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Keep Your Orchids Happy

Here’s how to water and repot them

     Orchids are so popular nowadays that they are being offered for sale not only in garden centers but also in drug stores and grocery stores as well as big box stores. 
        As houseplants, they have the advantage of producing flowers over a long period of time. They tolerate shade and perform well even when abused. They are also light to ship.
       But they do better when you don’t abuse them. One of the biggest mistakes on taking an orchid plant home is putting the plant pot and all into a non-porous ceramic container. These pots are opaque, so you cannot see when the plant inside wants water. Often plants are over watered, resulting in the roots drowning.  
      Your plant will do better if you put its pot into a saucer containing a layer of pea stone where excess water can collect. Orchids grow naturally in tropical regions with high humidity. Keeping the pea stone wet helps create a moist atmosphere around the roots.
      If aerial roots start growing outside of the container, it is time for repotting. Never use soil, peat moss or compost when repotting orchids. Use an orchid potting media of medium-grade fir bark. Most garden centers carry the mix in bags.
      I have also been successful in potting orchids in composted wood chips. Use wood chips that have been composted until they are dark brown, spongy and can easily be broken between your fingers.  
      When lifting the root ball of an orchid out of its container, take care in not disturbing the existing fir bark clinging to the aerial roots. Repot the orchid in a pot one size larger if you want your plant to flower again next year.
       Begin with a layer of fir bark or composted wood chips in the bottom of the pot. Then place the plant and all its aerial roots into the new pot, working more fir bark or composted wood chips around the roots, covering them all. Bouncing the bottom of the pot firmly on your bench top while repotting helps settle the bark and compost pieces around the roots.
       Orchid plants re-potted in fir bark should be fed with a liquid fertilizer such as 20-20-20 or fish emulsion according to the manufacturer’s direction. Plants that are re-potted using composted wood chips will not need to be fertilized for a couple of months.
 
The Problem with Leyland Cypress
Q: Ten mature (30-foot-tall) Leyland cypress in a row along the border of our property are dying from the base up. The green fronds turn brown from the tips back to the trunk before the branch dies.
       I have been told that the problem is an incurable disease.
      I have also been told they might be cured by topping, trimming, spraying and by injecting liquid fertilizer several feet into the ground around the base of each tree, encouraging new growth of healthy branches that would fill in where all of the dead wood was removed. In several years, the trees would be full and healthy again.
     Is any of what I have been told true? If not, is there some other treatment that will save our Leylands?
–Mike Gray, Huntingtown
A: One of the problems with Leyland cypress is they grow too fast, which makes them susceptible to stress.  What you describe is not uncommon.
       The first solution is to top the trees, removing about 25 percent of the top growth to redirect the growth to the lateral branches. I am not aware of any fungicide sprays that will have any effect on the recovery.
      Yes, removing the dead branches is necessary for appearance. But unless there is visible green foliage, the trees will not develop new branches where the dead have been removed.
      I would not fertilize because the excess nitrogen will stimulate too much new growth. Mulch them with LeafGro at the rate of two to three cubic yards per 1,000 square feet of area from drip line to drip line.
     Consider planting cherry laurel, which is shade-tolerant and grows to about eight feet, to hide the lower portions of your Leyland cypress.