Reed Stem Epidendrums -
The Poor Man's Orchid Potting Mix -
You will find this a good mix for nearly all types, even the new hybrids:
- 4 parts fine (1/8 to 1/4) fir bark
- 1 part medium (3/8 to 3/4) fir bark
- 1 part #3 Paramont Sponge Rok (Perlite)
- 1 part planter mix (ground sphagnum and small perlite)
Mix them all together and have at the potting task. This makes a good mix for small pots like 3 1/2 inch to larger pots like 20 inches across. Those large pots will usually have about six inches of plastic "peanuts" in the bottom to save some planter mix. I find this mix is fine for the "species" but you can also raise the new Epi's and Epicatts in it; also, it drains pretty good. If you find your Epicatts are not growing as well, try a little better draining mix and see if that helps. Pot Size - Oh here's a good subject.
Everyone I meet wants to put a 2 inch plant in a 20 inch tub, No! No! No! The pot should only be about 2 inches larger than the plant all around...so if the plant clump is 2 inches a six inch pot is plenty big enough, if the clump is only a few growth and takes up only an inch or so a 4 inch pot will be big enough for a while. "I won't have to repot so much!" is the argument I hear. But you will find you still have to repot frequently because of two reasons. The pot being too big will hold way to much water for the plant. On top of the plant not growing well, the mix decays too fast and you will be repotting even faster than you did before. Keep it small, keep the drainage good and pot up to the next size when the plant earns it. The way the Epi's grow that may be twice a year anyway, so relax,, start with the small ones and work up. The plants will also take to planter beds, but a little harder to keep looking as nice as the ones in the pots.
Take the large new growths off the bigger plants and spread them into a planter bed, or put six or so in a big pot. It won't be long before you can take them to a show. How long? Probably less that a year if they are all new large growths. The older plants that you took the new growths off of will not look as pretty now because all the growths will have flowered, and you just removed all the new growths. You can toss the older plant if you have plenty, but if you want to save it for reproducing keiki's you can keep it and with the same culture as before the previous flowers stems will start producing keiki's. (Some of the new hybrids don't do that as well or at all.) The pot with the new growths will be your show plant for a couple of years until you take keiki's off it and make a newer plant, the older always becomes the breeder. If you let the plant get too full of the old growths it starts to look shabby even with the newer growths all around. A way to make it look better is to clip off the older bloomed out, keiki'd out growths just leaving the new ones. That will make you a fabulous plant in another couple of years. You will have to watch and make sure the mix is still fresh and repot in the meantime if necessary.
Fertilizer and Insecticides: Any good all around fertilizer will work just fine. Use up anything you have before you get more. I like the lazy way of doing both of the fertilizing and the bug zapping at the same time. Ortho makes a product for roses that is terrific for Epi's. It's called Ortho Rose Food and Systemic Insecticide. Comes in all sizes, you can get it at Costco or Armstrong. Sprinkle a little around the base of the plant every three months or so. Water it in, and presto, you have just fertilized the plants for three months and also sprayed them with a pesticide that will keep aphids and scale off them for the same three months. Very easy to do, hence, you might do it eh? Snails and Slugs can also mess up your plants so keep a good bait out for them all year long. A new one now available is called SLUGGO. It's not harmful for pets, birds, kids etc., but does a good job on the snails and slugs. This stuff doesn't break down and turn to mush in the rain either, so broadcast it about once a month for good results. Diseases - There are not too many diseases to worry about. I have seen a plant or two that may have had a virus, but for the most part the plants around the county look pretty clean. Scale can be a problem if you let it go too long, aphids are easily taken care of by the Ortho stuff I just mentioned. The Epidendrums do get a fungus that shows up as black spots on the bottom of the leaves. Get a good fungicide at the local nursery to combat that. Spray the whole plant, especially those leaves just above the black spotted ones thoroughly with the fungicide about every three weeks until the new leaves do not show the spots any more. Some seem more prone to the spotting than others, one circulating around now called "Gladiator" needs to practically be dumped in the stuff. The fungicide has to be sprayed on and dry there for a few minutes so don't do it on a rainy day. Give it time to dry completely and form the barrier you are looking for. The spraying will NOT get rid of any spots that are on the plant already, but it will stop any new leaves from coming up with them. DO NOT spray the flowers when you are applying the insecticide or it will destroy them. You can spray around them if you try. Some plants will get the spots up and down the main stems but you can get it done with a little effort. It would be good to set up a periodic spraying schedule so the spots don't sneak back when you aren't looking. During the winter wet months that cycle may shorten to every three weeks if it's wet like last year.
Other Things To Watch For - If you are suddenly missing a lot of the new tips on the Epi's put out some Rat Bait! ! The "roof rats" will descend on a nice collection and before you realize what happened you will be short of blooms. They like the tips of Epi spikes, Cymbidiums spikes, Zygopetalum spikes and even the Laelias like anceps and gouldiana, they think they are ice cream!! If you can't find the tips anywhere that were there yesterday get some rat bait quick and scatter it around the yard. Watch out if you have pets or children, though!
And last but not least, try to protect your Epidendrums from hail. Nothing will make them look worse overnight than a short hailstorm. Symptoms are little white spots all over the leaves that will never go away. About all you can do is move the plants if you have warning, or, you can grow them under shade cloth. As much as 80 % shade will still give you great flower spikes although I think 65 % might keep the flower spikes stronger in the winter. I have a cover I can toss over them in the stormy weather because you can never predict when it's going to hail. Hail screws them up so bad for so long it's better to be prepared to either move them or cover them if you can, but a shade cloth cover is a permanent method. If it weren't for the chance of hail you can grow the best looking plants right out in full sun all year long.
General Comments - The little Epi's will reward your efforts with an abundance of color all year long. The Epicatts will probably not do that but still have flowers a lot the year. They don't seem to bloom all the time like the species Epi's, probably the Cattleya influence. The newer hybrids are usually bigger, fuller flowers, but don't flower as much for me. It will be interesting to see what the local hybridizers like John Walters and others can come up with for newer hybrids. I know John has a lot of seedlings he will be offering in the near future. Epicatts and other hybrids by breeders Allan Yamada are producing very large colorful flowers on huge clumps at the end of tall spikes. They are heavy and will need extra support. I have seen birds land on them in my yard and with the extra bird weight the stem breaks. Look for lots of interesting new hybrids in the future and be proud that San Diego is known around the world as the Hot Spot for Epi's. And if you haven't tried a few already...why not?