his article is about one of my favorite types of orchid, hard-cane dendrobium hybrids and my experience in growing them in Central Florida. I live in Winter Haven in Polk County, Florida. The climate in Florida is conducive to good orchid growing, because of the warm temperature and high humidity. My first orchid was a Blue Foxtail hard-cane dendrobium hybrid, which I still have. I bought it about 4 years ago at the Water Wings and Wild Things-Polk County Nature Fest at Circle Bar B Reserve in Lakeland, Florida.
This plant got me started in the orchid hobby and I haven’t looked back. I now have over 100 orchid hybrids of several different alliances including Dendrobium, Cattleya, Oncidium, Cymbidium, and Brassavola. But, hard-cane dendrobium hybrids still make up close to half my collection and are still some are some of my favorite plants. I admire hard-cane hybrids for their beauty, variety, and ease of growing.
Dendrobiums are a diverse group of orchids that is comprised of over 1,000 species which are native to much of tropical Asia, Indonesia, and Australia (McDonald, 1999, p. 66). In this article, I will concentrate on the care of the hard cane types most notably those of the Phalaenanthe and Spathulata sections and their hybrids. The Phalaenanthe section being the “Phalaenopsis Type” dendrobiums. They are ever-green and retain their leaves all year in the right conditions. The Phalaenanthe section includes the species Den. Affine, Bigibbum, Dicuphum, and Williamsianum. The flowers of the Phaelaenanthe section and its hybrids grow on a spike and are arranged in two parallel rows. They are usually shades of pink and white (Moats 2008, p. 32-33).
The Spathulata section are made up of the “Antelope Type” dendrobiums, because of their twisted upright petals. These include the species Den. Antennatum, Canaliculatum, Discolor, Gouldii, Johannis, Lineale, Stratiotes, Strebloceras, and Taurinum (McDonald, 1999, p. 67). The sheer color variety of many hard-cane dendrobium hybrids today are owed to the influence of the Spathulata section (Moats, 2008, p. 33).
Here in central Florida, Hard-Cane Dendrobium hybrids are readily available through most orchid nurseries, orchid shows, and stores like Home Depot, Lowes, and Wal-Mart. Upon bringing a new hybrid Dendrobium into my collection, I like to repot it immediately if it’s not in bloom. I have found most of these plants are growing in sphagnum moss instead of orchid mix. Some people have good luck with moss. But, I have found here in Central Florida that Dendrobiums are prone to root rot in this medium, because they stay too wet. I use fir bark or orchid mix (usually Better-Gro Orchid Bark) which is available at the local Home Depot, Lowes, orchid shows or at orchid supply retailers online. Some growers also recommend tree fern fiber or coconut husk for growing orchids in Florida, because they don’t break down the way orchid bark can (Moats, 2008, p. 153-153). But, neither tree fern fiber or coconut husk are readily available near where I live .
So usually, I mix the fir bark with about 25% expanded clay pellets (called by many names including Aliflor, Hydronton or LECA) which is available through most orchid supply companies online or at most orchid shows. Aliflor can also be used as a primary medium for Dendrobium hybrids in semi-hydroponic culture. I usually repot every 1-2 years, the new pot should be big enough for around two years growth. Repotting is needed when a plant outgrows it’s current pot or when the media in it breaks down (McDonald, 1999, p. 28-29).
Along with potting media and a freshly watered orchid, you will also need a pair of clippers or scissors, newspapers to cover your work area, a clean pot of your choice (either plastic, clay, or a decorative orchid pot), rubbing alcohol, a small stick or dowel, a stake (metal or wood), a small plastic clip, and paper towels. I cover the bottom of the pot with a couple inches of clean clay pot shards, styrofoam packing peanuts, or river rock. Before repotting the orchid, I soak the orchid mix and Aliflor for at least a couple of hours to clean it and to let it absorb some water for the newly repotted plant (McDonald, 1999, p. 28-29).
Watering a orchid beforehand makes the roots softer and easier to remove from the pot. First you will need to remove the orchid from the pot (sometimes this requires cutting or breaking the pot), after removing it from the pot remove all the old media from the roots and rinse. Make sure to cut off any brown, mushy roots. Place the orchid about ½ inch below the lip of the pot and place potting mix around it, bumping the pot on the table as you do it and using your fingers or a stick/dowel to work the mix into the roots. Fill the pot until you cover the sides of the rhizome. It is important to disinfect your tools with a paper towel and rubbing alcohol before and after each plant to prevent the spread of viruses (McDonald, 1999, p. 28-29).
I cultivate my hard-cane dendrobiums on a screened porch practically all year long, they are in bright but not direct sunlight. Orchids in direct sun-light have a tendency to sunburn. I water once a week most of the year (usually in the morning), except in winter when I drop back to every other week. I water only when the media is dry (McDonald, 1999, p. 33). I fertilize every two weeks with Better-Gro Orchid Plus, following the instructions on the package. I cover my plants with blankets when the temperatures get below 55 F at night and bring them inside when it gets below 50 F.
With good care your hard-cane dendrobiums will provide you with many years of enjoyment and bloom as many as 2-3 times a year with flowers that last at least a month. The tips I have shared in this article have worked for me as a orchid grower, here in central Florida. I hope they will be helpful to you and Happy Growing!
McDonald, Elvin (1999). Ortho’s All About Orchids. Des Moines, IA: Meredith Publishing Group.
Moats, Martin (2008). Florida Orchid Growing: Month by Month. Redland, FL: Redland Press.
Article by Amanda Lee Campbell, Winter Haven, FL