Growing Orchids

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When it comes to growing orchid. The grower who, after a realistic appraisal of the difficulties, decides to try to raise orchids from seed will find it wise to concentrate her time and energy on reproducing orchids from only suitable parents.

In the analysis of the suitability of a plant for parenthood it is a good idea to check on its popularity for hybridizing and the results of its use. Laeliocattleya Princess Margaret, for example, is a plant with many quality offspring.

The hybridizer should have some definite goal, such as improvement of size, shape, and color of bloom, better quality of plant, or change in the blooming time.

Hybridizing solely for increase of stock may be a slow and tedious process, culminating in disappointment. Many hybrids show no improvement over the parents and are often inferior to them.

A knowledge of genetics helps in determining the probability of certain results. Genetic scientists find the life cycle of most orchids too long for practical experimentation and usually confine themselves to plants that reproduce quickly.

The plant to be used as pod parent should be well established with good root growth in fresh medium before seed bearing is risked. To bear a seed pod is hard on the mother plant and often jeopardizes its life. The planned end-result should be worth this risk.

Having well in mind the purpose of crossing, and the parent plants for this purpose selected, the grower must settle the matter of proper procedure.

Both parent flowers should have been on the plant long enough to be well matured, although the flower on the pod parent may mature further after crossing. If the pollen flower has not matured, the crossing will be sterile.

Many growers make the mistake of thinking that aseptic methods need begin only with the planting of the seed. Precautions should begin at the very beginning, with the parent flowers, for contamination may occur at the time the pollen is collected.

A sharpened stick or toothpick is sometimes used to remove ripe pollen from the male flower and place it in the stigmatic cavity of the female.

If the pollen is touched by the hand, unfriendly fungi may very likely be introduced. The preferred method of collecting pollen is to use a sharpened glass rod or a platinum wire that can be quickly sterilized and cooled.

It is better to use pollen immediately, but when expedient it can be saved for a flower blooming at a later date.

The pollen may be placed first on a piece of clean white paper and then in a sterile vial or plastic capsule, which may be kept in the electric refrigerator for some months. The vial should be corked but not too tightly sealed, to prevent condensation and the entrance of fungus.

Some hydra ting agent, such as calcium chloride, may be used in the container. The pollen should be suspended over, not touching, the crystals.

After pollination the plant should be dried out a bit and removed to a more sheltered part of the greenhouse.

If the pollinated flower begins to droop and the petals curl protectively over the vital organs, fertilization has probably taken place—although sometimes wilting results from a disturbance of the stigmatic cavity.

If fertilization has taken place, the ovary (behind and slightly below the flower) will begin to swell. The wilted petals will probably continue to dry and eventually drop off. If the petals become wet, however, they may rot and should be trimmed off.

The seed-bearing plant should be treated moderately, but with particular care in watering to avoid chilling at night. If the plant is healthy and well established, with good root growth in fresh medium, it should survive the ordeal.

The drain of strength on the pod-bearing plant may be obviated by supplementary feedings of a very weak well-rotted manure solution or one of the chemical formulas.

There seems to be a phosphorus deficiency at this time. Any supplementary feeding should be done cautiously; some experienced growers advocate that it be done not more than once a month.

Cattleya seed takes from nine months to a year or longer to mature. Experience shows that the longer the pod takes to mature the more virile and fertile the seed. Maturation of the pod before nine months usually indicates infertile or poor seed.

As the fruit or seed pod approaches maturation it becomes yellow and dry in appearance, the ribs begin to stretch at the seams, and, when fully dry, the pod bursts and the seeds are ejected.

The grower should watch these signs and, at the proper time, tie a paper bag—not wax, which may cause condensation—lightly over the pod to catch the seed and protect it from contamination.

Fertility of the seed may be determined microscopically, although there are other means of determination. Fertile seed, under the microscope, appears browner than infertile seed and reveals dark blurs. Fertile seeds will also separate while the infertile ones cling together in a cottony mass.

It is best to plant seed immediately, although it is possible to keep it under refrigeration, in the same manner as pollen, for a more convenient planting time.

Cattleya seed has been reported to have been stored in this way for two or three years. A shorter period is probably more safe for other orchids. Absolute cleanliness should be the rule in planting. Hands and tools should be washed in a 20 per cent Clorox solution.

If possible, seed should also be sterilized, as contamination is invariably easier to prevent than to cure. Seed may be sterilized with a fair degree of success in 3 per cent solution of hydrogen peroxide.

A much stronger solution (30 per cent) has been used without damage to seed, but this is too tricky for the layman's use. Most growers prefer calcium hypochlorite, 10 gm. to 140 cc. of distilled water, filtered.

Seed may be exposed to this solution for fifteen to twenty minutes without harm, but a longer exposure will yellow the seed.

Rapid whirling or shaking of the container holding seeds and sterilizing agent will make certain that the solution washes over each seed. Several new sterilizing procedures have recently been suggested.

Walter Carter of Hawaii, writing in the Brazilian journal Orquidea, reports success in sterilizing seed by wetting with Valsol OT (1-1000) and then using 1-2500 bichloride of mercury in the vial.

K. L. McAlpine, in Orchid Review, recommends adding 1.0 cc. of hydrogen peroxide C.P. 30 per cent to 1000 cc. to the adjusted medium prepared for planting. After this is thoroughly mixed no further precautions seem necessary.

Antiseptic containers should be provided after sterilization is completed. Test tubes are satisfactory in a number of respects. Medium is placed in the tubes and the tubes laid on their side to provide more planting surface.

The advantages of the small tubes are that part of the seed may be saved for separate planting in case contamination spoils one planting and, since the tubes are on their sides while planting takes place, that there is less opportunity for fungus spores to fall into them.

A major disadvantage is that a small tube may not hold enough medium to nourish the seed over a protracted period.

Erlenmeyer flasks, also widely used, provide generous planting surfaces. Whatever the container, it should have been sterilized in a pressure cooker or autoclave for thirty minutes at fifteen pounds pressure. Oven sterilization over a period of three successive days will kill dormant spores if the pressure method is not practicable.

There is wide variation in the kinds of planting enclosures used, the choice often being determined by practical considerations. Some growers find a case with a glass front both satisfactory and economical.

Such a case, with armholes at the sides so that work can be done under aseptic conditions, prevents contamination from air or breath and yet gives good visibility. Such elaborate precautions may be obviated by the sterilizing procedure suggested by McAlpine.

It is still advisable, however, to spray lightly if an ordinary room is used. Fungi spores travel on dust particles floating in the air, and spraying causes them to fall to the floor. New methods of air-conditioning and electronic dust removal will simplify this problem in the future.

The planting medium must next be provided. A wide choice of media is available and you can generally find it at your local garden store or a search online.

The following growing orchid articles should give you more ideas on how to grow different orchids:

Growing dendrobium orchid

Growing house orchid plant tip

Growing phalaenopsis orchid

Growing vanilla orchid

Growing vanda orchid

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