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March in Your Orchid Collection

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MARCH CLIMATE DATA

  • Average high: 80.7

  • Average low: 64

  • Average mean: 72.4

  • Average rainfall: 2.56"

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

Whilst March never comes in like a lion in South Florida, occasionally it slinks in like a bob cat. Frost is not unheard of in the first few days of the month. The more cold sensitive genera, hard cane dendrobiums, phalaenopsis and vandas may well need some protection even into the middle of the month. Overall, however, March brings us some of the most ideal orchid growing conditions of the entire year. Dry air, low humidity and wide swings of day to night temperatures optimize both blooming and rooting of most orchids. In March, Nature gives orchidists growing outside a free sample of what life would be like with a covered green house. With little or no additional water falling from the sky and drying breezes acting like fans, we are in total control of our plants’ water needs. Now, we can water properly: very heavily, and allow the plants to dry thoroughly in the near desert air before the next heavy application of water.

            The ideal growing conditions of March present a great opportunity to get our plants off to a superlative start on the new growing season. The virtuous among us, who have already re-potted their cattleyas and other sympodials as they have finished blooming across the winter, can smile serenely, assured of their place in orchid heaven. For us few reprobate it is still not too late to catch up with virtue. In addition to flowered-out plants, now is also the time to replant those genera which are breaking or ready to break their dormancy; i.e. catasetums, mormodes, calanthes and those Himalayan species that have finished flowering. Now is also an excellent time to re-pot those hard cane dendrobiums that need it, with the reminder that they really don’t like to be disturbed and relish their roots being crowded in the pot. For those commercially mass produced plants grown in peat based mixtures, repotting is necessary in any case as the peat mix will not last out the summer and will likely rot all the roots. Hopefully these will have rooted so thoroughly that the roots have formed a solid mass that can be shifted undisturbed to a new only slightly larger pot. Otherwise the roots will need to be washed clean and lightly trimmed. Rock, tree fern, coconut husk, charcoal/wood chip mixes are best replacement media for the long haul. All of these materials have a life expectancy of several years before they break down in South Florida wet humid summers.

            Attention to fertilizer in March will pay high dividends later on. As many sympodial orchids are commencing their growth cycle, now is a good time to apply slow release fertilizer to last the season. The 13-13-13, 180 day formula marketed at Home Depot as ‘Dynamite’ (Nutri-cote in commercial sizes) is the best available. Its plastic coating is superior to others and relatively unaffected by heat, an especially important consideration in S. Florida. Applied now it will be exhausted by September when we want to slow our plants down in anticipation of bloom and dormancy. The wide temperature swings of March also maximize the effectiveness of high phosphorous ‘Bloom Booster’ fertilizer. The extra phosphorous in these formulas probably does not really stimulate flowers ( most likely the opposite) but does help rooting. Two applications a week apart will speed the rooting process. Return to regular 15-5-15 fertilizer weekly thereafter as the excess phosphorus in the “Bloom Booster” interferes with minor element absorption to an inordinate degree in our highly alkaline South Florida water.

            Vandaceous orchids should be breaking vigorous new roots in March. This is the moment to top them if they have grown too tall and if they have three good roots on the top cutting. Conserving one or more leaves on the old plant’s stump will insure a bountiful production of offshoots. Sliding the knife or shears down the stem before making the horizontal cut usually preserves an extra set of leaves. Now is also the ideal time to remove and reset offshoots of vandas and ascocendas. Again take care each has three or more roots and be sure you tie them firmly in their new container until they have rooted solidly.

            March is also the month for acclimatizing sun-loving plants to full sun. Vandas, dendrobiums and reed-stemmed epidendrums that have not been blooming as they should because they are in too deep shade can be gradually moved to more light. This is best done in two or three stages, moving the plants a short distance every few days and always keeping them with the same side orientated towards the sun. Without this gradual acclimatization, The bright clear sunlight of March can scorch even the most sun-loving of orchids.

            The chief blot on the otherwise nearly ideal growing scenario of March is thrips. March is the month when we are asked most frequently “Why do my vanda flower spikes grow ½ inch and then die?” The answer, like the answer to so many problems with orchids in South Florida, is thrips. The hot dry weather of March favors thrips which are ubiquitous in our landscapes. The drought of March drives them from their homes in our lawns and shrubberies to seek the cool lush oasis of our orchid collections. Most orchidists recognize the symptoms of thrips on their flowers, :the silvered, sand blasted appearance and the withering of the flower parts. Many do not recognize the earlier symptoms which show up on the root tips of vandas and ascocendas as a pitted ring at the point where the green growing root tip is maturing into white. Left unchecked, this damage will cause the root tip to wither. When it re-starts growth, a brown ring remains. Orthene (acephate)is the chemical of choice for thrips because of its low toxicity and residual action. Knoxout and Malathion are recommended also by the Florida Department of Agriculture. A non-chemical solution is liquid dish soap applied at the rate of 2oz (6tbs) per gallon of water. Be sure to water the plants the day before applying soap and take care to drench the plants thoroughly, covering not only all the surfaces but penetrating into leaf axils and other nooks and crannies where the reclusive thrips loves to loiter. Root the thrips out of your collection and you will get the growing season off to a good start.

February in Your Orchid Collection

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  • FEBRUARY CLIMATE DATA

  • Average high: 77.7

  • Average low: 60.7

  • Average mean: 69.1

  • Average rainfall: 2.07"

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


Despite the bloom on the avocados and the burgeoning new leaves on the live oaks, February is not spring in South Florida. Danger of freeze continues past mid month and frost can occur still into March. Even if the weather is balmy it’s too early to let down our guard or take down any protection we have mounted against the cold. The trend however is toward the positive as each lengthening day brings extra hours of warming sunshine to begin waking our plants from their long winter’s rest. 


February characteristically brings a wide swing of day to night temperatures, ideal for spiking ascocendas and vandas but also wringing from the air heavy dews and dense fog. Whilst these add a romantic atmosphere to the South Florida landscape, Wuthering Heights is singularly devoid of snails and slugs (much less Botrytis). The silvery carpet of dew provides a silky path to our orchids for snails and slugs which can range far, under these favorable conditions. They are eager to make a nice meal of your Phalaenopsis leaves or the soft crowns of your vandas before they retire during the dry months of March and April only to dream of the fresh shoots of the sympodial orchids brought forth by the first rains of May. Now is the time to give them a rude awakening. Remember that snail bait is most effectively applied lightly (scatter the pellets every few feet) and frequently (every 7 to 10 days). Two or three applications should do the job.


The heavy fog which can cause condensation on leaves even under cover can also bring trouble. Botrytis is a fungus disease that can disfigure flowers with small black spots. Particularly apparent and annoying on white Phalaenopsis, Botrytis can ruin other flowers as well. Control is typically achieved in commercial greenhouses with fungicide in aerosol forms and by running fans to prevent condensation on the flowers. The latter option is also available to collectors. A small fan turned on the spiking and opened flowers at night will greatly alleviate the pressure of Botrytis. So will, to a degree, the application of soap which we suggested in January to control mites. Bicarbonate of soda, ordinary baking soda, at 1Tbs. per gal will help as well. Quaternary ammonium compounds (Physan, RD40, Consan, pool algicide) also give some control. Maintaining long lasting flowers like Phalaenopsis, dendrobiums and bi-foliate cattleyas in more perfect condition is well worth the effort. Having waited so long for the flowers we want to enjoy them as long as possible and they do all last longer in cool weather. 


The lower overall temperatures of February call for less frequent and lighter applications of fertilizer as was the practice in January. If any reddening of the foliage persists another application of Epsom salts (1Tbs per gal), preferably in combination with Potassium nitrate, is called for; Nitrate nitrogen being more available to the plants under cooler conditions. If your resolve holds steady not to water (or above all) fertilize those Himalayan dendrobiums, your reward may shortly become evident in bursting flower spikes. 


Like the avocados and the live oaks, many cattleyas and other sympodial orchids have bloomed and are just commencing new growth in February. Right after flowering is usually an excellent time for repotting from the plant’s perspective and the cool day time temperatures in the greenhouse are hospitable to the orchid grower as well. It’s still a bit early to re-basket vandas But an early start on the cattleyas will allow plenty of time and energy for those Spring chores which are right around the corner. With that thought setting out to secure a good supply of pots in anticipation of the potting season ahead is on February’s agenda.

Treating Cold Damaged Orchids

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Cold damage appears on orchids as whitening of the foliage and stems. The white gradually turns to brown as the effected tissue dies. Often this dead tissue simply dries and the damage is limited to the unsightly patches that are left. Frequently, however, the damaged tissue is infected with bacterial rot which can spread in the plant and cause further damage. 
 
Softening of the edges of the cold damaged areas or oozing of brown fluid indicates bacterial infection. Removal of the leaf or stem is a simple but somewhat drastic solution. If one is loath to lose so much of the plant, the most effective treatment for bacterial infection is treatment with cupric hydroxide (Kocide or Champion) which should if possible be combined in equal parts with mancozeb (Manzate or Dithane M45). 
 
This combination is packaged, pre-mixed as Junction. By adding a small amount of water to the chemicals in a jam, one can make a slurry that can be brushed on the lesions.

Be cautious when making the slurry not to inhale any of the dust and never, never, dust these chemicals without wearing a mask.

An old toothbrush is efficient in applying this and your dentist will be happy to have it out of your mouth. Any left over slurry can be placed on a high shelf (brush and all) and re-hydrated later. This stuff is also the cure for those soft spots that appear on Phal. leaves in summer. 
 
For large collections, with extensive damage, one tablespoon per gallon of cupric hydroxide and mancozeb can be sprayed. Mix the two and wait an hour or more before spraying. Do not apply this mixture to dendrobiums which are hyper-sensitive to copper or to bromeliads (ditto).

December in Your Orchid Collection

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  • Average high: 77.5

  • Average low: 62.2

  • Average mean: 69.9

  • Average rainfall: 2.18"

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

December marks the beginning of the serious dry season in South Florida. While this additional dryness provides relief from the autumnal rains that can bring so many fungal problems, December is also the month of shortest day lengths. This contracted period of light, on the contrary, reduces severely the drying potential for our plants. Nature thus both gives and takes away from us in December. We must make sure, therefore, that we do not aid the dark side of the force by improper watering. In December, above all, one must stick strictly to the two cardinal principles of orchid watering: water early in the day so your plants have as many hours as possible to dry, and water heavily when you water, allowing longer intervals between watering to dry plants thoroughly. This practice maximizes the benefit of the dryer air of December and minimizes the adverse effect of the shorter day lengths.

            When nature has delivered a light overnight or early morning rain as she so often does in December at the leading edge of a cold front, add to her efforts by watering thoroughly that same morning and skip out watering for an extra several days afterward. With this method you can use the general dryness of December to give yourself much of the advantage of a greenhouse in terms of controlling watering. As in all aspects of orchid culture, keen observation is the key to success. In cooler weather your plants need much less water. Moreover cool air even at the same relative humidity, strips less water from your plants because cool air has less water holding capability. Always be sure that your plants really need water before you roll out the hose in December. Remember to use at least one of the standard tests for dryness: the finger dug slightly into the media test or the newly sharpened pencil coming dry like a knife from a well cooked custard, or test by hefting a pot that you know the weight of, both wet and dry and be sure that it has attained sufficient lightness. When you are sure they are dry, water them until you are sure they are very wet, then let the drying air of December do its magic to ward off leaf spotting diseases.

            Himalayan dendrobiums of the nobile and Callista (D. aggregatum, chrysotoxum, etc.) Sections require no additional water (beyond rain) in December. Remember, those of you who water (or, even worse, fertilize) these dendrobiums in December, will be punished by having your flowers taken away in the Spring. Some growers who have the space, isolate these dendrobiums along with other types that want hard drying such as Catasetum, Cycnoches, Mormodes, and Calanthe. Another strategy is to hang these plants high or at the edges of the collection reminding oneself to neglect them and also to avoid watering them by mistake. Some growers achieve the same result effect by turning the pots of these genera on their side in November or December, to avoid catching water from whatever source. Plants of some of these genera that have finished flowering can even be removed from their pots and stripped to bare roots in anticipation of re-potting them in new media when they break growth in the spring.

            Most sympodial orchids are resting in December and require less fertilizer. Biweekly or even monthly applications of a balanced fertilizer or 15-515 are still desirable. Nitrate nitrogen is the most readily absorbed in cooler weather; therefore at least one more application of the potassium nitrate/magnesium sulphate (at 1tbs. each per gal.) recommended in November is still a good idea. It’s good stuff! Vandas, Phalaenopsis and other monopodial orchids should be fertilized right through the winter although both the amount of fertilizer and the frequency of application can be reduced. Remember reddening of the foliage is not natural, nor is it a response to the cold per se but rather a symptom of nutritional deficiency. The plants are asking for more potassium and magnesium. Give them the groceries.

            December can be cold. Frost has occurred in the first week of the month and unforgettably, the coldest temperatures ever recorded in South Florida were registered on December 25, 1989. If you haven’t taken some of the precautions outlined in the November Newsletter, get busy! Keep a close eye on the forecasts during this volatile month.

 Remember that hard cane dendrobiums of the sections Spathulata and Phalaenanthe are the most sensitive of commonly cultivated orchids. They resent temperature much below 60 degrees F. Phalaenopsis are next most sensitive, then vandas. Protect all these genera more carefully.

            If you are getting a jump on Spring potting chores by repotting sympodial orchids that have finished blooming, it is particularly important that you take extra care in securing them in their containers. These plants may not be sending out new roots for several months, enough time for them to be shaken loose from insufficient staking. Passing cold fronts can bring brisk winds in December. When new roots start to form on insufficiently secured plants, wind moves the plant and chafes the new root tips off. Improperly secured plants are never able to root properly and slowly pine away. If you love them you must tie them up, tie them down. This is also especially true of mass produced orchids sold in Home Depot, K Mart etc. The soft, peat based media used to grow these commercially produced plants in the controlled environment of a greenhouse often does not provide sufficient purchase to secure the plants in the rough and tumble of a South Florida orchid collection buffeted by harsh winter winds. You probably should have already re-potted these into more durable medium but until you do, tie ‘em up!

            Keep those vandas, phalaenopsis and hard cane dendrobiums as warm as you can. Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza!