How To Grow And Care For Orchid Tree
This colorful blooming tree looks like something from a dream, but it’s found everywhere in Southern Florida.
The orchid tree fills with flowers that resemble those of an orchid, the blooming houseplant. When planted in the Tropical South, the evergreen varieties of orchid tree look great for most of the year. Other varieties go quiet for the winter season. Available in a lot of different varieties, orchid tree needs the warm, sunny climate found in the tropical southern reaches of Florida.
Red, Pink, Purple
Zones 10-11 (USDA)
Orchid Tree Care
Orchid tree needs a warm and sun-filled climate, making southern Florida an ideal place to grow. Give the tree landscape fertilizer and water sparingly. Normal rainfall is generally enough moisture, but in extreme drought conditions, water the orchid tree with your garden hose. Some pruning will help the orchid tree take the shape you prefer, but it’s not required.
Orchid tree grows best in full sun. It will tolerate partial sun, but full sun will bring out full flowers and the best colors.
Plant orchid tree in loamy, neutral soil that drains well. When planted in alkaline soil, the leaves turn yellow.
Orchid tree thrives in the heat and humidity of our tropical south. Put your orchid tree on a moderate, but regular watering schedule and make sure the soil drains well. This plant doesn’t want to sit in water and won’t do well if overwatered.
Temperature and Humidity
Orchid tree grows in Zones 10-11 (USDA) in the tropical south. Native to tropical parts of Asia and Africa, it grows best in sunshine and humidity.
A general landscape fertilizer will provide a balance of nutrients the orchid tree needs to perform well. Ask your nursery for the product that suits your growing conditions.
Types of Orchid Tree
B. x blakeana. HONG KONG ORCHID TREE. Partially deciduous tree. Native to southern China. The showiest and most coveted bauhinia; also the least cold hardy. Grows to 20 ft. high and wide; umbrella-type habit. Flowers are much larger (to 6 in. wide) than those of other bauhinias and appear in late fall to spring. They are shaped like some orchids; colors range from cranberry-maroon through purple and rose to orchid-pink, often in the same blossom. Gray-green leaves tend to drop off around bloom time, but the tree does not lose all of its foliage.
B. forficata (B. candicans). BRAZILIAN ORCHID TREE. Evergreen to deciduous large shrub or tree. Zones 9-11 (USDA) in CS, TS. Native to Brazil. From spring through summer, bears narrow-petaled, creamy white flowers to 3 in. wide. Deep green leaves with lobes that are more pointed than those of other species. Grows to 20 ft. tall and broad, often with twisted, leaning trunk, picturesque angled branches. Short, sharp thorns at branch joints. Good canopy for patio. In the Tropical South, give some afternoon shade; when unshaded, blooms tend to shrivel during the day.
B. galpinii (B. punctata). RED BAUHINIA. Zones 9-11 (USDA) in CS, TS. Evergreen to semievergreen shrub. Native to tropical and southern Africa. Brick-red to orange, 21⁄2- to 3-in. flowers, as spectacular as those of bougainvillea, spring to fall. Sprawling, half-climbing plant to about 10 ft. tall, spreading to 15 ft. Best as espalier on a warm wall. With hard pruning, can make splendid flowering bonsai for a large pot or box.
B. lunarioides (B. congesta). ANACACHO ORCHID TREE. Evergreen to semievergreen shrub or tree. Zones 9-11 (USDA) in CS, TS. Native from southwestern Texas into northeastern Mexico. To 8–12 ft. high, 4–5 ft. wide, with rounded, very small leaves (1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. long). White- and pink-flowering forms are available. Begins bloom in early spring and repeats many times over spring and summer. Open structured in afternoon shade; bushier in full sun.
B. macranthera. SIERRA ORCHID TREE. Evergreen to semi-evergreen shrub. Zones 9-11 (USDA) in CS, TS. From eastern Mexico. Grows 8 ft. high and 12 ft. wide; blooms intermittently from spring through autumn, bearing small, exotic-looking flowers that combine tones of lavender and purple. Attractive, glossy green leaves.
B. monandra. BUTTERFLY FLOWER, JERUSALEM DATE. Deciduous shrub or small tree. Native to tropical Asia. Similar to B. variegata but 20 ft. tall and wide. Clusters of 4- to 5-in.-wide, pale pink to magenta blossoms, streaked or spotted with purple, come in clusters at ends of branches. Typically flowers in summer, but in Florida bloom time may run from spring through late fall.
B. variegata (B. purpurea). PURPLE ORCHID TREE. Partially to wholly deciduous large shrubs or trees. Native to India, China. The most frequently planted species. Hardy to 22°F. Spectacular street tree where spring is reliably and steadily warm. Wonderful show of light pink to orchid purple, broad-petaled, 2- to 3-in.-wide flowers, usually blooming January to April. Light green, broad-lobed leaves generally drop in mid-winter. Produces a huge crop of messy-looking beans after blooming. Trim beans off if you wish—trimming brings new growth earlier. Inclined to grow as a shrub with many stems. Staked and pruned, it becomes an attractive tree to 25–30 ft. tall and wide. ‘Candida’ is the same, but with white flowers. Species known to be invasive in Florida.
Orchid trees naturally grow in a multi-trunk tree form, but if you prefer a single trunk, get a pair of sterilized loppers and start trimming those branches when it is young. Regular pruning will be required to hold the shape of an orchid tree. Regardless, every orchid tree will benefit with some pruning after it blooms. Remove any leggy or damaged branches once a year.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
As a general rule, orchid trees do not have pest problems, but it can be frequented by caterpillars who want to munch on leaves. If they become a problem, try a commercial, eco-friendly insecticide containing Bacillus thuringiensis. This natural bacteria creates a protein that is toxic to insects when eaten.
How to Get Orchid Tree to Bloom
If your orchid tree fails to produce blooms, take a sunlight inventory. It should be planted in full sun, but sometimes changes in the landscape can block some of the needed light (Think about larger trees that have outpaced orchid tree’s growth or your neighbor’s new fence or other structural changes in the neighborhood.) If possible, adapt your location to bring on full sun.
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