August 20, 2010

Orchid mounting techniques

Lady of the Night Orchid on a tree trunk
Growing orchids and other tree-dwelling plants adds a nice element to a landscape. In some designs, the gardens extend from below ground level ( aquatic gardens), up through the trees and even into the tree tops ( climbing plants). My interest is to educate people about the numerous options of each level of gardening, and orchids are one of my favorite groups. One thing is certain about orchids: nowhere in the world are orchids found naturally growing in pots ! Most of the flashier iconic orchids are epiphytes, growing naturally on tree or rocks in the tropics. With this in mind, we can replicate these conditions by mounting orchids onto trees or on prepared solid media like cork bark or coconut fiber logs. It is really useful to know just how your mounted orchids are supposed to grow. Some orchids need moisture and shade, such as Phalaenopsis, whereas others like very bright sunlight and occasional watering, such as Brassavolas. How do you know what conditions your plants need ? Ask an orchid society member ! They will steer you to the right information. Once you match the right plant to the right conditions, then you can begin mounting orchids.

Cattleya mounted on a palm trunk

Cork Bark pieces with wire hangers
Choose a long term material to mount orchids on such as cork bark, cypress planks, or a rough-barked tree. Steer away from Citrus trees, since they don't like being watered very much. Clean all the old potting medium off the orchid or bromeliad, and place the plant against the tree. Some experienced growers use a bungee cord to hold the plant in place while they do a proper job of tying down the plant. Nylon stockings, heavy fishing line, vinyl coated copper wire, plastic nursery tie-tape, electrical cable ties  and manila rope all make good tying materials. The important thing to remember is that you are trying to hold the plant firmly but gently against the mount without cutting into the roots or rhizomes of the plant. I've seen some growers who used stainless steel tie wire, which cuts into the orchid and the tree, with disastrous results. The secret to success is to make sure the plants are firmly against the mount without any wobble in the plant which would break the newest emerging root tips.

Dendrobium established on driftwood mount

There are myriad orchid choices for growing in the arboreal landscape here. Your local orchid society can provide great hands-on information, since the growers live nearby in most cases. Experiment with a few inexpensive plants to see how well you and your plants get along. Once you succeed, you'll have opened a new door into another level of horticulture.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

Dendrobium on buttonwood wedge

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