Phalaenopsis Ice Cube Trick

First off, there is no “Phalaenopsis Ice Cube Trick.”

Most of the members of the orchid family, the Phalaenopsis included, are tropical plants. This means they don’t know what to do with ice or cold temperatures in general. Please don’t use ice cubes to water your orchid. Instead, water it thoroughly rather than partially, as suggested by the care instructions provided with your orchid. By watering it thoroughly, you’ll approximate the Phalaenopsis’ native environment that normally includes heavy rain showers.

The trick about watering Phalaenopsis orchids is that their roots should be moist, not wet, and should not be allowed to dry out. Consequently, after watering thoroughly and allowing the water to drain, expect the orchid media (the material in which the orchid resides) to be wet, but to eventually dry out until it is simply damp. It is imperative that the roots not be too damp as orchid roots will rot if kept too wet. Phalaenopsis fans will often refer to this as saying phalaenopsis don’t like “wet feet.” Be sure that the pot in which your orchid is kept will drain freely. If you take a close look at most “orchid pots” you’ll find that they are all designed to drain freely. Planters and pots that don’t allow water to drain away will kill your orchid.

Once all of your blossums have dropped, we’d recommend repotting the orchid, especially if the orchid is potted in spaghnum moss. Moreover, sphagnum moss will only last about 2 years at most, so you need to plan on repotting your orchid some time in the future. The good news is that the Jacksonville Orchid Society conducts Re-Potting Clinics at the Mandarin Ace Hardware store (see You are invited to visit and we’ll try to answer any of your questions. Our website is a source of information at: You can also find good information on orchids in general at the American Orchid Society – You may also find their information on the Phalaenopsis orchid of interest as well at: or

It’s actually funny… I’ve been hearing the “ice cube” watering instructions for years, but have never seen them until now!


Orchidwiz Express – No Longer Available?!

My copy of OrchidWiz Express is several years old. In a quest to see what might be required to update my copy, I went to the OrchidWiz site and found the announcement that OrchidWiz Express will no longer be available. However, until the end of August, they are offering a reduced rate upgrade for “Express” users to move up to the latest version of OrchidWiz Encyclopedia.

I do use my copy of OrchidWiz Express frequently, so I guess its time to make the investment in the upgrade. Nevertheless, I’m still hoping for a Mac and / or iPad version.

For more details see:

Art Russell

Hydrotron in Jacksonville

Hydrotron is available again, and in the Jacksonville area!

Yesterday I intended to replace my Hydration substitute, Plant!t,  from a local supplier. Plant!t, as I discovered several years ago after Hydrotron was no longer available, has a significantly higher water retention capacity than Hydrotron.

Anyway, to continue, on a whim, I checked a couple of the listings for hydroponic supplies in the Jacksonville area, and was pleasantly surprised when I found Urban Gardens of Jacksonville, just off Edgewood Avenue carried Hydrotron in 50L bags for $33.95.

Upon arriving, I found Urban Gardens to be in a small, but packed, warehouse. Local orchid growers will find them of interest not only for Hydrotron, but large bags of Perlite, and net-pots as well. The good news is also that we no longer have to make the trip to the Orlando area for these supplies!

You can find Urban Gardens at: and on Facebook at

Their local address is 1185 Talbot Avenue, Jacksonville, FL
Google Maps at:,-81.7146685,3a,53.1y,27.21h,84.26t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s-JMwtw723ybfkao8gNcxkw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

A Few Notes on Insecticide Use

ART_2575Recently, I was reviewing my notes of Jim Roberts (See Note 1) 2012 presentation to the Jacksonville Orchid Society on “Growing Orchids Outside.”  During that presentation, Jim made a little noted comment about application of insecticide.

He said: “Read the Instructions.”

This is really a very important observation.  Reading instructions as we all have seen, tell us about the amount of insecticide to use in a given application.  However, most of us stop at that point.  We shouldn’t; we really need to read all of the instructions and the warnings as well.

Many will say they get it, but then go right ahead and apply insecticides with little concern about their exposure after the first time they get some on themselves and nothing happens.  The truth, however, is a bit more complicated.

But first a little background.  Many of you know that I retired after a career in the Army.  I spent most of my time as a Chemical Officer; that is to say, an expert in the use of chemical, as well as biological and nuclear weapons.  Moreover, my last job before joining the Army was as an exterminator applying chemical insecticides.  No doubt, many will say: ok, I get the connection, but most don’t.  The important thing to know is that the “nerve agent” (See Note 2) series of chemical weapons are simply insecticides for bigger bugs – People!

Many of the more effective insecticides belong to a class of chemicals known as organophosphate compounds and were first  discovered shortly before World War II by German chemists looking for better insecticides.  The good news for us as insecticide users is that the ones we use are far weaker than those used as nerve agents.  But here’s the problem, they are still dangerous.  Many of these compounds act as a cumulative poison.  A little bit today won’t hurt, but who knows about tomorrow?  Moreover, the medical research is still not complete about sub-critical dosages and their effects on human health.

Ever notice a statement on some insecticides that “atropine is antidotal?”  Atropine is the first of several antidotes administered to counter-act the effects of nerve agent poisoning!

So what to do?  I’m not a “licensed professional,” but like everyone else, do use insecticides.  Here’s my method, use it if you will, without warranty.  My approach is intended to minimize my exposure:

  • Wear a charcoal-based respirator (charcoal-filled)
  • Wear clothing that leaves little to no exposed skin
  • Wear a hat
  • Wear wrap-around eye protection.
  • Wear chemical proof gloves
  • Apply insecticide with the wind behind you so that it blows any excess away from you
  • Don’t apply around gardens or other food stuffs
  • Don’t allow the overspray to hit gardens, foodstuffs, others, children, or pets.
  • Immediately upon finishing, wash your hands and exposed skin with cold water (which lessens likelihood of absorption)
  • Immediately upon finishing, separately wash your clothes and exposed articles.
  • Use only one sprayer for insecticides, don’t use it for anything else (You don’t want to spray high-strength insecticides on your garden by mistake!).
  • Rinse-out your sprayer after use to minimize exposure later.

This seems like a lot to go through just to use insecticide.  There is.  Having been in the business of killing little bugs and knowing how to defend against those trying to kill us bigger bugs, I choose to err on the side of caution.


Note 1 – Roberts, J.  (2012, April 10).  Growing Orchids Outside.  Presentation to the Jacksonville Orchid Society.  Jacksonville, Fl.   Jim Roberts is the owner of Florida Sun Coast Orchids;

Note 2 – The Wikipedia article on nerve agents is pretty good if you’d like to learn more.  See

On Orchid References

I posted the following to the Florida Orchid Growing group on Facebook in response to a question about references.  It tells a bit about me and my approach…

First a confession; I’m a recovering academic. As a result, one of the first things I look towards when exploring a new field is its supporting literature. Although I was exposed to orchids at a young age, it wasn’t until I moved to Florida 10 years ago that I’ve been able to pursue my love or orchids more actively. Below is the beginngs of a library. I’ll consider myself somewhat well-read when I’ve hit about 100 volumes, so I’ve got a ways to go (Please don’t tell my wife!).

Fleming Island, FL

Allikas, G., and Nash, N. (2007). Four Seasons of Orchids. London: Salamander Books.
American Orchid Society. (2008). Orchid Pests and Diseases: American Orchid Society Guide. Delray Beach, FL: American Orchid Society.
Brown, P. M. (2005). Wild Orchids of Florida. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.
Chadwick, A. A., and Chadwick, A. E. (2006). The Classic Cattleyas. Portland, OR: Timber Press.
Consumer Guide. (1976). Bromeliads and Orchids. Skokie, IL: Publications International.
Cullina, W. (2004). Understanding Orchids: An Uncomplicated Guide to Growing the World’s Most Exotic Orchids. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Gupton, O. W., and Swope, F. C. (1986). Wild Orchids of the Middle Atlantic States. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press.
Hackney, C. T. (2004). American Cattleyas. Species and Outstanding Clones That Define American Hybridizing. Wilmington, NC: Courtney Hackney.
Higgins, W., and Alrich, P. (2015). Phalaenopsis: The Genus in Pictures. Stamford: CT: International Phalaenopsis Alliance.
Hillerman, F. E., and Holst, A. W. (1986). An Introduction to the Cultivated Angraecoid Orchids of Madagascar. Portland, OR: Timber Press.
Hunt, P. F. (1979). The International Book of Orchids. Secaucus, NJ: Chartwell Books.
Kramer, J. (1989). The World Wildlife Fund Book of Orchids. New York: Abbeville Press.
Kramer, J. (2006). 100 Orchids for Florida. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press.
Lavarack, B., Harris, W. & Stocker, G. (n.d.). Dendrobium and Its Relatives. Portland, OR: Timberland Press.
Leighton, R. (2011). Native Orchids of Florida. Tallahassee, FL: Leighton Photography and Imaging.
Motes, M. (2008). Florida Orchid Growing: Month by Month. Redland, FL: Redland Press.
Motes, M. (2010). Florida Vanda Growing: Month by Month. Redland, FL: Redland Press.
Nobel, M. (1988). You Can Grow Cattleya Orchids. Jacksonville, FL: Mary Noble McQuerry.
Rittershausen, B., and Rittershausen, W. (1984). Orchids in Colour. Dorset, UK: Blandford Press.
Russell, H. A.  (2016).  Dad’s Orchid Notes.  Art Russell, Ed.  Fleming Island, FL.
Sheehan, T. J. (2001). Ultimate Orchid. New York: Dorling Kindersley Publishing.
Withner, C. L. (1988). The Cattleyas and Their Relatives. Vol 1. The Cattleyas. Portland, OR: Timber Press.
Withner, C. L. (1993). The Cattleyas and Their Relatives. Vol III. Schomburgkia, Sophronitis, and Other South American Genera. Portland, OR: Timber Press.
Withner, C. L. (2000). The Cattleyas and Their Relatives. Vol VI. The South American Encyclia Species. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Dad’s Orchid Notes

In going through my late father’s papers I came across the notes that follow.  They are a bit dated, but the general advice is still accurate.  It needs to be said that I am the Orchid Man’s Son; he started me with orchids when I was two years old.  He loved orchids all of his life and shared that love with me.  Enough said; Dad’s notes follow…


The orchid is a plant that is no different from others, in that it requires water, light, warmth, and ventilation, though in somewhat different proportions than the average plant. Orchids are very hardy plants, and will take a great deal of mistreatment.

Some basic rules which will be of value in the culture of orchid plants follow:

A. Plants should be thoroughly drenched with a hose or placed in a bucket of water until bubbles no longer appear from the plant; this is done especially at times when the plant has become thoroughly dried out. Do not water on a dull or shadyday— pick a day when the sun is shining and they will have a chance to dry out very quickly.

B. Over watering will rot the roots of the orchid, since the osmunda fiber, in which they are potted, will retain some moisture from six to 10 days, under normally dry conditions. If no rain has occurred for a week and the plants are out of doors, it is safe to water the plants, provided the osmunda fiber feels dry to the touch, they should be watered about once a week in the house.

C. It is much better to keep plants too dry than to let than stay damp for an extended period; letting plants dry out too long will merely retard their growth and slow down their flowering period — keeping them too wet will kill them.

D. If plants are to be kept in the house, the leaves should be sprayed with a hand sprayer atomizer about two or three times a day during the summer on normal days; once on a dull day. In winter, spray the plants about twice a day on bright days and once, or not at all, depending upon the feel of the potting fiber, on dull days. In the house, it is wise to set the plants a few inches above a pan of water, which will raise the humidity of the air around the plant.

A. Winter time sun is not so strong as that in summer, thus plants may be subjected to almost unrestricted sun all day in a window, preferably on the south side of the house. A kitchen or bathroom window is desirable, since these are the most humid spots in the average home.

B. Sumner sun is quite strong and if unrestricted, may be injurious to foliage and blooms, in summer, plants do well when placed out- side under the sparse foliage of a small tree. Care should be taken to prevent squirrels from getting to the plants, since they may eat the tender shoots and buds — they are particularly fond of the blooms, as are some birds. A suggested plan is to hang plants on a clothesline under light shade of a tree where a great deal of light is available without the rays of the midday sun falling directly upon the plants. Morning and late afternoon sun are not too severe for the plants.

A. During the summer, adequate ventilation is assured in the yard, on a porch, under a tree, or in a slat house, thus no problem exists outside the house.

B. If plants are to be kept in the house, a window should be cracked very slightly in order to keep air from becoming stagnant. Do not open opposite windows to form a draft, since plants will suffer due to too much cooling; it may also create a problem in your personal comfort and in heat loss to the house. Pick a window where it is a little cooler than the rest of the house and normal flow of air currents will probably make it unnecessary to open a window at all.

Temperatures of 50 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit are good for the plants; they can stand temperatures down to, but not including freezing, and up to 100 degrees. It is safe to say that if you keep yourself comfortable and subject the orchids to the same temperature, you will provide a good growing environment.

Blooming period for a mature plant is fairly constant, thus you may expect it to bloom about the same time each year, provided it gets the same care from year to year. Plants should be watered thoroughly just as the blooms begin to break open, then no more root water should be given until the blooms fall off. Daily foliage spray may be applied while in bloom; however, avoid getting water on the bloom to prevent fading and water-spotting of the bloom. After blooms fall off or are out, normal watering and treatment may be resumed.

Potting is done in osmunda fiber and should be good for about two to three years. Plants are potted with the old growth near the edge of the pot and the new growth will progress toward the other edge. Repotting should be accomplished when the new growth touches the opposite edge. Someone familiar with the technique should be called upon to repot the plants and demonstrate the technique to you the first time. It may be advisable at time of repotting to split the plant into one or more additional plants, adding to your collection; the person who repots you plant should be able to advise you in this matter and make the division for you in the event it is advisable.

An excellent book on orchids is “Home Orchid Growing,” by Dorothy Northern, and is found, along with many other good books on the subject, at most public libraries.


Hurricane!…? Maybe not, but…

Yes, we do live in Florida, and that means we occassionally get visited by Hurricanes. Next week’s coming event will be wet, but probably that’s about the size of it. However, it also pays to be prepared – especaily if you have Orchids gowing outside.

This weekend is your opportunity to get ready. With that in mind, and especially if you are new to Florida (or missed out on the last Major Rain Event), consider preparing your orchids and growing spaces now!

A couple of recommendations:
Loose items – Move any loose items inside a protected space. That means Orchids, but it can also include grills, chairs, and anything that can become a projectile.
Hanging Orchids – If you have hanging orchids (like myself and others), make sure they are secure and won’t get blown loose. If there is any doubt – move them inside!
Saucers – If your orchids are sitting in saucers, empty the saucers at least once a day. Orchids don’t generally want to be wet, and although they love Rain, they aren’t aquatic plants. Give those roots an opportunity to dry out. (Thanks Cammy!)
Anti-Fungal. After the blow passes by, treat all of your outside orchids to a dose of anti-fungal. It can’t hurt and may help to control fungal blooms that are common after long periods of wet.

You can probably come up with your own thoughts and recommendations. The point here is that don’t just let the wet weather happen; plan for it before hand, and take action before, during, and after!

Resources Discussed at the August 2015 Jacksonville Orchid Society General Meeting

At last night’s General Meeting of the Jacksonville Orchid Society, our “Panel of Experts” covered a broad range of topics. References for newcommers featured prominently. Following are several links that I’ve found useful. – “Internet Orchid Species Photo Encyclopedia” – This is my first stop when I’m looking for online information about a particular orchid species. – “ORCHIDS WIKI” – This is often my second choice for orchid information online and often fills in gaps that aren’t addressed by – “Cattleya Source Wiki” – I recently came across this source, so only time will tell whether I continue to use it, but it has proven useful so far. – The website of the “Royal Botanical Gardens” is rapidly becoming one of my favorite resources. While it covers flora in general, it also does a wonderful job describing orchids. Take a look – you’ll be pleasantly surprised. As an example, I sold a Dendrobium aphyllum keiki last night at the General Meeting. Searching yields Take a look and you’ll see that not only is the origin of plant well described, but for our interests – its care and culture are well described as well. – Grower’s Choice and Hydroponics store in north Jacksonville. Located in two Jacksonville locations (, it’s easily accessed and sells both “Hydrotron” and “Plant It” in 50L and 45L (and smaller) bags at reasonable prices. Both products are small fired clay spheres with Plant It retaining moisture 3 times as long as Hydrotron (see “Replacing Hydrotron” in the January 2014 edition of the JOS “The Bulletin” –
Don’t forget to search Google as well. It will often yield clues and information that other sites don’t provide.

Zeuxine strateumatica!

January means… it’s time for Zeuxine strateumatica Zeuxine strateumatica! This is a common orchid import that often accompanies St. Augustine grasses.

Last year I found several colonies had established themselves in my yard for a total of +30 plants in 3 locations. Anticipating they were about to appear, I looked for them yesterday, but didn’t find any in their normal location, with the plan that I’d cut the grass this morning before they appeared.

The best laid plans being often thwarted, I found them showing up today, with several in new locations. I cut the grass anyway, but avoided cutting those Zeuxine strateumatica that had appeared, and am now waiting patiently for others to appear.


Controlling Difficult Orchids

Newbies Beware!

Contrary to popluar belief, orchids are difficult, cantankerous, and even dangerous! Don’t let any of the “experts” tell you otherwise.

However, in my humble contribution to orchid culture, I’ve discovered a method that will tame even the most difficult and dangerous of orchids — The Steel Cage!

Are you tired of those orchids that get out of control? Wander about all over your green house, or otherwise just can’t support themselves. Again, I offer — The Steel Cage!

Well, okay, maybe they really aren’t that dangerous, but how to take care of those orchids that climb? I’ve taken to placing them inside a wire superstructure that will support and also constrain their growth. As I’ve worked with several of these “Steel Caged Orchids” across the last several years, one of the biggest problems I’ve found it that the “Cage” doesn’t want to stay in the pot. As illustrated in the closeup photo, I’ve taken to wiring the cage into the pot (aviation types will recognize “safety wire”) using just about any type of wire that can be tightened. Once complete, you can also transport the orchid safely by grasping the cage.

Good Luck! Now let’s get those Orchids under control!Caged Orchid 1 Caged Orchid 2