Orchid Culture

A Note on the Cultural Information

The cultural information given is not in any way intended to be a definitive account of how orchids should be grown. Success with orchids, in fact with any group of plants, requires the grower to get to know their plants. Armed with basic information on how to care for your orchids, whether taken from books or websites, you can begin working in one of the most fascinating hobbies of orchid growing.

The first important step you need to take is getting to know them, not as a group, but as individuals. Check your plants daily, look at what they are doing; this may entail daily lifting of the pots and taking a close look at what is going on. Are they showing signs of slowing down? Are the roots healthy? Or is root action just starting for the spring? Only with this daily observing will you know what your plants require, or are suffering from, and this is no different whether you grow orchids, roses or African Violets.

The information I offer is based on nearly 30 years of growing orchids. Like everyone else, I started with a book and advice from other growers. As a gardener for many years on Scottish estates, I was expected to be able to grow orchids, amongst other things, so information was passed on to me by retiring head-gardeners I replaced. This information I used and modified to suit my own growing techniques and facilities, and that is the best piece of information I can pass on to you. Read and digest the information, whether here or in books or on other websites, but modify it when needed, use it only as a guide, rearrange to suit you and your plants. As is often said about this hobby and many others, your plants don’t go to libraries, nor do they surf the web, they will always do something completely different to what you read, they are like children and animals, they have a mind of their own.

You may be wondering why I chose the group of orchids I did, to write about. Simply, they are plants that are often easy enough to buy, especially now that trading is much easier across borders, but basically, they are the plants that I either currently grow or have grown at some time over the last three decades.

Use the information offered to enhance your growing experience, or perhaps to do better with a particular plant you have been struggling with. Use a bit from here and there, and mix it with what you already know, or someone else has already told you, but more importantly, don’t get yourself bogged down in detail and remove the pleasure, enjoy your plants.

Bill.

Culture

Ada

Ada Orchid Genus

Subtribe : Oncidiinae
Meaning : Named in honour of Ada, ruler of Caria in 334 BC. She was sister of Artemis and adopted Alexander the Great as her son.

There are around 16 species in this genus, mostly epiphytic with some being lithophytes. They are closely related to Brassia and the flowers are similar at times though usually smaller. The plants normally carry more inflorescences as well as being leafier. The type species, Ada aurantiaca was described by John Lindley, the English botanist and horticulturist, around 1853. Ada can be found in Venezuela, Colombia and Peru, as well as some other countries in South America at altitudes of up to nearly 3,000 metres.

Ada aurantiaca

Ada aurantiaca : Orchid Species Information

Genus name : Ada
Species : aurantiaca

Specific Epithet : The orange-red Ada

A medium sized plant found as an epiphyte in Colombia and Venezuela. It flowers in late winter and spring. The arching inflorescences are around 18” (45 cm) and carry many 1” (2.5 cm) orange/red flowers which don’t open fully. Usually found at altitudes of around 2,000 – 2,500 metres in very cool, wet, montane forests.
It is a cold to cool growing plant requiring a winter night temperature of 7c – 8c with high humidity, full shade is essential, along with good air movement to prevent fungal attacks. Air movement should gently move the leaves and should be kept up all year round. Give the plant plenty of water during the growing season along with your normal fertiliser. When autumn comes start reducing water and withhold fertiliser. Misting in the mornings during winter and ensure the roots dry out before watering again.

This species has been widely used as the seed parent in hybridising over the years.

Please note that the genus Ada is now Brassia.

Ada aurantiaca Photo
Photo of Ada aurantiaca

Aerangis

Aerangis Orchid Genus

Subtribe : Aerangidinae
Meaning : From Greek, aer (air) and aggeion (a vessel), referring to the epiphytic character and the elongated spur in many species.

A genus of more than 50 species found growing in shady, humid and warm rain forest throughout Africa, Madagascar and the Comoros islands. Normally they are found growing as epiphytes, but are sometimes to be found as lithophytes.

In general, they prefer light to heavy shade with no direct sunshine but with good air movement. The roots need to be allowed to dry out between waterings but it is essential they aren’t allowed to be dry for too long. Many species, those with fine root systems in particular, do better if they are grown on mounts like cork bark or fine branches, as the finer roots have a tendency to rot if confined to a pot. They are usually floriferous plants of a vandacious habit and are noted for their scent, particularly in the evenings or at night. Plants grown on mounts can be soaked several times per day in the warmer months and this reduced to misting a couple of times per day in the winter.

Aerangis biloba

Aerangis biloba : Orchid Species Information

Genus name : Aerangis
Species : biloba

Specific Epithet : Two-lobed, referring to the lobed leaves.

A small species from West and Central West Africa found growing as an epiphytic in shady forests and thickets. This species needs a winter night temperature of 10c to grow well with high humidity of around 90%. It grows best mounted and my preference is for cork bark or natural tree branches. This species burns very easily if the leaves get too much sun so it’s ensure it doesn’t get any direct sunshine. Give it several good soaks daily in the warmer months, ensuring that circulation is good to prevent fungal attacks, feed with your usual orchid fertiliser during the growing season and stop feeding in autumn. Water should also be reduced in autumn and winter to daily misting a couple of times per day.

The scented flowers appear in late summer to autumn on pendant inflorescences of around 18″ long. It carries between up to twenty-five 1.5″ – 2″ white flowers.

Aerangis citrata

Genus name : Aerangis

Species : citrata

Specific Epithet : Lemon-scented

This miniature epiphytic species comes from Madagascar and is found in mossy, humid and shady evergreen forest at around 1,500 metres. It needs high humidity and moderate air movement to grow well. This species has fine roots and grows much better on a tree fern or cork bark mount; many plants are lost by root rot if it is grown in a pot although a few people do manage pot culture, but the compost needs to be open and very fast draining.

The pendant inflorescence appears in summer to autumn and carries up to thirty-five 1″ (2.5cm) flowers, which are lemon scented. All the flowers of this species face the same way making it look even more spectacular. Night temperatures of 50f (10c) are sufficient, bright light with no direct sunlight suit it.

 

Aerangis mystacidii

Genus: Aerangis

Species: mystacidii

Specific epithet: Like Mystacidium

Another miniature species found growing on twigs and branches hanging over streams and rivers in evergreen woods. It comes from SW Tanzania through to to South Africa at altitudes varying from sea level up to more than 1,600 metres. As can be hoped for, this species will be as at home with winter night temperatures of 8c and adaptable to temperatures up to 15c at night. Personally I’ve had no problems growing it between 8c – 10c at night.

As with most, if not all species within the genus it needs high humidity, good shade from sun and good air movement. It needs several good soaks per day if grown on a cork mount and fed with your usual fertiliser. In the winter months reduce water to a couple of sprayings per day and stop feeding. The inflorescences appear around autumn time to early winter and carry up to 20 flowers on a relatively short inflorescence of about 12″ (30cm). The flowers are sweetly scented  at night time.

Aerides

Subtribe : Aeridinae
Meaning : Referring to their aerial roots and epiphytic growth habit

Aerides are found in most of Asia, and are very similar to Vanda in growth, habit and appearance. They are monopodial, and range from small to large plants. Temperature requirements vary from cool to warm growing depending on the species. They have strap shaped leaves and are best grown in teak baskets or net pots to afford the roots freedom to extend into the air. The type species, Aerides odoratum was described by Lour in 1790.

Aerides houlletiana

Genus name: Aerides

Species:  houlletiana

Specific Epithet: Houllet’s Aerides

A large growing monopodial epiphyte species found at elevations from sea level to around 800 metres. Like most Vanda types it likes bright conditions but be wary of sun shining on the plant through glass, it will burn. Some morning and late evening sunshine may be beneficial. They do much better grown in open baskets, teak wood baskets are popular for them, plastic baskets would do fine but they aren’t very attractive. My personal method of growing all the  Vanda types is in re-cycled teak wood baskets with Sphagnum moss loosely packed in around the roots. This keeps them wet for a bit longer. In the autumn I remove the Sphagnum to ensure the roots dry out rapidly.

As soon as the roots dry out water the Sphagnum again and continue through the growing season. Humidity needs to be kept high as the majority of the roots will be out of the basket and in the air, spraying these roots will also be beneficial. I’ve successfully over-wintered this species at 12c in the past but if you can turn the heating up to 13c – 15c they will benefit and perform better. Give them lots of water during the growing season with plenty of feeding. In the colder months remove the Sphagnum moss and spray regularly through the day and stop the fertiliser. In winter you can safely remove any shading and let them have full light to help induce flower. The pendant inflorescences appear in spring to summer carrying up to 20 scented flowers about 1″ (2.5cm) in size.

Aerides odorata

Genus name: Aerides

Specific Name: odorata

Specific Epithet meaning: The fragrant Aerides

This is the type species of the genus and it lives up to it’s name. It is found in the W. Yunnan and Guangdong districts of China and down through Indo-China and in to Tropical Asia at altitudes of just above sea level up to 2,000 metres. It’s tolerable of varying temperatures from 10c at night in winter up to 15c. During the spring months when the new roots tips start growing, this is indicated by the fresh green new tips, watering should be increased and the roots thoroughly drenched with water, on warm days this may need to be done two or three times. As the days lengthen it needs to be watered more regularly. I then pack the baskets, loosely, with Sphagnum moss, this helps with retaining moisture around the root system in the warmer weather of summer. This helps prevent ridged roots. The roots as they grow become circled with ridges which is due to the roots stopping and starting into growth, the reason this happens is dry atmosphere or even roots being allowed to dry out for too long before watering again. Try and ensure that the plants are kept humid and water them as soon as the roots dry out. Sphagnum moss in the basket, or even pieces draped over the root system will help keep plants humid and moist in the summer. When feeding these types of plants it’s always easier to make up your liquid food in a bucket large enough to accommodate the root system and basket, plunge them into the bucket for a few minutes each time you feed. Unused food can be stored in a container for next time. It needs good, bright shade during the summer months, keeping midday sun off the plant to prevent the foliage being burnt or scorched through the glass. Some early morning or late evening sunshine is OK. Moist air movement should be given continuously.

As the root tips begin to slow their growth and once again become covered with velamin it is time to start reducing water. This is the time to remove the Sphagnum moss. Velamin is the spongy white covering of the roots. It is made up of highly absorbent cells which absorb water from the air, it is when this mass of cells aren’t receiving enough moisture in the growing season that we see the ring-ridges around the roots, the cells don’t multiply so easily in dry air, if left too long the root tips will also stop growing. This begins to happen naturally in late summer or autumn when rainfall would reduce in nature. You might find a reluctance in the roots to stop growing so the Sphagnum moss should be removed by early autumn and water reduced to encourage the roots to rest. Fertiliser should stop and water gradually reduced to several sprays with water each day. The shade can be removed in the autumn to allow the plants maximum light through the winter.

Flowering can take place any time from autumn onwards but the usual time is late winter to late spring. The pendant inflorescence appears from the leaf axis and carries up to 25 or 30 flowers around 1.5″ ( 3.8cm) which are highly scented.

Microsaccus

Subtribe: Aeridinae

Meaning: From Latin micro (tiny) and saccus (bag) Referring to the tiny bag-shaped lip.

Around a dozen species make up this genus of miniature to small sized plants. all need good to heavy shade with high humidity and good air movement. They are mainly, if not all, epiphytes found growing on trees in dense to open forest which may be deciduous or not. They require ample water during the growing season and reduced water in the winter. They are a far reaching genus, found down through Indo-China into Sumatra and Borneo, through West Malesia and into the Philippines. The required winter night temperatures vary from species to species and grow through a whole range of temperatures.

Microsaccus griffithii

Genus: Microsaccus

Specific Epithet : griffithii

Meaning: Named in honour of  Dr. William Griffith, an English collector in the 19th century.

Microsaccus griffithii is a cool growing species from Indo-China, West Malesia and the Philippines. It can be found at sea level and up to 2,000 metres so can be grown in most temperatures. I’m growing it cool, 10c during the winter. Like most Microsaccus, the fleshy leaves are laterally flat and held in two rows along the length of the plant. Some plants have branching growths, while the others don’t and just continue growing and lengthening. Flowers are around 2mm or 3mm across and crystalline white; they are usually borne in pairs from late summer through to early winter, although some plants flower in late winter.

the plant requires full shade in the summer, they don’t appear to like any sunshine, the shade can be reduced in winter, but still make sure sun is excluded by shading plants with bigger type plants. Plants should be given water during the winter months, but it is essential that the roots have dried out before watering again. They need to be grown on a mount of tree fern or cork bark, if moss has been added to assist with water retention during the growing season it should be removed for the winter. In the summer months I drench the plants and their mounts with a hose pip fitted with a shower-type head about every day, sometimes twice depending on the weather. It is an undemanding plant, quite easy to grow as long as it’s requirements for water, shade and air movement are met. I feed regularly, perhaps once or twice a week, with my own home-made fertiliser. I find it to be a very attractive plant, even when not in flower, and would make an excellent plant for growing in a Nanoviv or terrarium.

Paphiopedilum

Subtribe: Cypripedioideae.

Meaning: From the Greek, Paphia, Aphrodite’s main place of worship, the Island of Paphos and pedilon (shoes, slippers or sandals).

Pronounce: paf-ee-oh-PED-ih-lum

This genus is closely related to the American and European genus of Cypripedium or Ladies Slipper. Over 120 species are known over the whole range of subtropical and tropical Asia and into the Solomon Islands. The fan-shaped growths have no pseudobulbs and the inflorescence which can be hirsute or not arises from the centre of the growth. There are basically two types of plant, the mottle-leafed or solid green species which produce multiple flowers on the inflorescence. In general these plants require warmer temperatures although there are one or two multi-bloomed species which require cooler conditions such as Paphiopedilum delenatii and P. parishii both which are multi-bloomed but require cool conditions, conversely there are single bloomed species like Paphiopedilum exul which require warm conditions.

In general, the genus is terrestrial, growing in the thick leaf mulch of forest floors, within the forest or on the edges, they are also lithophytic  growing on limestone outcrops and cliffs with their roots in the mossy surface of the rocks, while a few may be epiphytic growing in the forks of the tree branches at intermediate heights or in fact high in the canopy. The distinctive pouch-shaped leaf gives the genus it’s name as of slipper orchids.

Paphiopedilum parishii

Genus: Paphiopedilum

Species: parishii.

Meaning: Named in honour of Charles Parish, a 19th century English orchid collector.

A stunning multi-flowered species that grows as an epiphyte high in the forest trees of Assam, China and Thailand. During winter it will grow at 10c at night time. It requires full shade with high humidity and good air circulation, these conditions should be kept up through the colder months, in particular the air circulation is very important to prevent bacterial problems. The compost is watered as soon as it dries out during the growing season, but it will be allowed to remain dry for another day or two in winter and given sufficient water to just moisten the compost. This species can carry up to seven or eight flowers at a time measuring 3″ (7.5cm) and the twisted lateral petals can measure up to 4″ (10cm) in length. The plant in the photographs is flowering for the first time on a single growth and it is expected that the number of flowers will increase as the plant grows. Like most Paphiopedilum species it can be easily grown on a window sill in the home. Grow on a north facing window, or any other window that gets no sunshine. To ensure adequate humidity in the home the plant should be placed, in it’s pot, on a tray of gravel, keep the bottom of the pot raised off the gravel slightly and keep the gravel wet. Surrounding the plant with other types, such as ferns etc will help to create a micro-climate for it. In the greenhouse situate the plant in the shadiest place, but try to avoid placing it on a shelf under another, this causes the plant to seek out a bit more light by growing at an angle. If a lower shelf is all you can give it then make sure you turn the plant 180 degrees to ensure upright growth, it’s important that if you turn the plant 180 degrees clockwise on day one, that you turn it anti-clockwise the next day. Alternate between clockwise and anti-clockwise or the plant will grow twisted and inflorescences may become trapped.

Stereochilus

Subtribe: Aeridinae

Meaning: Stere, from the Greek for solid or firm; chilus from Greek, lip(?)

This genus was made by removing plants from Cleisostoma and Pomatocalpa and described by Lindley in 1858. They are miniature plants mainly with fleshy leaves which are coriaceus (leathery).The inflorescence appears from the leaf axles at varying times of the year, but mainly in the spring to early summer. For most, they are best kept growing throughout the year, only reducing water in relation to the temperature, they shouldn’t be allowed to remain dry for to long. They should be sprayed regularly during the course of the day from first light but allowed to dry off before night during the winter. They are an undemanding group of plants and will reward good husbandry with, in some cases, plenty of flowers. They are found throughout Indo-China and into Southern China and temperatures vary from species to species.