Do Not Molest the Orchid Roots

Alfred Hockenmaier

At the Malibu Orchid Society meeting on February 21 at the Methodist Church, featured speaker Alfred Hockenmaier, the “orchid whisperer” gave several orchid tips and answered questions for both beginners and those experienced in growing this flowering plant.

“Don’t be a root molester,” Hockenmaier said, as he went over some basic repotting tips that included the importance of the pot size.

“Use the smallest pot possible,” he said. “The quickest way to kill an orchid is overpot it.” He explained that roots like a minimal disturbance and that roots prefer matte pots, to shiny ones.

In repotting, Hockenmaier said one has to consider how orchids have evolved. In the wild, many orchids cling to trees and stumps, receiving water from the mist and rain and decomposing leaves.

Orchids need a lot of air around their roots, and that needs to be considered when choosing the planting medium. Pots should have excellent drainage and when a person repots, the surface should be sterile. “Clean your tools between plants,” Hockenmaier said and when you have multiple plants “Don’t overcrowd the space.”

The number one killer of plants is overwatering. “Orchids don’t like wet feet,” said Hockenmaier, who had been growing orchids for more than 30 years.

He was asked about using ice cubes for watering.

“NEVER. These are tropical plants,” he said. Basically, if a resident was at a beach, how would they feel about having ice cubes dumped on their heads?

He showed how to place the stakes in an orchid to keep it upright and “stakes should be away from roots.”

As much as he loves his orchids, he said if the plant isn’t producing, “throw it away or give it to a friend.” He described one plant he could never get to flower, and a friend took it. The friend has had tremendous luck and the plant seems to be constantly flowering, and reminds him of it every time she sees him.

“Orchids are drama queens,” Hockenmaier joked.

Then an opportunity raffle was held, and this editor went home with a new species of orchid.

Meetings are held the third Tuesday of every month and the annual orchid auction (public is invited) is tentatively scheduled for March 21.

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