Cultivating a Winner
Know how to imitate natural conditions
Cultivating a winner is not as difficult as you might think. The key to your success lies in the due diligence and time you are willing to allocate to it, just like so many other things in life. In most cases, the orchids in our collections are from different parts of the world, with all kinds of climates, altitudes and an array of different needs that go with it. Your goal would be to try and imitate those exact conditions to the best of your ability.
Now you might be wondering how to imitate 2500m above sea level, and this is where creativity and Google come in. Higher altitudes usually mean cooler, mistier conditions with lower humidity and in some regions lots of wind/airflow. My solution to this would be to hang your orchid in a basket for maximum air circulation, a little less humidity and slightly cooler temperatures.
Another example is to know which of your orchids are warm growers, like Vandas, and which are cool to cold growing orchids, like Masdevallias. Catering to these needs would result in maximum growth and in turn, a great show in flowers.
You might think that I am pedantic, but these slight adjustments might just be the difference between a 1st prize or a 2nd prize. Many other growers out there are incredibly finicky and take much pride in what they do. Remember that your orchids will be judged against others in the same species pool and an extra flower, a little more colour or nicer foliage could just tip the scales in your favour.
Supplying your orchids with the right nutrients at the right time also makes a huge difference. Generally NPK 20-20-20 is great, yes, but that's generally. During March and April a blossom booster booster with higher phosphorus levels, like 10-50-10 can be used a couple of times for those winter and spring bloomers.
Closer to the end of May you can swap out the 20-20-20 to a fertiliser with less phosphorus like NPK 10-5-20. This step is more important for orchids growing outdoors and who are more exposed to the elements than their indoor counterparts. In my case, I keep going with 20-20-20 as I only have a hand full of orchids outside in the winter.
What's the weather like
Another step in the right direction would be to acquire a small weather station. Many are much cheaper than you might think and will help you in your quest. Open your browser and search digital temperature and humidity meter, that should get you the right results. Knowing what the temperature and humidity are will help guide you in tweaking conditions by, perhaps, opening a window, or adding a pebble tray to increase humidity. If you have some spare cash I will recommend having a look at the Cobblestone Weather Station. It comes with a separate sensor you can put outside and will display both indoor and outdoor weather conditions.
Choosing the one
Trying to have 40 top prize winners from the get-go is difficult. I suggest choosing your 10 favourites as a start, depending on your collection. You'll tend to give them more attention than the rest anyway and don't even dare come and tell me you don't have favourites unless you only have like 5 or 10, I'm referring more to people who have 40+. You also don't have to start with the most exotic one you have, ease into it. If you want to start with a Phalaenopsis go for it. Try and remember how many blooms it had when you first bought it or last bloomed it and try to build on that. Do some research on how many flowers the specific orchid usually would produce and try to max that number. People will still be struck by it either way. I've seen a guy on the Orchid Growers South Africa group with a big white Phalaenopsis carrying 34 flowers on two spikes at the same time that picture is still in my head today!
The last topic I would like to bring up is foliage. Keeping your orchid's foliage clean would add to its overall presentation and health, but before we get to the cleaning, I'd like to add that you should never leave water droplets on your foliage. Not only will it cause watermarks, but it would increase the chances of your orchid getting infected.
With regards to cleaning your orchid's foliage, I would recommend using lemon juice mixed with a little water and cotton balls with which to wipe it. The lemon juice is acidic which removes almost all the dust, mould, etc. that might build up over time. You can also buy a wide soft paintbrush and dust them off, starting from the inside towards the tips.