BROMELIADS, ORCHIDS & EPIPHYTES

One of the great advantages to living in central or south Florida is the opportunity to experiment with orchids. These exotic plants are considered by many to be difficult and only suitable for experts and collectors. There are some that fit into those categories but many orchids are quite easy and do not require excess fussing. I always consider myself the ultimate lazy gardener and have naturalized many cattleyas, oncidiums and dendrobiums on the branches of open- growing rough-barked trees, which provide a perfect natural habitat. Nylon stockings or old pantyhose are perfect for attaching the orchid into the crotch of a tree. The nylon rots in about a year and the orchid should be fairly well attached by that time. I do not feed any of the orchids and have some irrigation heads on risers so that most of the orchids get watered when the sprinklers water the rest of the yard. It is fun to look up in the trees and get a surprise when an orchid comes into bloom. The only disadvantage is that they cannot be brought into the house unless you cut them. The cattleyas are the traditional corsage orchid that most people know. They often are fragrant and definitely are spectacular in bloom. Most flower only one time a year at a specific time. You could create an “orchid” tree by buying a different cattleya for each month of the year and attaching it to a suitable tree. The color range is incredible with white, yellow and purple predominating. These orchids are from the tropical Americas and enjoy a medium shade. I like the dendrobiums as another easy orchid. They come from Southeast Asia and Australia. They take brighter light than the cattleyas and go dormant during the cooler weather. Hold off on feeding and watering during the winter months. Purple and white are dominant colors. The flowers are carried on spikes and are much smaller than the cattleyas but still make a nice show. They can bloom several times a year. Oncidiums are good bloomers with yellow flowers predominating. Their airy spikes of bloom can extend for several feet above the plant. I have only the common yellow type that blooms for me in the spring. I have seen them in bloom at other times of the year but this may be a species variation. I consider the other common species a bit more challenging for the beginner. Vanda orchids originate in Southeast Asia and need full sun, hot weather and daily watering. They also benefit from frequent applications of fertilizer. My yard is too shady and the daily watering regime is too much work for me to try vandas. These plants have long exposed hanging roots and spectacular blooms. Some vandas bloom all year, which is a big plus. The hanging roots seem awkward in a hanging basket but are very effective when attached to the trunk of a water-tolerant palm in full sun. Phalaenopsis like cooler weather and usually are winter bloomers. These moth orchids have incredibly long lasting flowers with bloom spikes effective for three to four months. White is a predominant color and very effective at night. They like bright shade, constant moisture and lots of fertilizer. Many people do well with these plants, which also originate in Southeast Asia. The paphiopedilum orchids have a superficial resemblance to ladies slipper orchids up north, and are commonly called ladies slippers here. They like watering every day and medium light. The spotted leaves are quite attractive and add to their beauty. These orchids also come from Southeast Asia. This is a tiny sampling of what is available to the orchid grower. I think these plants have the same magic as roses and once hooked you will come back again and again. Botanical gardens give excellent classes on orchids from time to time. There are several orchid societies that meet monthly with programs and plant sales. The county agents office has a brochure available on orchids. There are a number of specialty books on orchids and bromeliads available at Fairchild Tropical Gardens Book Store in Coral Gables. This is one of the best horticultural bookstores in South Florida that I have found. County libraries also have books available


 Q. Will a pineapple plant get big here? How should I plant and care for it? A. Pineapple plants can be started from the tops of fruit that you buy. Cut the top off with the leaves and place in a sunny, dry spot. Pineapples like full sun and sharp draining soil. Mealybugs and nematodes are the main problems. Safer’s insecticidal soap will take care of the cotton-like mealybugs. Use organic matter in your soil to repel nematodes. Aged cypress mulch is a good choice _ mix it about 50/50 with the existing soil. Fertilize with a granular 7-3-7 fertilizer with minor elements of magnesium and iron, in March, June, October and December. Propagation is by suckers, which arise from the axils of the leaves, and slips, which occur on the stalk below the fruit. Plant in early summer for quick establishment. Space about 15 inches apart to allow for spreading. The plant is a bromeliad and may grow 18-24 inches tall. It takes about two years to get fruit. Q. How can I make my orchids bloom? They are on an east porch that receives sun until 10 a.m. They are watered and fertilized weekly with Schultz 19-31-17. What do you suggest? A. Orchids such as vandas and dendrobiums like a lot of light. Cattleyas are moderate in light requirements, and phalaenopsis want only filtered light. If the plants are not mature, they will not bloom. Q. I received an orchid as a gift. It has round pencil-like leaves and long roots hanging in a cypress wood basket. How should I care for it? A. Your orchid is probably a vanda type, which usually like almost full sun. Use orchid fertilizer about once a week, and water daily. Q. My cattleya orchid looks as if it’s going to bloom and then it doesn’t. What’s wrong? A. Try feeding your cattleya monthly with Peters 20-20-20 to encourage growth and bloom. Q. I have “airplants” and Spanish moss in my trees. Are they parasites and will they hurt the tree? A. The “airplants” in your trees are various types of bromeliads. Many of these have attractive red, yellow or blue flowers in the spring season. They grow in oak and cypress trees and are native to Florida. Bromeliads are not parasites and do not damage the oak trees. I would leave them alone. You may also have native orchids in your trees if you are lucky. Q. Can you tell me how to ship “airplants” to another state? What care to they require? A. Law protects all native “airplants” or bromeliads. They have to be collected by a commercial native plant nursery that is licensed to collect and propagate. The plants need phyto-sanitary inspection for diseases and insects before they can be shipped out of state. The rules are even tougher for export. It’s a lot of work. I suggest buying exotic bromeliads, which are showier than the natives. Look up the local telephone number for the Division of Plant Industry under Florida State of: Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Inspection agents are usually at the phone from 8-8:30 a.m. and from 4-4:30 p.m.; at other times, leave a recorded message. Call 352-372-3505 in Gainesville for inspection forms, etc. “Airplants” require high humidity and a light feeding monthly with a liquid fertilizer such as Peters 20-20-20. 


Q. Can you give me information on how to attach plants such as orchids and bromeliads to trees without nails and wire? A. Twine that naturally decays within a year does the job nicely and so will old nylon stockings or pantyhose. Tie the orchids or bromeliads into the crotch of the tree, and they will attach naturally within the year. Choose a rough-barked, open-growing tree like live oak or Lysiloma sabicu for excellent results. Palms like the date, Canary Island date and tall veitchias are good for sun loving vanda orchids. Place the orchids higher than 7 feet so they won’t be stolen. You are replicating nature and the plants seem healthier than some grown in fancy orchid houses with fungal problems. Q. Should I pot my bromeliads? A. I don’t like plants in pots and use my bromeliads as ground covers. When the pups are almost as large as the mother plant you can break them off at the base where the plants join and set them out in the soil. Potting soil for bromeliads should be light and free draining and contain a good deal of organic matter. Q. I have a `Fireball’ bromeliad. How do I care for it? A. These plants like bright light and show better color in the sun. This bromeliad grows with roots that connect to each other. You can cut off an individual or several bromeliad whorls (a circle of three or more rosettes of leaves at one node) and plant them in a clay pot with an orchid or cactus mix. Keep the plant in a morning sun location and keep the center of the cup filled with water. Q.I acquired a Vriesa splendens or flaming sword with green/pink leaves. I have located the plant where it gets no direct sunlight. The directions say to water during the rest of the growing season and keep relatively dry during the rest of the year. When is the growing season? A. Give your plant one to two hours of morning sun to restore the color to the leaves. The main growing season here is from May-October although the plant would be growing more slowly during the dry season. Water less in the November-April period. Q. My bromeliads have made babies. When do I cut them off from the mother plant? Where do I plant them? A. Bromeliads generally like shady spots although some varieties will grow in full sun. Cut the babies off when they are one third the size of the mother plant. The mother plant dies after blooming and the babies take over, forming a clump. You can leave them as a clump or cut the babies apart and plant in the ground or attach to a tree. They do well in pots. Bromeliads vary as to when they flower. I fertilize mine with a regular landscape fertilizer in March, June and October. A bloom special type fertilizer would encourage quicker flowering. They flower when they are ready to, so forcing the issue is only marginally effective. Q. Will a large staghorn fern that completely encircles the main stems of my grapefruit tree hurt the tree? A. The fern just uses the tree for support; it will not harm it in any way. If the fern were located on a smaller branch, the fern’s weight could break a branch. Q. My staghorn fern is growing on a board that has gotten too small. How do I separate it and make new boards? A. You will have to break up the plant to get it off the small board. A sterile knife is essential when propagating to minimize disease problems. Use broken off pups to start new plants. Locate the new plants in an area with filtered sun and fertilize monthly with a weak solution of Peters 20-20-20 from March to October. Why not attach the staghorn directly to a large tree with rough bark like an oak? It can grow naturally there without worry about upgrading board sizes in the future. I have young staghorn ferns on my trees and I do not do anything to them except water them if they are dry. They get nourishment from the decaying leaves collecting around them. Old banana peels are also a food source. Fern baskets can be packed with various products such as shredded tree fern stems or sphagnum moss. 

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