Welcome to the AOS Beginner's Newsletter. We will be sending you monthly tips on how to grow orchids and help you get them to bloom again. In addition to the information presented here, we invite you to visit the AOS website at www.aos.org and check out the information found under ORCHID INFORMATION > ORCHID BASICS.

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Dancing Ladies
 Oncidium and its Hybrids

While phalaenopsis, with their arching sprays of flowers in a line, are elegant and cattleyas, particularly the large, corsage-types, are flamboyant, oncidiums are fun. Oncidiums come in many forms and, as a result, go by various nicknames: Spider Orchids, Pansy Orchids, Dancing Ladies. An entire group of oncidiums, technically brassias, are pale green with very dark, almost black, spots on very long petals giving them a distinctly spider-like appearance. These, along with a few other oncidiums and their hybrids are pendulous, like the classic phalaenopsis. Miltonias are remarkable in their pansy-like appearance. Yellow oncidiums with large lips are called "dancing ladies" because the lips resemble skirts. Commonly available oncidium hybrids have many small to medium sized flowers in a wide range of colors, emphasizing yellows, browns and reds. Most of these are held erect on branching stems. And they tend to have lots of long-lasting flowers.

The diversity of oncidiums can be overwhelming, ranging from warm to cold growing, requiring high to low light, and some, fortunately few, requiring special care in watering. While most Oncidium hybrids are very tolerant of conditions, the species are not. Tolumnias require precise care, particularly with respect to watering, while miltonias can be finicky about light and humidity. I will not address any of these here. Rather, I'll stick to the basic requirements which apply to the widest range of plants. I will focus on the kinds of oncidiums which are easy and which are commonly available. As your acquaintance with these splendid plants grows, you will want to explore some of the more uncommon, but often extravagantly beautiful, ones.

Basic Care
Oncidiums are generally tolerant of an amazing range of growing conditions and treatment. They want treatment which is easy to provide in the greenhouse or average home.

Temperature
Almost all commonly available oncidiums will do well in intermediate temperatures--that is above 60 F at night and below 80º F during the day. Night temperatures of 55º F and day temperatures of 85 F will be fine for most plants. If the day temperature goes above 85º F, increase humidity and air movement.

Light
Almost all commonly available oncidiums will do well in bright, diffused light. Hold your hand 18 inches above the plants: if you see a very distinct outline of your hand, it may be too bright. If you cannot tell that you are holding your hand above the plant, it may be too dim. Plants with very thick leaves will want more light and plants with very thin leaves will want less. None of them will do well in direct sunlight.

Water
When you water, pour it on. Then, let the plant mix dry out to halfway through the pot before watering again. A sharpened wood pencil, pushed gently down into the pot can be a good indicator: the shaved wood will darken if there is water so you can see how far down it has dried out. Thick rooted oncidiums will need less watering than thin rooted — but this "pencil test" will work well enough. Water less often in winter, when temperatures are cooler and light is less intense. If you are not sure the plant needs water, hold back.

Oncidium Sharry Baby 'Sweet Fragrance' AM/AOS may not just be the all-time favorite oncidium hybrid, but certainly ranks among the most popular and commercially successful orchids of all time. It's "baking cookie" aroma has made a winner.

Humidity
Orchids, as a group, like humidity — oncidiums are no exception. Try to keep your growing area between 30 and 60 percent relative humidity. A cheap humidity gauge will be a help. If the humidity goes too low, put your plants on on trays or saucers of gravel or pebbles and water. The pot is placed on the pebbles above the water line so the base of the pot is not immersed in water. If the humidity level goes high, increase ventilation. Air movement is good in general for oncidiums but only if the air temperature is right — don't let a cold blast hit the plants directly.

Fertilizer
Give your plants fertilizer when they are actively growing. Liquid plant foods, approximately 20-20-20 in formulation will be fine. The amount of fertilizer needed by orchids is surprisingly low — use less than half of the recommended dose and fertilize with every other watering. In the most active growing periods, increase the fertilizer to three out of four waterings. In the winter, once a month will be fine.

Repot oncidiums when the plant fills the pot. Do this in the spring, when you see new growth. The potting mix can be almost anything but not dirt. Potting mixes for orchids, usually composed of bark with other additions, can be purchased in most nurseries. For fine roots, use a finer mix; for thick roots use a coarser mix. Learn how the mixture retains water (using the pencil method or one's finger) and adjust watering to the mixture. Repotting is easy — take the plant gently out of the old pot, gently remove loose mix, put the plant on a mound of mix in the new pot and fill in around the plant. The plant should be firmly in the pot and stand on its own.

Bllra. Diana Dunn 'Newberry' Tolu. Popoki 'orchidworks.com' HCC/AOS Onc. My Quest 'Belle Glade' HCC/AOS Mtssa. Pelican Lake 'Everglades' AM/AOS

Grow with your orchids
The possibilities in color, size, and cultural requirements for oncidiums will allow you to pick and choose what you like as you gain in experience. Well established plants available at big-box outlets will be rewarding as you move toward more demanding (often species) orchids. Attend a local orchid society meeting — oncidiums are commonly grown all over the place. You'll be able to see what is growing well under your conditions and you will probably be amazed.

Greg Truex
AOS Education Committee

 


New Editor

With this edition of the Beginner's Newsletter I turn over the editorial duties to Greg Truex of Southern California. Greg is an AOS judge and experienced orchid grower and is sure to offer a unique point of view of the information the new orchid grower needs to know.

It has been fun writing new material and editing some old essays for the past two years. Kathy Figiel was a great help in selecting several of Mary McQuerry's articles and supplying interesting factoids for the first few newsletters. We covered a lot of basic information so if you missed any issues, you can find them archived here.

If these newsletters have been helpful enough for you to succeed in reblooming one, or a few orchids, and you have succumbed to the temptation to buy another, I encourage you to join the American Orchid Society. I joined our local affiliated society and started building my first serious orchid collection in 1981. There has never been a time in the past thirty years when I have not been a member of the AOS. As an orchid hobbyist, the AOS represents far more than just a magazine, although I must say that recent issues have been getting rave reviews. The organization's long history of accurate orchid education needs to continue. Through the committees, selfless volunteers support the AOS mission of education, conservation and research. For me, that is something I have to support because in the long run, it benefits me and the planet I live on. For the cost of a couple movie tickets and popcorn, or dinner out, I do something that makes me feel good about this hobby that has given so much to me. With the cost of a throwaway magazine at the airport costing as much as a single issue of Orchids, the value of membership is cheap in today's world. Add in the nursery discounts, reciprocal garden admissions and website membership content and AOS membership looks like the deal of the decade. So don't put it off any longer... click here and join the AOS now!

Greg Allikas
Chair AOS Publications Committee

Orchid Photo of the Week

Do your friends and family tell you how beautiful your photos of your orchids are? Do you think they deserve recognition? Do you have what it takes to go up against the very best? Then maybe it's time for you to submit something to " Photo of the Week" it your best shot!

Each week one image from the Flickr® group, Orchid Photo of the Week, will be featured on the website homepage of the AOS. The very best will be selected for a feature in Orchids magazine. Be sure to read the complete instructions here. And remember, we are looking for the cream of the crop of orchid photography. So fire up your digital camera and get shooting!


Join the AOS today and get twelve great issues of our magazine, packed with breathtaking color photography and enlightening and informative articles written by orchid experts from around the world. PLUS you get our Membership Newsletter and members-only website content like Orchids A to Z and select magazine article reprints. If you love orchids, you can't not be a member!

ORCHIDS magazine upcoming features...

Tolumnia bahamense THIS MONTH
º Two native orchids in Georgia
º Spotlight on reintroducing Tolumnia bahamense
º Orchids in a cave; AOS visits Bird's Botanicals

left: Tolumnia bahamense photographed in a State Park, Martin Co., Florida

SEPTEMBER
º Orchids at the Philadelphia Flower Show
º Phragmipedium richteri and Its Hybrids
º Collector�s Item: Pleurothallis pectinata

 

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