Orchid Resources
Orchid Tips & Advice

Carmel Orchid Society members contribute to our orchid tips and advice listed below.

COS Publication: "Resources for Orchid Growers"

Read our publication Resources for Orchid Growers (previously known as "How to Find Out Anything About Orchids"). This publication includes information on orchid history, orchid plant naming, identifying species and hybrids, orchid awards, orchid reproduction/propagation/replication, lists of orchid growers, sources for orchid supplies, and much more.

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General Orchid Tips
Clay Pots
Would you like to reuse your old clay pots and have them look brand new again? Here's how. First you need a pressure washer. Use it to clean off those old pots. It will take off all the old roots and discoloration. Then run them through the dishwasher and you are all set to use them again.
- Carolyn Salmon
Want to reuse a clay or plastic pot but afraid of transmitting viruses and other cooties? First scrub the crud off the pot with a coarse plastic pot scrubber (like scotchbrite) then either:
  • Soak the pots in bleach water (a tablespoon or so per gallon) for a couple of days.
  • For clay pots only, bake in the oven at 500 degrees for an hour or so. I have not tried this, If you have let me know how it turned out.
- John OConnell
Cutting Up Safely
We've all heard that good hygiene is important in orchid growing. This practice inhibits the spread of viruses and bacterial diseases. We are advised to "flame" our tools when cutting into plants. Many of the propane torches are large and heavy when the liter tank is attached. I personally use what is called a micro torch. It is a very small, lightweight torch that fits easily into your hand. It is filled with butane so there is no heavy tank. The butane fillers are a small aerosol can normally used for butane lighters. Albertsons and Rite Aid carry them. The torches can be found at Harbor Freight in Salinas for $5.00 each.
- Carolyn Salmon
Recently, I found really nice small torches. They are culinary torches used for desserts like creme broulet and such. They can be purchased at Sur La Table in the Carmel Plaza. What a wonderful kitchen store. They had several nice dishes that could be used as decorative humidity trays as well.
- Carolyn Salmon
Harry Philips (co-owner of Andy's Orchids) recommends ditching the torch and using disposable razor blades, they are cheap and there is no chance of passing viruses on to the next plant since you just toss them after working on a plant. You can find them in the paint department of Home Depot.
- John OConnell
Orchid Names
Are you confused by all those abbreviations you see on orchid tags these days? There are so many intergeneric orchids with two or more genera in their breeding. Many times the orchid name sounds entirely different from the genera that go into its makeup. There is a website that lists the hundreds of abbreviations and multi genera it for which it stands. The site is www.orchids.mu/Glossary/Glossary_A.htm
- Carolyn Salmon

Learn more about orchid names in our publication Resources for Orchid Growers (aka "How to Find out Anything about Orchids").

Hang Your Orchid
Here is a great way to display orchids that are on mounts in a greenhouse. You can make rounds out of half inch wire mesh. Wire the two ends together forming a cylinder. The key is to use a deep sea fishing hook with the ball bearings inside. This way when you hang the round from the roof, it will spin easily for watering etc.
- Carolyn Salmon
Winter & Winter Rest
Remember slugs, snails, fungus and bacteria are thriving this time of year. So be vigilant with the bait and keeping your plants extra clean. Remember those orchids that are planted in sphagnum moss need very little water now. That moss stays wet for a very long time--three weeks in a larger pot. If your plants have moss coating the top, it is probably thriving too. This helps hold in the excess moisture . I will gently pull the moss away from the base of the plant when I can. Sometimes it appears that the moss takes over, and the orchid may die. Remember if your cym spikes are mature, protect the plant from direct rainfall. You will keep the flowers from brown spotting that way.
- Carolyn Salmon
WINTER REST: It is almost Halloween. This is the time when you give some orchids their winter rest period with little or no water. Some of these orchids may include barkeria, catasetum, cynoches, cynodes and nobile type dendrobiums. There are many orchids who in their natural habitat enjoy a bright sunny, dry winter. For many orchids you can resume watering around Valentines Day or when buds appear in the case of those dendrobiums.

How to remember which ones need a rest? One suggestion is to simply turn the pot on its side so when you water others in the greenhouse they don't get watered or move them to one section or place a color coded tag in the pot to jog your memory.

- Carolyn Salmon
Where to Buy Orchids
Tropical Orchid Farm in Maui, Hawaii is having their fall sale. You can email them off their website to request their sales catalog. I got mine in just a few days and they have great prices and some unusual orchids. Their phone is 866-572-8569. Their website is tropicalorchidfarm.com.

CS Another good sale is from J & L Orchids in Connecticut. They have an online catalog and sales flyer at 20% savings. Their website is jlorchids.com. Both of these orchid companies are very well respected and you may trust their plants. They carry orchids you will not find in the grocery store!

- Carolyn Salmon
Go to a show! Talk to the vendor, who grew the plant you are looking at, they should be able to tell you about its eventual size and it's cultural requirements.

- John OConnell
Rather recently Bill Hale has started saving many of the backbulbs he used to throw away when he was repotting all kinds of different orchids. He will place them in a small pot with pure long fiber sphagnum moss. This moss can hold the moisture necessary to sprout these bulbs, and you should see all his little babies! Soak the moss in a bowl of water for a couple of minutes and wring it out slightly. Pack it loosely in the pot leaving a little air pocket at the bottom or put in a couple styrofoam peanuts. That will work just as well. You can order this high quality moss from CalWest orchid suppliers in So. California.
- Carolyn Salmon
We have often heard from orchid growers about water quality in relation to successful orchid cultivation. If you have a small collection inside your home and you don't want to get too fancy get a Brita or similar filter. Use this filtered water to care for those windowsill plants. They will appreciate it with healthier green growth and blooms.

All this wonderful rain water is great for your orchids. Collect it while it is still available. Those orchids planted in sphagnum moss and those that normally live at higher elevation appreciate it the most.

- Carolyn Salmon
How to improve your water starts with what is in your tap water. If you get your water from California American Water your water quality report is here notice "total dissolved solids" on page 5 and calcium, sodium, and total hardness on page 6. The bottom line, this water is hard! Ideally you should collect rain water, buy an RO system, or buy RO water at the supermarket. If you must use tap water, be sure to thoroughly flush your pots when watering to avoid the salt buildup, and avoid plants that are touchy about their water.

- John OConnell
Most of our orchids love higher humidity levels that range between 60 and 80%. Our homes experience lowered humidity during the winter, caused by artificial heating and those cold sunny days when humidity is very low. You still can bring cymbidiums inside to enjoy their blooms. I just take them back outside every few days to get lots of fresh air.

There are lots of creative ways to provide extra humidity. Water containers in whatever form will do the trick. I even use a bundt cake pan for an extra special plant. That way the orchid is surrounded by a moat! Some of us have continued to keep our masdevallias and zygos outside, even during the cold spell. I tried taking some back into the greenhouse and they started dropping leaves. They really thrive on the constant fresh air movement and don't seem to mind the cold.

- Carolyn Salmon
Potting Mix
Be sure to soak your bark mix for a few hours before repotting your orchids. This will hydrate the bark and it will hold water more effectively. 

Most of the orchids we cultivate are epiphytes or lithophytes, meaning they grow hanging onto tree limbs or on the surface of rocks. The potting mix is really just anchoring the roots in place, not feeding the plant like soil does for terrestrial plants. Quality fir bark is getting more expensive and harder to find, so some of us are experimenting with mixes that use little or no bark. Such products include perlite, charcoal, small lava rock, horticultural rock wool, tree fern fiber, coconut husks, Dyno-Rock that comes from riverbeds in Australia and other man-made ceramic rock materials. These products do not breakdown like bark does and help oxygen and moisture surround an orchid's root structure. New Zealand sphagnum moss is another popular medium for orchids that like moisture, but it must be kept fresh as it will eventually go stale. Some orchids love this moss like phalinopsis, draculas and masdevallias. They show their preference for this mix in robust root growth.
- Carolyn Salmon
Coconut husks are an attractive alternative to bark, they are more environmentally friendly and hold more water than bark. But careful, too much coconut husk in a mix results in a very heavy wet mix that will rot the roots right off your plants. So mix with charcoal, or clay pellets (like aroflore) to lighten it up.
- John OConnell
October and November are two of the best months to repot Cattleya type orchids. New roots have usually emerged from the new growths and may be two or three inches long. In their natural habitat, they emerge to take advantage of the coming rainy season. These roots will go down into your new mix and your orchid has a better chance of success. Keep that cattleya mix really open with medium bark, maybe a little perlite and a little horticultural charcoal will keep the water sweeter as it absorbs toxins.
- Carolyn Salmon
The repotting rule of thumb, only repot a plant when it is starting active growth. Early summer for Phalaopsis, winter for Plurothallids, fall for Cattleyas, spring for Lycastes, etc. The exception is if a plant is in distress and it appears that the mix is rotting then an immediate repotting will give the plant its best chance for success.
- John OConnell
Yellow Leaves
Are your leaves looking a little yellow? Try watering your plants using some epsom salts at the rate of one teaspoon to the gallon. Your plants may be experiencing a magnesium deficiency rather than an iron deficiency. This process can be repeated every few months.
- Carolyn Salmon
I want to highlight a couple tips given to us by Derik Wenzler. This time of year we tend to get more yellowing leaves and black spots on our orchids as the cool, moist conditions foster bacterial and fungal infections on orchid leaves. Derek suggested including some soft soap like Ivory liquid in your watering solution. If you use a fertilizer proportioner, he suggested one half cup in your five gallon bucket. This application will keep your plants clean, and keep those black spots from developing so easily. Remember to cut back on any fertilizer and water in general this time of year. Water in the morning only to avoid condensation of your plants when the temperature drops after sunset.
- Carolyn Salmon
Green Tea
This next tip is for plants in general, not just orchids. I went into a small shop at the Crossroads and was immediately drawn to a beautiful, large springerli fern. For many of us, this is a difficult fern to keep alive and beautiful over time. The shopkeeper got his tip from a little old lady. He gives his plants a cup of cold green tea each week. He swore to its effectiveness for maintaining healthy plants.
- Carolyn Salmon
When you read about orchids that are lithophytes, it means they grow on rocks. Since we are not growing them that way, you can add a little dolomite lime to your mix and they would like it. Paphs like a little lime also.
- Carolyn Salmon
New Growth
You can encourage multiple new growths on orchids such as cattleys. The pseudobulbs have two dormant eyes at the base, but usually only the eyes on the last new growth sprout the next growths. You can take a sterilized tool and partially cut through the rhizome between the various pseudobulbs. This procedure may activate some of those dormant eyes.
- Carolyn Salmon
Tips on Specific Orchid Types
This time of year, many of those new growths have matured on your cattleyas. That sheath that surrounds the psuedobulbs begins to dry and turn white. It is a good idea to remove that sheath and expose the psuedobulb. Often, mealy bugs will be hiding in them.
- Carolyn Salmon
More and more of the cattleyas are starting to form flowers. Some appear to have very thick sheaths. What you'll find is that there is a double layer of tissue. It you'd like to assist the bud formation you can clip the very top and peel off the outer sheath. You can do this same procedure if the sheath is looking a little dry. Sometimes the buds will form anyway.
- Carolyn Salmon
Those outer leaves on your miltonias eventually yellow and fall off. They tend to leave a little brown, dry remnant at the base of the psuedobulbs. Miltonias, in particular, like to rot. It is very important to peel away the brown stuff and keep the base of those psuedobulbs clean. If it is stubborn, split the old leaf in two at the top and peel away in sections. Use this same splitting technique when removing old leaves from paphs and phrags because they are so tough to remove otherwise.
- Carolyn Salmon
Remember some cattleya species put out roots on the new growth after the bloom, around Oct or November. That is the time to repot using medium bark and some foam peanuts in the bottom. There is as good website to learn more about cattleyas. It contains approximately 25 articles on various cattleya species as they appeared in Orchids magazine. All were written by A. A. Chadwick of Chadwick Orchids. The website is: www.chadwickorchids.com. A second website that is worth looking at is www.jborchids.com. They have good culture articles on some of the most popular orchids like cattleya, dendrobiums,phalonopsis and papheopedilums.
- Carolyn Salmon
Cymbidiums + Fall Prep
Many of our members grow cymbidiums and zygopetalums so successfully because of our favorable climate. I found a website with several extensive articles on both the orchids. Articles include repotting and dividing, culture, easy to build benches and shade houses, grooming for a show, even growing these orchids just out of the flask.
- Carolyn Salmon
Not ready to repot, but have cymbidiums with several dormant backbulbs? Gently twist some of the healthiest looking bulbs to break them away from the underlying rhizome. This will tell the dormant eyes on the bulb to sprout new green leaves. Many growers use this technique because it saves time and space. If the bulb never sprouts, you can throw it away. The other option is to place groups of two or three bulb groups in a separate pot to sprout when dividing your larger cymbidiums. You may even speed this process by putting backbulbs in a plastic bag in an egg carton to keep them upright while they sprout. Some will add a small amount of moist vermiculite to the bag for the bulb to set in. You want the bulb upright so the new growth points upwards as you replant the bulb in new bark. It can take a few months for some bulbs to sprout, so don't give up too soon!
- Carolyn Salmon
I hope the month of June finds many of you have finished repotting your cymbidiums. The rush is on because most cymbidiums set their buds in August and the new growths need as much time as possible to mature for the winter bloom cycle. You don’t have to throw away the dormant bulbs either. If one is stuck in between live growths and is awkward to remove, don't. You can choose to repot those bulbs to see if they will sprout in 2-3 months. You could encourage them further by putting them in a plastic bag with slightly moist vermiculite and put them on top of the frig for warmth. Use an egg carton to sit them upright so the new sprouts don't grow sideways or downward. To save time, space and labeling you can twist the bulb loose from the underlying rhizome and leave it in the original pot with the Mother plant. If it sprouts, then you can decide to place it in a new pot or not. Feed with lots of nitrogen now through the end of September. Saving the biggest baddest cymbidiums for last? Bill Hale tells me of an "old time" grower who" would clean up those huge cymbidiums, but let them set outside the new pot for an extra day to let them dry out a little. Maybe that would cut down on theat bulb or new growth rot they sometimes get.
- Carolyn Salmon

Fall Prep

In the late fall cymbidiums start to spike. Begin staking those spikes up early for upright growth. Keep them out of the rain if possible as the buds expose themselves to prevent that blight. You can wrap cotton around the spike below the buds to protect them from slug damage. If you have a spike growing sideways, you can use pieces or whole wine corks at the base to begin forcing them into a more upright position.
- Carolyn Salmon
If you live on the peninsula, you may wonder when summer is coming, but the plants and trees are telling us that fall is in the air. If we have a cool Sept and Oct, you will want to cut down or eliminate the nitrogen in your fertilizer for your cymbidiums. Time to switch to a bloom booster fertilizer like 0-10-10. If we get a long heat wave, you can try and get some more growth out of them before spiking begins. Check the cyms now though. I have 2 or 3 showing spikes already.
- Carolyn Salmon
Our nighttime temperatures will start to cool off now too as we have lost 2 hrs of daylight. For those of you with greenhouses, don't turn on the heat too soon. Those cool nights may stress out your plants a little bit. That can be a good thing as it will trigger some plants to put up spikes, especially the phalenopsis orchids. Right now my peninsula greenhouse is going down to 54 degrees at night. At about 48 degrees, I will have to turn the heat on. There will be some sticker shock if you use a natural gas heater this winter. Natural gas prices are already up 140% over this time last year. Katrina has crippled production, so they are predicted to go higher this winter. Fortunately there are many cool growing orchids like cymbidiums that can stay outside and take the cold. There are some successful orchid growers in our society who" have unheated greenhouses year round. So it can be done without supplemental heat if necessary.
- Carolyn Salmon
Masdevallias Yellow Leaves
Some of the leaves on my masdevallias are yellowing or drying up this time of year. Be sure to remove those regularly. You will prevent further leaf drop, as masdevallias are particularly fussy about being kept clean. Miltonias like to be kept clean as well, or they like to rot. Those little brown leaf parts around the pseudobulbs should be removed regularly as well. I also cut off the bud sheaths and stems from my cattleyas because I see that water gets trapped in there where rot can occur. To summarize, take extra care with plant hygiene this time of year.
- Carolyn Salmon
Have you ever had a masdevallia commit suicide. The plant will look okay one day and literally the next day or two, you will see a circle of leaves around the plant and it looks very dead...I've read that you can literally pour hydrogen peroxide from the bottle directly on the base of the masdevallia. This may avert it's planned suicide. Don't put the hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle. It's exposure to air and light will change it to water before you get to use it since it is H2O2.
- Carolyn Salmon
This time of year (Fall) you can put your phalaenopsis orchids out in the garage for the nights for about two weeks running. They need that cool-down at night usually to trigger new spikes. The day-night temperatures don't usually fluctuate enough to inspire the next blooms.
- Carolyn Salmon
Attention pleurothallid lovers. I found a grower in Canby, Oregon who" sells draculas, masdevallias and pleurothallis. Good prices. My plants arrived today in perfect shape, real nice size, super fast shipping and they even included a gift plant!
- Carolyn Salmon
Orchid Pests / Pest Control
General Orchid Pest Control
Try Orange Guard for safe and effective pest control. Its active ingredient is the extract or the orange rind and is safe to use in the kitchen. However dilute the solution to one part Orange Guard to three parts water. Careful with the blooms as this is still a solvent!
- Carolyn Salmon
In my greenhouse I am hunting down those pesky mealybugs, and I am not being organic about it either! They seem to be pretty immune to all the non-toxic remedies. I did take the lazy way out though. Since Malathion is the least toxic to humans, I bought the concentrate in the bottle that attaches directly to the end of your hose. No mixing, no fuss. I plan to repeat the application two more times at ten day intervals. I did find a good, five-page article on pest control at the Canadian Orchid Congress.
- Carolyn Salmon
Mealy Bugs
I have noticed that fall is a particularly bad time for mealy bug. They are hiding in those places you can't always notice. When you bring blooming plants inside the house from the greenhouse or outside, they multiply that much faster. I still use straight isopropyl alcohol either in a spray bottle, Q-tip or syringe to control them. Don't spray your blooms. Carefully use a Q-tip, or you will damage the flower. Sharon Ashton suggests using a syringe to apply the alcohol deep inside the leaves. Great idea!
- Carolyn Salmon
Snails & Slugs
Here is a tip from Ida Hale. Pretty soon those cattleyas will be blooming en masse. If your growing area is subject to slugs and snails, place a cotton ball on the stem below the first flower. Wrap it there so it stays. Those critters won't crawl over it to munch on your hard earned flowers.
- Carolyn Salmon
Most cymbidiums have a slug or two living deep within the pot feeding on the new root tips. They typically crawl up through the drainage holes. When you repot this spring, consider lining the bottom portion of the pot with fiberglass window screening to effectively protect the drainage holes from slug incursions. You may find this window screening at Orchard Supply Hardware by the foot or in prepackaged rolls.
- Carolyn Salmon
You can bring your cymbidiums that are in bud or bloom inside the house to enjoy. There is usually a slug or two inside the mix, and they will sometimes go exploring during the night hours. One trick I learned by accident is to spray the top mix in the pot with Raid a day or so before you bring the cym inside. When the slug comes into contact with the Raid residue they die. They did that once all over my family room floor---very messy, so outside is best!
- Carolyn Salmon
*DISCLAIMER* Accumulated Orchid Wisdom

Carmel Orchid Society members contribute to and accumulate the orchid tips & advice listed above.

Orchid people love to talk about orchid culture, how they grow a particular plant, how do you get rid of (insert pests name), and don't even get some people started on the topic of fertilizers. In the distant past you got this information 1st hand from talking to people or reading books and magazines. Talking to people is still an excellent way to get this information, but the Internet has largely eclipsed the printed word. So these pages are our way to try to distribute our accumulated wisdom of what works here in the Monterey area. Just remember advice, like politics, is local. What works indoors in the Midwest won't work outdoors in southern Florida or California. Your local conditions, climate, growing situation, experience, and temperament will effect the advice you get, or give. So with the disclaimer out of the way.... please enjoy our Orchid Tips & Advice!

Quick Links
Suggested Reading

  • Orchid Fever by Eric Hansen
  • The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean
  • Vandas: Their Botany, History, and Culture by Martin R. Motes
  • Orchid Pests and Diseases by American Orchid Society
  • An Orchidist’s Lexicon published by The Oregon Orchid Society
  • The Classic Cattleyas by A.A. Chadwick and Arthur E. Chadwick
  • Tropical Slipper Orchids - Paphiopedilum and Phragmipedium Species and Hybrids by Harold Koopowitz
  • A Bay Area Guide to Orchids and their Culture by Mary E. Gerritsen
  • The Orchid Whisperer: Expert Secrets for Growing Beautiful Orchids by Bruce Rogers
  • Dendrobium and its relatives by Bill Lavarack, Wayne Harris, Geoff Stocker
  • Masdevallias: Gems of the Orchid World by Mary E. Gerritsen & Ron Parsons
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We welcome your tips, tricks, links, etc. on all things orchids! Email John to tell the world how you grow.

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