Now that you have settled down into a comfortable routine of growing your orchids by providing them with the right conditions for their growth, there are additional requirements that will keep them healthy and free of pests, help them grow well and prepare them for the blooming season. Just as you take care of your other indoor plants, you need to regularly check on them and ensure that they are healthy and disease-free. This regular maintenance will facilitate their peak growth and help them flower year after year.
Listed below are care tips that would help you spruce up your orchids and maintain them in optimal conditions at all times.
Orchids need to grow in clean and healthy medium that will provide the right balance of moisture and air for their optimal growth. In their native habitat, orchids grow on trees and absorb humidity from the atmosphere.
Similarly, they need to receive a continuous supply of moisture from the medium, without being excessively wet. A combination of chunky bark with strands of moss will provide the right balance of air and moisture. This medium can last for a year or two, but may begin disintegrating faster, if it is not allowed to dry out between waterings.
Orchids need to be re-potted when:
- They are not potted in suitable medium for their growth.
- They are growing/extending out of the pot and so require a bigger sized pot.
- Medium such as bark begins rotting and disintegrating.
- Medium gets infested with snails or fungus, which can destroy a plant completely.
To repot, you need to discard the old medium, wash and sterilize the pot if you plan on reusing it, and repot using fresh medium. (I will be covering this process at length in a separate post.)
To learn more about different types of media and potting mixes, read my post on Everything you wanted to know about ORGANIC MEDIA FOR GROWING ORCHIDS
2. Tidying up
Orchid plants need to be spruced up from time to time to provide a neat and groomed appearance. Old dried leaves, sheaths and pseudobulbs should be removed as these could harbour pests.
Sometimes, the rhizome travels outside the plant, sending out tangled roots that are susceptible to bruising. This also reduces the compactness of the plant and reduces its aesthetic appeal. Canes and pseudobulbs that are awkwardly shaped can knock down other plants by getting entangled, or they themselves can get knocked down, leading to damage. These need to be cut and repotted.
Longer canes that are bent out of shape can be braced using stakes and wire ties. In time, they will conform to the shape they are trained for and will accordingly grow to provide a beautiful display.
Wrinkled and limp leaves are signs of a stressed and dehydrated orchid. Check the reason for this condition by unpotting the plant. This happens mostly when the orchid lacks good roots and hence cannot absorb water. The plant continues to survive despite lack of roots and gets revived when new roots appear. Reduce the watering in such a case as the medium can get soggy and lead to fungal infections. A stressed plant can rapidly go downhill as it is easily susceptible to fungal and pest attack.
3. Keeping plants dust-free
Orchids need to be kept free of dust as it affects their growth significantly. The leaves need to absorb sunlight for photosynthesis. Moreover, the stomata that are present under the leaves need to breathe freely to facilitate the exchange of gases.
If the leaves are covered with dust, these functionalities get adversely affected and it slows down growth, thereby affecting bloom production. So it is very much important to keep the plants clean by spraying them with water and allowing them to dry under a fan or placing them where they are exposed to air drafts.
This ensures that moisture is not retained in the crown of the plant and inside the sheaths of new growths, thereby preventing rotting of the pseudo bulbs. Another efficient way is to draw out the trapped moisture by blotting it with absorbent tissue paper.
A safer, and equally effective way is to wipe the leaves with a very mild solution of dishwash soap. Dip a soft cloth or sponge and gently wipe clean the leaves, ensuring that the leaves do not get bruised. Unless very dusty, avoid wiping the underside of the leaves, to prevent the stomata pores from getting clogged. This method will ensure better photosynthesis, respiration and growth of the plant.
Another alternative to the dish-wash soap method is to squeeze a 2-3 drops of lime juice in 100 ml of water and clean the leaves with it. This makes the leaves shiny and healthy.
4. Spike and bloom care
Orchids generally bloom once or twice a year and during this time, special care needs to be taken to provide them with adequate moisture and fertilizer, especially when the spike begins to grow. When the buds begin to bloom, avoid the application of fertilizer to make the blooms last longer. Some growers support the use of fertilizers during blooming. Personally, I have lost blooms whenever, I have applied fertilizers, especially if the plants are stressed out due to transportation or have been re-potted recently. So depending on how your orchids respond, you can follow either way for the best results.
Orchid spikes are fragile and need to be handled with care. They can be supported with stakes to ensure they provide an attractive display. Once the blooming is done, the spike can be cut off at the base, leaving a little stump, especially in the case of Oncidiums and Cattleyas. On the other hand, you can also leave the spikes on Phalaenopsis or Tolumnia till they dry out. Since they are sequential bloomers, they may surprise you with more blooms on secondary spikes.
Learn more about taking care of new growths such as shoots, spikes and roots in my post, 7 CARE TIPS for NEW GROWTHS on your orchids
In rare cases, old woody Phalaenopsis spikes are retained on the plant as these can be used for anchoring fresh spikes, giving a natural look. But scraggly spikes can look unsightly, so it is always important that your orchids look neat and aesthetically appealing.
5. Pest Control
Orchids need to be protected from pests such as snails, thrips, mealy bugs, roaches, spidermites and fungal attack. So it is important to scrutinize your plants regularly to keep them in check. There is an urgency to isolate and treat them as early as possible as sometimes, these could lead to irreparable damage and many-a-times, orchids succumb to these fast-spreading infestations.
You can use conservative and harmless treatment methods like hydrogen peroxide for snails and protection against fungal and bacterial growth, besides using rubbing alcohol for getting rid of mealy bugs. Spraying with a suitable systemic fungicide is helpful in the treatment of thrips or fusarium infestation. The latter involves a lengthy period of isolation and treatment of the plant.
Spider mites are a menace for orchids. These quickly multiply and thrive if the plant foliage is kept dry and dusty. Frequent spraying of water on the foliage is an absolute no-no as it makes them susceptible to rotting from remaining wet.
I am a big fan of DIY solutions. So I recommend the one shared by Miss Orchid Girl (Visit www.missorchidgirl.com for more details) to make a mild solution of liquid dish-wash soap and a drop of paraffin oil. This is an ingredient in moisturisers and body lotions. So adding a drop of this can work as well.
Apart from this, your orchids may also be a home to other insects such as ants and springtail, which are harmless—the former search for happy sap, the syrupy secretions at the apex and feed on it; the latter clear up fungal growth in the medium. So these can be left alone too. However, be watchful of ants as they can help spread mealy bug infestations from one plant to another.
While these form the basic care tips for maintaining your orchid collection, growing and caring for orchids allows a lot of flexibility. Depending on factors like the medium, the environment you are providing and most importantly, how your orchids respond to your care, the problems you face, you can deviate and come up with a care regimen that suits them best.