Treasures from the Storm

by Motes Orchids in ,


Excerpted from Florida Orchid Growing: Month by Month page 126-127 by Martin Motes. All rights reserved.

It's an ill wind that blows no one any good. Minor hurricanes are still a major nuisance but small blessing can nonetheless flow to South Florida orchidists in the enforced pruning of our trees which will bring cherished light to our orchids. The prunings themselves are a major resource for the clever orchidists. The streets of South Florida are typically lined with a virtually inexhaustible lode of great orchid mounting material in the wake of minor hurricanes. All that is needed is the energy to cut and haul the appropriate branches that will supply years of great orchid mounts. With such an abundant (dare I say windfall?) one can even be quite picky. The savant orchidist should select his material with an eye to the best suited and the most appealing. Three species stand out. First, the golden trumpet (Tabebuia argentea or caribae) whose cork like bark is ideal for most orchid genera is always the first to fall and particularly abundant in roadside plantings. 

Live oak (Quercus virginiana),a favorite host of our native epiphytes, is also highly favored by epiphytic orchids in general and dendrobiums in particular. It is, of course, of the very same genus as cork itself and the wood is highly durable. 

 Next among the commonly fallen and desirable is button wood (Conocarpus erecta) both green and silver, again a favored host of native epiphytes. These branches is "driftwood" on the hoof. It is the roots of this species that become the "driftwood" of orchid culture. The branches are great mounts too.

Other species such as bottle brush (Callistemon) are good but the three common storm victims will provide more than enough of the very best mounts. Look for branches that are forked or twisted or that have other distinctive turns that will add character to the finished mounts. 

 Try to imagine the plant situated on the branch. A small chain saw makes short work of these branches, quickly rendering them into raw works of art. A well sharpened double set hand pruning saw will do fine. Now would be a good time to acquire these tools if needed before they are inevitable truly needed in the aftermath of a major hurricane. When a "minor" storm has passed, we can count our blessings and collect the orchid manna falling from heaven.

Recovering from a hurricane

by Motes Orchids

Excerpted from Florida Orchid Growing: Month by Month page 123-125 by Martin Motes. All rights reserved.

Post storm activity is important also. First, be prepared to quickly replace shade either on the structure itself or by jury-rigging shade cloth until the structure can be rebuilt. The plants themselves will have been severely stunned, bruised or nicked by buffeting winds. Often the plants will have been dark and wet for many, many hours. These conditions are the most highly conducive for fungal and bacterial development. While the plants are still wet they can be sprayed with a tertiary ammonia product Physan, Consan, or Greenshield (pool algicide contains the same chemical). This has the advantage of blending with the water on the plants to provide some immediate protection. Once the plants are dry again, they can be sprayed with a broad spectrum fungicide/bactericide. Cupric hydroxide (Kocide, Champion) mixed with Mancozeb (Manzate, Dithane M45) at 1 tbs per gallon of each should do a good job. Again, a spreader sticker is highly desirable here. The strategy for all the next few weeks post storm is to keep the plants as dry as possible (most will be moving toward more dormant states in September and October, in any case). Close monitoring for disease development and excising damaged tissue as disease develops are essential. This should be done with a clean instrument that is disinfected between cuts, preferably with a supersaturated solution of tri-sodium phosphate , Clorox, pool algicide or by flaming the cutting edge. Much wet weather can still be forth-coming after a hurricane and disease control and prevention will be a long term task post storm. We all hope that none of us ever again need to know these things we old Florida hands have learned across the years, but hurricanes are a price of living in paradise. The wise children make preparations early for all the other storm needs; buying supplies, filling gas tanks, trimming trees, removing debris so that at the eleventh hour all efforts can be concentrated on what is truly important; protecting our orchids and other equally beloved family.

Treating Storm Damaged Plants

Hurricane or even tropical force winds are not kind to vegetation. Orchids that have weathered the storm in our gardens are very likely to have sustained some damage. Frequently leaves or stems are broken. Even more frequently the plants have been scraped by rubbing against themselves or some object in the buffeting winds. Wind blown debris can also cut or scrape exposed plants. Careful examination of those plants which could not be brought in out of the storm will usually reveal numerous cuts, scrapes and bruises, particularly on leaf margins. These wounds are unfortunately the potential points of entry for bacterial and fungal infection. Our plants need help in warding off these potential problems. As with all else in good orchid management the first defense is to be sure to dry the plants as thoroughly as possible. After a storm one should not even think of watering orchids. The rains of the storm will have been more than enough, if not too much. Most sympodial orchids are at the end of their growth cycles and are slowing down to a rate requiring less water. Vandas and Phalaenopsis are luxuriating in the extra heavy humidity (that the air conditioned populous loves to hate) and hence require a good deal less water as well. Water such monopodial orchids only when a rare few days pass without any rain. Drying storm-damaged orchids will allow those nicks and scratches to heal to a naturally resistant toughness. Often the weather of September and October is not kind enough (even when we have already suffered) to permit sufficient drying to cure the ravages of the storm. The persistent damp characteristic of late summer usually dictates more active intervention. Painting wounded spots with fungicide can often prevent infections. Many growers adverse to chemicals use ground cinnamon for this purpose. A bolder and surer treatment is a combination of equal parts cupric hydroxide (Kocide) and mancozeb (Manzate or Dithane M45). This should be made into a slurry and painted on wounded places.

Never, never, apply chemicals as a dust. The potential to inhale pure forms of agricultural chemicals is too, too, dangerous. Indeed, it is recommended that when handling chemicals to make a slurry, a respirator or paint mask be worn to avoid inhaling the air borne particles. Rubber or vinyl gloves are advised when actually applying this mixture. Cupric hydroxide and mancozeb can also be applied as a spray at the rate of one tablespoon each per gallon of water. Spraying the entire collection will go a long way toward preventing isolated problems from becoming epidemic. If the weather is so unremittingly wet that spray cannot be applied, a quaternary ammonium product (Physan, etc. or pool algicide) can be sprayed as recommended elsewhere. Luckily when most hurricanes have struck, the end of October is just days away, bringing dry air to relieve both our plants and our rain-weary souls.

Hurricane Orchid Prep

by Motes Orchids in ,

With Irma threatening, we are republishing our advice for hurricane prep.

When a hurricane is looming one should run all the orchids as dry as possible to reduce the threat of fungus and bacteria. But contra-intuitively, just before the storm strikes one should saturate the orchids to the max. Now is the time to do that [Note: this piece was originally published the day before Matthew hit, so, water heavily the day before the hurricane makes landfall]. First, because we want the plants to be as heavy as possible to help prevent them being blown away or about. Second, because if one's water source is a well, electricity for the pump may be off for days or even weeks. Thoroughly watered plants will be much happier should this occur. Even if you are able to bring all your collection inside, water them thoroughly with two to three applications spaced a few minutes apart. They will be perfectly happy for a day or two without water and we will all have enough mess to deal with without watering orchids in the house.

Remember, wind velocity increases exponentially as height increases. Get your plants as close to the ground as possible but off the ground as flooding may saturate them with fungus and bacteria. Usually it is not wise to attempt to cover them with a tarp or shade cloth as the whipping of the cloth by the wind likely will cause more harm than the wind itself.

If you are growing under shade cloth, the cloth should be furled tightly to protect it. Bright burning sun is typical in the wake of a hurricane and shade will be invaluable If you are growing under trees be prepared for the possibility that the protective canopy will be destroyed. Have a plan to protect your plants from sun burn.

Good luck and please feel free to share this information with whomever may benefit from it.

September in Your Orchid Collection

by Motes Orchids in

  • 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!