Learn about insecticides and rooting hormones, and also how to make the most of your orchid hobby.

By Yvette Tan

Read Part 3.

There comes a time in a gardener’s life when they are faced with the important question: should I use insecticide? This article cannot answer that for you, but it may help you make up your mind.

We also talk about using hormones, and how to find like-minded orchid enthusiasts that have the potential to be lifelong friends.

Chemical vs. Organic Insecticides

Pesticides should be used as a last resort, and then, very sparingly. “Use insecticides only as needed,” JM says. “Once you see an infestation, you can either dab the insect off with your finger or you can spray them with your hose to knock them physically off your orchids.”

Only if the infestation is severe should you consider applying pesticide onto your orchids. “But remember to apply it with caution because insecticides are basically poison, and poison kills. Not necessarily instantly, but it builds up in your body,” JM says. “Wear the necessary protection like gloves, and never spray during high winds. The air should be still, or if there’s air movement, it should be away from you, not towards you.”

You can also use organic pesticides. “They are effective, but the effect is cumulative,” JM says. “The downside of organic fertilizers and insecticides is they tend to have faster expiry dates. But you don’t necessarily purchase and store. You purchase and utilize.”

Pesticide Application

The best way to apply insecticides is according to its package instructions. “The thing is you have to be consistent because for insecticides, if you kill only 50% of the infestation, the other 50 percent are happy because they no longer have much competition and they have resistance towards insecticide kasi nagtipid ka, so you’d better follow instructions.”

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Row of Aranda orchids
Photo courtesy of JM

Rooting Hormones and Trace Elements

As you advance in your journey as an orchid keeper, you might start wondering about using rooting hormones and trace elements. Rooting hormones are used to make a plant sprout roots.

To establish a cut orchid, you’ll need to help it grow roots. “You can either let them grow new roots naturally through your regular gardening practice or you can force them into growing roots using rooting hormones,” JM says. “However, there are setbacks to that. They might grow new roots but at the expense of leaves. You’re forcing the orchids to grow roots so it might relocate its nutrients to growing roots.”

He adds, “Apply hormones only once because hormones by definition are substances that can effect changes with minimal concentration.”

Trace elements are elements needed by plants in minute quantities. They offer an extra boost of nutrition. Commercial preparations include trace elements like boron, magnesium, and zinc. “Commercial fertilizers already have trace elements. The paradox is if you apply trace elements to the fertilizer, the result it dramatically different from the regular formulation, I don’t know why,” JM says.

It’s only in this case that JM suggests deviating from package instructions. “Some instructions would indicate 1:1 proportions with fertilizers, which is excessive. What I do is for as long as it stains the water, it’s fine, and 1 kilo can last me a year.”

Observation is Important

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that no matter how you decide to care for your orchid, observing the plant is still key to its growth. Sometimes, a healthy plant can be induced to flower just by switching its location. “A farm I worked in had a lush Cattleya na tamad mag-flower,” JM relates. “Nilipat nila ng location within the same greenhouse. Na-stress lang ng konti, nag-flower.”

Setting reasonable expectations, especially as a newbie, is also important and a key to keeping from getting discouraged. “You can’t expect your orchid to flower every time. Just like people, when people give birth, they invest a lot of their bodily resources into growing their offspring. You can’t expect a person to give birth every month,” JM says. “Plants also need periods of rest. If you want to shorten the resting period, then you’d better back it up with resources like fertilizers.”

To take the parenting metaphor a bit further, micromanaging your orchid isn’t going to help it growth, either. It’ll just stress out both you and your plant. “You don’t have to overcare for your orchids. Orchids are easy to take care of. You just have to water them once a day minimally and just keep them dry at night and you have to look at the roots,” JM says. If the roots are happy, then the plant is happy. If the roots stop growing, then there’s something wrong.”

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Vanda Loke
Photo courtesy of JM

Spreading the Joy

Another fun way to enjoy orchid growing is to consult with other newbies and consult experts. “Go online and look for orchid enthusiast groups,” JJM says. “Find forums where you can exchange ideas and experiences. By doing so, you broaden your social horizon and you can minimize your mistakes by listening to others who have gone through the same experience.”

Organizations like the Philippine Orchid Society accepts new members after a screening process, but there are other groups both online and IRL that you can join. “Maganda kasi yung may exchange of ideas because nobody has a monopoly on technology and knowledge. They may have better ideas that you can try,” JM says. “You just have to continually evolve as as grower because that will reap rewards.”

There are many benefits to growing orchids. While most of them have to do with the practice of gardening itself, one cannot deny the joy felt when seeing an orchid plant flower. “What I love most about orchids is that the flowers are the epitome of exotic beauty for me,” JM says. “The flowers last long, and whenever you give someone orchids, they appreciate it more. Beauty, exotic, exquisite. Those are what comes to mind for me when you say orchid.”