How to trim or train Hong Kong Orchid Trees

SSDly(9)August 2, 2012

Dear Gardeners:

This is my first time posting and I need your suggestions.

I have two young HK Orchids that are 7 ft tall now. I want them to grow as tall as possible so not to block the lake view but rather form a large canopy on top. What can I do to encourage this type of growth? What kinds of fertilizers to use?

I've read many posts that are more related to flowering. I appreciate your help.

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I have 2 also, probably slightly shorter than yours. When they were small they decided to spread out sideways instead of up. I put in a tall stake beside each one and tied their branches to it. They put out a few flowers, first time. Now they'll stay like that for another year or so before I untie them to see if they're going to keep going upwards instead of spreading. I'm optimistic about it, but will see.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2012 at 6:32AM
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sun_worshiper(FL 9b)

Hey, good question. I am training one too. They are exceedingly rapid growers, and a bit brittle. I have learned that it is a bad idea to push them too much with fertilizer when they are growing their central leader. Makes too much leaf growth and they are prone to snapping in wind. I've had mine shoot up to 15' tall twice and each time get snapped off about 5' above the ground in big wind storms.

Here is was, being trained up a bamboo stake:

And after big windstorm:

The second time it happened, it was because the lowest branch tore away from the trunk, and took 3/4 of the trunk with it.

So for my next go around, here's what I am trying. I trimmed it back to single stick that is 4' tall, making a clean cut beneath the tear. I waited for a handful of sprouts to form, then I selected the strongest one to train as the central leader, and culled all the rest. For that one, I am not pushing with fertilizer so it will grow more slowly, and hopefully be stronger. I am pruning off the largest side branches, choosing to keep only those that will not threaten to become larger than the trunk. I am also thinning the number of side branches, so there isn't so much "sail" surface to knock the tree over in a wind storm.

Anyone have any input on if this is a good strategy? My last two strategies have clearly not worked...

    Bookmark   August 3, 2012 at 10:22AM
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I buy rebar at the box stores and stake my trees in training with that. Tie them tight with the green gardening tape, just make sure to check it every few months to be sure the tape isn't cutting in the bark. You can even bend a side branch up to be the leader--- carefully-- then tie it. After the tree is grown you won't really see the knot in the trunk. Hope this helps. :o) Don't trim off side branches more then a third at a time, but once it's cleaned off keep it clean, don't allow any suckers.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2012 at 1:16PM
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Clearly the fewer branches and leaves the less likely it is to be blown over by storms. However, the leaves do encourage more root growth, so one doesn't want to trim too much.

My impression is that some fertilizer will make the plant stronger, as long as it is the right type. I have a liquid that is designed to encourage root growth. I use that and some other ingredients that don't have a whole lot of nitrogen in them the first few years.

I have an orchid tree that is perhaps forty feet high. Right now it look great--lush and green. It loses most of its leaves in the spring while it is flowering and then gradually they grow back. August and September is when they have the most leaves--not the best times because of the storms.

This tree seems to drop lower branches all the time. It's messy in that way, but the fragrant flowers are sure worth it.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2012 at 7:42AM
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sun_worshiper(FL 9b)

Thanks for the great input. Tom, what kind of fertilizer are you using for encouraging root growth? Is it high in P? What other ingredients are you using?

I agree - the flowers are worth the trouble on this tree!

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 9:02AM
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I have 2 hong cong orchid tree's, have never staked them, but I do constantly shape with prunning, they are meant to spread in an exoic oreintal fashion. You only fertilize these tree's in mid to late Sept.with any acid loving plant/tree food, I get beautiful fragrant flowers all winter long into spring. You can see one tree on pic. there is another one a little taller flanking the Oak tree on the other side.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 10:32AM
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sun_worshiper(FL 9b)

That's a beautifully shaped tree! Interesting that the main trunk is so short, almost like a fruit tree. I want my tree to have a similar form, but for the first branches to occur at 8 or 10' off the ground rather than what looks like about 5' in your tree. So I'm wanting to minimize my tree's leaf load so it can establish a good strong primary trunk, once the trunk is nice and strong, I'll let it start getting more branches.

What guidelines do you follow when pruning for this shape? Did you select scaffold branches the way you would for a fruit tree?

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 9:53AM
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I simply cut the long straglers, and have a few on my other tree which is larger, and most are up on top, these are branches, mostly bare except for on the ends, I just prune anytime works for me and my tree's, they are still young and so not that high but just wait these tree's will get 40' high and 40' wide., 30 years ago had one at a previous house it was 30+' high and very wide. Most tree's or plants you prune at top, you get growth on bottom or spread, prune at bottom and you get growth spurt.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 11:20AM
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sun_worshiper(FL 9b)

Thanks Susie - very helpful advise!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 9:56AM
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