A few weeks ago I posted about a Cattleya orchid that I purchased at an orchid show in November 2016. It was not the only one – I also purchased a Miltoniopsis ‘World Cup’.
It is obviously a healthy green colour and had been doing well. I didn’t repot it when I brought it home because it is a young orchid and disturbing it might be detrimental to its growth.
However, a few days ago I noticed there was something wrong. The orchid was turning yellow from its base up towards the leaf tips. Yellowing leaves are not normally something to worry about, most orchids shed one or two old leaves from time to time. This orchid had only one leaf that was not yellow – that is a cause for concern.
To give the orchid the best chance of surviving, I decided to do an emergency repot, and ‘blue-lighted’ it straight into my ‘orchid hospital’. What I found, I have only seen once before on a friend’s orchid that needed to be re-potted. All the roots except for maybe one or two were dead or rotten. There was also sphagnum moss at the base of the root system, and polystyrene chips at the bottom of the pot.
I cut away the dead roots and removed the sphagnum moss, sprayed the remaining roots with hydrogen peroxide 3%, re-potted in fresh media and provided a stake for support. This orchid now, looks like this…
I checked it over this morning and the remaining leaves fell away – you can see on this photograph where they fell from (I was extremely careful with this orchid, taking care not to damage it). This is slightly upsetting because I have not yet lost an orchid, but it is also an opportunity to learn.
So, what could have been done differently?
The orchid’s label states it should be watered ‘sparingly’. With all my orchids, I flush the pots through once a week and allow excess water to drain away. This orchid was always provided with less water during this process. It may be that I still saturated the media more than the orchid would have preferred. If the media is unable to dry out well, then rot can set into the roots, killing them off.
I suspect that the media did not dry out completely between each watering, which was compounded by the sphagnum moss retaining moisture. When I re-potted this orchid, there was black tissue where the roots meet the base of the plant, which indicates the rot may have reached the plant itself. I did treat this with hydrogen peroxide 3% but I think the damage has been already been done.
It is difficult to clarify whether the damage was already present when this orchid was purchased. However, I can conclude that where young plants are concerned, high moisture levels and low ventilation will not necessarily lead to a positive outcome. This orchid does not have the same ‘backup’ system as a mature orchid may have because it has only one pseudo-bulb. If anything happens to this pseudo-bulb, then the orchid’s chances of survival are greatly reduced.
At this stage, it is unclear whether this orchid will survive – I have my reservations, but it has provided an opportunity to learn and adapt the care provided to my orchids so that the likelihood of this happening again is reduced.