There are some plants that you just can’t seem to grow no matter the effort. You love them too much to quit, though. So you keep fighting the good fight. I am not talking about the plants that are just outside your zone and die with each passing winter. I am referring to plants that you see growing to perfection in your friend’s yard. So it should be just as easy for you, right?
This plant for me is the Cattleya and Miltonia orchids. Cymbidiums flower for me – in the ground without issue. I can get Epidendrums to flower, but then again, who can’t? I can grow Cattleyas in my greenhouse without any issue. I can also grow them in a hanging pot outside. But any time I try to mount one on a tree, it never seemed to work out. They either died a slow death or they simply never flowered.
I must have had seven years under my belt trying to grow Cattleya and Miltonia orchids mounted on a tree. Why the effort? Because there are few things that say “tropical” like epiphytes growing in the garden. Especially one with such magnificent flowers that can be noticed across the yard. I doubt there is any other plant for which I would subject myself to seven years of failure.
Obviously this story has a happy ending. And here it is:
To my surprise, my Cattleya “Chocolate Drop” cross flowered recently. I know orchid growers love their long, crazy nomenclature, so I apologize that I don’t recall the exact name for this one. Just be happy I remembered it had “Chocolate Drop” on the tag, considering it had about 4 other “x”s (crosses) in it. Regardless, I am ecstatic with the results. This Cattleya has four bloom spikes on it. So it is really happy finally.
So why did it bloom this year? I only changed one variable to reverse my seven years of poor culture. It has been watered and fertilized the same amounts through the years. My lucky break came when a skilled orchid grower visiting my garden told me to allow more light to reach it. I had always incorrectly believed they wanted mostly shade. So it felt odd to cut out a bunch of the branches from the Schefflera arboricola “Variegata” on which it is mounted. It now gets close to four hours of sun in the summers and maybe two hours in the winter. What a game changer that advice turned out to be for me.
One of my Cattleyas blooming wasn’t the only success story to share with you in this post. My unknown Miltonia orchid bloomed as well. I was sure I was going to lose this plant two years ago. But after trimming up a large Magnolia champaca that shaded out most of the garden where the Miltonia is growing, it too rewarded me this winter with flowers. This orchid is going on the trunk of a Cyathea cooperi.
Now that I have a better idea of how to grow Cattleya and Miltonia orchids, I will be visiting a few local orchid nurseries to add some more to my garden. With what seems to be endless possibilities in flower color, this could keep me busy for a very long time. Now I just need to find more volunteers in the garden where I can mount the orchids.