Tropical May Orchids in the Garden
Tara A. Spears
It is such a thrill to have a vibrant array of warm weather exotic flowers in my home garden. Now that Jaltemba Bay is in its summer growing mode, the dainty Dancing Ladies orchid is in full bloom for the month of May.
These flowers earned their name because they have out-of-proportion big lips that look like the skirt of an evening gown. With dozens of delicate mini-flowers on a single spike, it’s like a chorus line of scantily clad dancers pulsing in the breeze.
The diverse Oncidium orchid family has a wide natural range. In fact, with 600 species, you can find Oncidium from sea level all the way to 13,300 feet (4000 meter) high throughout Mexico, southern Florida, all down the continent to Argentina. Their flowers come in yellow, brown, white, red, pink, and a combination of these colors. Oncidium are more tolerant of a wider range of growing condition, making them excellent for beginning orchid growers.
As with all orchids, the Dancing Lady prefers filtered sunlight under a canopy. Generally, do not place this species in direct sunlight or in dark, shady areas. It’s easy to add orchids to your yard: try mounting them on trees because many wild orchids spend their lives as epiphytes, growing on the trunks, branches or outer twigs of trees. When mounting an epiphytic orchid, such as Dancing Lady, onto a tree, use nylon fishing line or old pantyhose to secure the plant tightly to the host. Include a pad of sphagnum moss (or some non-absorbent plant material) around the base of the plant to help establish its roots.
Although orchids tend to be fussy in what conditions they prefer, the Oncidium orchid demands only an intermediate temperature and light level. For this reason, Dancing Lady orchids are a common orchid to be grown indoors in colder latitudes. Oncidiums can be grown by a window facing any direction except north. Provide a daytime temperature of 65–75°F (18-24°C) with a cooler night temperature of 55–65°F (13-18°C). I kept a Dancing Lady orchid for years in my office –until the energy conservation policy of not operating the furnace above 50 degrees on the weekends froze it to death.
Even though this orchid does not have flowers for 11 months, it is necessary to water them year round. It is important to make sure that they get sufficiently dry before watering them again because orchids do not like to have wet roots all the time. Weekly misting is a great idea for indoor plants.
Another condition that occurs naturally in coastal Mexico is having high humidity. If your growing area does not have 50-60% humidity, increase it by putting your oncidium orchid on a humidity tray. You can make a humidity tray by placing small rocks on an impervious lid and keeping water in it. The leaves of oncidium tend to get black spots easily, so ensure that your growing area has enough air movement to keep these little spots under control.
Excellent drainage is the key to the success of growing these orchids. If you choose to put your Dancing Lady in a shallow clay pot instead of mounting it on a board, use mostly charcoal and perlite, with just a touch of bark for best results.
I rely on my Dancing Lady orchid to tell me when it’s summer and time to relax. Its delicate spray of blossoms is one of the first of the season.