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In Your Orchid Collection

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: 8.54"

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. 

January in Your Orchid Collection

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Rhyncholaelia Aristocrat     Tamiami International Orchid Festival     Grand Champion 2015

Rhyncholaelia Aristocrat

Tamiami International Orchid Festival

Grand Champion 2015

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

January Climate Data

  • Average high: 76.5
  • Average low: 59.6
  • Average mean: 68.1
  • Average rainfall: 1.88"

January is somewhat like December but in reverse, with each succeeding day bringing longer hours of sunlight until days are long enough that afternoons return at the end of the month with extra sunshine to warm us after the extra sharp cold snaps. January, like December, is cold and dry, in fact even colder and drier. Dry is good, cold can be very bad. We need to accentuate the positive by especially careful watering in January. By keeping our plants as dry as possible and spacing our waterings as far apart as possible, we conserve our potential to use water to protect our plants from the cold, keeping our powder dry, as it were. In January water early, water thoroughly when you do and do so sparingly. The cooler overall temperatures of January are much less dehydrating even to plants which have received less water. Remember, many of our orchids come from seasonally dry and cool climates not so different from South Florida. Many orchids are equipped already to handle the drier cooler conditions of our Florida January. A good strategy is to "top-up" the light watering that our plants receive with the passing showers that each successive cold front brings. This slight additional artificial irrigation may prove to be all the watering that many genera need. Such parsimony with watering preserves the possibility of using water on truly cold nights to warm our plants.

Water is the only feasible source of heat available to plants grown in the open, under trees, in shade houses or on patios in South Florida. Ground water here (and in most of the rest of the world is about 63 F. (16C). Water out of municipal systems is not far different. On truly cold nights turning on the water can be of great benefit to our plants, provided that they have not been over-watered in the days and weeks preceding, thus inviting the ever present fungi to do more damage than the cold. For this reason as well, in general, orchids are better off dry until temperatures approach frost or freezing. The logic for maintaining plants dry is not only to minimize fungal problems but also because cold air is typically very dry air. If plants are wet in very dry and rapidly moving air say 10 or more MPH, evaporative cooling can take place, chilling our orchids further and faster than they would if dry. When the water goes on it needs to be in heavy volume and it needs to stay on to keep the plants thoroughly bathed in its warmth. Very still air on the other hand, presents a different danger as frost is possible at temperatures higher than is commonly realized. In calm air frost can form at higher elevations and settle in on plants while the surface temperature is only in the upper 30's (4C). The best forecast for nights when the temperature will hover near 40 is a light wind of 2-5 miles per hour. This light wind mixes the warm air near the surface and draws warm from the earth. Clear, cloudless, still nights with bright shining stars elevate the spirit but harbingers frost.

Forecasts of temperatures below 40 F should stimulate us to action.

If it is not practical to bring all the Phalaenopsis, vandas and hard cane dendrobiums into the house or garage, think of using water to help protect them. Shade cloth or even patio screen like a lacy Mantilla holds in a surprising amount of heat. Under screen, a fine mist head(1/2 gal. per minute) attached to a hose and left running beneath the bench or plant rack will provide several degrees of additional warmth that will often sufficiently temper the chill and ward off any light frost settling in. Growers with swimming pools frequently turn on the re-circulating pump to keep a supply of warm water near the pool's surface where it can add heat to the ambient environment. A few degrees of warmth frequently make all the difference to our sensitive orchids. In more open areas not protected by a permanent irrigation system, an oscillating sprinkler at the end of a garden hose is very effective. These are readily available at Home Depot and garden shops for a few dollars. On frosty nights, start the water at bedtime and let it run until the sun is up. The extra water once or twice in a month will do no harm to orchids that have been properly and judiciously watered the remainder of the month. In fact, these occasions present the opportunity to be sure that excess fertilizer salts have been leached from the pots and medium. A good work can be born of necessity!

Remember that Himalayan dendrobiums and ''warm growing'' Cymbidium hybrids will positively relish temperatures down to 32F and a light frost is just the ticket for great bloom. Keep the water off these!

In the drought of January, mites, which affect nearly all genera of orchids, continue to be a serious problem that will only get worse. Mite populations will reach a crescendo in March and April but January is a good time to scotch them. Paphiopedilum and other softly leaved genera are particularly susceptible but no genus is free of them. One theory on why deciduous genera such as Catasetum, Calanthe and others lose their leaves hypothesizes that this totally rids them of mites.

Being totally rid of mites is a good thing! Sometimes this is easier said than done because mites reproduce with such voluminous speed. Their life cycle from egg to reproductive adult being is as short as twelve days. In order to control mites one must achieve as total a kill of the population as possible. Total control can only be achieved with two successive sprays. After spraying for mites initially, one must spray again in 7 - 10 days. No single spray is totally effective in killing both adults and eggs and a second spraying is necessary to kill any survivors before they can reproduce. Oil as recommended in the December chapter at 1.5 oz per gal followed in7-10 days by soap at the rate of 2 oz per gallon is very effective. These treatments are also quite effective against scale and mealy bugs which thrive on drought as well. Be sure your plants are well watered the day before applying both oil and soap and be sure that you cover thoroughly all leaf surfaces especially the lower ones, which are mites' favorite hideouts. For those who wish to be more aggressive, the University of Florida IFAS-recommended chemicals for mite control are:

  • Avid 0.15 EC
  • Kelthane T/O
  • Mavarik Aquaflow
  • Talstar Flowable

Always follow label instructions for use. Any of these chemicals can be alternated with the soap or the oil in the 7-10 day cycle. 

Controlling mites pays huge dividends! You'll be surprised at the extra vigor your plants display.