Paul Chim reminded us how orchids grow in the wild, usually as epiphytes, an amazing adaptation. The average seedpod is approximately the size of a small pickling cucumber and contains millions of tiny seeds. The seeds are easily dispersed and may become embedded in other plants such as trees. There are no nutrients in the seeds which, for germination in their natural setting, rely on help from beneficial organisms such as specific fungi which provide sugar and other required nutrients through organic breakdown and which can remain associated with the plant throughout its lifetime. Seeds germinated in the laboratory do not require fungi as a nutrient medium provides the components required for growth. Wanting to mimic Mother Nature, Paul continues to test modifications to his already solid growing program.
He shared the steps he follows to grow exquisite orchids, many of which have been AOS prize winners. The steps and the processes he outlined as important for growing great orchids were simple and easy to understand: potting, light, roots, nutrients, and pests.
Potting / Repotting. His routine for potting / repotting plants used economical products as much as possible. He suggested soaking the plant in fresh 3% hydrogen peroxide as a way to kill microorganisms, especially viruses and fungi. He also uses Lysol wraps to clean his hands and the plant while he is working again to minimize contamination. He also will let a plant sit out for up to a week or so before placing it in the medium.
Paul reminded us to look at the roots. If you don’t know what to look for, experts can provide advice on what healthy roots look like. Paul likes Tarantula brand liquid bacterial solution as a probiotic for the roots. After repotting, Paul uses Superthrive, available at hardware stores and nurseries.
Light. This is a topic of its own, but pay attention to what you read from trusted orchid growers and reference materials. Proper quality light is essential to growing a beautiful plant.
Medium. Long a fan of coconut coir, Paul no longer uses it because it can have a high salt content or can become too acidic. He has switched to 100% bark, specifically Kellogg fir bark which is available from Alan Koch at $10 for 2 cu. ft. If your plant requires moss, there are problems with most moss available. Paul recommends only the long-fibered sphagnum moss (New Zealand) which is harder to find and expensive but very well worth it.
Nutrients. Paul uses a variety of supplements to grow his orchids. For slow release, he uses Nutricote 13-13-13. It needs to be replenished every six months but, unlike Osmocote, it is slow release even at higher temperatures. Fish emulsion is another well regarded nutrient source and is inexpensive. Chelated Iron and Zinc promotes flowering and is easy to find at most garden centers. He also works Metalosate Calcium, a foliar supplement, into his nutrition program.
Protection from pests: Paul finds that horticultural oil works well; he uses 25 tablespoons per gallon in his sprayer and said this results in a milky appearing solution.