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Orchids, Cymbidium, Pepper Plants & Madrone Trees

An orchid and an ornamental orange not blooming are most difficult to respond to; still another Cymbidium not flowering; growing pepper plants from seed; and what is happening to the Madrone trees on the West Coast?
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

February 3, 2008

Two shots of Cymbidium orchids, at the top is our old living room in Toronto with the orchid pot hidden in a basket (and my old friend Winston posing on the hassock); the other shot was taken at the 2006 Mid-Island Orchid Show in Nanaimo. Below: four shots of Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) out here on Vancouver island: a beautiful specimen in the Finnerty Garden at the University of Victory, the bark, the flowers and the fruit. Author photos.

Christine Nallaratnam of unknown location (but possibly in Quebec), wrote with the following question a way back on January 4th: “I purchased an orchid and an ornamental orange house plants few years back and they flowered the first two years and then they stopped flowering. I take good care of all my plants and all my plants (outdoor and indoor) are doing extremely well except for these two. The leaves are healthy and I water them when required (once or twice a week and are placed in a place where there is plenty of sunshine and artificial light. Furthermore, I feed them plant food and Mg (epsom salt) to promote flowering and growth. Please let me know how I can get my orchid and my orange house plants to bloom.”

Questions of this nature are always the hardest to answer successfully! Without seeing the plants, and even then, often there is noting obvious to explain non-performance. Christine should concentrate on any changes that were made with the plants or the areas where they grow in recent years since they both did bloom for the first two years.

There are two items that she did not mention about her plants. The first is just what fertilizer she is using. That could be making all the difference. Also, the Epsom salts may or may not be useful. Secondly, just what type of orchid is it? The demands of the different types vary widely.

Another point is humidity. Has there been any change in the humidity level in the house--for example a change in furnace and/or air conditioning?

Since I do not know your location it is difficult for me to direct you to someone who could help. For example, if you were in the Toronto area I would refer you to the Southern Ontario Orchid Society annual show being held at the Toronto Botanical Gardens, February 9/10; or if you happened to be near the Hamilton/Burlington area, there is a show there as well on March 8/9, the Royal Botanical Gardens Orchid Society.

Sorry I cannot offer more but if writing again, please do include your location.

The second inquiry this week is also about an orchid, and came in on January 18th. Giuliana Camelia of Niagara Falls wrote: “I think I'm a little worried about my Cymbidium orchid. I've done everything the experts told me to do but still no flowers. When do they flower? There are so many new leaves and bulbs. It has the right amount of light and water. What did I do wrong? Appreciate your time. Thank-you.”

My suggestion to Giuliana is the same as for Christine above. In Giuliana’s case, that RBG Orchid Show in early March would not be too distant, I hope. Still third and fourth options for her would be Terry or Doug Kennedy at the Successful Gardening Show at the Toronto International Centre, just north of Pearson Airport, March 6 - 9; or one of the orchid people who doubtless will be at the Canada Blooms show, March 12 - 16 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

It certainly sounds as if she is doing things well since she has new leaves and pseudo-bulbs on her plant. I hope she can make it to one of the orchid shows and get some good hints. Sounds like a fertilizer concern to me!

The very next day, Bob Cooper, from somewhere in Ontario, sent the following, short, easily answered question to Don-na Dawson: “Can sweet peppers be started as seed indoors in Southern Ontario?”

Donna was going to be away, but encouraged Bob to join us on the Live Chat on the next day, but I guess Bob could not as we didn’t see him there.

In any case, the simple answer Yes! Peppers, like tomatoes, are a warm-season crop and most cultivars are relatively easy to start from seed, although you may find recommendations on some for a pre-soaking for eight hours before sowing. The most important thing as with tomato plants is not to start too early! For tomatoes, at the beginning of April is about right, and I would suggest perhaps only a week before that for peppers. You still have lots of time to study the various seed catalogues and make your choice of cultivars.

Another week later, Christine Cunha from California wrote: “My mature Madrone has black spots ALL over its leaves. It is a native, growing out in the wild and is not watered. It is in Sonoma county, Calif., and SOD has appeared in the county, but this does not look like the photos of SOD I have seen. Any ideas?”

The Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) is not only native where Christine lives, but also here on Vancouver Island. In doing a little research (which provided me with nothing new!) I noted that even the United States Department of Agriculture has some not-too-great information on its Website. They indicate, for example, that the tree is hardy in virtually all of British Columbia. For starters, as far as I know it does not grow anywhere at elevations over about 1500 metres, whereas their map shows it all over the province. Further, I know for a fact, the limit of its distribution on Vancouver Island is just north of Qualicum Bay, only a few kilometres from where I live.

Christine’s description of the problem, I agree, does not seem to be SOD (Sudden Oak Death) which some people attribute to the introduced fungus Phytophthora ramorum. I don’t happen to agree with all of the questionable conclusions that have been made about P. r., but that is a whole other story!

A good friend, ex of Toronto, and now in the Vancouver area, Bill Granger, a trained arborist, has attended various seminars and courses in the U.S. and Canada on just what may be behind the death of so many Madrone trees, but he has told me that little definitive has come out of them. It would basically appear to be a stress problem that occurs where the land management has been changed. If one examines major stands of Madrones along a highway for example, generally it is only the trees nearest the edge of the forest that are in demise and dying. That would appear to confirm that thought.

Perhaps you can have a state arborist examine the spots, and that may identify the problem.

Sorry I cannot be more informative.

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