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This Month in Your Orchid Collection

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.

April in Your Orchid Collection

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V.  ampullacea, a gorgeous mini pink, available on sale and in spike/bloom for a limited time.  Click here!

V. ampullacea, a gorgeous mini pink, available on sale and in spike/bloom for a limited time. Click here!

April Climate Data

  • Average high: 83.8
  • Average low: 67.6
  • Average mean: 75.7
  • Average rainfall: 3.36"

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

            Far from the cruelest, April is the kindest month to South Florida orchid growers. The weather in April is definitely settled into warm, even deliciously hot, with passing cold fronts only adding the delight of a pleasant change in temperature. The clean, bright days brimming with abundant sunlight and the low relative humidity create the high drying potential that orchids love. Now we can get our orchids off to a great start on the growing season by practicing our very best watering skills under ideal conditions. Water heavily when you water and allow the plants to dry thoroughly before watering heavily again. Drying ‘hard’ in the Spring will produce benefits all season. We want to get our plants well launched while leaving all the fungi high and dry.

            The new shoots of Oncidinae, grammatophyllums and dendrobiums are quite cup-like; care must be taken that water does not stand too long in these immature growths. Water these types very thoroughly with two or three applications of water spaced 10-15 minutes apart. Water should run freely through the pot on each application. Saturated thoroughly in this fashion the plants will need only weekly watering. Even more care should be taken with the soft plicate leafed genera like Catasetum, Mormodes, Cycnoches, Gongora, Calanthe and Thunia The new growths of this type are rolled together (the fancy word is convolute) like a collapsible drinking cup. These should be grown in water retentive media that should be saturated at each watering to permit the developing roots to have abundant water but allow the vulnerable new growth extra time to dry. Feel the weight of a pot when you have finished watering. Be sure it is heavy with water. If it’s not water one more time. With plants properly spaced, good drying should not be difficult in the hot dry air of April. But do be careful to water early enough in the day to allow the tender new growth to throughly dry by twilight.

            With vandaceous orchids grown in slatted baskets, most growers find that they dry altogether too well in April. Vandas can be watered almost every morning in April. Indeed, a second light watering or misting in mid-afternoon in April and early May is often beneficial provided the crowns and leaf axils of the plants have time to dry completely by nightfall. Another strategy under high drying conditions is to bend the rules, at least occasionally, and water heavily in mid to late morning. Late waterings on weekend mornings (you didn’t want to get up early, any way) provide relief for plants that are more stressed on week days with their owners absent. Very occasionally, one needs to break the rules absolutely and water thoroughly (not just mist) in the mid to late afternoon so the plants can slowly absorb the water across the cool hours of the night. This is the season that one must be sure that Vanda roots have turned overall dark green when we have finished watering. Two applications of water to the point of runoff spaced several minutes apart should accomplish the required color change from white to totally green. Saturated roots are absolutely necessary to provide the plants the moisture the plants need to withstand the heat and dry air typical of April. Sometimes, particularly at this season, the roots will not change color even after the second or third application of water. This lack of response to water is because the roots have become so dry that they are repelling rather than absorbing water. They are behaving like a cork in a wine bottle. The grower must exert special effort to re-saturate the roots. Often this will require 4 or 5 waterings to the point of run off spaced 15 minutes apart. Once the roots have been changed to the healthy overall green, normal applications of water should bring them around in future.

            With increased heat and light and the onset of growth, fertilizer becomes more crucially important to the plants. Balanced time release pellets (13-13-13) can still be applied to potted plants provided the duration is 180 days or less. Most time release fertilizer breaks down faster under South Florida conditions and should be exhausted by October when we will want our plants to slow down. The brand marketed at retail as “Dynamite” is generally considered by professionals as superior in reliability to other types. In April, 15-5-15 can be applied to most genera at the rate of 2 tsp. per gal every two weeks. Vandas, ascocendas, Aerides, et al will benefit from a full tablespoon of 15-5-15 weekly during this high energy period. One can also apply high phosphorous ‘Bloom Booster’ fertilizer once or twice at this time to stimulate them to flower for Mothers’ Day or failing that to win those trophies and A.O.S. awards at the Redland International Orchid Festival the next weekend. High phosphorous (we use Millers’ Solugrow 8-48-12) also stimulates root action and is important in getting all genera off to a good start on the growing season. This is one of the few times that high phosphorus is perhaps beneficial. During the rest of the year it is to be avoid particularly with our alkaline water. Current science recommends fertilizers lower in nitrogen, much lower in phosphorus and higher in potassium, magnesium and calcium. Peter’s Excel 15-5-15 is now the standard for year round use.

            The warmth of April, alas, stimulates the growth of bugs as well as plants. Both thrips and mites thrive in the dry heat of April. Liquid dishwashing soap (at 2 oz per gal) will control both but be mindful that soap should not be applied to plants that are suffering from drought stress. Be sure that your plants are well hydrated before you apply soap. Water them extra hard the day before. To be effective soap must be used profusely. The plants should be washed in the solution to the point of wetting every nook and cranny of both the plant and its container. Only such thorough treatment can reach the reclusive thrips and be sure to touch all of the ever prolific mites. A second treatment at 7-10 days is necessary to control mites and a miticide such as Kelthane might be advised. Orthene which is the insecticide of choice for thrips (because of its residual action) is compatible with many miticides. Check with your county agent if in doubt.

            April is the classic month to catch up with all the re-potting which you meant to do across the winter. New roots form fast in April; don’t rot them off by over-potting or break them off by allowing the plant to wiggle in the pot. Tie them up: tie them down!

            April is a month for great moral decisions. When turning on the air conditioner for the first time, consider how much better an orchid grower you would be if you set the thermostat 2 or 3 degrees higher. You will find that you spend more time with your plants when you are accustomed to slightly higher temperatures and it is the master’s shadow that makes the plants grow. Besides spending more time enjoying your orchids, when the FPL bill arrives, you can celebrate with some splendid additions to your collection.

April is a great month for naturalizing orchids in the garden. Perhaps its time to think of new homes for some of our burgeoning collection.

November in Your Orchid Collection

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  • Average high: 81.2
  • Average low: 67.5
  • Average mean: 74.4
  • Average rainfall: 3.43"

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

In November we can no longer afford to be dominated by the illusion, so easy here at the northern edge of the tropics, that summer will never end. Although Indian Summer persists for the whole winter in South Florida, November is the month to prepare our plants for those short sharp blasts of cold which are inevitably coming as each successive cold front pushes the overall temperature a little lower and a little lower. Each day is shorter too. The loss of daylight savings time should awake us to the fact that there are less hours of sunlight to save our plants from the chill of the night. Many genera are already anticipating this sea change and have completed their growths for the season. Some like Catasetum, Cycnoches, Calanthe and the nobile dendrobiums are even beginning to shed their foliage in preparation for the cool, dry season. While the Himalayan Dendrobium species of the nobile and Callista types, calanthes, cymbidiums and an few others, actually relish temperatures down to near freezing, and most cattleyas and Oncidium alliance species and hybrids are not bothered by temperatures in the mid-thirties, the majority of the genera which we grow, vandas, evergreen dendrobiums, Phalaenopsis and others, benefit from being protected from the cold. Now, while the first breathes of cool air remind us that more and stronger cold is in the offing, is the time to start thinking about protecting our plants.
     In nature nearly all the tender tropical epiphytic orchids native to South Florida are found nestled in the bosom of deep hammocks where they are well protected from the wind. This observation leads us to think of protecting our orchids from the north and northwest winds. Creating or utilizing already existing wind breaks to the north and west of our orchids will limit the ability of the wind to steal the warmth out of our plants. The critical factor is not the low temperature that the air reaches but rather the temperature to which the plant tissue is chilled and for how long. This is why limiting the movement of cold air over our plants is essential. In still air, plant tissue (mostly water but with some dissolved salts) retains heat for a long time and is aided by the plants’ metabolism. The very goings on of life generate heat, therefor considerable exposure to still air is needed to chill a plant to the temperature of the surrounding environment. Not so if wind enters the picture. Wind can quickly rob the plant’s surfaces of heat, chilling the plants tissue deeper and deeper. When the plant’s temperature tolerance is reached, at best growth ceases or worse yet damage ensues. Slowing the cooling process and limiting the hours of exposure to sub-optimal temperature is the best gift we can give our plants for the holidays.
    Protecting our tender plants from exposure to wind must be our primary concern in preparing them for winter. Buildings, walls and even thick hedges can be very effective windbreaks slowing or stopping chill air. Choose places in your garden that offer this sort of protection to your orchid plants wherever possible. The geography of Florida plays into the equation as well. Because the Florida peninsular juts decidedly to the Southeast (Naples is due south of Jacksonville), protection from the Northwest wind is even more crucial than protection from the North wind on the east coast of Florida. Northwest winds are blowing out of the cold heart of the landmass while true North winds have in most locales usually blown over more warm water and less cold land. Regardless of the degree of north, safeguarding our collections from the wind is critical to their healthy maintenance. Not until the air circulating clockwise around the cold high pressure system shifts to the Northeast to blow over the warm Gulfstream can we relax our guard.
    Orchids that are grown in shade houses, in patios or pool enclosures can be protected by installing plastic film on the north and west walls of the structure. This can be attached with staples or other devices that allow the plastic to be furled in warm weather and only lowered for those few nights when it is needed. Easiest to come by (Home Depot, or any hardware store) and cheapest, is 6mil clear polyethylene (don’t use 4mil; it rarely lasts the winter being exposed to Florida’s bright ultraviolet light). One hundred feet by ten costs about $20. Stored in a dark place, this stock will last the average grower several years and be a very small investment that will yield greatly improved orchids. Handled with care in furling and unfurling, 6 mil plastic usually will get the grower through the winter. If unobtrusive, it may be simply left in place till March. White polypropylene, similar to nursery ground cloth, is used by many nurseries for winterizing. More expensive than polyethylene, it is very durable and will last many more years. Some growers have it cut to size, taped and grommeted for easy up and down installation and storing. Universal Supply (1-800-432-3009) has it. Given the dimensions and enough lead time they can customize it for you. 
    Getting our growing area ready for winter is one half of the equation. We must also get the plants themselves ready. Healthy, well-nourished plants withstand cold better as do plants that are harder and not too lushly in growth. Because both light and temperature are lower in November and most orchids have slowed their growth, they need less fertilizer. In cooler weather ammoniacal nitrogen is less available to our plants because it needs the assistance of bacterial action to ease its absorption by the plants. Nitrate nitrogen is more desirable therefore in cooler weather, because it is more quickly and readily absorbed by the orchids. Check the label on your fertilizer and try to choose one with a higher ration of nitrate nitrogen to ammoniacal nitrogen for winter use. The very best source for nitrate nitrogen is potassium nitrate (KNO3). It has the formula 13-0-44. The lower level of the desirable nitrate form of nitrogen is well suited to the continuing but diminished nutritional needs of our orchids in cool weather. The level of potassium is thought to contribute to the ‘hardening’ of the plants. Try to obtain the soluble or ‘Spray’ grade. If only Prills (small beads like tapioca) are available they will need to be dissolved with boiling water, a tedious task. 
    Potassium nitrate is superlative also because it contains no phosphorus which, in combination with our hard, alkaline water interferes with the plants’ absorption of trace elements. Trace element nutrition is especially important to maintain healthy orchids in cool weather: above all, magnesium, the ‘major’ minor element. The reddening of orchid foliage which is usually attributed to cold is in fact the symptom of magnesium and potassium deficiency. Cold is only the efficient cause of this reddening; the material cause is lack of magnesium. Epsom salts at 1tbs. per gal plus potassium nitrate at the same rate will quickly bring back the green. This regimen can be alternated with a general trace element mixture (follow the package rate) plus potassium nitrate. Indeed, following the recommendations of the Michigan State University study published in the July 2003 issue of Orchids, symptoms of magnesium or potassium deficiency might be a warning that we should have been following something closer to this “winter” fertilizer regimen all year. We now recommend alternating applications of 1TBS each of Epsom salts and potassium nitrate with a balance fertilizer such as 20-20-20 or 18-18-18 year round not just in the Fall. Best of all is a 15-5-15 with additional calcium and magnesium. peters markets one as Excel.
    The Epsom salts are as near as your medicine cabinet. The potassium nitrate is more difficult to find but a trip to the nearest Farm supply store is worth the effort. You’ll save a bundle on fertilizer and have plenty of potassium nitrate left over to grow the biggest bunch of bananas in the neighborhood.
    If you have the energy, November is also a great time for starting to pot those sympodial orchids (cattleyas, oncidiums, et al) that have finished blooming. You’ll have a leg up on the Spring potting and will glow with virtue in expectation of the rewards of the Holidays. Be especially careful at this season that the newly transplanted orchids are well secured in their containers. It may be many weeks till they have broken growth and can anchor themselves with their own roots. If the plants are allowed any wiggle room the newly emerging roots will be chaffed off, sending the plant into a slow and difficult to reverse decline.

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.