ORCHID STAKES, TIES AND CLIPS by Brian Milligan
By far the most popular orchid stakes are made of cane or bamboo, usually stained green, but there are several other commercial or homemade varieties. The latter are made from high-voltage electrical cable. Bend a loop in the top of each stake so as to minimise the chances of facial injury when bending over your plants. Aluminium stakes have an advantage over other types in that they can be bent to follow the curve of arching spikes.
Stakes made from bamboo cane are the most common. Packs usually carry a range of stakes of equal length but differing diameters. They come in a range of lengths, usually 60 cm, 90 cm and 1.2 m. The middle size is suitable for most cymbidiums; they look best if the thicker end is inserted in the pot. A minor disadvantage of bamboo canes is that most are hollow. This prevents them being sharpened to a point for easier insertion. Some growers compromise by cutting the end diagonally. To minimise root damage, one should never insert a stake near the rim of the pot. One would imagine that the further from the base of the orchid the better, but experience shows that there are more orchid roots around the periphery of the pot than near its centre.
My personal preference is for solid cane stakes that are sold with one end already sharpened. Although the majority of bamboo stakes sold for orchids are eminently suitable for cymbidiums, most are far too heavy for staking less robust flower spikes. Occasionally lighter cane stakes appear in nursery shops, so keep an eye out for them and buy a supply then, as they’re not always available. Stakes for masdevallias and other small orchids are easier to find – simply buy a packet of wooden skewers (kebab sticks) from your local supermarket!
It is unwise to re-use stakes, because of the possibility of transferring virus from one plant to another via the roots. Some growers turn their stakes upside down the second year, while others attempt to sterilise them by immersion overnight in a very strong solution (10%) of Purex® algicide. Both of these procedures involve a certain risk and I always use new stakes for my most highly valued cymbidiums. Aluminium stakes are probably the only ones that can be sterilised with certainty – by heating the end that was inserted in the pot in a gas flame.
Flower spikes may be fastened to stakes in a number of different ways. Most growers use green plastic-coated wire, usually referred to as Twistie-Tie®, although there are probably several proprietary brands. It may be purchased in packets of straight lengths or in continuous rolls. There are two main methods for securing spikes to stakes with Twistie-Tie. The most straightforward entails wrapping the tie around both spike and stake and securing the ends by twisting them together several times. In the other method the Twistie-Tie is first twisted around the spike and then around the stake to form a figure-of-eight.
In both cases, the Twistie-Tie ends should be twisted together behind the stake, not the stem, to minimise the possibility of damage. In the case of smaller orchids, such as masdevallias etc, there is no need to twist the ends of the Twistie-Tie. One simply makes two turns of Twistie-Tie around the stem and stake and cuts off any excess.
An even simpler method for fastening spikes to stakes is to use orchid clips, which are spring-loaded plastic clips resembling dolls’ hair clips! The smaller size has three claws on one side and two on the other. They are more suited to masdevallias and other small or medium-sized inflorescences than to cymbidiums but a larger size clip is also available. The clips may be purchased from Collector’s Corner, the smaller size costing about $3 for a packet of 25.