Terrestrial Culture – December & January

The following two articles are from the December 2019 NOSSA Journal. Written by Les Nesbitt, they cover the months of December and January.

Terrestrial Culture – December

A few late orchids such as Diuris drummondii may still have green leaves and flowers so will need watering every couple of days. Most terrestrials will have died down by now on the Adelaide Plain. Watering consists of a quick squirt with the hose once a week to moisten the top 1 cm to prevent tubers shrivelling. A small terrestrial collection of pots can be moved to a cooler place out of direct sun under a bench or to the south side of the house. A large collection must stay on the benches so extra shadecloth is added for the summer.

Repotting is in full swing now. Keep a stock of the required materials on hand including sand, soil, native potting mix, clay, blood & bone, chopped sheoak needles, smashed and sieved gum leaves pots labels, shadecloth squares for crocking, pencils to write on plastic, sieve and bowl, watering can & shadehouse benching. A system for washing and sterilizing pots before reuse is essential to control disease and virus.

Pots dry out quickly in hot windy weather. Water a day or two before repotting so that the potting mix is just moist. If too dry dust will be a problem and tubers can be damaged by hard lumps of mix. Too wet and the mix sticks to the tubers and clogs the sieve. The ideal is a mix that is easy to work when separating wet pots take tubers from mix. It helps to move some pots under cover in case of rain. Wet pots take several days to dry out which can hold up repotting. Alternatively, a sheet of plastic over the pots when rain is forecast will shed the water but remember to weigh it down with bricks or it will blow away.

Pick out the tubers and put them in a kitchen sieve sitting in a container of water. Use a jet of water to wash the tubers clean and spread them on a towel to dry. Discard any tubers that are soft or have turned black. If the tubers are healthy, firm and a pale colour the mix can be reused. Colony type tubers should have at least doubled in number since last year. Add half fresh mix to the old mix and add a big pinch of blood & bone fertilizer. Should the old mix be dark in colour, or the tubers not be healthy looking then throw out the old mix and pot up in new mix.

Select the pot size, place a shadecloth square in the pot to retain the mix when it dries out. Fill the pot with mix to about 2cm from the top. Select the largest tubers for a show pot and push them into the mix with the shoot on top. The small tubers can be potted in another pot to grow bigger next year. Cover the tubers with more mix and almost fill the pot. Firm the mix down with your hand or use the bottom of an empty pot. Cover the surface with chopped sheoak needles. Write out a label with the name of the orchid and the provenance,
if known. On the back of the label note the number of tubers and the date planted. Water the pot gently so as to not disturb the needles. This helps settle the soil around the tubers and makes subsequent watering easier. Put the finished pots back in the shadehouse to await the next growing season.

Send off your tuber bank order before Christmas or you might miss out on your choices. The tuber bank is a great way to increase your terrestrial collection.*

*Tubers are sold only to financial members

Terrestrial Culture – January

Start watering the blue tag pots in January. Pots of orchids from the East Coast of Australia where it rains in Summer are given a blue tag as the culture is different compared to local terrestrial orchids. This early shooting group includes most cauline greenhoods, Pterostylis baptistii and Corybas hispidus. Local South Australian tubers can be kept completely dry until at least mid-February if pots are shaded.

When your tuber bank order arrives, pot up the tubers straight away. Plant each species in a separate 125mm or 150mm pot. Don’t forget to record the provenance name (if known) on the label and in your recording system. The
provenance is the location of the original collection. Provenance is important because in 10 years the orchid will possibly be extinct in that area as suburbia expands or weeds take over the habitat.

Summer watering is important. Too little and tubers may dry up. Too much and they may rot or come up early before the heat of summer is over when they will be attacked by thrip and aphids. A light sprinkle on top of the pots once a
week works OK.

Try to finish repotting this month. If left until February there is more chance of breaking off the new shoots which can be well developed by late February.