Sunday, May 8, 2011

Summer Camp 2011: A Process

We are having the first string of evenings with temperatures above 60 F, so it's time for many of my orchids to begin their summer vacations. I anticipate a few nights where I'll need to bring them inside due to an odd cold front or excessive rain, but the air and sun feel like it's time to start the summering process. I'll wait until it heats up before moving the Phals., but my Oncidiums, Brassavolas, and Cattleyas are in the shade house.

A lot of orchids love to be outside during the Midwest summer. The 12-16 weeks of extreme heat and humidity boosts their growth and sets the stage for their Fall and Winter flower extravaganza. At our last meeting, the fabulous leader of our Society's Beginner Group reviewed some important points about moving plants outdoors. I'm making a few modifications this year based on her suggestions and my experiences last summer.

1) First, I'm adding shade cloth on the West-facing side. I can still see last year's burn marks on my Miltassia and I'm determined to avoid a repeat scenario. On the plus side, the natural light and longer days is turning the Miltassia's leaves a lovely shade of light green.

2) I'm also making an extra effort to secure the pots to the structure instead of waiting until they blow over. I discovered last summer that a lot of my plants resent being knocked off the bench, out of their potting media, and onto wet grass. I don't know why the wildly chaotic winds and storms caught me off guard last season, especially considering that I've lived in the land of Oz, Dorothy, and Toto for almost a decade.

3) I'm going to rely less on the bench & racks and I'm going to do more mounting and hanging of the orchids. This is especially important for my Brassavolas. They had a rough 2010 summer and it took me a long time to figure out how to make them happy. B. cuculatta and B. Little Stars were healthy and carefree, but their friends (B. subulifolia, B. tuberculata, and B. nodosa) had birds or mice gnaw on their pseudobulbs, had sun-fried root, were over-watered, and generally muddled through.

For me, the secret was taking them out of their pots and mounting them on wood or cork. I did this to my Rl. David Sander (Rhy. digbyana x B. cucullata) last August and it made a massive and joyous recovery. I reasoned that the others desired liberation from their clay pots, too, and followed suit. They now require more frequent watering (spraying 1-3 times a day), but it prompts me to visit them more often and I feel like I have a better sense of their needs. One of our esteemed Orchid Society members grows his B. nodosa in South-facing sun with no shading whatsoever. I saw it last year on the Grower's Tour. It looked awesome! The trick, however, is to ease the Brassavolas into a full-sun mood, and creating that mood is a careful process that travels far into June.

4) Finally, I'm going to take better care in easing the plants into their new environment. I've been putting the large Catts outside on nice days for the past month. At first, I put them out for a few hours in the morning or afternoon. Eventually they stayed out all day when warm and partly cloudy. Now, they're getting a lot more sun.

Although the official start of summer is about six weeks away, the summering process is Now. Some plants will thrive and others will face unexpected challenges. I hope for a little luck, good watering decisions, and -- of course -- careful guidance from the four kitties.

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