Thursday, October 2, 2008

Orchids - Tie them up!

Though most people grow their dendrobium orchids in pots, they're happiest when they're clinging onto something. They're epiphytes after all and have evolved into doing their best on a tree trunk. So if you have a reasonably tall tree with some bare trunk on it, do your dendrobium a favour, tie it onto that trunk and watch your dend take off! They don't even really need any extra medium as other plants need soil.

I have more than a few orchids tied onto almost all the trees in my garden. The coconut trees are fantastic hosts. They're tall with plenty of lovely bare, rough trunk and all the leaves are right on top which means that there's sunlight available when the dends need it, and at noon, the coconut leaves throw enough shade to keep it happy.

Water doesn't accumulate at the roots because it's just bare root against bare trunk. So there are very few chances of rot. Which is something that an orchid grower is always thankful for. And hey! there's no room for pests!

When I'm tying a baby dend. onto a tree, I place a small wad of coir under the roots so that it encourages root growth and gives the dend. something to sink its roots into, so to speak. I usually tie it on with a strip of banana plant fibre onto the tree. The whole idea is that by the time the dend. is big enough to take care of itself, the coir and banana string would have naturally decomposed.

The angle that the dends are fixed to the tree also mean that there's a very aesthetic, graceful curve to the flower spikes.

And of course, its a far better sight to focus on than just bare tree trunk! Especially when its loaded with blooming spikes.

Of course, there are some negatives too. Like, you can't move it around or take it inside (unless it's tied onto a piece of driftwood or log instead of a tree) when it's in bloom... and you want to show it off just a little bit.
And, if it's tied onto a cooconut tree, falling nuts and leaves can chop off various parts of the plant. Also, my local coconut buyer is very reluctant to climb these trees to harvest the nuts. What with me hovering around to see he doesnt harm my 'kids, and him having to manoeuvre around the mounted orchids, I dont really blame him!

Watering can become another issue. Since the roots are exposed, they tend to dry out faster than those in pots. So, in summer I make sure I hose them down liberally and also thoroughly drench the surrounding tree bark. But dendrobiums have a good storage system in their pseudobulbs, so they wont dry up and die overnight for lack of water.

Its not just the dendrobiums, phalaenopsis and oncidium orchids too can be tied on to trees (orchid growers call this "mounting" , as in "the orchid was mounted on a small log"). So far, I've succeeded in growing dendrobiums and oncidiums this way. The phalaenopsis is going to be next.

Oh, and did I mention that this works for epiphytic orchids ? Dont try it on your terrestrial or ground-growing orchids like Spathaglottis, okay? Well, if you have about hundreds of them, you could always experiment in the name of Science but .... there's a reason why they're called Terrestrial, right?

This particular gul mohur tree is home to an oncidium (or, Dancing Girls as they're known locally) as well as to myriad other dendrobiums. Its a perfect complement to my orchids as they each bloom in turn . In summer when the tree is in vibrant colour, my orchids are silent and reserving their strength. Then comes the monsoons, and the winds and rains whiplash all the gulmohur petals off. That's when the orchids come into their own with the rough bark and feathery gulmohur leaves as the perfect backdrop!

(a close-up view of the Dancing Girls)

True, you cant carry them indoors, but they'll make your feet follow them outdoors for sure!

(Almost all these photos were clicked in my non-digital camera days . The photos from my old point-and-shoot were scanned into my computer and then uploaded here. I could have waited to click better photos but I was too impatient. Please bear with me? )


  1. Simply loved going through your post. What a beautiful collection! The dendrobiums and the oncidiums are gorgeous!! Dancing girls? Apt!!

  2. Sunita hi, this is such a good post about your orchids. Your Orchid collection is beautiful. I have also some tied to trees and some are in pots they have outgrown since a long time. Like you say the most natural and beautiful is growing them directly on the trees.
    You just gave me an idea!
    Thank you for your SW visit. It's a cute name you give the sheoak tree. Have a lovely weekend. T.

  3. Glad you enjoyed it, Kanak. I've just edited this post and added a close-up of the oncidiums just for you. Enjoy! : )

  4. Thanks Trudi!
    You're so lucky, you're living in dendrobium country aren't you? I'd love to see some photos of your orchids. Will you post them some time?

  5. Fantastic article, Sunita and those photos are wonderful. Your orchids look so beautifully natural clinging to the trees!


  6. Thank you, Daniel. The dendrobiums love living on my trees. The number of blooms per spike is more than double than on the pot-planted ones. And that too with minimum fuss and care! They're a real sight in peak season (which is now in India).

  7. Thank you, Sunita. Your blog is an orchid's dream. All of the little specimens in my care must come inside this week as the temperatures are dropping. I must be sure that they don't read your blog, or they'll be lobbying for the next plane to India. Reading your post was a lovely way to start my morning.

  8. Marta, what a lovely thing to say! Thank you.

    You wont believe this but when I started growing orchids about 20 years ago, there was absolutely zero information available on their culture, etc. I had to depend on gardening magazines from Britain and USA which carried small articles on growing orchids every once in a while. As a result, I started off thinking that I needed a greenhouse to grow orchids. In India of all places! The whole countryside is a natural greenhouse!

    There were a lot of bloopers brought about by my information being geared to those living in temperate countries while I was living in a hot, humid, thoroughly tropical land. Well, we all live and learn, huh?

    What orchids do you grow? They're welcome here anytime. My trees still have a lot of bare trunk available ; D

  9. Gorgeous! And thanks for including this photo, Sunita. I used to grow orchids years ago but seeing yours and Trudi's collection has been so tempting! I might soon be adding them to my to-do list.
    Honestly, I didn't think Bombay's weather was suitable for growing orchids. Now I know better. Thanks once again.

  10. Kanak, Bombay weather is perfect for growing all kinds of orchids. Its hot, humid and gets plenty of sunlight. Perfect for Dendrobiums, Vandas, Mokkaras, Oncidiums, Spathaglottis, Arundina, and so many more.
    Forget the Cymbidiums and other cool-growing ones.
    I think Guwahati has almost the same weather pattern as Mumbai, doesnt it?
    BTW, I'm really curious ...why did you stop growing orchids?

  11. Thanks for all the names...I used to grow orchids before I was married, at Haflong. It was easy to get them from the jungles which were within walking distance. After marriage, my husband's constant transfers and then my babies...I didn't want my plants to suffer.
    Moreover, when you come from the hills, the heat of the plains deters you to collect plants. It took a long time to 'accept' the humidity/life in the plains. So, it's several reasons and not just one!

  12. Thanks Sunita for giving me an insight into the wonderful world of Orchids. Orchids always fascinate me, but the extreme weather of my place is not at all conducive for them, so I can only admire them at the florist's shop. I loved the Dancing girls....very interesting indeed.
    Lovely post.

  13. I can imagine your plight! Poor Kanak! You wilted, didnt you? Never mind, now that you've 'accepted' the heat, dust and humidity of the plains, you can plunge right back into growing orchids again. Just a different group of orchids, though ... the warm-growing ones. They're just as spectacular and just as rewarding as the cool-growing ones.
    I wish I could've seen some photos of the orchids you used to grow. Did you leave them with your mom when you moved?

  14. Green Thumb, you're welcome! I've seen your garden on your India Garden blog and you've got a good collection of tropical plants, dont you? If you can keep them so healthy and happy, I'm sure you can grow orchids too.
    If you have hot summers and cold winters, you could grow your orchids outdooors in summer and bring it in when the weather starts cooling down. A lot of my orchid-growing friends who live in cold places do this successfully. Or maybe if it doesnt get so cold, you can leave them outdoors in a sheltered spot away from the cold breezes.
    In Bombay, our weather comes down to 6*C for a few weeks in Jan. - Feb. I leave my orchids outdoors but I put up a plastic shield on the side from which the winds blow. I sometimes get a lot of browning leaves but orchids are very forgiving plants. Within a month of warmer weather, they're up and happy again.
    Or, you could try growing the cool-growing ones like Cymbidiums, etc. but somehow seeing your other plants, I think the warm-growing ones will grow better for you.

  15. That's pretty cool. I wish I lived in a climate where we could do this.

  16. Maybe you could, Garden Blogger. Grow them on a log or piece of driftwood so you can move them around easily depending on the season.

  17. Hello from Barbados,
    what an enjoyable and refreshing blog! I grow most of my orchids in pots. I have some in tree and am planning to put some more on trees. The ones in the pots are soo large that I am lost on how to get them onto the trees. I also wan them close to the house so am going to probably erect some wooden posts and put them on.

  18. Thank you, Helen! Do you grow dendrobiums too? I'd love to see photos of them. Will you blog about them sometime?
    If they're too large, you could wait for spring (or whichever is the active growth time there - here it is in Feb-March and June-August) when they're busy putting out new roots. Divide them into more manageable clumps and then tie them onto the trees. Or logs.
    If you're using logs (great idea, by the way) please treat it with some kind of ant-termite solution at the end where it goes into the ground. And using hardwood is a great idea.
    I'd love to see some photos when you're done :)

  19. While passing through Murali Rama Varma’s ‘Musings from Antique Origins’ I came to know that your blog was nominated for the 2008 Botanical Awards and eventually won the 4th place in the Asian category,Congratulations though belated.
    When I led my mother through your ‘Urban Garden’ she who happens to know your G. Father, says that she is not surprised for you seem to have inherited the love for gardening from the Surgeon General.

  20. Thanks, Nebu. This is a surprise (a nice one, though), finding you over here on my blog.
    I didnt know your mom knew my grandfather. Actually, he passed away long before I was born so my knowledge of him is quite hazy. And then when I started reading blogs, I keep finding mention of him popping up here and there. And that always takes me by surprise because I realise how much I dont know about him!
    Thanks for giving me one more piece to fit into this puzzle :D

  21. Sunita, you have a fantastic collection. I didn't know one could grow orchids in Mumbai...WOW After reading your blogs, I've been bitten and am dying to try growing some.
    Could you guide me on where I can buy a plant and how to maintain it?

    Thank you

    1. Thank you, Sweetpea. Yes, you can grow orchids in Mumbai. Personally I donrt buy any orchids from Mumbai but you could ask for it at some of the nurseries in the city. Or wait for the Plant Exhibitions. Every once in a while some of them may stock a few pots of orchids.

  22. Hi.You reckon how long does it take for the roots to be independently tied to or wrapped around the trunk?I just used sphagnum moss, a fish net and coconut husks to hang my Dendrobiums around our tree...I hope I am doing the right thing.Thanks!

    1. If you're using coconut husk then you dont need the sphagnum moss, Orchidfan. Both retain water and serve the same purpose, so use either one, not both.

  23. Hi Sunita,

    I enjoyed reading your blog on orchids. I have orchids growing on palm trees (Golden Cane) that have been attached using stockings. The stockings expand as the orchid grows. I also place coconut husk in behind the plant along with pelletised chicken manure. The plants are flowering well. One thing I have learn't is that many orchids don’t like wet feet. They are very hardy plants that don’t like to be tampered with.


    1. Thank you, Peter, I'm so glad you enjoyed my orchid posts. There are some more on my blog if you're interested (you can find them by using the Search box in the sidebar).
      What orchids do you grow, Peter? I have mostly Dendrobiums and some Phals, cattleyas and Vandas.
      Do you have any problem of scorched roots / plants due to the pelletised chicken manure? I do not use undiluted manure for my orchids because of the excessive heat build-up (especially with our hot climate). They do love soaked, strained and diluted manures though.

  24. Wonderful article Sunita. Thought id try tying one to a tree..but the only one I can think of in my garden is a drumstick tree. Do u think I could do that? N what about the rains? Btw im a beginner n I live in goa.pls advice.

    1. Thank you, Melita. Definitely try growing one on your drumstick tree if that is your only option. The drumstick trunk is prone to breaking easily so you may need to relocate at some point but other than that, I think you should have no problem.
      Dendrobiums are rainforest plants so they thrive in the rains. Just make sure that the water does not pool in the crown or near the roots.

  25. hi so glad i read your post.have been going mad looking for some info on growing orchids in india.i live in mumbai in an apartment so dont have trees to mount them trying water culture but am not very sure about it.
    i was wondering id i could tie some moss around a water pipe and mount my dendrobiun on it.its a den phalenopsis i think.i would reallllyyy appreciate some help!!!!

    1. Hello Nishita, I'm glad you're looking at other ways of growing orchids, other than in a pot! You could always mount them on a rough piece or slab of wood, instead of on a tree. Cork slabs also work but may not last as long as the wood.
      I have not tried water culture or hydroponics because most orchids need a period of drying out to bloom well.
      Yes, you can use a pipe to mount orchids on. Avoid sphagnum moss, though, as it does have an environmental impact. Instead, wrap the pipe with locally (and abundantly) available coir string. It works just as well and lasts longer.

  26. Hi Sunita, Happy to see your blog! Very good information! I would like to try growing Orchids on trees. Where can I get baby dends? I live in Hyderabad. Would the weather be suitable for Orchids?


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