Orchids in the Landscape- Part 2- Tree Dwellers

 Brassidium Shooting Star orchid
( an Oncidium relative)

As a kid in Milwaukee in the middle of winter in February, I remember seeing some glorious pictures of gardens in Miami, with orchids all over the trees. I thought "what a cool idea, not needing a greenhouse to grow orchids !" Now I work in a public garden in Miami where I can mount thousands of orchids at will, provided I choose the right plant for the right spot.We are lucky that we live in one of the rare areas on the continent where we can grow tree-dwellers.
Cattleya dowiana v. aurea

If you want a good reality check, travel to a northern city in the winter to see what kind of plants are available in the big-box stores. When you return to Miami, you realize anew that we have a terrific climate in which to grow so many plants. The tree-dwelling orchids ( easier to say than epiphytic orchids) are a great group of plants which can be mounted to trees or wood posts. There are literally thousands of epiphytes available to grow here, quite possibly the largest group of plants in all of horticulture. It would take 100 blogs of extreme length to cover most of them. I'll try to pare down the galaxy of tree-dwellers to a few basic groups to start with.

Cattleya trianae

Using big-box store inventories as a template,
I included photos of the common types available locally. All are good candidates for tree mounting, and can grow without a lot of care once established. All of these plants like a good sunny spot, but with a little shade from the overhead afternoon sun. The basic groups are Cattleya, Dendrobium, Vanda, and Oncidium .
Dendrobium Ise

The main things to remember about mounting orchids is to firmly affix them to a rough-bark tree
or palm with something that will hold the plants tightly without hurting the orchid or the tree. These techniques will be covered in the next episode of this blog. Once mounted to the tree, you'll need to tend to the plants every few days by watering them with a hose or rain head so the plants produce new roots. The plants also need fertilizer. You'll be surprised at how long the roots will be when the plants get established ! Some orchids conduct photosynthesis through exposed roots, which would explain why some orchids really don't do well in pots.

Fertilizing orchids is easy, but does require a few tools. My favorite choice of tools to feed orchids is a Gilmour hose end sprayer, a device you fill with water and a few tablespoons of fertilizer such as Peters 20-20-20 or Rapid-grow or a range of others. Spray the plants with liquid fertilizer every 2 or 3 weeks in the warmest months, every month in the winter. Add a few tablespoons of Epsom Salt to the fertilizer in the summer months to help keep the plants really green.Vanda orchids in particular like a lot of water and fertilizer, at least every day for watering and once a week or more for fertilizing. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how much orchids can add to your landscape, and how little care they need once established. You can have that extra-tropical look so many people dream of in your own backyard. I have a slightly larger backyard than most people do, but it' still a pleasure to work with orchids and tree dwelling plants of all kinds.
Oncidium sphacelatum

Craig Morell                                                    Pinecrest Gardens
Ascocenda Su-Fun Beauty
( Vanda relative)


  1. Craig,
    These are really very useful orchid growing tips for me as a beginner. We are living now in residential Coral Gables and your points about choosing a more sun tolerant orchide and watering/feeding schedule will be a strong guide.
    Thanks for helping me to get started!

    Best regards,
    Michael Haley

  2. Good morning Michael, I am so glad you found the blog useful. I'll be happy to coach you if you have questions. Welcome to the Gables ! There is an excellent orchid sale coming up in 10 days at the Youth Fairgrounds on Coral Way at SW 107 Avenue, the weekend of the 26th. The Tamiami Orchid Festival is a great way to find the plants and supplies you need for your garden. Let me know how I can assist you, and thanks again for reading the blog !

    Craig Morell
    Pinecrest Gardens

  3. Hi Craig,
    I just found this site but am wondering if you are still active with it? I haven't seen a post since 2013. I hope you are still there - this is an awesome way to learn what to do and not do with such great plants. I live in Treasure Island-west coast of Florida and grow my orchids outside. I do run into issues sometimes and don't know how to combat it. We are sandwiched between the Gulf and the Bay at the narrowest part of the Island and get a lot of wind, salt air and other things naturally affecting our plants. This is my biggest concern but have still been able to grow some beautiful orchids. They grow naturally in my bottle brush tree. I do hope you are still there! Thanks for helping!

    Best Regards & Many Thanks for the information,
    Dianne Mills