Growing Specimen Plants For Show


I am sure all of us at one time or another have covetously looked at a plant on our monthly show table or judging show and dreamed or schemed of owning THAT plant! It really is possible with a little time and effort on your part to stand back proudly and say, "It's mine!".


When I chose this topic to write on I was amazed at how little (almost nothing) is written on how to achieve specimen plants. And the articles there are advise using three plants in the same pot, which is totally unacceptable to judges in our area. Most growers I spoke to said ... "Oh, I just pot it on....".


To obtain success with specimen plants you must choose a plant that will fit a certain criteria. It should:

         Be a vigorous grower with multiple growths off each pseudobulb. This is critical if your plant is single flowered.

         Multiflowered if possible with upright or slightly arching spikes; flowers should be carried well above the foliage.

         Try to choose a vibrant coloured flower over a dull one.

         The plant must grow in ALL directions.

         Small leaved plants have more appeal than large leaved ones.

Once you have decided on the plant you want to grow on, choose the best three to six growths and repot keeping the plant as best you can in a circular shape. Only plant into a pot, which will allow one years growth. It is better to pot on every year or two to allow YOU to clean up the plant and shape it as YOU go.


When you have potted on about three or four times (5 to 8 years) you should have a fairly good specimen. The culture of growing the plant is something you will already be familiar with and does not need to be gone into here, other than to advise you not to water your plant for one week before reporting to make it easier to remove the plant from the pot.


One culture tip I will give is to try to have your plant grow from the centre in all directions. For some genera this is not a natural habit. One way to increase the growth is to partially cut through the rhizome between the pseudobulbs taking care not to completely cut through. This will allow you to set the plant in the pot, and being careful not to break the plant apart, to gently form a circle. It will also help the plant by forcing some of the old eyes to grow. Remember, if you break it you will have lost several years of specimen growth, as the plant must be in one piece to qualify as a specimen.


Choosing the right plant to grow on does take some careful consideration. It should be from a genera you are successful with and if possible one that flowers that lend themselves to good specimen plants are:

         Cattleya - such as skinneri and bowringiana, and any other multi-flowered species or hybrid. Do keep in mind that these will take a lot of room unless the one you choose is a miniature.

         Miltonia - Almost all lend themselves well to specimen culture. You will have to watch to make sure the spikes are carried strongly and cleanly above the foliage.

         Dendrobium - Such as densiflorum, aggregatum, phalaenopsis - all very showy and capable of flowering several times from each pseudobulb.

If you were to look at each genera you would find most have something to offer which would be acceptable to grow on as a specimen. If space is a problem look to one of the smaller genera, or the miniatures available in the genera. Encyclia, coelogyne, Laelia and Aeranthes and others all have small plants that would be excellent for specimen culture.


This should give you some idea of starting to grow a specimen and happy growing!!!

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