Monday, April 11, 2022

Encyclia culture: Potting with stones, getting to the nitty-gritty with Encyclia alata



                There are four ways I use stones for potting.  The most common is as a layer on the bottom of the pot, to provide weight to make the pot more stable for orchids that produce towering, heavy inflorescences that dwarf the plant and can easily overturn it.  This also helps ensure that the mix drains well.

                Sometimes I use them in the pot to have something to hold the orchid fixed in place.  I usually do this when using coarse potting media that initially provides little stability to the plant.  In this case I tie the plant to a stone and place the stone into the mix.  “A wobbly plant is a dead plant” as my friend Jose Oliveras uses to say.   The stone provides the plant with a firm anchor until its roots can get a grip on the media.

In rare cases, I use it as potting media for particular plants that are very intolerant of any potting media that when it decays starts retaining too much water or that can be turned into slush by insects bacteria or fungi and will smother the roots by creating areas that impede the flow of air.

In the case of the Encyclia alata in the photo, the orchid is growing in side of a wire basket that has a two-inch layer of pebbles inside.  As you can se the plant has been growing for a while in the basket, slowly increasing in size.   The younger pseudobulbs are not in contact with the media, they are about two inches over it.   The roots grow toward the basket and eventually enter the media.

On occasion I have used stones to hold the orchid in an empty pot.  In these cases, the plants are attached to a single stone and there is no media in the pot.   I do this with plants that produce larger, stronger root systems if the roots are allowed to grow with no media to confine them.  I used to grow Cattleya Jose Marty “Mother’s Favorite” in this way.    

Using stones as a potting media has the disadvantage that they are heavy.  The wire basket in which Enc alata is growing weights quite a bit.  However, the heavy weight has its benefits.  This Enc alata can produce a four feet tall inflorescence, with dozens of flowers.   The weight of the stones helps balance the weight of the inflorescence.

                Because stones don’t decay, you have to provide the plant with a balanced fertilizer.   During the growing season you have to really make sure this plant is fertilized regularly or the plant will produce smaller pseudobulbs that it could.   Stones are not water retentive, so the plant has to be watered often when during its active growth phase.

                Compared with the other media I use, stones are a very minor component of my orchid growing.  But they can be useful in particular cases for plants that have specific needs.    I prefer to use smooth river pebbles.    On one or two cases I have used them to cover fibrous potting material to stop birds from stealing it.

                A final note, don’t just grab any old stone and stick it in a pot.  I prefer to use volcanic rock because they tend to be chemically inert.  Some stones will react with the acids in the media and alter the pH of the mix, some plants like this, others don’t.  Never use stones that are crumbly or might leach unwanted chemicals into the mix.  

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Encyclia culture: Mounting on wood. After a decade and two hurricanes, Encyclia Borincana

Encyclia Borincana

New growths and aerial root skirt


The spot where the orchid was originally attached.  

I like growing Encyclias attached to pieces of wood or to tree fern pieces because the plants can grow in them for a very long time with no need to repot.   This Encyclia Borincana (alata x bractecens) has been in this piece of teak for more than eight years.   The wood is teak, which is a very tough wood and it is still in good shape.  Many other woods would have been turned to slush a long time ago by insects, bacteria and fungi.   I attached this Encyclia to the wood piece some time in 2014 or 2015.   When mounting orchids, it is very, very important to make sure the plant is firmly attached to the mount, if it can wiggle it will die because the roots will never be able to achieve a firm hold.   

                I hung this plant inside an ornamental croton bush whose leaves provided light shade from the sun and a cooler, moister microclimate for the plant.  The bush was about five feet tall, the plant was four feet from the ground.   In September 7 a category 5 hurricane Irma passed very close to the island of Puerto Rico, in September 20 Maria a high end category 4 hurricane did a direct hit on the island of Puerto Rico. 

                The Encyclia, as well as other plants that were in the bush spent the hurricane outside since I was away from my garden and could not move them to a sheltered spot.   The hurricane ripped the leaves of the bush and when the skies cleared after the hurricane all the plants that were in the bush were exposed to full sun.  They burned and died.  Fortuitously, the Encyclia was covered by some fallen brush and survived.   Weeks later, when I finally was able to get back home, I rescued it and moved it to a shade house that had survived the hurricanes (the shade house was designed to do so, I will write about that in another post).

                The Encyclia has been slowly recuperating and growing larger after the damage it suffered in the hurricane.  It has developed a skirt of aerial roots.    Most of the year I don’t fertilize this plant.   Local rainfall is enough to cover its needs outside its growing season.  When it is growing I fertilize it weekly and water it several times a week, always making sure that the mount is dry before watering it again.

                As you can see in the photo, the pseudobulbs that were in the original attachment site have long ago decayed completely, but there is still an untidy mass of the remains of its dead roots.   I don’t remove them as they retain water and that makes the mount dry slower, allowing more time for the living roots to absorb the water.  I expect in the future that this plant will grow even larger and will start producing branching inflorescences. 


Encyclia Rioclarense, a hybrid of Enc. cordigera and Enc randii

Encyclia Rioclarense

This hybrid of Encyclia cordigera and Encyclia randii has adapted well to my garden.   It is grown under shade cloth that gives it protection from the sun while allowing bright to pass through.  It is grown in a pot full of coarse media composed of limestone rocks, charcoal, bark, river pebbles and Styrofoam peanuts in the bottom of the pot to improve drainage.    It is watered twice a week.   The new pseudobulb it produced under my care, is much larger than the ones it had when I purchased it.  It has produced a few flowered unbranched inflorescence.  I expect that as it gets older and have several mature pseudobulbs it will produce larger inflorescences.   

Friday, April 8, 2022

Encyclia culture: On getting plump pseudobulbs

Encyclia Rioclarense

Encyclia Rioclarense

Encyclia bractecens

              To grow Encyclia orchids to their best potential, you need to be familiar with their growing patterns in the wild.   The Encyclia that are available in the market come from tropical climates in which there are two seasons instead of the familiar four.   These seasons are the dry and the wet season.   When the year starts, plants have mature, full grown pseudobulbs that will produce flowers in the dry season.   When the wet season arrives, the plant will initiate new growths.   To get the best out of your plants you need to make sure the plant is regularly fertilized and watered when it is producing new growths.   Personally, I don’t apply fertilizer to my plants when they are not producing new pseudobulbs.

                New growths arise from the base of the newest pseudobulb, some species on occasion produce two growths from the lead pseudobulb, but this varies from species to species.    This new growth will initially elongate until the leaves are at their full length, then it will start to get fatter.   It is at this stage that I give my plants regular doses of fertilizer.  I fertilize them weekly with 20-20-20 fertilizer.  I use a teaspoon of fertilizer per gallon.   It is important not to over do the concentration of fertilizer, this might burn the new roots the plant will produce.  On plants that I know are particularly heavy feeders I put bits of very dry cow manure in tiny metal baskets over the roots so that when I water, a slight amount of organic fertilizer reaches the roots.  But never put the manure in contact with the roots or allow it to clog the pot when it decays.  Some people use small bags of slow-release fertilizer for this purpose, but I have never done this. 

                Encyclia plants like strong light but not full sun.   Some species develop a reddish tint on the leaves when it is getting the right level of light.  This is completely normal.   Deep green leaves are indicative of too little light, this will produce weak growth and the plants will not bloom.

                I pot my plants in a coarse mix of stones, bark, charcoal and bits of Styrofoam in the bottom of the pot to improve drainage.  Some species are intolerant of even the slightest stale and decayed media.  Those I cultivate in metal baskets so that the roots always have access to oxygen and that any decayed media will be washed away during baskets.   In my experience some species are intolerant of media that becomes waterlogged.  For that reason, I grow my Encyclia alata in basket of river pebbles.   Some plants I grow mounted on logs or of fern plaques.   I do this mainly for aesthetic reasons since I like the way the inflorescences and flowers are displayed when they orient in a horizontal manner or hang under the plant.

                Temperatures in my area vary little during the year.  Most of the year, temperatures go from around 75F during the night to 85F during the day.   In January and February temperatures can dip into the sixties briefly and in the height of summer it can get up to 90F.   Plants that come from cool, wet high elevation cloud forests don’t do well in my garden.

                A thing that has to be kept in mind is that different species and hybrids have different adult sizes.  Encyclia bractecens pseudobulbs, even at they largest, are much smaller than a full sized Encyclia cordigera pseudobulb.  You need to do some research to get to know your plant so you can gauge your success or lack of.     Then there is the issue that some hybrids can produce many new growths that instead of blooming produce more growths, so you end up with a large plant with a multitude of small pseudobulbs that never bloom. 

In the photos you can see the huge difference between the pseudobulbs Encyclia Rioplatense had when I brought and after one growing season under my care.   You can also see the media is coarse and the roots grow over it.  Encyclia bractecens is growing on a fern plaque.   An important final note, when the pseudobulb matures it will produce many roots at the same time, these have to be protected from snails and insects, the loss of roots can weaken a plant prevent it from growing large.  If the orchid roots are damaged or lost repeatedly, the plant can eventually die.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Encyclia alata culture, mounting a plant in a piece of wood.


Encyclia alata is a species that can produce dozens of small fragrant flowers.  In my garden in coastal Northwest Puerto Rico, it does very well growing outside.   It can handle the dry season with no complaint and is unfazed by the high temperatures of summer.   But there is a trick to growing this species successfully.  It demands media that drains freely and doesn’t get waterlogged.   I have a plant that has been growing for many years in a metal basket full of river pebbles.   The plant produced a tiny side growth.  I decided to mount the side growth when it had a number of pseudobulbs.   I mounted it in a piece of wood. in the lowest part of the mount so that it would eventually climb.  The plant took its time growing but it finally produced a larger pseudobulb.   It is very, very important to attach the plant firmly to the piece of wood, otherwise it will not be able to grab the wood with its roots.   The roots are growing upwards into the wood mount.  Note that the surface of the piece of wood is slightly rough and uneven.  The roots are following the contours of the piece of wood.  The plant is also producing aerial roots, some of my plants have long aerial roots along with the roots that are growing into their pots and mounts.   An unexpected problem is that the wood proved to be less resistant to decay than I thought.  What I will do when the wood decays too much? I will affix the plant, piece of wood and all, to a larger piece of wood and then allow the old piece to decay and fall to pieces, as the plant as the plant attaches itself to the new mount.   This plant is a few years away from blooming but once it has a larger root system its rate of growth is sure to pick up.   

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Dendrobium devonianum Paxton 1840


 I brought this Dendrobium last year.  One of the few orchids I have brought after hurricane Maria.   This plant has been delicate and lost two canes to rot during the rainy season.   However the youngest cane survived.  The cane is just a fraction of the size of the older ones it had when it arrived, but to my surprise it produced flowers.  Not many but I don't complain.   I have read Dendrobium devonianum is quite variable but I was puzzled when the flowers started opening.  To me it seems as if someone grafted the huge lip of Den, primulinum of a devonianum flower.  I have never before seen a Den, devonianum with such huge yellow dot and without purple on the distal tip of the lip.   Hopefully, next year the plant will be larger and stronger and will produce even more of this beautiful flowers.   The flowers are strongly fragrant in the afternoon.