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September in Your Orchid Collection

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  • Average high: 89.0
  • Average low: 75.7
  • Average mean: 82.4
  • Average rainfall: 8.38"

Excerpted from Florida Orchid Growing: Month by Month by Martin Motes. All rights reserved.

September looms as the only truly dismal month in South Florida. Even without the prospect of the unspeakable ‘H’ word, September disheartens since it is easily the dampest, dullest month in the year. Although more inches of rain fall in June, more hours of rain occur in the often slow, seemingly endless drizzles of September. Frequently a day or two can pass without so much as a solid hour of truly bright sunshine to lift our spirits and dry out our plants. Days are growing much shorter also, with long nights when our plants are wet from the frequent rains. Coming at the end of the rainy season when disease pressure has been building, September presents the maximum opportunity for fungal and bacterial diseases to take hold of our orchids. Hopefully careful watering practices and the judicial use of fungicides (as recommended last month) will have diminished the potential for disease in our collections. But even in the best managed collection, September calls for extra vigilance. Keep a close eye out for problems and remove immediately any plant that shows the first sign of fungus to a dry location to prevent the disease being spread by splashing rain drops. Good hygiene is particularly important this month. Clean up growing areas and remove any dead leaves, twigs or other organic debris from the plants and the ground. In September numerous diseases that linger in decaying plant material find the ideal conditions that allow them to jump to the living tissue of our prize orchids. Such problems can develop more quickly in September than in any other month. September is a month to stay home and be there for your orchids. Look at every plant, every day.

    September, above all, is the month that the old Florida growers’ adage that "One needs a cat to grow good orchids," holds true. By leaving enough space between plants on a shade house bench for a cat to walk around without knocking them down, one provides the good air circulation which is absolutely essential in periods of protracted wet weather. Well spaced plants are much less likely to encounter disease problems this month. Remember that your plants will have grown considerably over the summer and that the space they occupied comfortably in the Spring has now been filled by their own growth as well as their neighbors. Space them out. Now is perhaps the time to decide to hang some of the larger ones where they will dry much more quickly. The small cute ones left behind on the bench will be very appreciative of the extra air and light.

  Another excellent way to increase air circulation and enhance rapid drying is by trimming excess (particularly vertical) branches from all trees which support orchids or are near to orchid growing areas. By increasing the light and air flow one will also garner the benefit of reducing the possibility that such trees will be knocked down in a severe storm. Trees trimmed to permit proper air circulation and light for orchids were frequently the only ones which survived upright after Andrew. As there is rarely time to do such pruning when storm warnings are actually posted and creating extra debris is not then wise, now is the time to protect both your orchids and your trees. Days are shortening quickly now and more hours of rain and overcast skies mean that your orchids will benefit from all the additional light that they can get. Beginning the process of “hardening off” our plants by allowing more light to reach them will give them a leg up on the coming cool weather as well.
    As orchids grown outside are so frequently wet in September, it is often difficult to apply fertilizer or fungicides to the plants because they are already damp. Catch 22! — the plants need extra protection because they are wet and because they are wet one can’t apply chemicals to protect them. In these circumstances, many growers find Quaternary ammonium compounds useful. Sold as Physan, Consan, Greenshield or Triathalon these disinfectants dissolve totally in water and can be applied to wet plants. Strengths vary so follow the label. Although Federal regulations say they should not, many growers substitute the cheap and readily available pool algicide which contain the same active ingredient. Home Depot sells a brand called ‘‘Pool Time’’ which could be purchased legally to disinfect walks and pathways at the rate of 1 to 2 tsps. per gallon and would certainly do no harm at that rate, if it came into contact with the orchids no more frequently than every 7-10 days.

    This month when those brief periods of dry weather permit growers to think of applying other pesticides, they are tempted to think of giving their starving charges fertilizer as well. This is generally not a good idea with any fertilizer containing phosphorous (the second in the numerical series of three numbers). Phosphorus changes the PH of water and tends to interact with many other chemicals reducing their effectiveness. In September we need as much fire power from our chemical arsenal as we can get. A much better strategy in general to add some nutrients employs potassium nitrate (KNO3) 13-0-43 at a rate of 1 tbs per gallon of water. One should ask for the type usually referred to as ‘‘spray grade’’. In general sympodial orchids are reaching the end of their growth cycle as September progresses so a reduction in nitrogen from the potassium nitrate substitution or a missed fertilizer application usually does little harm to orchids grown outside in South Florida. Soft cane dendrobiums of the “Nobile” types will actually benefit from the reduction in feeding. It’s time to wean these deciduous types before cutting them off entirely from the grub next month. Vandas and Phalaenopsis on the other hand can be fertilized as often as weather permits and will bloom all the stronger for this extra attention in the coming months. 
    Snails can also be a problem again in September. Even if you earlier used the ‘‘lightly, frequently’’ baiting suggested in July, snails can travel long distances on wet ground in the dull, dark weather of September. Chances are your neighbors have not been as good as you on snail control. So, once more with feeling: snail bait "lightly, frequently" to give a warm welcome to any recently arrived mollusks. With an eye to the heavens (or at least to the TV screen), removing any old boards, empty pots or other debris that might fly about in a storm will also render the humble snails homeless. An opportunity to re-double your virtue and save some precious moments in the face of the storm that we hope never comes!

August in Your Orchid Collection

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August Climate Data

  • Average high: 90.6
  • Average low: 76.5
  • Average mean: 83.6
  • Average rainfall: 8.63"

Excerpted from Florida Orchid Growing: Month by Month by Martin Motes. All rights reserved.

July and August are the two most similar months in South Florida. Most of the advice on watering, disease and pest control in last month’s calendar still apply but subtle changes are taking place. Although it may not seem so, as temperatures climb into the low nineties most afternoons, summer is in retreat: each day a little shorter, each night a little longer. With shorter days the importance of watering as early in the morning as possible comes to the fore. With less hours of sunlight to dry the plants, extra care should be taken in choosing when to water. Back to the basics of the classic saying : If a Vanda looks like it needs water, water it; If a Cattleya or Oncidium looks like it needs water, water it tomorrow. If a Paph or a Phal looks like it needs water, you should have watered it yesterday. If plants retain water even from an early morning watering, allowing them to dry a bit harder before the next watering is always a good idea. An extra day of drying rarely does harm.

August should provide numerous opportunities to dry each orchid to its desired level of dryness. Take the opportunity to dry your orchids "hard" at least once but preferably twice in August. This will give your orchids a leg up on their mortal enemies, the fungus, before the drizzle of September switches the advantage to our adversaries. August is definitely not the month to over indulge in water. September, the soggiest of months, is next up. The corollary to this calculated drying is the concept that when watering in August above all water thoroughly. If watering is necessary be sure that the roots and medium are totally saturated with the application. The drizzling rains of September are so detrimental precisely because they keep the foliage of the plants wet unduly long. We want our plants which are still growing to receive plenty of water but also plenty of drying time.

Good air circulation and proper watering are the keys to disease prevention. Remember that your plants will have increased considerably in size by this point in the growing season. They have added extra growths and extra leaves across the summer. August is a good time to evaluate the spacing of our plants. Remember the old Florida saw that one needs a cat to grow good orchids because when properly spaced a cat should be able to navigate the benches between plants without knocking them over. While we can not recommend specific chemicals, the county agent recommends Banrot, a convenient combination of Thiophanate-methyl and Truban which controls a number of leaf-spotting diseases and soft rots, for home owner use. A combination of Thiophanate-methyl and mancozeb has also been recommended. This can be found pre-packaged as Duosan. If one can over come the aversion to chemicals and can learn the safe application of them, they are valuable tools to better orchid growing. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure especially before the soft, slow drizzle of September sets in.

Lengthening nights in August mean cooler nighttime temperatures. Many sympodial orchids are reaching the end of their growing cycle and require less nitrogen. Cattleyas and oncidiums have maturing bulbs. Genera that become deciduous in winter like nobile dendrobiums, calanthes and catasetums should be given much less nitrogen in August to prevent them producing an unwanted off season growth and perhaps forgetting to flower. Substitute an additional application of potassium nitrate and Epsom salt (1TBS each per gal) instead of the balanced 20-20-20. Vandas will respond well to this also, as several of the parental species of our hybrids produce blooms on shortening day lengths and lower levels of nitrogen in their fertilizer seems to egg them on. As explicated in the last chapter, modern research indicates that orchids require less phosphorous than previously thought. This concept should lead us to more judicious use of phosphorus. Fertilizer high in phosphorus may still be of some value at the end of the growing season, perhaps not so much as stimulus as shock. One or two heavy applications in succession, a week or so apart will certainly provide all the phosphorus and all the stimulus (or wake up shock) our plants require to bloom.

Snails can be somewhat of a problem in August too, but left to multiply they will be in their full glory when those slow unrelenting rains of September set in. Control them with baits in pellet or liquid/paste form. Remember, these are baits, the pests are drawn to them. Therefore apply lightly, but frequently. Because they wash away in the heavy rains, baits should be reapplied every two weeks. One pellet every two to three feet will do the job, but one application will not. Given a choice, the smallest pellets baits are best. They keep us from over applying and also pose much less threat to neighborhood pets. A small bait in a Vanda crown is a nuisance, a large bait can be a disaster.

If you have been waiting to make cuttings of the terete vandas or reed stem epidendrums, you can wait no longer. The potting season is drawing absolutely to a close. Pot up those overgrown phals before they even think of spiking. Re-set those strap leaf vandas early in August whilst they still have just enough time to re-establish themselves in the September humidity and before the cool weather arrives and their root growth slows or stops. As in all seasons be sure that the plants are firmly set in their containers. There is no "wiggle room" this late in the growing season to restart tender roots that have been chafed off a loosely set plant. As the cooler weather approaches try to give plants that have been repotted late more protection from the first cold snaps.

July in Your Orchid Collection

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July Climate Data

  • Average high: 90.9
  • Average low: 76.5
  • Average mean: 83.7
  • Average rainfall: 5.79"

Excerpted from Florida Orchid Growing: Month by Month by Martin Motes. All rights reserved.

    Although it mostly passes unnoticed to millions locked in their air-conditioned bubbles, July in South Florida is quite different from June. While the pattern of afternoon showers built from the moisture of the morning’s sea breeze persists in July, the thunder-storms are sharper and shorter. The clouds linger less and the foliage dries more quickly. Less quantity of rain falls in July than in June and periods of several days typically pass without a drop. This is good news for orchid growers. July (and August) allow orchidists to focus on the first essential of orchid growing, drying the plant out.

            Frequently, neophyte growers ask “What if I go away for several weeks in the summer and there is no one to water the plants?” The response is “That’s wonderful”. Experienced growers use the break in the rainfall during July and August to dry their plants “hard”. Depriving orchids of water for several days until they and the media or baskets they grow in are bone dry is essential to good orchid culture. By drying the plants hard, one deals a severe blow to orchids natural enemy, fungus. Orchids have evolved to withstand drought because fungus can not. During severe drought fungus’ only defense is to cease all growth and retreat into a spore stage. Hopefully (and with good cultural management) these pathogens will not be aroused from this slumber until the first drizzle of September sets in, allowing our plants two months to mature and harden their growth making them less vulnerable to the September conditions which give some advantage again to the fungi.

            Careful watering and judicious drying will do more than any other practice to ensure healthy plants. Drought is the orchid plants armor against disease. Be sure that your plants dry as completely as the weather of July permits. Nonetheless, as our plants are in full growth they need adequate water in July therefor after a hard drying, orchid plants need a thorough re-hydration. If the next rain fall is insufficient to saturate pot, roots and media, the grower should add to the natural moisture until he is sure both roots and media are saturated, using two or three applications of water spaced a few minutes apart. When the plants stop dripping is the time to apply the next dose of water. Don’t stop watering until the “heft” of the pot tells you that it is holding as much water as it can. More typically in July, orchidists should use these opportunities when more moisture is required to substitute fertilizer for water and saturate the roots and the media in the same thorough manner. In July typically think of fertilizing rather than watering. Weekly application of a commonly available balanced fertilizer (20-20-20 or 18-18-18) at two teaspoons per gal. will supply the nutrients that our plants require in this period of lush growth. This balanced formula should be alternated every other week with potassium nitrate and Epsom salts (one tablespoon each) to supply the extra magnesium and potassium we now know are plants need on a regular basis. Even better (although not so readily available) lower phosphorus fertilizers containing extra magnesium and calcium with a formula like Peter’s Excel (15-5-15) have been shown to be the precise fertilizer our plants need. This formula is recommended year round. Hopefully such orchid specific fertilizers will become more widely available. Lowering the phosphorus intake of our plants is particularly important in South Florida because of our alkaline water. Always apply fertilizer in the same way as water, in two to three doses spaced a few minutes apart. Apply the fertilizer to the point of “run off” IE.when the solution starts to fall off the plants; stop and move on to the next plant. Repeat the application a few minutes later when the plants stop dripping. In July more than ever, never, never follow the frequently heard and disastrously bad advice of watering before fertilizing. Always substitute fertilizer for water: now and at every season. Roots saturated with water cannot absorb fertilizer but the prolonged wetness can rot your plants. Don’t give fungus the upper hand by wetting the plant’s foliage and roots more often or longer than necessary. Careful watering is especially important throughout the rainy season.

            The wise orchidist will have long since finished all of his potting of sympodials and the top working of his vandas but for the rest of us this is the eleventh hour. Autumn is closer than we think and vandas will need at least three months to settle in to their new baskets or pots before the first chill of October tickles their root tips. Unless you can protect them thoroughly from cold, Vandatop cuttings and keikies should not be made after the end of July. If you do take cuttings remember the “3 root rule”. Count down from the crown and make the cutting beneath the third or fourth root. Keep as many leaves as possible on the stump and you will be rewarded with a greater abundance of offshoots. Always slip the sterile knife or shears down between the stem and the leaves and then cut transversely to save as many leaves as possible. Be sure to anchor the cutting firmly in its new lodging. Tie them up and tie them down! There is no time for mistakes in July.

            Thrips are much less of a problem in July as the rain tends to wash them away and doubtless there is an abundance of other lush fodder for them elsewhere in our yards. They can reappear in a prolonged patch of dryness, so if you need to think of watering in July it may be dry enough to worry about thrips. A prophylactic spraying for thrips in July will also put a damper on scale crawlers. If a second spraying with soap follows the first by seven to 10 days, the population of mites will be scotched as well.

June in Your Orchid Collection

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June Climate Data

  • Average high: 89.5
  • Average low: 75.2
  • Average mean: 82.4
  • Average rainfall: 9.54"

Excerpted from Florida Orchid Growing: Month by Month by Martin Motes. All rights reserved.

            June is the most dramatically tropical month in South Florida. As the southeast Trade Winds blow cool moist air off the Gulf Stream daily, as surely the heating effect of the center of the peninsula percolates up massive thunder heads. The increased cloud cover drawing a veil across the afternoon sun provides much cooling relief for our plants late in the day. Because of this additional cloud cover, our plants are less stressed than in the brightest of May sunshine. The increased humidity makes June feel hotter to us, but this humidity brings blessed balm to our plants from the unrelentingly dry heat of late spring. The shading clouds are also the harbinger of the almost daily rains that arrive like clockwork with the thunderstorms that re-circulate the moisture laden air back toward the ocean in the afternoon. These showers can drop the temperature 10-12 degrees in almost no time, again bring our plants relief when they need it most in the peak heat of the day. In June, such soaking rains that can sometimes be an inch or more an hour, are the norm rather than the exception. For orchids grown outside in South Florida this month, how to dry them out becomes more the question than how or when to water them. For most sympodial genera (cattleyas, dendrobiums, oncidiums, etc.) the natural rainfall of June is sufficient. Only in those rare once or twice times during June when no rain falls for nearly a week is it necessary to think of watering sympodial orchids in June. Even then it usually is a thought that can be dismissed. A thorough, “hard” drying in this first month of the rainy season is usually of much more overall value to sympodial orchids than the slight extra push of additional water. Harder plants that have not been pushed with extra water are much more disease resistant than softer more lushly grown orchids. Vandas and other high water requirement plants may still need periodic watering in June but remember that these types too relish occasional “hard” drying and the heavy often lingering, rains of June are just the nostrum for re-hydrating them even when they have become as dry as the cork in a wine bottle dry. When watering in June, remember at no season is the standard ‘water early in the day’ rule more relevant; those extra hours of drying are crucial. If your vandas or other orchids really need water, water early in the morning to allow time for them to dry not merely by night but by the time the all too likely afternoon thunderstorms arrive to soak them again. Be sure when you water that the roots of the vandas are saturated until they turn overall dark green. This will still take two applications of water spaced a few minutes apart. June is the archetypical month for careful but totally thorough watering. For those of us committed to sloth, this month is one in which benign neglect becomes a virtue.

            With an eye to efficient drying which the season demands, June is an excellent time to review the spacing of our plants. Always give your plants sufficient space to allow for good air circulation to permit rapid drying. Crowded plants stay wetter longer encouraging fungus and bacteria. Scale and mealy bugs also thrive on the soft lush growth generated by overcrowded, overshadowed plants. Mites too love the extra protection from dislodging rain that overgrown plants provide. When looking at the spacing of your plants also allow some extra space for the new growth that will be rapidly developing in the new growing season. Remember your well grown plants will be much larger at the end of the rainy season when the fungus are savagely on the prowl. Plants and trees in your yard also will have grown in the past year and will be growing more in the rains of summer. June is a good time to think of pruning vegetation that is blocking light and air from our orchids. Come the true heart of hurricane season in September you will be glad that you did! Tree pruning alas, slips to a low priority in the face of an approaching storm. Your orchids will be glad right away that you pruned, rewarding you with harder, healthier growth sure to produce yet more lavish blooms in season.

            A persistent problem in June is how to apply liquid fertilizer to our plants under these often persistently wet conditions. As all of our orchids are in rapid growth in June they need to be fed, ironically this comes in the face of super abundant moisture. While rain contains minute quantities of nitrogen, heavy persistent rain can in fact strip nutrients from our plants by reversing the normal osmotic process. To a degree this effect of the heavy rains can be positive leaching away any excessive fertilizer salts that have accumulated over the dry season but overall the rain leaves them needier than before. Those of us who have kept our plants well nurtured in May will be ahead of this curve but we all must keep our plants fat and happy at the onset of the heavy growing season. For orchid grown in pots with media, the relatively new, slow release fertilizer widely sold as “Dynamite” (i.e.. Nutri-cote) is of especial value at this time of year. Other brands of slow release fertilizer have not proven to be as reliable (neither consistent nor durable) under the hot humid conditions of South Florida. In general, a good rule in June, is that when some opportunities to water present themselves, think rather of applying liquid fertilizer instead of just water. Remember too, the oft repeated bad advice to water your plants before fertilizing them is particularly erroneous in June when over-watering can quickly have negative consequences. In June, as always, replace a watering with an application of the proper concentration of liquid fertilizer. Another frequently sought strategy is to apply fertilizer in conjunction with fungicidal sprays. In general it is not advised to combine balanced fertilizer (20-20-20, 18-18-18) with sprays because with South Florida’s highly alkaline water. Any phosphorus in the fertilizer tends to bind up most of the trace elements when conjoined to South Florida ground water. Phosphorus ( a very active metal) can also have adverse reactions to the fungicide itself, lessening or abnegating its effectiveness. The solution to this dilemma is to use a fertilizer without phosphorus when a bit of nutrition is desirable. The best source is potassium nitrate 13-0-44 (available at farm supply stores in 50lb. bags) which provides the additional potassium our plants crave. 1 Tbs per gal can be added to the spray solution. Be sure to use “Spray Grade” not “Prilled” which would need to be dissolved in hot water. Thiophanate Methyl, Cleary’s 3336 or its combination Banrot or Duosan should be applied prophylactically in June. Keep a sharp eye on your plants for any signs of black rot (Pythium). Should soft black or brown spots appear, they should be excised immediately using a sterile knife as this disease can spread quickly in wet conditions. Banrot gives good control but Alliette is the best fungicide to control this disease if it persists.

            To minimize the need to apply fungicides, June is an excellent time to review our overall sanitation and cultural conditions in the growing area. It is always important to keep the growing area as clean as possible. In June, cleanliness becomes even more essential because water is the chief vector of most orchid diseases. Dead leaves, roots or other dead orchid tissue frequently harbor diseases that can be loosed upon our orchids by the heavy rains of June. Weeds (dead or alive) can hamper air flow and also harbor disease. This month whatever one can do to enhance air circulation is a plus. Under cover, fans to move air are of great value to Phals and other genera. Hopefully, if we have been doing a good job, our plants will have grown significantly since last year’s rainy season. They all may well need more space. Remember that old time orchid growers would say one needs a cat to be a good grower in South Florida because a cat should be able to walk orchid benches without knocking plants down when they are properly spaced.

            Snails and slugs will have the whole world as their stage in June and can travel considerable distances to eat our tender orchid shoots. Baits containing metaldyhyde are very effective if applied evenly and often. Remember, bait draws the pests; spread it thinly but repeat weekly for thorough control. Snails and slugs always require multiple applications. Overly heavy applications of bait will merely waste in the heavy rain.

            Although mites and to a degree thrips are washed away by the heavy rains of June, the warm conditions of summer speed the growth of scale and mealy bugs. At the first sign of either of these pests spray with Soap at 2 oz. per gal or an appropriate insecticide. Oil is no longer an option in the heat of summer. If the soap doesn’t prove effective enough, try something stronger but apply with care early in the morning or late in the evening as the high temperatures of mid-day in June can acerbate phytotoxic reactions.

            June is a great month for top cutting strap leaf vandas, teretes (papilionanthes) and reed stem epidendrums. Most sympodial orchids are already in growth and unless their media in totally broken down are probably best left undisturbed till their new growths have matured and they have flowered. If you have not gotten your Phalaenopsis out of last year’s sphagnum moss wait no longer! Phal roots in soggy medium in June is a receipt for “Fails”.

            For those of us so in love with Florida that we would never think of insulating ourselves with air-conditioning, the rains of June provide pleasant relief from the harsh Mediterranean sun of late spring. As my son Bartholomew at age two so aptly said “Rain sweet as honey”. Enjoy! Our orchids do.