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Why not grow orchids?

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I have always been fascinated with orchids, and I sort of assumed that orchid fascination was pretty common.  I also used to think they were difficult to grow, at least in non-tropical climates, and so didn't bother with them, and again I assumed that this misconception was the reason more people don't grow them.

So am I right?  

The reason I'm asking is that I've been experimenting with orchids for 4 or 5 years now and have gradaully realized that for a small lot in a less than perfect climate like Southern California, they are quite possibly the most rewarding group of plants to grow.  They are also, in my opinion the ultimate palm companion plants...they grow best ON your palms.

Some specifics for SoCal and similar climates that I have found rather surprising:  

-There are way more than 1000 species orchids that will thrive outdoors here, and TONS of hybrids.  

-There is no shortage of species or hybrids that will take anywhere from a few hours to all day direct sun

-Cymbidiums are not really the easiest orchids to grow here (but they are pretty easy)

-Orchids will grow exceptionally well here mounted (especially on palm trunks)

-Most mounted orchids will bloom at least once a year with no care other than regular watering (i.e. no fertilizer required).

I'm curiuos what the interest level is, particularly from the SoCal and similar climate crowd as I've considered writing some articles for the companion plant section of palm journal and/or posting some detailed threads here on species/hybrid selection for different climate zones, mounting etc...  Any interest?

Matt

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I find them difficult to grow. But I am talking about actual landscape placement, not grown in green houses or pots and then winterized. I love orchids, but out of all the plant families I have in my garden, I have had the worst luck with them. Ones that I do get to take mounted or in prep'ed soil seldom flower. When I went on Mardy Darians garden tour I asked him about this. He has an amazing collection but admitted how hard they can be. So that made me feel better.

Someday I would love to see your garden. it seems you have a lot of cool stuff outside the palm world.

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They are also, in my opinion the ultimate palm companion plants...they grow best ON your palms.

Ahem.....burp!..pardon...can we see the photos now ?

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I have no expertise at all, but three "easy to grow"  unpotted plants that I attached to laurel oaks last spring are now quite busy building root systems on the trees.  A persistently wet October has really encouraged them as well as other plants in the yard.  

The only real problem seems to be leaf-eating snails.

Our climate gives us a lot of useful "easy" plants, including our underutilized native flora.  A local roadside was stuffed with native crinums a few weeks ago.

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I have lots of orchids and find most of them easy to grow.  When I first started with orchids, I had many failures.  Then I found a grower who gave me some good advice.  Nothing in her shade house is hard.  If it grows for her, it will grow for me.  She does get some things in for sale to people who use orchids as throw-away plants.  I don't try miltonias - they like cooler weather than we have.  Just as with palms, I try to learn the natural growing conditions for a species and then buy or not based on that.

There is an old grower in Miami that has almost all species orchids, grown all outside.  I buy from him and everything from him does well.

I have some mounted on my trees and will be mounting on my palms that are large enough this winter.  I might remember to fertilize every 6 months.  But my irrigation is from a canal and I am sure it has nutrients in it.  I do have 3 orchid slat houses but they are open with slats on the roof.  I don't do anything in the winter.  Sometimes the leaves get brown but they recover in the spring.  They seem to thrive on neglect.  They aren't perfect looking but they have great blooms.

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Matt, you might contact Jim Wright.  He doesn't post on this board but has grown orchids within his palm garden for many years.

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I used to think orchids were super-finicky, and therefore, not my kind of survivalist plant.  Wrong again.  (I can be wrong a lot in gardening, it keeps me humble.)

While my own experience has been uneven, the successes I have enjoyed encourage me to continue to add selectively to my small orchid collection as time, $, and opportunities present themselves.  Also I would have more orchids if my palms were already trunking -- patience, patience!

I do think selectivity is the key, so I carefully note what Matt is growing, then copy his list. :)  But any good orchid seller can tell you what you can grow from his stock.  So far I have had good luck (to me that means re-blooming) with Laelia (Schomburkia), Sobralia,  Vanda, and Zygopetalum.  (Darold, the last was recommended as 'easy' by Jim Wright while on a bromeliad tour.  :) )

This is for you, Wal:

KimsOrchid013.jpg

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Sorry Wal,

I'll get some photos up soon.  I have some past photos ready to go I can put up tonight.  Some of my favorites are blooming right now and I need some good light to get a photo (new camera though...I'm excited!)

Darold, Jim's garden actually gave me the confidence to start experimenting when I went a few years ago.  Especially with mounting as I'd never seen an orchid mounted and growing well in SoCal before that.  He said it was "easy" so I was ready to go after that.

Well at least Len seems to be in "I'd like to grow orchids but think it's too hard" camp so that's good enough for me.  I'll start some topics on good species and hybrids and also mounting tips (I've mounted orchids on all kinds of stuff with all different materials and there are definitely things that work and things that don't).

Kim, I'm surprised you have good results with Vandas.  I haven't bothered other than the small number of species that are reported to be good here (and my V ceorulea has not done well).  Do you leave it out all winter?  

Matt

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why grow orchids ? why not

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Ahem, well....

I grow literally hundreds of orchids (as in, I have between 200-300 in my collection).

I grow a lot of different genera, mainly vandaceous, phals, bulbos/cirrhos, dends, oncidium alliance, cymbidiums and Catts. But I have a smattering of other stuff too.

We are a bit too far north for them to all make it outside year round (cymbidium does easily) but I have been experimenting...I have 2 cattleyas that have been outside all year for over a year, one under the breezeway, and one hanging in a tree, and neither got any cold damage even in the 20's. One is in full bloom now!

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Matt --

That's Vanda, no 's', as in singular.  I brought it inside during the January freeze, otherwise it was outdoors all year, mostly ignored.

You should write the article, I think it would be very informative to lots of palmophiles.

I think there are lots of orchid growers in other parts of the world, but for some reason we don't see so many growing them outdoors here in Southern California.

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If you think orchids are hard to grow, try most of the larger Cymbidiums or tougher-looking Sobralia.  I have a Cymbidium hybrid (lost the tag) that I somewhat overpotted in bark and put aside in a corner, thinking I'd do something with it.  I forgot it for..  four years.  This winter, I noticed it for the first time since I "lost" it.  Not only had it survived the freeze without damage and fully exposed -- it was flowering like its life depended on it.  It had literally grown roots through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot and rooted itself firmly in the hard clay soil of the hillside.  It was nearly leaping out of the pot, and I'm not sure what to do with it given that I'll need a backhoe to get it out of the clay.

I also have a very large (15') Sobralia caloglossa that is just about to flower for the first time for me.  (I can't wait to see them and post pics.)  This thing soaks up the winter rain we get.  It doesn't mind the cold.  It is putting up a new cane at a rate of a couple inches per week.  If I don't watch out, it will take over my back yard.  I also keep a Sobralia macrantha and xantholeuca.  Both took a tiny bit of damage in the freeze but look great now and have flowered this summer.

Now, these guys are survivors.

Jason

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Cymbidiums tolerate cold quite well, most come from the cooler parts of Asia. Its heat they don't like, althought there are some "mini-cyms" that are heat toperant. There are even a few that were hybridized here in FL to bloom specifically in our heat.

I grow the regular types, the big ones that are not heat tolerant, and the only way I get mine to bloom is leave them out WHEN it frosts and freezes. They never come in. I may move them under canopy so that they don't actually get frost settling on them, but they stay out in the cold temps because they have to be chilled a certain length of time in order to set blooms. Mine have stayed out in temps as low as 20F without a problem. I also grow Phaius (Nun's Cap) in the ground under canopy, they do fine as well.

I am getting ready to actually plant all  my Cyms. Tired of juggling the pots, LOL

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Well, my turn to listen and absorb this information.Keep it coming.......because I have nothing to add! lol.... :D

Jeff

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(Jeff Searle @ Nov. 01 2007,20:52)

QUOTE
Well, my turn to listen and absorb this information.Keep it coming.......because I have nothing to add! lol.... :D

Jeff

I don't know much about them either.  The only thing that I know is the orhid from the grocery stores and HD, the ones that have leaves like lillies(don't know the scientific name) are easy.   You just give them fertilizer and water once a week.  Just grow them on a raised bed with lots of bark.

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The main problem with a lot of orchids is that they do not have nice plant form. Even though some of them have quite wonderful and long lasting blooms, their leaves and pseudobulbs leave a lot to be desired. For a great garden, more emphasis is placed on plant form, leaf color, and leaf texture since these are more permanent than floral display. This is precisely why other tropical epiphytes, such as the Bromeliads, are used in tropical gardens more often. Orchids mostly are just rotating decorations for close viewing. For gardeners in Zone 9, there still is a great selection of orchids to try outdoors: Cymbidiums, Dendrobium nobile types, Reedstem Epidendrons, Laelia anceps, Sobralias, and Zygos. There are also terrestrial orchids that can take even lower temperatures: Bletilla striata, Calanthes, Cypripediums, and Pleiones. For these hardy ones, their flowers are not as showy as their tropical cousins and they go deciduous in winter, but some do have nice leaves (such as Bletilla) and can make a very nice ground cover.

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Well for anyone who still wants to grow orchids even though Daxin has determined that they're officially not cool and won't make your garden "great"...

I've found the best resources for figuring out what's worth trying to grow to be:

-  "Growing Orchids in Your Garden" by Robert G.M. Friend.  This book has pretty comprehensive coverage of genera with information on which will grow in tropical, sub-tropical, and cooler climates.  Which are good for mounting, or terrestrial plantings etc...  The author is Australian but he makes a big effort to give specific references for dry meditteranean climates (like SoCal) and semi-tropical places like Florida.  I've found the information to be very reliable.  There are also some good cultural tips, although I have found mounting methods that work much better for me than the ones discussed in the book (I'll start a separate thread on this).

-  Santa Barbara Orchid Estates website (nullSBOE website) is also very good.  They used to have an entire section listing the orchids they grow outdoors, but they're revamping the site now.  Anyways in the description of an orchid, if it says "temperature tolerant" it's a sure bet for SoCal.

-The San Diego County Orchid society has two good lists of outdoor orchids on their website.  Outdoor orchids list and uh...damn, the expanded outdoor list seems to be unavailable now but it was really good.  Maybe they'll get it back up, the link to the expanded list is on the page that the above link takes you to.

-Andy's Orchids in Encinitas.  Their website is not very useful for figuring out what will grow outdoors in cooler climates.  But if you go there, take a BIG notepad (and a credit card).  They grow somewhere in the range of 3000 species outdoors or under shadecloth, about 80% of the species they sell are outdoor grown.  And way more than half are growing mounted on various substrates.  Andy's is religiously against hybrids...they really don't have any unless they're natural hybrids.  The place is really amazing, and Andy will load you up with tricks and advice if you ask.

The only thing that I found took some time to really get clear beyond what's in the above resources is how to figure out which hybrids are worth trying to grow.  So far this is what I've found:

-As far as I can tell basically every "Blc." (brassavola x laelia x cattleya), "Slc." (sophronitus x laelia x cattleya), "Lc." (Laelia x cattleya), "Eplc." (epidendrum x laelia x cattleya) and "Epicattleya" hybrid will do great outdoors in climates like SoCal (and probably a lot of other climates).

-I don't have any, but I think Potinara or "Pot." (brassavola x laelia x cattleya x sophronitus) are also pretty much a sure bet.

-Crosses with oncidium, miltonia, and/or brassia in them are usually good.  

-Any crosses within the Laelia genus are going to be great.  

-Obviously cymbidium hybrids and reed-stemmed epidendron hybrids are total no-brainers.  The reed stemmed epi's I think are the easiest orchid hands down and they'll bloom essentially every day of the year once you get big stand going.  I prefer the dwarf types (although I don't have any) because the bigger ones tend to fall over in all directions and look sort of messy.

Matt

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And here you go Wal...photos!

Laelia anceps mounted on a boulder with a Pritchardia affinis in the background.  An orchid grower in Hawaii said she thought these were the ugliest orchids.  I can't even fathom that thought.

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Laelia pupurata.  These are maybe nicer looking than the anceps are are very fragrant.

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A Blc. hybrid on a Ptychosperma trunk

IMG_9420.jpg

A Lc. 'star parade' (left) and Blc. 'dizac' (right).  Haven't decided where to mount these yet.  The 'dizac' is maybe my favorite orchid now.  It's on it's third bloom since march with a 4th on the way and it smells great too.

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Laelia autumnalis

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Laelia 'canariensis' a primary hybrid

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Sobralia macrantha.  A great terrestrial.  Mine is planted in pretty much non-amended soil.

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Brassia verrucosa on a Ptychosperma trunk.

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Brassavola cucullata.  An odd looking flower

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Oerstadella schweinfurthiana.  Sort of like a reed stemmed epi on steroids.  I'm pretty sure these will take full sun even in inland SoCal.

IMG_6454.jpg

Holcoglossum kimballianum

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Encyclia adenocaula

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Hi Guys

I love these plants too, they are very expensive here and the best way to get more is to swop (with other orchid lovers) and/or beg! I have a few that are really doing well.

I have noticed that most take around a year after mounting to get back into decent condition.

some pics

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Not sure???

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Now that's what I'm talkin' about. They are fab fotos to be sure. Thanks Matt and you too Dennis.

Careful folks, orchids can be addictive.

Seriously though, I would not have peeked into the world of orchids, cycads, bamboo and other tropical plants if it wasn't for PALMS, now there's a contagion of which there is no cure.

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OK I am strting to get the bug now. Matt is it too late to mount one on a tree this year. should I wait till spring ?

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(Matt in SD @ Nov. 02 2007,00:30)

QUOTE
Well for anyone who still wants to grow orchids even though Daxin has determined that they're officially not cool and won't make your garden "great"...

I never said that orchid are not cool or will not make your garden great! Orchids are special to me since I started out my gardening endeaver with them. The color and form of their flowers are truly unique and wonderful, and they belong to any great tropical garden. But when it comes to mounting orchids on palm trees, it all depends on your own goals and aesthetics. My opinion is to use more foliage plants such as bromeliads and birds-nest/staghorn ferns, and let orchids show their blooms through them. A plump and healthy pseudobulb of a Cattleya orchid will definitely give an orchid grower great joy, but your average garden visitor probably will never be as appreciative.

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(PalmsZA @ Nov. 02 2007,02:22)

QUOTE
Not sure???

Looks like a Dendrobium phalenopsis type.

Pretty!

dave

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Ah, yes, I have some orchids, too.

Many were those cool hybrids of Oncidium, etc. making the rounds at Big Orange (Home Depot) etc.

Many turned to mush in the Big Freeze, includilng E. radicans which is normally tough as nails.

However, some survived, including a bunch of Cymbidiums that I finally got around to repotting this summer.

Pics to follow, when they bloom.

Kim, what about your L. superbiens?

dave

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Sorry Daxin,

I was just ragging on you because your first post above does not have any "I think" or "in my opinion" statements but rather stated your opinions as if they were the word.  I wholly agree with your next post.  

I think most of us here are gardening for our own enjoyment more than trying to impress the neighbors.  Sure I like it when people complement me on my garden, but just cause average people don't notice the orchids out of bloom, I still like them.  One of my fascination with palms AND orchids is the tremendous diversity of form.  I have a Sobralia macrantha (mentioned above by someone), it looks like large ginger type plant, very nice tropical foliage.  I would say this plant has true landscape value.  And then there's Holcoglossum kimballianum which looks sort of like one of thoes crawling tillandsias, except with big fat roots coming out all over the place.  Definitely more of a curiosity. Sometimes even the less aesthetically pleasing growth forms are fun to have around just to illustrate the contrasts.

I have to say though that non-hardcore gardeners often at least notice my orchids and ask what they are.  It's not every day you see a nice green plant growing out of a rock.  Not sure if they find it beautiful or just different, doesn't matter much to me.

Matt

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I have that same "not sure", I will look and see if I have  tag. Its in bloom now. I wat to say "Dendrobium Blue Burma" but that may be wrong.

Now I have to dig up some photos, LOL

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This may be my favorite...at least it is right now.  Blc. sharon king 'yuki'.  The color is pretty crazy and it's the most fragrant Blc hybrid I have.  I was smelling it today from 20 feet away.  I have another one of these mounted on a palm trunk that is just starting to spike for the first time.

By the way, a lot of the Blc hybrids I have are from Akatsuka orchid gardens near Volcano on the big island.  If you're over there, it's a great place and they are serious growers/hybridizers.  Most, if not all, of the hybrids they sell are their own creations.

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I wish I had used a lot more 'IMHO's in my first post. Now here is  my orchid show:

Zygopetalum is kind of hardy with just a bit protection

Zygopetalum.jpg

Bletilla striata alba is completely hardy and easy

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Dendrobium speciosum is hardy but needs to be kept dry in winter

031703Denspeciosum.jpg

Blc. Chia Lin is strictly a greenhouse plant for me and looks wonderful with a little photo enhancement

010501BlcChiaLin.jpg

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Epicattleya Rene Marques 'Flame Thrower' is from CalOrchids in Santa Barbara, easy and getting better and better but not hardy

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My craziest orchid is Dimorphorchis loweii, greenhouse only with a tall bench

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Its top two flowers are yellow

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The other one below are red

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Dendrobium thyrsiflorum has nice clusters of flowers in winter

DendrobiumThyrsiflorum.jpg

Darwinara Blue Star is a nice Neofinetia hybrid with good fragrance

071501Darwinara.jpg

Slc. Koolau King is a mini Cattleya type with glowing flowers

Slc-KoolauKing.jpg

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Paphiopedilum Magic Lantern may be hardy in Southern CA, but does not like winter rain

071901PaphMagicLantern.jpg

This photo of a hybrid Cymbidium is even better than the real thing. Hardy and easy

021801CymRed.jpg

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Great photos Daxin.  I can't wait till my Dendrobium speciosum gets that size, but it's going to be a while.  I think a specimen sized D speciosum in bloom would stop even the most disinterested gardener in their tracks.

I really like that Epicattleya too.  Will have to try to get one of those.  

Matt

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Scores of Cymbidium suave grow around here , they have just finished flowering , and now the big seed pods are forming . These readily germinate and seedlings are common . A mate found a nice sized one while 15 m up a coconut denutting . I will be mounting it soon . Found a little one that had sprouted on the end of a Carpentaria that got blown down in the cyclone.

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Thanks for posting those pics Daxin, wonderful plants.

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I have about 30 cymbidiums that are "rescues" from friends. They are super easy. Next year I am gong to start with species dendrobiums for filling in. I am also growing virea rhododendrons.

David

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