Smoky Orchids

Bad wildfires have brought terribly smoky conditions to the San Francisco Bay Area for the past week. Of course, this is nothing compared to the suffering of those who have lost homes and loved ones in the fires, which are over 150 miles (241 km) away. However, it is causing bad air problems. Our daily pollution readings are in the red and purple hazardous zones, which is a big change from our typically good air quality. I’ve lived here for almost 30 years, and endured smoky days before, but this is the worst I can remember.

How does the smoke affect my orchids? It probably won’t kill any of the plants, but it may harm them. Mostly, it’s a battle with dry air resulting from the same offshore wind flow which carries the pollution here. At a time when many orchids are entering winter dormancy, I need to keep spraying them to increase humidity. Bad air quality may cause growth or flowering problems. Some orchids like Cattleyas can suffer “bud blast” from smoke. That’s when flower buds start to form, but then wilt before blooming. I do have a Laelia living outside which has some sad looking buds, so that could be from the smoke. Other problems, like low flower counts or weak leaf growth, may take weeks or months to appear. There’s not much I can do but try to mitigate any damage with clean water and good humidity. For myself, I’m wearing an N95 face mask for fine particulate matter whenever I’m outdoors in my garden. And I’m waiting for the winds to change, and the fires to be put out, so we can breathe again.

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