Materials and Techniques for Proper Presentation of Orchids in Bloom
JUDICIOUS STAKING OF ORCHID flowers can greatly enhance their presentation and consequently their appreciation by viewers. This is important not only for orchids in exhibits at shows and on AOS judging tables, but also for those plants you move from their growing area to enjoy around the home while they are in flower.
The goal of staking is to move the flowers into positions where they will face a plane appropriate to the angle from which they will be viewed. Sometimes more easily said than done, there are several options at your disposal to help you achieve the goal. Always keep in mind that the best staking is unobtrusive and leaves the plant and its flowers looking as natural as possible.
WHEN TO BEGIN For optimum results, staking may need to be considered long before the flowers open. As your experience with orchids grows, you will learn to spot flower spikes that are surely headed in the wrong direction. Often these can be encouraged to a better angle if staked or wired in a timely manner.
The best angle for the stem of the inflorescence, botanically referred to as the peduncle, can vary according to the type of orchid as well as by the general shape and growth habit of the individual plant. For example, does the plant have a front side? Are its pseudobulbs or canes rather vertical, angled or horizontal? Knowledge of the shape and character of the flower, as well as the expected habit and arrangement of the inflorescence can guide you. In most cases, arching inflorescences that emerge at rather upright angles of perhaps 45 to 80 degrees are more pleasing than those that grow somewhat horizontally from the plant. It is usually not a good idea to attempt to stake an inflorescence vertically; that usually produces a forced, unnatural result. Paphiopedilum orchids would be an obvious exception.
TIMING The best time to stake the flower stem is generally after it has elongated, but before the buds become well formed or differentiated. I’m thinking particularly of such orchids as Phalaenopsis, Oncidium and some Dendrobiums. You will find that at this stage, you can often exert considerable influence in the eventual presentation of the inflorescence as the flower stem is usually still somewhat pliable. If you try to train the flower stem to a stake as soon as it emerges and continue to wire it to the stake as it grows, you often end up with a wiggly flower stem that looks odd and manipulated.
For long flower stems such as those of Phalaenopsis and Oncidium, push a slender bamboo stake into the growing medium at the desired angle and secure the flower stem to it with several short twist ties — two are seldom sufficient. For use with delicate inflorescences, try splitting a slender bamboo cane into halves or quarters with a sharp knife carefully pushed down on it from one end. Be careful not to fasten the twist ties too tightly to the stake, and trim off any long ends from them. I prefer the green bamboo stakes and twist ties as they are usually less noticeable.
Wiring is an alternative. Some growers wrap wire in a coil around the flower stem so that it may be gently bent in the desired direction. Use a fine wire, perhaps 24 or 26 gauge. Cloth-wrapped wire is available at most craft stores and would probably be less likely to bruise the flower stem in this application. I find this technique a bit tedious and prone to damage, but I have seen it successfully used on Vanda inflorescences.
I prefer wire, however, for flower hooks that I use either to support a heavy inflorescence or to pull it gently in a better direction. For these, I use somewhat heavier 18- or 20-gauge wire. Try to purchase this wire in 18-inch (46-cm) straight lengths. They are much easier to work with and produce a more attractive result than those made by trying to smoothly unwind a paddle of wire of the same gauge.
With a pair of needle-nosed pliers, bend an inch or so of the wire at one end in a 90-degree angle and fashion it into a small, u-shaped hook. It should be big enough to comfortably encircle half of the flower stem and deep enough that the flower stem will not too easily be nudged from it, perhaps a quarter to a half inch across and half again as deep, depending on the size of the stem. Be careful not to make a v-shape, as that could pinch the stem and lead to injury or breakage. If you are using the wire for support, gently bend it in an arch that will complement the angle of the flower stem to the plant and gently push it into the growing medium behind the inflorescence from its best side and cradle the flower stem in the u. You will find that by straightening and bending the wire you can often reposition the inflorescence successfully. These are particularly useful with Phalaenopsis orchids. I also use these long wires for Brassia orchids and the long-stemmed inflorescences of sequential-blooming Paphiopedilums and Psychopsis. A similar hook on a straight vertical wire can be brought from behind to support the stem of many single-flowered Paphiopedilums.
SHORT SPIKES Some long-stemmed inflorescences in the Cattleya Alliance can also benefit from the wire-and-hook approach, but those with short flower stems may not. Sometimes the easiest way to change the presentation of a Cattleya inflor-escence is to modify the angle of the pseudobulb to which it is attached. A short bamboo stake and a couple of twist ties should do the job.
Even imperfect floral spacing within an inflorescence can be improved with a bit of wire employed at the proper moment. Those Cattleya and Vanda flowers that often want to open on top of or across each other can be gently nudged apart with a short piece of wire that has been fashioned with a u-shaped hook at both ends. I wait until the buds are well formed and not too many days from opening. The hooks are carefully positioned at the base of each flower and the wire is maneuvered until the buds are pushed apart. Lightweight twist-tie wire will work for this one too. You’ll be surprised what you can accomplish with this technique, but be sure to remove this wire once the flowers are open, and particularly before the orchid is displayed or taken to an orchid show.
It is important to acknowledge the role that light, its quantity, quality and direction, play on the plant and its developing flowers. Inflorescences usually grow toward the brightest light, so if your light source is strongly directional, you need to pay attention to the flower stem as it lengthens. Sometimes it helps to turn the plant at this stage to help ensure the best presentation. You should usually not turn the plant once buds start to form, or the individual blossoms may orient in a variety of directions. Once the flowers have opened fully, this is not usually a problem. Even though directional light can pose special problems, I find that plants that have a front side to them are often easier to work with in orchid displays.
HINTS FROM NATURE Keep in mind the way any particular type of orchid orients its flowers in nature and work within those limits. Some orchids have pendulous or nodding flowers that are naturally viewed from the side or above. Species in Dendrobium section Latouria are a good example. If you feel you must have a bee’s-eye view of such blossoms, you’ll probably be more successful if you elevate the whole plant until the flowers are at or above eye level, rather than trying to wire them.
All staking materials should be used only one time. This avoids the possibility of spreading disease between plants.
Also know that once you begin tampering with flower spikes and immature buds you will sooner or later inadvertently injure or break one. You never think it will happen to you, but it usually occurs when you least expect it. Furthermore, such calamities always seem to happen with a blossom of which you are particularly fond. Try not to dwell on the mishap and focus instead on all those orchid flowers you’ve enhanced with your handiwork.