Orchid SOS

Not for the first time this year, I’ve had to open my ‘orchid hospital’ to help fix an unhealthy orchid.

About a week or so ago, I purchased a Cattleya orchid from an orchid show along with a new Miltoniopsis orchid. Both are fairly young plants so I don’t expect either of them to bloom any time soon. I did notice that there appears to be some indicators that the Cattleya orchid may need some T.L.C. but this is fine with me. Whilst it was still in its original pot, I did spray the tops of the roots with hydrogen peroxide 3% to help remove any moulds, algae etc that may be lurking in the pot. Hydrogen peroxide reacts to moulds and fungus if they are present – there was a lot of fizzing so I’m guessing there was a lot of things in this pot that shouldn’t really be there.

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I usually repot any orchid I purchase from a store / nursery etc, just because I don’t know how long it has been in its pot with the media. With this Cattleya, I noticed it wasn’t particularly stable in the pot, which could mean the roots are affected in some way. So after a little research about repotting Cattleya orchids, I made a start.

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I started as usual by disinfecting my scissors with rubbing alcohol to prevent any diseases spreading. With gloves on, I started unpotting my tiny Cattleya…slightly anticlimactic as I could practically just pick it off the top of the bark chips. In order to tell what roots were alive and which were dead, I placed the orchid in a small bowl of water and waited for them to turn green. To my surprise (and relief) some did. However, there were quite a few dead and mushy roots to cut away from the base of the orchid as well as some old growth.

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From the photograph above, you can see the actual thickness of the roots when the velamen is removed. If a root is dead, the velamen will detach when gently pulled on. Quite a few dead roots here…

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Once I had cleaned up the roots, they were sprayed again with hydrogen peroxide 3% to be on the safe side. I then re-potted this orchid into a new pot with fresh media and ventilation holes, and tethered it to a stake to help it stabilise. Now my Cattleya looks much happier and tidier. I will have to provide the same sort of care I gave Nelly, but I’m pretty confident this orchid will bounce back and do really well.

You can see from the photograph above there are some black spots on the underside of the leaves. I’m not 100% sure what these are at this point, but I will find out more.

I’ll keep you posted on any developments 🙂

Clare

Oncidopsis Nelly Isler

This is my Oncidopsis Nelly Isler orchid – or Nelly as I call her.

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I purchased her from Ikea in April 2016. I chose this particular plant out of several others partly because she looked a little sickly but she was in bloom when I purchased her (and yes I know you are supposed to select the strongest, but I’m a sucker for rescuing sick plants!)

A few days after I brought her home I decided to repot her in order to check the roots, because her pseudo-bulbs were wrinkly – an indicator that the plant is either not receiving enough water, or unable to absorb water. I was horrified when I saw the roots – it became apparent just how sick she actually was. I unpotted her to find that she had a very weak root system – about 80% of the root system was dead or in a bad condition. She also had  sphagnum moss plug in the middle of the roots which was sodden with water, contributing to the root loss. With tweezers at the ready, I spent some time carefully removing all traces of the sphagnum moss. I also had to cut away any roots that were dead (after sterilising my scissors, of course) to prevent further decay and then sprayed the roots with hydrogen peroxide 3%, just to help kill off any nasties.

After repotting, I had to provide a lot of attention to this orchid. She had to be tied to stakes in her pot because her root system was so weak she would lean to one side. If she wasn’t tethered to something, any new roots were at risk of being damaged every time I moved her to check how she was doing. Every day I lightly sprayed her roots with water to help keep her hydrated and placed her in a shaded window. It took a few weeks, but eventually she started to produce new roots which began burying themselves into the bark medium.

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Fast forward several months…one day I was checking her over and noticed a few new growths. This is always a positive sign because it means the orchid is being provided the right care and has built up enough energy to start growing again. Within another week or so, I realised I was wrong…it wasn’t two new growths…one was actually a flower spike! Needless to say I danced around my living room, grinning from ear to ear.

Her blooms started to open about 2 weeks ago and the smell is just fantastic! I can’t really describe it properly but there is a definite citrusy vibe going on, and it fills my living room. I absolutely love this orchid.

On a side note, Nelly’s oldest pseudobulb actually came away from the rest of the plant when I un-potted her back in April. However, it looked like it had its own roots that were still viable, so I placed it in a small bowl of water to see if it would absorb anything and plump it. To my surprise, it did!

So after 6 months, baby Nelly now has her very own small plastic pot and has produced two new growths. You can see from the photo that they have roots too.

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I will be honest, at the beginning of this process I didn’t think Nelly was going to survive. It just goes to show that with patience, a little care and love, beautiful things grow!

Clare

 

Anatomy of an Orchid

In the orchid world, there are many different varieties available and each has its own slightly different makeup and anatomy. Today, I wanted to discuss the different parts that make up an orchid. It is important to know the terms so that if you notice anything abnormal happening to your orchid, you can use the appropriate term online to work out what is wrong.

Let’s start at the beginning…(and now I have the Sound of Music playing in my head…).

All orchids have some structures that are the same, for instance roots, leaves and flower spikes. However, they can behave slightly different from one plant to the next. Other structures vary, the main one being the point from where all parts of the orchid grow – the heart of the orchid if you will.

Roots

Some roots vary in the way they look, but all function the same. The roots are thin, almost hair-like but are actually coated with velamen. In Phalaenopsis orchids, the velamen is very thick and fleshy. In Oncidium orchids for example, the coating is a lot thinner and is white rather than grey / green. All root structures help to anchor the orchid either to the soil or tree in their natural environment, and absorb water to keep it hydrated. There are a few species of orchid that have aerial roots, the main one being the Phalaenopsis orchid. These are the strange roots that grow away from the potting media and seem to want to wander off on their own.

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These aerial roots are the orchids ‘backup’ root system. If the roots in the pot are weak, damaged or rotting, then the aerial roots will absorb water instead. I have found some websites that suggest you can cut the aerial roots if they become too unsightly. I personally, wouldn’t recommend cutting any roots unless they are damaged in some way or are no longer viable.

Leaves

All plants need leaves in order to photosynthesise and produce its own food. With orchids, the leaves can vary from plant to plant but they all function the same. Phalaenopsis orchids have thick leaves that are fairly rigid and difficult to bend (don’t try it – it’ll end in tears!), whilst Dendrobium Nobile orchids and Oncidium type orchids for example, have leaves that are thin and flexible.

There are some variations though even between two of the same type of orchid. For example, some of my Phalaenopsis orchids have dark green leaves with a slight purple tinge at the ends, whilst others are overall a brighter green. It depends on the plant; they are all individual, just like us. Over time you will know what is normal for your orchid, so don’t worry if you look at the leaves of your orchids now and think they don’t look the same.

Stems, Pseudo-bulbs and Canes

Stems are usually found in orchids that only grow upwards i.e. Phalaenopsis, Vanda, Sarcochilus etc. All their structures are produced from a single point on the orchid.

However, pseudo-bulbs (as pictured below) grow in a linear fashion and are copies of each other. All are connected by rhizomes. With these structures, each pseudo-bulb is able to produce its own roots, leaves and flower spikes.

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Canes are essentially tall pseudobulbs. Dendrobium orchids are the main example of an orchid with canes. From one cane, leaves, roots and flowers are produced, but the canes themselves spread out in the pot, just like Oncidium type orchids.

Flower Spike

Most orchids produce a flower spike when the right conditions are provided. Dendrobium Nobile orchids produce flowers directly from the cane, and so are one exception to this rule. Some flower spikes will take what feels like an eternity to develop and produce blooms, whilst others are surprisingly fast. My Phalaenopsis orchids are the keenest to get to blooming stage, but some of my Oncidium type orchids do like to make me wait. It depends on the orchid and its genetic makeup as to how and when it will produce flowers, but the wait is absolutely worth it.

All orchids are different, but within a species there are also differences. It’s a case of getting to know your orchid in order to understand its growth habits, sometimes its quirks.

Happy growing!

Clare

 

Phalaenopsis Care

Most people who have an orchid in their home, are likely to have a Phalaenopsis orchid. They are probably the most widely available orchid because they are easy to care for.

Once the beautiful flowers have spent, most people throw them in the bin thinking the orchid is on its way out. However, this is not always the case. Most Phalaenopsis orchids will continue to grow and re-bloom if given the correct care.

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I currently have 7 Phalaenopsis orchids in my collection. Some were gifted by family and friends, others I rescued from the reduced section of garden centres. I will share my thoughts and discoveries whilst caring for them so that you have a better understanding of how to care for your own. Before we continue…you may want to make yourself a cuppa…this could be a long one!

So we need to cover the basics; light, heat, humidity, watering, fertiliser, ventilation and growing media.

  1. Light – Phalaenopsis orchids are pretty forgiving as orchids go. They need light to grow, but prefer to be out of direct sunlight in the summer months. You can keep them in a bright spot but shield them if you can from contact with direct sun.
  2. Heat – In their natural environment, Phalaenopsis orchids would be exposed to warm conditions, so can adapt to the home environment. Ideally, you want to keep temperatures around 18c-25c, but drop the temperature slightly in the winter months to help stimulate flower spike growth (16c-23c for example). These orchids will not thank you though if the temperature drops anything below 10c.
  3. Humidity – These orchids are fairly tolerant to humidity. My Phalaenopsis are happy sitting among my more ‘needy’ orchids with humidity going as high as 80%. I wouldn’t keep any orchid in a humid place all the time without ventilation as there is an increased risk of mould or rot setting in. Phalaenopsis can survive with 40% humidity – unless your orchid is sick, the humidity is not going to affect it much. At least, that is my experience. I would however suggest misting your orchid once in a while. Orchids grown indoors tend to have very dry conditions. Misting will just help to increase the moisture around the plant and maintain its health.
  4. Watering – Phalaenopsis orchids are pretty hardy when it comes to watering. Their roots turn green when they come into contact with water and can stay that way for days afterwards. If the roots are grey, it is normally an indication that it needs to be watered again. Try not to leave the orchid standing in a tray of water – this particular type of orchid likes to dry out between waterings. As with any orchid, if you leave the roots submerged in water for long periods of time, you run the risk that they could start rotting – not a good idea! During the summer and winter months, the Phalaenopsis orchid will require slight alterations to watering routines. In summer, the orchid may need to be watered twice a week if it is in a warm environment. It’s a good idea to check orchids on a regular basis (I tend to spend some time with mine every day, say about 5-10 minutes). A note on watering- Make sure you only water the media around the orchid. Avoid getting water on the orchid itself. If water collects in the crown of the orchid, there is a chance your orchid may develop crown rot, which is not easy for it to recover from.
  5. Fertiliser – Phalaenopsis orchids are not heavy feeders particularly, but they do require some additional nutrition. I use a growth feed and a bloom feed, depending on what the orchid is doing at any given point. If it is solely focused on growing (new roots, leaves etc) then I will feed it growth food. When flower spikes develop, I switch to a bloom feed. At the moment I am providing feed every two weeks but I think I could reduce it to once a month and it would not be a problem.
  6. Ventilation – All orchids require ventilation, particularly if the humidity around them is high. This helps to prevent rotting. Try and ensure the orchid has some air flow around it, especially in the summer months where leaves can suffer from heat stress.
  7. Orchid Compost – Phalaenopsis orchids like to have ventilated roots. In their natural environment, they would actually be growing on trees with little media covering them. I find bark chips work well for me. This media provides enough ventilation, allow the roots space to grow, and retain enough water to keep them hydrated. Most orchids like to be snug in the pot you use. If the roots look overcrowded, this is actually a good sign. The orchid in the picture below was actually purchased this way. I have not re-potted it yet, and I may not do so for a little while. When it comes to re-potting an orchid, make sure the pot is not so big that it will take the orchid years to fill. If you can reuse the pot it was in – great. If not, just go for the next size up.

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So…what happens if the orchid is receiving the right care and it produces a flower spike? How can you tell it is a flower spike and not a new root? The flower spike normally develops from the sides of the orchid, in between the leaves. Roots tend to develop from the front and back of the orchid, though there are roots and spikes that break this rule!

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A new root will have a rounded shape at the tip, whereas a flower spike will have a ‘claw’ shape to it (hopefully the above demonstrates this). The flower spike is normally the same colour as the leaves – at least this is my experience – whilst a root tip tends to be a brighter green.

As the flower spike grows it is important to keep an eye on it to make sure the orchid isn’t struggling to hold the spike up on its own. Sometimes if there are a large number of blooms on the flower spike, it can become too heavy for the orchid to sustain it on its own. You will need to attach the flower spike to a stake to provide some stability. Otherwise, I allow my Phalaenopsis orchids to bloom without support as this is what they would be doing in their natural environment.

So with the right care, Phalaenopsis orchids will keep growing and flowering. I hope this article helped to answer some questions, if not please leave a comment and I’ll come back to you.

Happy growing!

Clare

 

Orchid Toolbox

When I first started this hobby, I thought I would be able to look after my orchids with basic care and attention. However, as I have been growing them for a little while, I realise they need a little bit more than that.

I started to acquire ‘tools’ that would help me look after my orchids, and decided to create a toolbox. I reused an old plastic box with clip lid, and most of my stuff fits in nicely. Now, whenever I have to repot an orchid or make up a fertiliser solution, I have everything to hand.

So, below I have written about the more important things I have in my orchid toolbox. If you are new to this hobby, you will build up your own toolbox as you go along, but I always find it useful to have these basics on hand.

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  1. Tweezers. Ideal for removing certain pests, and also the sphagnum moss plugs that your orchid will undoubtedly have sitting in the middle of the root system, if you buy it from a garden centre for example. There are a variety of tweezers you can purchase, however I kept mine simple. Just a plain ol’ pair from Boots that were relatively cheap.
  2. Orchid potting mixture (not shown above). There are many different types; sphagnum moss, bark chippings, coconut husk and ceramic based medium such as hydroton or seramis, to name a few. It will depend on your environment and lifestyle as well as the preferences of the orchid as to what option you choose. I personally prefer bark chippings because they work well with my environment and the level of care that I can provide.
  3. Scissors or secateurs (not shown above). Invest in a decent pair of scissors / secateurs. I use them to help cut away dead roots when I repot orchids and to cut spent flower spikes.
  4. Labels and permanent marker pen. It is always useful to label your orchids so you can identify them when they are not in bloom.
  5. Spare plastic pots, dishes and stakes. Whilst not essential, it is always useful to have some to hand, just in case. I personally prefer clear plastic pots as I can see how the roots of an orchid are developing.
  6. Clips. I have a number of clips to help attach the flower spikes to stakes. The colourful clips you can buy appeal to the inner child in me and I love the different shapes and colours they come in. A cheap alternative would be to use florists ribbon (the ribbon you can curl with scissors) or gardeners wire. Try to avoid anything that would rot if it came into contact with water. You need to have something that will allow the orchid some flexibility too, so if you are using anything to support the orchid, make sure it isn’t done up too tight!
  7. Hygrometer. A hygrometer will allow you to see the temperature and humidity levels around your orchid(s). This will enable you to adjust or adapt the environment to suit your orchid’s growing requirements. Mine is very simple, but there are more sophisticated ones on the market.
  8. Fertiliser. There are plenty of different types on the market, but it is a case of trial and error as to which one works best for your orchids. I haven’t yet tried an ‘organic’ fertiliser such as seaweed but this may be something I will try in the future.
  9. Hydrogen Peroxide 3%. I use this primarily to treat any fungal problems with my orchids, and to sterilise the roots when I repot new orchids. I use a small spray bottle when administering it because I find it easier.
  10. Rubbing Alcohol. Ideal to help sterilise any cutting tools you have. I sterilise my scissors every time I start working on a new orchid to avoid transferring any nasties.

You may end up with things in your own toolbox that I haven’t mentioned here, but it will be whatever works for you. The orchid hobby is meant to be fun, so personalise your toolbox anyway you want!

Have fun!

Clare

My Orchid Diary

Hi, my name is Clare. I have recently wandered into the world of orchids and have had this hobby for a couple of years now. I am still new to this, I felt it would be useful for me to have a written record of things I find out along the way. I am hoping to share my knowledge about the orchids I have in my collection. I will try to keep this blog regularly updated with developments or my thoughts on a particular subject relevant to orchid growing.

My collection of orchids is small and split almost equally between Phalaenopsis orchids and Oncidium type orchids…with one lonely little Dendrobium thrown in too. I love the differences between these orchids and the variety of blooms produced by each individual. You do need patience for this hobby, but the rewards are absolutely worth it!

The first orchid I purchased was in 2010. I dislike that nurseries or gardening stores have a ‘reduced’ section because the plants you find are nearly always neglected and sickly looking. I felt particularly sorry for the orchid I purchased for a ridiculously low price. When I bought it, I was told she (yes, my orchids have genders) wouldn’t survive. Six years later, not only has she survived, but she is healthy and has produced a succession of blooms for me. This year has seen quite a few new orchids being added – I’m beginning to run out of room, but the house I live in is small so it isn’t difficult to do!

Orchid growing is forming an important part of my life. It helps me to feel balanced and calm, and if you are thinking of growing orchids yourself, I’d recommend you do. It’s a rewarding and exciting hobby.

Clare