are epiphytes growing on a branch. When it rains plant detritus/insect debris washes over the roots which have evolved to get their food from this. Doug suggested feeding orchids with a little fertilizer every time the orchid is watered at one-quarter the recommended strength; that is “Weekly, fertilize weakly! Potassium may help trigger an inflorescence (that is the spike that blossoms come off) and subsequent flowering.

In the natural environment water flows away from orchids; Doug held up a pot as after a watering to show how he would let the pot drain.  One can spray the bark and roots. Placing plants on top of pebbles on a tray with water can increase humidity. Orchids should never be submerged in water as most have not evolved to sit in the wet, except those like the Showy Lady’s Slipper which grows in bogs.

Orchids typically like a lot of light; east or southeast facing windows with sheers are good. With too much light orchid leaves start to yellow. Most orchids are tropical where days can go from humid and a high of 30°C to 10-15° overnight. At the end of the rainy season it dries up; water can become scarce and plants become dry. The various stresses help trigger the need to reproduce. Thus, to increase bloom, Doug suggested increasing or decreasing light intensity (taking plant away from the light) and easing off on watering (one month); it is also good to provide a 15°C temperature swing.

If an orchid is trying to escape its pot, it’s a sign that it needs repotting! In repotting the goal is to replace degraded medium with fresh material and not to move up a pot size. When repotting, Doug thinks of diseases such as mosaic virus and the possibility of the transfer of bugs; he stressed the need for cleanliness. Doug had washed his hands. To sterilize his scissors and small knife he held them over a small burner. As he made cuts, Doug sprinkled cinnamon spice; it is a natural disinfectant besides making things smell nice. He also had a sprayer with a mix of nine parts water, one part rubbing alcohol and squirt of oil-based soap, e.g. Murphy’s oil. Alcohol will dry out bugs and oil-based soap is neurotoxic to bugs. Orchid plants need an inflorescence stalk to bloom, thus you do not want to cut it off. Doug might trim to just above the node where the spike has flowered; however, if the stalk continues to dry and is not viable he cuts it off. Doug favours plastic pots with numerous holes to facilitate drainage over pots with few holes. If putting into a decorative jardinière, Doug places pebbles to elevate the pot; one does not want orchids sitting in water, which can lead to root rot. As a planting medium Doug finds coconut fibres with a topping of sphagnum moss works best. It is natural, holds water, allows air flow, and comes in different sizes. For plants with fine roots, Doug sorts out finer pieces. Doug pre-washes it before use. It can last about three years before it degrades to the extent one needs to repot. For his demonstration Doug had wet the coconut fibres as he likes a wet medium so repotting does not desiccate orchid roots. If orchids are to be set outside in the summer, Doug places an old copper penny in his pots to ward off slugs. (A small piece of copper wire would work as well.) Doug clasped an orchid plant, gently dusted off old medium from its roots, and eased it into its new pot filled with coconut fibres. For a finale, Doug held it up to display how fine it looked.

In closing, Doug noted the Ottawa Orchid Society’s Annual Show and Sale will be next April when there will be wonderful displays of orchids. Season’s greetings to all and best wishes for a Happy New Gardening Year!

The next meeting of the Old Ottawa South Garden Club will be on Monday 8 January 2018 at 7:00 p.m. at the Old Ottawa South Community Centre (The Firehall), 260 Sunnyside Avenue. Michel Gauthier, Executive Director Canadian Garden Council, will talk about the 2017 Top 10 North American Gardens Worth Traveling For. Michel will present stunning pictures of some of North America’s most dynamic gardens.

Submitted by Carole Love

Photo Credit; Jean Carr

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