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Establishing Dendrobium Orchids

Jeff Howes

Editor's note: Recent research into the taxonomy of the genus Dendrobium in Australia has led to name changes that have not yet been universally accepted. The two species mentioned in this article, D.speciosum and D.kingianum, may be found under the names Thelychiton speciosus and T.kingianus elsewhere (eg. the National Botanic Gardens website).

I have been gardening using native plants for nearly thirty years. And over the last six years I have opened my garden three times for the Australian Open Garden Scheme. My real aim is not to show my garden off but to show people that you can successfully grow native plants in suburbia and to promote the Australian Plants Society.

What I find interesting when I talk to the visitors is comments like - "when you go to most open gardens you know nearly all the plants that are used - only the site and method of use changes - with a native garden you do not know most of the plants" ... so they ask me many questions like: "how you I grow them, which ones do I use, what can they use in their garden etc etc". I start off by saying that there are over 20,000 native plants in Australia that are growing from the coast to the desert. You need to select the ones that will grow in you micro climate and local conditions such as: how much sun you is present, what type of soil is it well drained or retains water etc.

Dendrobium kingianum - purple    Dendrobium kingianum - white
Two forms of Dendrobium kingianum
Purple form
Left; White form Right

One of most frequent question I receive is how do I manage to grow Dendrobium kingianum and Dendrobium speciosum orchids on my rocks and 'apparently' in the ground. These orchids are really very hardy and many are killed by to much kindness and water. In fact they can endure extreme desiccation and flower best in full sun to one quarter shade.

To establish them on large rocks, obtain some aerial shoots that have been removed from existing orchids or cut off clumps with three or four pseudo- bulbs and hold them down with small rocks (or even tie them down with old stockings) and surround them with plenty of old leaf litter. Use an open friable litter that does not hold too much moisture and drains well. Keep the orchids moist (not wet) until new growth commences and then only water occasionally and apply more mulch as they grows.

To appear to get them growing in the ground, (which they wont), place a few 50 mm thick paving blocks on the ground and follow the above method. In no time they will multiply and reward you with flowers. Liquid fertiliser can be applied monthly during spring and summer at 1/2 strength if you must - but they will get enough nutrients from the decaying leaf litter.

From Australian Plants, quarterly journal of the Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants, September 2006.

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Australian Plants online - 2007
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants