The solution for low production is: light control, frequent water, fertilizer and pest control.
I worked diligently to encourage the orchids to grow this year because of the very poor performance of the last three years. Until last November all 12 of the vandas died. We explored the use of soap applied to control pests. The cattleya stopped all activity and what was left were leafless vertical branches. The phalaenopsis bloomed but minimally. In the face of this discouraging result I developed a new strategy. I gathered all of the plants in a protected but bright area in the courtyard with no direct sunlight and no rain. I replumbed the area to allow a garden hose attachment. I installed a timed, directed mist water spray system and I began an aggressive fertilization program. I used a soap spray to reduce the probability of pest growth. The results were prolific beyond my expectations! All of the plants grew doubling the size of the plants with new stems and leaves. In the home courtyard there are 20 phalaenopsis and 13 cattleya orchids. Most of the season has favored the phalaenopsis species where the plants have simultaneously provided at least 145 blossoms with a maximum production of over 220 during the three months. The cattleya have been growing but less prolifically with episodic blooming from some plants yielding about 30 blooms. They may still produce for the next two months. The cover picture is a cattleya with its second yield this season.
The plants were watered with an automated misting system timed to 5 minutes on alternate days. They have been generously fertilized on alternate weeks. The first blooms came in early February and have persisted until now where I expect all to be lost in the next two to three weeks. The peak blooming period was one week before Easter (approximately March 14).
The Price of Production:
Now that the wet season has begun the watering is reduced and just in time. One plant has its first outbreak of mealy bugs (Coccoidea). These showed up on the crotons on the other side of the yard about two weeks earlier. I removed the crotons from the yard and sprayed them with an insecticidal soap. None the less here we are with an infection showing up on two of the phalaenopsis plants.
I first cut away one leaf that was highest infected and explored the specimen using the microscope. After identifying bugs accurately as mealy bugs. I treated all surfaces of the plants and the surface soil with a thorough spray of 70% alcohol.1 Orchids have succulent leaves and tolerated this treatment. After the alcohol evaporated I followed up with a spray of insecticidal soap.
Plan for next season:
I think this has been a fair trade. Pest control is necessary to counteract the high fertilizer and water schedule. The ants are attracted by the mealybugs’ sugar, therefore, lowering the bug population will lower the attraction of the ants and reduce the spread of bugs. For the summer I have reset the watering timer lowering the watering rate. This is for two reasons. The plants have recovered from their earlier experiences and are now lush. The rainy season will begin soon with humid days. I also reduced the fertilizer concentration but I keep the same schedule. The plants need to rest. This will reduce the growth of the bugs. I will continue the alcohol and soap on scheduled basis to kill any remaining bugs before and during their next hatch. For next season I will Introduce new plants into the colony including dendrobium and cattleya orchids.
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