Orchids grown on a slab or totem can excel

Growing orchids is not without its challenges, says Allan Watson. Having moved from his traditional medium bark to Fernwood Fern Fibre substrate in regulation pots with award winning success, he says his next move into slab or totem culture was a no-brainer.

As Allan says, most orchids are epiphytic. In other words, they grow on trees in their natural environment. That’s why it seemed logical to him to try some on fern fibre slabs and totems. The genera selected for this process needed careful consideration. As a grower, Allan realised that not all orchids would develop to the same extent as those he had grown in the fern fibre substrate, as it is not that easy to create a variety of natural growing habitats.

Plants were selected on their epiphytic capability, which means determining if they were climbing out of their pot or looked to be stunted growth-wise in their pot. Those would be selected to be trialled on a fern fibre slab or totem.

Allan initially selected Gom. Flexuosa (photo 1). The aerial roots attached themselves securely to the Fern fibre slab within 6 months and this plant has continued to flourish. He says this plant was already on a small slab, and its growth pattern supported the transfer on to a bigger slab.

Din. Polybulbon

Din. Polybulbon

Photo 2, Din. Polybulbon, started as a small twig. Allan says he sprayed the totem regularly to create a moist but not wet environment. As you can see, this plant has taken on a growth spurt. If unravelled after 6 months, it would now be around 300mm long.

Allan has continued to expand his collection displayed on Fernwood fern fibre slabs and totems and indicates that initial results are showing positive signs. He says apart from the product which provides the porous foundation for the root structure, success comes with maintaining the growing conditions that suit the plant.

Allan also indicated that the mounting process was simple. He just used handmade wire staples and found that sphagnum moss over the root structure was not needed if you were able to maintain a moist environment over the roots by regular spraying.

Allan is currently trying the following genera on Fernwood fern fibre slabs and totems:  Odontoglossum Alliance, Cattleya, Sarcocillus, and a variety of other genus.