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Garden patch pointers

What types of orchids can be grown outside in California?

Many of the members of an orchid society grow their orchids outside in the late spring through early fall in the sunset western garden zones 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, and 24, in California.

Orchids can do very well under an orange tree where there is morning light. If the outside temperature gets below 32 degrees any flowers could be damaged so, they should be moved to a warmer area.

This member of the largest family of the flowering plant should be protected in a well-lighted patio or in a house with special conditioning. Remember, most orchid plants like temperatures above 50 degrees. They also prefer water that drains well, good light, humidity and air circulation around the plant, no matter where it is located.

There are some orchids that are easy to grow outdoors.

Reed-stemmed orchids (euepidendrum) consist of softer-textured plants that have thin, stem like pseudobulbs, and have the common name of epidendrum.

Reed-stem epidendrums do very well outside in potted containers with fir bark or other porous planting mix.

They love an abundance of morning sun and filtered midday sunlight. The roots should be kept cool. They are hardy to 28 degrees but could be killed at 22 degrees.

After the flowers bloom, cut the stems back to two or three joints (nodes) from the ground. New growth will come up from the roots or start at an exposed node.

The plant will become very leggy if you do not cut the stem back to the ground. The new hybrids have orange and red flowers; have been hybridized to be short stemmed with vibrant, larger flowers of white, pink, purple, red and as well as beautiful combination of colors. Being planted in bark or porous material, they will need liquid fertilizer (one-half strength) every other watering.

Laelia ancepts grow outdoors down to a temperature of 28 degrees, mounted on fern bark or even on pieces of orange tree limbs with spagham moss. These epiphytic orchids receive their nourishments from the air and water with light fertilizer added when new growth appears.

The flowers resemble small cattleyas with two to six lavender flowers with purple-lined yellow throats, blooming in the fall and winter. After flowering and when the new growth arrives, laelias need very little watering.

Brassavola nodosa and perrinii require the same care as the Laelia orchids.

Cymbidiums are our favorite outdoor orchids, as they do not do well in greenhouse conditions. They love morning and late afternoon sun with mid-day filtered light so that the leaves are yellow green, not dark green.

Miniature cymbidiums can stand the heat, but still love the evening cool hours. During the summer’s high heat, cymbidiums can be cooled down with five minutes of water mist about 4 p.m.

The cymbidium flower can be from 1 and a half inches across to 6 or more inches! They are long lasting with many vibrant colors.

Cymbidiums like to have their roots crowded in porous soil. Cymbidium mixes are available at the nurseries.

There are many porous planting mixes to choose from, including coconut bark and the new “Gorilla” hair that is shredded redwood.

They need a complete liquid fertilizer every two weeks from January through July and then once a month from August through December. Only when the pot is bulging, do you repot.

In May and June, divide the container using at least 3 of the pseudobulbs with their foliage in each division.

Oncidium is an easy growing orchid with many beautiful yellow flowers on a long stem. They enjoy lots of morning and late afternoon sunlight and filtered light mid-day.

When the plant is blooming, move it to a protected area. They can be mounted on bark as well as grown in a container with porous material. They love water during the flowering and growing season and a dry month after the new growth has stopped.

Oncidium sphacelatum grows spikes to three feet with numerous 1-inch yellow with brown spotted flowers in the winter and spring.

Bletilla striata or hyacinthina are readily available from seed catalogs, are inexpensive and easy to grow.

The tuber-like roots can be planted in sandy soil in a container, as the roots like to be crowded to bloom.

The grassy leaves are pale green and are now available in a variegated form. The plants like filtered sun and plenty of water in the spring and summer.

As the foliage dies back, withhold water until new growth appears in the spring (keep soil slightly moist only). The plant is hardy to 20 degrees.

You will enjoy a dozen cattleya-shaped orchids on each stem.

There are many varieties of orchids that can be grown outside in California. Visit a local orchid society.

If you see that they have an orchid show, talk to the members about orchid culture; visit the orchid society’s plant sale and the vendors who grow orchids in your area.

They usually have a potting demonstration as well.

Robert H. Schuler is the master gardener of the California Garden Club, Inc.


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