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Nanna Orchids, Beasties and Back bulbs. 

It would be lovely to go just one week without an email or phone call asking why has my Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis) dropped its buds or more commonly just died!

In an era of fast food, fast reality TV and instant gratification Phallies seem to be the fast food of the orchid world.

They turn up in Florists, boutique nurseries, giant chain supermarkets and even the mega hardware chains. Unfortunately for many they are their first orchid and probably their last.

Please don’t misunderstand me, they are glorious to behold, large showy and extremely long lasting. They last far far longer than a bunch of cut blooms and look so elegant on coffee tables and new white bathrooms.

Many green thumbs regularly boast that it has been in bloom for 12 or more months and many even re bloom them regularly. But for the average Joe in an average home in an average suburb and more so down south they usually lead to disappointment.

Hence the phone calls that so punctuate our busy nursery days.

As a gift I can’t think of a better plant. Competively priced, and oh so sophisticated. But for plant lovers who feel confident with their horticultural skills it’s all so very simple. It’s a tropical, fleshy, humidity loving orchid that grows far far north from where the rest of us live.

Tears and tantrums are frequent when the advice to throw it out is given. But it was a gift for our anniversary. They are coming around next week and I’ve killed it!

Just after Christmas we were receiving a phone call a day about Phallies and enough was enough. We were starting to say “Did you buy it from us?” No, so why call us? As politely as we could.  Trying to get the right advice from a mega store is like arguing with a bank.

So here it is right on the chin. They are in my opinion a disposable orchid pot plant. When it starts to fade, drop buds or go limp and flaccid turf it out. The second option is to cut the flowering stem (Raceme) two to three nodes from the base with a very sharp quick cut. A node is the bamboo knuckle like ring on the flower stem. Around half the time these may re- sprout with another flower stem. This takes many months to mature but at least you will have a fresh flower. The right condition for a long lasting and happy Phally is a centrally heated home with bright large windows and a breezy environment. Modern apartments in the city are suited. They love humidity so a cheap atomiser or spray bottle and a simple mist whenever possible over the leaves but not the blooms. Keep the compost just moist and watch the leaves don’t go too floppy.

We sell out of our Phallies every week but advise each and every customer to understand that they are in most cases a replacement for a short lived bunch of flowers.

Further north, such as Brisbane and the Gold coast I’m sure they would thrive (as would we all) but Cairns tips the other way with just too much humidity and associated fungal and bacterial problems.

In summery they ARE the world’s favourite orchid but with a catch!

Cymbidiums are now showing racemes (spikes) for 2011 and here in Melbourne it looks like a bumper of a season ahead. A near record cool summer and colder January and February nights have initiated the spikes well. In South Australia Moss Brae from Sims Orchids has predicted an above average season as has Graham Guest from Guests Orchids.  Cool nights below 15.c have been the key.

In Sydney Keith Wallace has predicted and very very good season.

The word is that if you don’t get good spiking this year’s it’s time to look at your orchid culture to see how you can improve. Remember a bleached lemon coloured foliaged Cymbidium often blooms far better than a deep green foliage one.  It’s always the older “Nanna Orchids” that bloom like crazy in garden situations. Cymbidium lowianum, grandiflorum and traceyanum bloom so easily even with neglect. The older Cymbidium variates seem so much hardier than the modern cabbages.

It’s so important to stake your Cymbidium. This prevents them arching over so low that slugs and snails can travel up the stems to reach the blooms. Staking also makes the orchid more transportable so you can bring it inside. A simple fresh green bamboo stake and a little plastic coated wire works well. The trick is knowing when to pull up the raceme. Too soon and it may break.  Too late and the blooms with be upside down as they set in place. Peeling of the soft papery protective sheath from the raceme stops “Beasties” such as slugs, slaters and millipedes hiding close to the blooms. It also stops water holding in the sheaths and eventually causing rots.

The greatest problem occurs when tiny sluglings nibble at the young Cymbidium raceme. This causes scarring that weakens the spike. When it is pulled up, it inevitably cracks and breaks causing a rush of foul language to be heard by the neighbours! Another year’s work down the drain.

Another thing I have noticed lately is customers asking to buy Cymbidium Bulbs. Once open a time we all propagated Cymbidiums by back bulbs. These were removed from the orchid, cleaned and dehusked and then placed in a plastic bag with a little damp sphagnum. After three to four months they were well rooted and ready to plant with an all new growth shooting away. The method still works well and we apply it to our best orchids and sell as a piece of the original as opposed to a Mericlone.

Back bulbs though are a sign that not all is well, I’m afraid. The defoliation is usually a sign that the root system is rotting or the orchid is starved of nutrient. Transportable nutrients are being moved from the older region of the orchid up to the front when the new growth is occurring. This causes the foliage to drop just like an autumn leaf!

If you have backbulbs check the roots and apply a balanced orchid food with calcium such as Peters Hi K. If you prefer organic styled orchid food remember that it only works well during the warmer months when microbial action breaks down the more complicated Ammonias to more plant friendly forms of nitrogen. If not toxic reactions occur.

A yearly drench of Limestone powder and water seems to help also. About 2 teaspoons per ten litres.

It is normal in autumn to have moderate leaf drop so don’t panic and start overfeeding.

Another great tip is to have a rock of some sort in your potting media. This tops your orchids rolling down the veranda next wind storm. Even a half brick in the bottom of larger orchid helps.

After a summer of floods in Sth East Queensland and Northern Victoria, Cyclones in north east Queensland and fires in Western Australia it has been an infamous summer.

A good customer lost all his orchids in Grantham and heaven help those around Mission beach and Cardwell. I worry for all the magnificent colonies of orchids behind Tully and on Mount Bartle Frere and Mount Spec.

I would be interested to hear from those whose orchids suffered from these misadventures so we can share your experiences. It may help those who may incur similar troubles in the future.
















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