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The Tools the New York Botanical Garden’s Senior Curator of Orchids Uses in His Garden

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

If you’ve ever struggled to keep one orchid alive in your apartment for more than a couple weeks, keeping thousands of orchids thriving for months at a time probably sounds like an impossible task. Not so for Marc Hachadourian. The New York Botanical Garden’s director of glasshouse horticulture and senior curator of orchids oversees the tens of thousands of plants that go into the Botanical Garden’s exhibitions and horticultural displays, and cares for the thousands of orchids that comprise NYBG’s annual Orchid Show. On the occasion of NYBG’s 18th Orchid Show, we reached out to Hachadourian to hear about all of the tools he uses on the job — as well as at home, in his own backyard greenhouse. Read on for his favorite pliers, pruners, misters, and the pots he calls “the little black dress of gardening.”

These pruners are on my belt in a little holster practically all day long. I use them every day for caring for the plants — they are kind of my universal tool. Most gardeners use a pair of Felco pruners, which are a little heavier and more bulky, and are really meant more for gardening, like pruning shrubs. I discovered the ARS pruners through a friend in the city who is a florist. They’ve got a really nice spring and are very lightweight, so after a day of working you’ll have less wear on your hands than if you used Felcos. They also have a sharp blade with a fine point, so it doesn’t matter whether you’re cutting a piece of bamboo for staking or doing some really fine-tune grooming — say cutting flowers, stems, or leaves — they’re just versatile and extremely durable. I find that they stay sharper longer than other pruners that I have, too. They really are my favorite thing — if you see those pruners you will see me nearby.

These are kind of the “little black dress” of gardening — infinitely usable and suitable for any occasion. I have a greenhouse in my backyard, and when I’m growing plants in there, I’m just using simple plastic or terra-cotta containers, nothing fancy. But when I bring them into the house or put the plants on display, you want something a bit next level. So, I’ve collected a number of decorative cachepots to display my orchids in bloom around the house. Recently, I’ve started collecting more unique pieces from friends and talented artists, such as Dustin Gimbel, who makes fantastic modern-styled containers with simple and beautiful lines that I just love.

This is a mix that’s almost identical to the formula that we use here at the Botanical Garden. It’s a very basic sort of universal mix that would be good for anything from a cattleya to a cymbidium to a paphiopedilums. This way I don’t have to custom-mix everything for each different group of plant. When I teach classes or give lectures, people want to know where they can get a good-quality orchid mix — because even if you invest a lot of time and effort into your plants, you want to make sure to use the best-quality ingredients, just like in cooking. With Waldor, I know its stuff is high quality. It’s been around forever, since the 1930s or ’40s, maybe even earlier, and is definitely a trusted source for orchid mixes. It used to supply all of the orchids for the Miss America pageant.

Feeding orchids is important, and I’ve trusted and used Jack’s Fertilizer for years with excellent results. Jack’s Fertilizers have also been around for a very long time, and they’re specially formulated for growth. A “weakly weekly” strategy helps me get the best growth and blooming from my plants. That means diluting the amount of fertilizer to 1/4 the label strength, and using some every two to three waterings.

I always keep a couple of spray bottles handy to help clean off plants while repotting and for misting newly repotted plants. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a basic spray bottle with an adjustable nozzle. With the strong jet of water, I can quickly dispatch any mealybug that I might find hiding in a leaf, rather than use a chemical insecticide. Also, it never hurts the plant to help keep the humidity up. Any time you stop by your plant, you can pick up your misting bottle and give the plant a little bit of a spritz, which will help keep that humidity higher. Well any time in the daytime — orchids should be dry after dark.

I have always been a “no gloves” gardener because I find that when I wear gloves I lose the sense of touch that lets me feel the difference between a weed and a real plant, and I end up pulling out the wrong thing. But I can’t have dirty fingernails for every event I attend, so I find that these Nitrile Touch Gloves are thick enough to protect me, but thin enough that I can still feel what I’m doing. They’re inexpensive, so I have a bunch of extra pairs, and they’re colorful enough so that when you take them off and put them down, you don’t lose them in the garden.

Repotting plants can be a messy process, and these potting trays are helpful to keep orchid bark and potting materials from getting all over the place. I keep two with materials ready at all times — one with moss and one with bark mix for plants that need a quick repotting. I like these trays because they have that little notched lip in the front, so you can work with your arms forward and not have to be at a weird, unnatural angle.

If you have a bigger collection of plants and are just using a little one-quart spritzer, you’re going to be going back and forth to the sink to refill it a lot. So, I find that pump sprayers are great, indoors or out, if you have a bigger than average collection of orchids, because they have a nozzle that you can just turn on and use to mist to your heart’s content without having to refill it all the time.

I love this because it’s a great watering tool that’s not so strong that it washes the mix out of the pot or knocks the plant over. It’s kind of our go-to here because of its versatility for watering plants in our greenhouses. They make these with different nozzles so you can choose how coarse or fine of a spray you want to water your plants with.

I actually use these for bending and shaping wire for staking plants, and to make metal clips to hold plants in place in a pot. Most needle-nose pliers can’t get through thicker wire, but a pair of Lineman pliers work well even for thicker gauge wire with ease. People are always impressed watching me shape and bend a wire to the right shape, and I just find that these pliers work perfectly for that.

Don’t laugh — no matter how many fancy garden markers I have used, I still return to a good old No. 2 pencil to write plant names and potting information on my labels. We have labels here that were written in the ’70s in pencil that are still legible. The other thing is that a pencil won’t run when it’s wet, so in a greenhouse environment where you have moisture, humidity, and water, a marker is just going to bleed and run. I don’t use mechanical pencils because it seems like they always run out of lead at just the right moment. But with a yellow pencil, you can’t go wrong.

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The NY Botanical Garden’s Curator of Orchids’ Favorite Tools