Did you know that Missouri Botanical Garden has a wealth of classes, tours, and overnight events available not only at MoBot, but at Shaw Nature Reserve and the Butterfly House? You can take classes about picking the best Annual plants for your shade garden, find out how to create your very own rain garden, learn about the native plants at Shaw, or celebrate the Lantern Festival by participating in a tea ceremony or learning the art of Chinese paper and leaf cutting. In the past month my friend George and I took a class about repotting your Orchids and also got a behind the scenes tour of the Orchid range. The awesome, enthusiastic and energetic Babs Wagner taught the class devoted entirely to repotting your Orchid in April. She also led the tour of the Orchid range in May, assisted by my friend, Mary Jo Anderson. Mary Jo is a Master Gardener who volunteers on Thursdays in the Orchid range. If you love Orchids, this tour is a must. It’s available once a year, only in May, and it fills up very quickly. George and I booked the tour and class the first day it was available. I was able to put my newfound knowledge to good use when I recently got a phone call from my stepmother, Peggy, asking for help in repotting her Orchid. If you need to repot your Orchid, I’m happy to assist. I learned everything I know about the fine art of repotting from MoBot’s Babs Wagner.
Over the phone last week, Peggy explained that she had a decrepit Phalaenopsis Orchid that was either at death’s door, or in the process of blooming. The poor thing looked so pitiful that she simply couldn’t tell. It was in such sad shape, it couldn’t sit upright and spent its days flopped over on its side. So, I was off to Peggy’s house with a large clay pot, Fafard Orchid potting mix, bamboo stakes and clips and all the tips I learned in my Orchid repotting class. In just over 2 hours with Babs, I learned more than I ever hoped to know about the correct way to pot up an Orchid. I planned to put my newfound knowledge to use with Peggy’s Orchid as my Guinea pig. Let me share some of the repotting tips I learned from Babs.
Upon arriving at Peggy’s house, the serious nature of the Orchid was apparent. It was in a lightweight, clear plastic pot that couldn’t have possibly held a large Orchid. Just getting it out of that lousy pot would be a huge improvement. Peggy was an extra pair of hands, holding the Orchid as I remembered everything that Babs told me. I always thought that you shouldn’t pot an Orchid in bloom. Babs told me that, if it’s a Phalaenopsis, you absolutely could pot it up. Other Orchids can be potted as well, you just need to be a little careful and not fiddle with them too much. I checked out the plant’s root system, remembering that Babs told me to trim away any shriveled or dead looking roots. As I was removing the old potting bark from the roots, I was careful not to tug at any of the fresh, healthy roots as I pitched the old potting mix. A word of advice- DO NOT reuse the potting mix from the Orchid you’re potting up! Babs also told me that she uses powdered Cinnamon when handling and repotting the Orchids; she dabs a little Cinnamon onto a Q-tip and applies it to the root surface that was trimmed. Bet you never used Cinnamon for that, did you! Roots trimmed away, Cinnamon applied, step #1 accomplished.
Next, I checked out the foliage of Peggy’s Orchid. At one point, the plant was sunburned and showed some leaf damage. It wasn’t too bad, the new leaves were bright and glossy, so I let it be. By now, all the old potting mix from Peggy’s Orchid was removed, and placed the plant in the large clay pot I brought from home. I slowly added the potting mix that I bought at The Garden Gate Shop. Fafard makes it and I highly recommend it. Babs uses different mixes, each dependent on what type of Orchid she is repotting. For someone like me, the novice Orchid enthusiast, Fafard is just fine. Peggy was holding her Orchid nice and straight as I was filling the pot with the fresh Orchid mix. As a side note- Orchid potting mix is mainly chopped Fir bark. Some mixes contain soil, rocks, coconut husks, sphagnum moss and lava chunks. I kept filling up the clay pot until the bark reached the top. Almost finished!
The next tip came from Babs. I have never purchased the product ”Super Thrive.” It comes in a small, dark bottle and is sold at nurseries in the potting mix/fertilizer section. After Babs repots an Orchid, she waters it very well with “Super Thrive” at half strength. Mix it up in a watering can, making sure you add it nice and slow so it is absorbed into the bark. Babs swears by it, now I do as well.
The last step is to stake the bloom stem. Bamboo stakes work, so do the metal ones that are sold specifically for Orchids. If you use a bamboo stake, push it down into the plant, making sure that it’s nice and straight. Secure the bloom stalk with clips or cotton string. Voila! You’re finished!
Peggy’s plant looked like it could win a beauty contest. I owe it all to Missouri Botanical Garden for offering a great class and to Babs for teaching me so much in such a short period of time.
In addition to lectures and hands-on classes, tours of certain sections of the garden are also offered. George and I loved the tour of the Orchid range. Like I said earlier, sign up for this one as soon as you find out about it- it’s always in May. The tour of the Orchid range was out of this world! About 15 of us Orchid enthusiasts were lead through tunnels and hallways until we reached a potting station. It looked like any potting station at any greenhouse until I saw the shaker of powdered Cinnamon. Yup…Babs practices what she preaches!
In May, large groups of Orchids are resting after the big Orchid show that runs from late January until the middle of March. They’re just tuckered out and spend a well deserved rest over the summer. The one group of Orchids that were blooming like mad was the Phalaenopsis. Every color of bloom was evident and every plant was healthy. On the other hand, I couldn’t find one Cattleya Orchid that was in bloom. Another type of Orchid, a Vanda, are one of George’s favorites. He has a stunning, deep purplish-blue Vanda that sets out the most elegant bloom stalk. Vandas live in slatted baskets or open pots, needing no potting medium. The roots take in all the nutrients the plant needs. Some Vanda Orchids in the greenhouse had roots that were 5 feet long! Seriously! It was like walking through curtains of Orchid roots!
The greenhouse is also home to an Orchid that is over 100 years old! Her name is “Audrey,” named after the plant in the show “The Little Shop of Horrors.” As luck would have it, she was in bloom the night we toured. I found it amazing and actually a little humbling as well.
We saw Orchids that had bloom stalks that are very short and stout, or very long and elegant. One of my favorite Orchids, the Lady Slipper, has a very short stem, about 3 to 4 inches. We even saw a bloom stalk that was over 8 feet tall! It was growing over a clear vent in the greenhouse and coming out the other side.
As great tours always do, ours was over. No one was in a hurry to leave- we loved the tour, the plants and Babs. My friend Mary Jo, who assisted Babs with the tour, says that she learns something every time she takes Babs tour. George and I learned more than we thought possible. If you’re looking for something different, entertaining and educational to do this summer with your family or friends, check out the classes available online at Missouri Botanical Garden. You might not be obsessed for Orchids, but you might be nutty about natives, silly for shade perennials or ravenous about rain gardens! For classes, click for the link http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/learn-discover/adults/classes-tours-workshops.aspx