Orchid Wise

Before Flowering

Preparing plants coming into flower

Once your new flower spikes have appeared it is important to look after them well.  There are lots of hazards ahead for them, and good attention to detail will pay big dividends.  Inserting a stake into the potting mix alongside each spike easily identifies where each flower spike is located.  It can also act as protection for the spike, and enables early training.  Be careful not to tie the spike too firmly at this early time.  Many spikes grow quickly, and if it is tied tightly to the support the spike will bend and sometimes they will break.

Many flower spikes start to appear during the hotter and drier periods of the season, towards the end of Summer. Make sure the plants are watered heavily in this time.  We water every day during the very hot months.

Your orchid should be watered sufficiently so that water starts running out of the bottom of the pot.  In extreme temperatures, we also water for short periods (a couple of minutes or so), every couple of hours, from 10am till 6pm, to cool the plants.

Foggers are also useful, which just produce a mist, and really don’t even wet the foliage, but provide a huge amount of cooling through humidity.  They work similarly to an evaporative air conditioner, and greatly increase the humidity around the plant.

Once the spikes appear, a blossom booster fertiliser is best used.  This contains higher levels of potassium, the K part of the NPK component of all fertilisers. Again, fertilise at a rate of about half of what is recommended by the manufacturer, but do it regularly – once per week.

The grower needs to be particularly vigilant at this time for pests.  Slugs and snails will damage new flower buds very badly and quickly if allowed to build up in significant numbers.

Cym. (Red Coral x Hazel Fay)
Cym. (Red Coral x Hazel Fay)

Many growers do not want to acknowledge that they may have rats and mice in their garden.  Unfortunately most neighbourhoods have them, and they love to eat new flower spikes, and even entire bulbs.  Be vigilant and deal with any pest problem in your own way, but stay on top if it to prevent losing your spikes before they flower.

Continually check the progress of your flower spikes.  As the buds emerge from the sheath, they are most susceptible to damage.  If possible, bring the plant out of the weather, into a dry protected flowering house. 

Keeping the buds dry helps eliminate damage to the buds.  Continually train the flower spike to assist it to present itself to best advantage.

Many plants with green or white flowers can suffer discolouration on the back of the flowers if exposed to strong light conditions.  This is referred to as staining.  Flowers with staining will be penalised by orchid judges.  Not all greens and whites stain but those that do should be placed in a darker position in the flowering house, or an umbrella structure can be constructed over them to shade the buds.

Careful attention in the lead up to flowering will help get better results from the judges.  Don’t waste your previous efforts.  Spend as much time as possible when the flowers are nearing opening.  The more you see them, the more likely you will spot a problem quickly, and be able to fix it.

Originally written and compiled by Graham Morris from the Cymbidium Orchid Club of South Australia

Edited and updated for use on this site.

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