Learn the tricks to growing orchids

Orchids are easy to grow.

When Allen Yamada of Yamada Orchid Nursery in Kapa‘a first started cultivating orchids it was because of their low maintenance reputation. Upon retiring from Kapa‘a High School as a science teacher, head football coach and athletic director, he was in search of a flower that could handle some neglect.

“My wife and I wanted to travel,” he said.

Yamada began participating in the Farm Bureau Fair in 1960 with ornamentals.

“Orchids don’t require the same daily care as ornamentals,” he said.

Orchids are, in fact, quite hardy and one of the most adaptable plant groups on earth. They’ve been known to grow in tundra, rainforest, mountains, grassy plains, deserts and swamps.

“Most people think orchids are delicate,” said the long-time grower.

There are over 880 genera, 28,000 species and well over 300,000 registered cultivars currently documented, according to a University of Georgia College of Agriculture study.

The trick to growing orchids is propagation.

“The seeds must be kept in a sterile environment,” Yamada said.

Orchid seeds need to establish a symbiotic relationship with a special fungus to survive their first year of life. In the wild only one or two orchid seeds will ever germinate and survive long enough to produce a bloom. Yamada starts his orchid seeds in a jar supplemented with nutrients. This common technique allows plants to survive to maturity.

“Most growers don’t try to germinate every seed, they grow maybe a couple of hundred to see how they turn out,” he said. “Out of a thousand seeds you get four or five good ones for tissue culture.”

The seeds remain in jars to protect them from mold contamination.

“It’s nine to 12 months before you see the leaves and roots come out,” Yamada said. “They’re not a fast grower.”

Orchids are heavy feeders and require fertilizer once or twice week.

“Not only slow release (the small gray pellets), you have to spray the leaves,” he said. “This is an air plant and takes nutrients in through the leaves.”

When Yamada began attending the farm fair it was held in the Veteran’s Hall in Lihu‘e.

“When the fair first began it was for display and selling — the farmers just wanted to show their vegetables,” Yamada said. “Now it is very competitive. Judges come from O‘ahu.”

Visit the agricultural exhibit tent to learn more about orchids. There are two orchid societies that hold bi-monthly meetings — Kaua‘i Orchid Society in Kapa‘a and Garden Island Orchid Society in Hanapepe. For times and dates visit gardenislandorchidsociety.org or visit them at the fair this weekend.

Orchids: Must know

to grow

• Light — know whether your species of orchid likes high or low light

• Media — what does the species like to live in — bark, rocks or tree fern

• Water — water the plant and allow to dry. In most cases orchids do not like to be wet for long

• Air — good air movement is essential so that the plant does not rot out

• Fertilizer — fertilize roots and spray leaves at least once a week

• Pam Woolway, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257 or pwoolway@kauaipubco.com

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