Planting Orchids

Cultivation of Hardy Orchids

Many of these are beautiful and quite showy—very worthwhile additions to the garden—and most are quite easily grown if proper attention is given to their requirements. Primary emphasis must be given to soil. Most orchid species require an acid soil of a fibrous loam or peat type that stays moist. Knowledge of their habitat in the wild is essential because some grow in bogs or swamps, some in shady cool woodlands, while others are found in meadows among the grasses where the soil stays cool and damp and some grow even in fairly dry, grassy plains areas. The most important thing is to duplicate as closely as possible their natural habitat in regard to soil and conditions of sun and shade.

Protection from cold during the winter is also important and a heavy mulch of leaves or several inches of peat moss spread over the bed will usually be adequate.

Where to Obtain Orchids

Many dealers in native plant materials list a number of the species most easily grown and having showy flowers. Oftentimes, these dealers can also give suggestions as to their culture. Orchid bulbs are often imported for sale, mainly those of Asiatic origin. Some may be collected from the woods and fields, but one should check on local and state conservation laws before venturing on this quest, and then only at the proper time. Sept. and Oct., when the bulbs and tubers have matured, is the best time for transplanting, but the plants are almost impossible to find then. The best way is to go to the woods in the spring, locate and mark the plants while in bloom, and then return in the fall to collect them. Collecting these plants when in flower and while in active growth is nearly always fatal. They should be taken up with a sizable ball of soil attached to the roots, the bigger, the better, as large as you can manage to transport. Good ones to grow are: Arethusa, Blettilla, Calopogon, Cypripedium (native species), Habenaria, Orchis and Pogonia. Others that will also be worthwhile, though not quite so showy, are Aplectrum, Goodyera and Liparis.

It is best to start with plants that are strong, full grown, well established in the pot and ready to bloom soon. Don’t start out with small, weak plants, seedlings or back bulbs, since they will take several years to bloom and are likely to cause trouble for the novice.

Orchid Problems

Orchids are extremely tough plants that are seldom troubled by diseases, but there are a few cultural problems that crop up. Plants that grow well but do not bloom, especially those with tall, slender, dark, glossy green foliage, need more sun or a food with less nitrogen. “Black-rot” and “soft-rot” in the leaves and pseudo bulbs is usually a sign of too much water, too high humidity, a lack of sufficient air movement or ventilation or a need of repotting. Rotten areas should be cut out, cutting well into the clear green tissue around it, and then the cuts should be sealed with a fungicide powder. Plants should then be dried off for a few days to allow the cut to heal.

Insect problems arise with orchids, as with other plants, but the plants are so tough that the effects are not usually drastic and the symptoms usually take much longer to appear than with other types of plants. Treatment and sprays to be used are the same as for other plants except that new sprays, unless specifically recommended for orchids, should be tested gingerly on a few plants first.

Sunburn usually shows up as large, rough, scalded or blistered-looking areas which turn black with a yellowish margin and then turn hard, dry, gray and papery in a few days or weeks. If the blackened area is soft, squashy and wet or greasy to the touch, then the problem is “black-rot” rather than sunburn.

Orchid Virus Diseases

Several virus diseases are recognized in orchids and, though most are not very wide-spread, it is best to sterilize between every cut all instruments used for cutting orchid plants to avoid transferring a possible virus infection from one plant to another. The 2 most easily recognized are “Flower-Break” virus which causes uneven blotching and “color-break” in the flowers, particularly on Cattleyas, and “Orchid Mosaic” virus which causes light and dark streaks parallel to the veins in the leaves of Cattleyas and some others. Another form is known as “Ring-Spot” which causes yellowish and sometimes dark brownish-black ring-shaped spots in the leaves. There is no known cure for any of these virus diseases, so suspected plants should be isolated until some authority can inspect them. Infected plants should be destroyed, since the virus can be spread to others. Insects that chew and suck on the plants are said to be one method of spreading the virus, but the orchid grower with his cutting tools is much more likely to be the offender. He can spread the virus every time he divides a plant, cuts off a flower, an old bulb or leaf, so it is best to sterilize all cutting instruments between every cut and no doubt it would be wise to sterilize pots between uses, also.