The following article is from Volume 42 Number 10 November 2018 Native Orchid of South Australia Journal. Marg Paech, editor, has written an excellent summary based upon Kevin Western’s detailed notes which he has kindly supplied and is available here.
Kevin Western, this month’s guest speaker didn’t hold back. He exposed some of the myths pedaled by good growers who misinform naive newbies or other growers.
Until about 1960 or thereabouts, the only Sarcochilus orchids that existed were in the bush where they had evolved and grown for all time and the only orchids that existed in people’s collection were bush collected so therefore all were species. No doubt, at times in the bush, there were hybrids made accidentally by pollinators or by other natural chance events. 1968 was the first time we can say for sure that there were hybrid Sarcochilus in existence.
Sarcochilus are native to the east coast of Australian and to Tasmania. There are about 25 species recognized and the number has grown recently with the splitting off of S. minutoflos.
The easiest species to grow for hobbyists generally are Sarcochilus hartmannii and S. fitzgeraldii. From their physical appearance and flowering time, flower shape and nature, it can be seen that they are closely related. Their natural environment can be matched in a pot by using a range of different potting materials (either solely or a mixture of) – suitable size pine bark, Perlite, cut up tree fern fibre, rice hulls and or sphagnum moss. Remember, they will grow on rocks, rubble or on various types of natural and artificial mounts!
Sarcochilus grow naturally where they do because of the balance between the suitable amount of reliable moisture in the form of rainfall and or dew; and those unavoidable moisture losses due to sun, heat and wind. We can replicate that by just giving our Sarcochilus regular waterings, and ensuring that our potting medium is coarse enough. An extra layer of shade in really hot summers can help, and by reducing wind movement by the location and provision of shade houses, we can create suitable growing conditions for our orchids. Frequent watering is the trick – retirees by hand watering and workers by sprinklers, misters on timers or thermostats or similar. Air movement is a must but here in sunny Adelaide we get plenty of it and in fact, too much movement has a drying effect.
The best mix for Cymbidium (sic)* orchids is a coarse, non-retentive medium – far better because they can be watered frequently – even twice a day or far more, and plants do far better. Even standing the pots in water during summer works wonders! Trial and error is the best way to learn, as experienced by Kevin.
Sarcochilus can be potted into clay balls used by hydroponics growers. Good, clean coarse pine bark also is fine.
Watering and Fertiliser
It is generally considered impossible to grow plants on mounts in shade houses etc in suburban Adelaide. Yet another myth! They grow exceptionally well, a fact that Kevin found out thanks to Kris Kopiki. It is more difficult to overwater a plant on a mount.
There are lots of myths about fertilizing. Using far more dilute fertilizer applied to a dryish mix and roots, Kevin has found to be far more effective. His policy is to fertilise weakly and frequently. Despite the hundreds of fertiliser options and brands available – they all are only better or worse
sources of those few essential substances which an orchid requires. The seaweed extract products are probably good as they seem to promote root growth. Keep it simple is the best option.
Our Sarcochilus have roots designed to grow attached to rocks or branches or twigs and are designed to catch and hold quite small water opportunities and they may benefit from drying out from time to time and for periods of time.
Coarser and less water retentive media are advantageous by enabling the roots to experience some drying as would occur in nature.
We are then able to water and fertilise far more often and our plants will grow better. We need to better understand what our preferred fertiliser’s strengths and weaknesses are so that we can better supply their needs more simply, more effectively and at lower cost.
Regular watering, wind control and shade improvement to avoid drying stress is far more sensible than hoping to reproduce and sustain high humidity.
Thank you Kevin for such a candid, down-to-earth talk full of good advice for growers
*In Kevin’s note he discusses his experience with Cymbidiums but Sarcochilus can also be grown with a similar medium.