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Culture

Holiday and Vacation Considerations
for Your Orchid Collection

            This is one of the topics we sort of had to figure out on our own since few authors deal with it in their writings. Once our collection grew beyond a handful of plants and our employee benefits improved allowing us to spend more time away from home, we began to implement these ideas to make our absences easier on our plants. We once tried growing a young Phalaenopsis schilleriana 'Pink Butterfly' AM/AOS mounted on a pad of sphagnum moss on cork bark. The plant grew extremely well, but dried out quickly requiring watering about every two to three days. Christmas came and the plant traveled with us along with a mounted Brassia verrucosa. Those plants are now very happy in pots! If you grow indoors and you can't get someone reliable to water your plants for you, we recommend not growing plants that require mounting. If you grow in a greenhouse, misting systems can be devised to babysit your plants for you. The ultimate situation would be to have someone trained in the art of orchid care look after your plants in your absence, but many people take vacations at the same times.

            The basic idea is to make sure the plants are watered well before you leave and then reduce their metabolism by decreasing temperature and light so they have less demand for water. We use the following ideas to carry the plants about eight to twelve days with little to no attention in our light garden. First, we water all the plants with plain water (no fertilizer), about twenty percent dechlorinated tap water and eighty percent reverse osmosis water, before our departure. If we leave bright and early in the morning, we either get up a little earlier to water, or we water the morning before we leave. If we leave in the afternoon or evening, we water the morning of our trip. We also set the lights to be on for fewer hours and try to keep the growing room a little cooler. Both of these will reduce the plants' need for water and nutrients by cutting back on their metabolic rate. We usually try for about six hours of light per day when the temperature can be maintained below seventy-five degrees during the day, and three to four hours per day if it will be warmer. Small seedlings, flasklings, and community pots benefit from being placed in vented, clear enclosures, such as plastic storage boxes, after their leaves have dried to maintain a humid environment. We usually have someone look in on our cats when we're away, and we have that person monitor the water levels in the humidifiers and evaporative coolers and top them off as necessary. We never have them mist or water the orchids unless they are properly trained. Our main concern here is with crown rot that can take hold if water sits in the crowns too long since drying will be slowed by decreased temperature and light. If no one will check on humidifier water levels, turn them off to prevent damage to the units.

            When we return, all of the plants get watered extremely well several times with plain water as described above as soon as they will have time for the leaves to dry by nightfall. We also tend to boost the day length back up about an hour or two every couple of days until the desired day length is reached to allow plants time to recover from slight desiccation. Temperature can be restored to normal over a couple days; a week during the warmer months. If we will be away a week or less, we may not alter day length or temperature depending on the time of year. Summer's warm temperatures will dry plants out faster as well as speed their metabolism, increasing water demand. We have been pleased with the results of this procedure and have lost no plants using it, and similar temporary adjustments can be made to greenhouse environments with planning and ingenuity. Smaller plants may drop a lower leaf or two, but these are quickly replaced in healthy plants. Mature plants won't even miss you. If you have any additional tips, please share them with us so we can pass them along.

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