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Written by Jeff Shimonski, BT Contributor   
December 2018

 

Orchids have different care needs but add beauty to the garden

MPix_YourGarden_12-18y formative years in the horticulture industry were greatly influenced by the work I did at Parrot Jungle. At times, the immense number of plant species I had to learn to cultivate was overwhelming, especially since my boss was always bringing in new species to add to our collection.

But it became especially rewarding to grow a plant from seed or cutting in our nursery, and eventually to place it in the garden to be enjoyed by our visitors. There were hundreds of plant species that passed through our garden over the years, and one of the plant families that caught the eye of the casual visitor and experienced horticulturist alike was orchid family, with its splashy colors.

We began to install orchids in the trees in the late 1970s with a good bit of success. There were hundreds of Cattleyas, Phalaenopsises, Dendrobiums, and Schomburgia orchids in the trees. When a mass of orchids was in bloom, it just stopped you in your tracks.

We had two large live oak trees next to Flamingo Lake. The orchids grew well on the rough, durable bark. One tree had hundreds of Cattleyas attached, all the same species, so when they bloomed at the same time, there was a mass of purple. The other tree had a couple of hundred Phalaenopsis (moth orchids) attached to the main branches. These bloomed on and off throughout the warm months of the year.

After these orchids finished blooming, I’d put a ladder in the tree and cut the old flower spikes in half to encourage a second batch of flowers on the old flower spike.

Even through the two trees were next to each other, we maintained the different orchid species differently. Both were sprayed with a fungicide when needed, especially after a cold spell with frost. The fact that they were planted well off the ground, up into the canopy to about 30 feet or so, meant there was good air circulation and very few fungal issues.

Irrigation for the orchids throughout the garden was different for each species. Since Phalaenopsises don’t have a pseudobulb to store water, I would irrigate them five days a week. The Cattleyas have pseudobulbs that store water so they might be watered twice a week. The Dendrobiums would be allowed to go dormant and drop their leaves when ready to bloom so they might not be irrigated for up to a month or so.

It was important to plant these orchids where there was plenty of sunlight; if not, their blooming could cease.

We also pruned the tree canopies to allow more light in when they got too dense. We called this “punching holes in the canopy,” not a good arboricultural term, but we all knew it meant “get more light to the orchids.”

The photo that accompanies this article is of a Vanda orchid still growing in my garden that was from the Parrot Jungle collection. This is a strap leaf Vanda. The leaf is kind of flat, as opposed to a terete or semi-terete Vanda, where the leaf is tight and pencil-shaped.

The terete and semi-terete Vandas could take full sun if they got irrigated regularly, which in the summer months meant a full soaking in the morning about five days a week. With this much moisture and sunlight, we had flowers almost all year round. They also liked growing up wire or chainlink fences.

The strap leaf Vandas needed a bit more shade, as the flatter leaves could burn in full sunlight. These orchids produced fragrant masses of flowers that could last more than a month.

We had Rhynchostylis orchids, which appear similar in form and shape, although the plants were smaller. These also liked a bit more shade and had stunning, fragrant blooms. This is an excellent orchid for a smaller garden or a balcony.

We grew all these orchids, with the exception of the Vandas, in trees under natural condition as epiphytes, but the different species could be picky with their care and location. This was something that had to be taken into consideration when planning to install these plants into the trees.

We had Renanthera species for years at the park, and they never bloomed, although they grew well. It wasn’t until someone who grew them confided to me that I needed to allow the flimsy long “branches” to grow the way they want to, downward, before I was rewarded with blooms.

Orchids can be picky. They normally prefer lots of sunlight, which, of course, encourages blooms. Their roots need to grow over whatever they want to, and need to be able to dry out to reduce fungal issues. 

 

Jeff Shimonski is an ISA-certified arborist municipal specialist, retired director of horticulture at Parrot Jungle and Jungle Island, and principal of Tropical Designs of Florida. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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