Water Quality


Does it matter what kind of water that I use on my orchids?
Gordon A.


Today’s hybrids are bred to withstand a wider range of cultural extremes than ever before. Though still considered ‘finicky rainforest plants’ by some people, modern orchids can tolerate less than optimal conditions in fertilizer, light, and temperature. Water quality also used to be an area of concern but not anymore.

It wasn’t long ago that growers would collect rain to use on their orchids. Elaborate gutter and barrel systems were constructed to store the purest water that clouds could offer. Some hobbyists would stockpile bottles of spring water in order to give their plants the very best. All of this contributed to the reputation that orchids were tricky to grow.

Whiles it’s true that naturally occurring species from the jungle may require delicate treatment, man-made hybrids tend to be vigorous. Breeders ‘select’ the strongest seedlings to raise to maturity while discarding the ‘runts’ or weak plantlets. Through successive generations of breeding, sometimes a dozen or more iterations from the origin, truly superior varieties become the norm in the marketplace.

What once required the purest hydration to survive, now thrives on plain tap water. Open up the spigot and pour it on!



What is the best way to stake my flower stem? Nancy A.


There are differing schools of thought regarding the appearance of plant stakes though everyone acknowledges the need for them. The fundamental reason that stakes are used is twofold – to support the stem so that it doesn’t break and so that the flowers can be seen to their best advantage.

Botanical purists have always minimized the visual aspects of stakes so as to keep the true stars of the show – the heavenly orchid blooms – on center stage. Green bamboo remains popular since the material is natural, rigid, and well camouflaged. A rule of thumb is to keep the width of the bamboo in proportion to the flower stem so as to not overwhelm the orchid.

Recently, a new trend in staking has emerged that challenges traditional thinking - Curly Willow. These spiraling twisted tree branches give the illusion of being part of the orchid plant – or at least making the singular pot into an ‘arrangement’ of complementary pieces. One might expect to find other earthy accoutrements - raffia and Spanish moss – in such a display.

Sometimes, ornate ‘Designer’ stakes are used to hold up the flower stem and are often made of semi-precious metals like Copper or Brass. This type of support demands attention and can be more expensive than the plant.

Not all orchid stems need staking. Dendrobiums are grown in fields in Hawaii for cut flowers and produce very sturdy inflorescences. Every morning, workers snip the fresh stems and send them to the ‘mainland’ where they are used in wedding bouquets. Cattleya stems are very short, usually only a few inches, and are often held in place by the sheath. Vanda blossoms also are well supported and do not need additional help.

The majority of genera, however, absolutely need external staking including Cymbidiums, Oncidiums, Paphiopedilums, and the ever-popular Phalaenopsis. Without bamboo, curly willow, or some other prop, the sheer weight of the buds and flowers slowly pull down the stem until nearly horizontal (or it breaks). Presentation in the rainforest is unimportant – the natural pollinators will find the flowers...but in a fancy living room with oriental carpets and chandeliers, it’s everything. 

Friday, November 13, 2009 - 17:45