7 CARE TIPS for NEW GROWTHS on your orchids

New growth in oncidium popping out

Seldom is there anything more exciting than the discovery of a new growth or a bud spike on your orchid.

After all the hard work that you have put in over several months, your orchids will reward you by pushing out a new growth or spike. Taking care of these new growths will ensure that you get a healthy bloom cycle and derive maximum pleasure from it.

During winter, you can feel the pace of growth of your orchids slowing down and coming to almost a standstill, but do not be misled that your orchid is resting. Contrary to this, your orchid is focusing its energy into producing new growths in the form of vegetative growths of the rhizome, or a keiki (a new baby plant) that can be separated from the mother plant when it grows to a decent size, and can bloom on attaining maturity. Both these types of growths help in vegetative propagation of the orchid.

New growths, on the other hand, can also be either roots or bud spikes, the latter being a means for reproductive propagation of the orchid through pollination and production of a seed pod. Therefore protecting these new growths and facilitating their propagation, growth and blooming becomes very important.

Since orchids generally grow very slowly and flower once or twice a year, protecting every new growth, be it a vegetative growth, a bud spike or even a new root becomes a priority, as damage to any one of these could become a setback for the plant, thereby delaying the bloom cycle or in worst cases, giving it a miss.

In such an eventuality, it is only natural to feel dejected, but then, orchids can be very resilient and forgiving. For all you know, they may just take you by surprise by pushing out a new growth to replace the damaged one.

To understand why new growths are delicate, one needs to study their structure. They arise as nubbings on the rhizome and push out pointed, spiky growths that push their way out through thick leaves or sheaths and even rough growth media such as bark chips or LECA pebbles. They are tightly bound by layers of protective sheathing, which protects the innermost tender growth.

Roots too are covered by a thick, spongy velamen, which protects the thin wiry root within. Bud spikes, on the other hand, are delicate and need to be protected with adequate support as they grow.

Due to their location at the base of the plant and sheathed structure, new growths are vulnerable to:

  • Breaking off – They can easily get crushed or bruised or even cut off during routine handling.
  • Rotting – They can retain water in between the sheaths, which does not receive adequate aeration. This can harbour bacteria and fungi, leading to rotting of the new growth.
  • Drying up – They require adequate humidity and water to grow well. Water is important as it helps supply nutrients to the plants. Therefore, not getting these conditions leads to their withering off, or alternatively remaining stunted.
  • Undernourishment – When new nubbings begin showing up, it is visibly clear that all the nutrients are directed towards the development of these new growths. Inadequate nourishment will lead to drying up or withering off of these growths. In some cases, while the new growths may continue to slowly grow, their growth will be stunted and they will not produce healthy blooms, or they may totally skip on the bloom cycle in order to conserve energy for their survival.
  • Temperature fluctuations – This is especially relevant to bud spikes. Exposing them to even an hour of extreme heat or cold temperature can lead to bud blast and the withering up of the flower spike.

While these susceptibilities may project orchids as being very fussy plants, you should not get disheartened from growing them. They are hardy and can go on to live for 100 years and more. Rest assured, they are just like other indoor plants, whose new growths require the same kind of protection for their proper development.

All you need to do is be mindful of these 7 care tips for protecting the new growths on your orchids:

Look out for new growths

The importance of inspecting your orchids for pests, new growths, any sign of disease and anything unusual cannot be stressed enough. A good time to do this is to watch out for the first signs of new growths and signs of distress, while watering your orchids. This ensures that you take extra care to protect them from any bruising, breaking or wetting them while watering.  

Water and fertilize them right

New growths on an oncidium

While watering and fertilizing your orchids, ensure that you do not wet new growths that arise from the rhizome. Whether they are new growths on an oncidium or a cattleya, or basal keikis of dendrobiums or phalaenopsis orchids, ensure that they remain dry at all times as it is very difficult to prevent water from getting trapped between the sheaths. And even if water gets trapped, it does not dry fast, thereby providing the ideal conditions for bacterial and fungal rot.

A good way to prevent wetting these growths is to immerse the pot in a container of water as opposed to watering them from a watering can or tap. Take extra care to ensure that the water level is below the rhizome or base of the plant where the roots arise.

A lot of us are guilty of dripping water over new growths while placing back our orchids one above the other, leading to the loss of new growths. Ensure that you do not drop water from drainage holes of other pots that are placed above these plants. Keeping a shallow dish or tray underneath and allowing the excess water to drain off before placing back the pot can help you save many-a-new-growth.

Prevent sudden temperature and humidity fluctuations

One of the most common reasons for bud blast or withering off of tender new spikes is the exposure to sudden temperature fluctuations. So if you bought your orchid and kept it in a car that has got heated in the afternoon heat, or put your plant near the radiator or air-conditioning vent, or even when your online purchase arrives with spikes or blooms, most orchids respond to these stressful changes by dropping their buds.

So ensure your car cools down reasonably before placing your orchid in it. Within your home, place the orchid away from the radiator or air-conditioning vents. Also avoid keeping your orchids in direct sunlight or in an area that gets heated up by the afternoon sun. Preferably keep them in a well-aerated and humid place for optimal growth and flowering.

Handle with care

A phalaenopsis basal keiki

More often than not, it is our overzealous fussing and handling of our orchids that leads to the damage of new growths. I remember being upset when I broke a bud spike while clicking pictures of it. Thankfully, the orchid spent out a brand new spike in its place. But not all orchids are this forgiving. Therefore, it becomes necessary to handle them with extreme care.

Tidy up your plants regularly

New growths are susceptible to attack from pests such as snails, mealy bugs, thrips, spider mites and aphids. This is mostly the case as they are close to the base of the plant, which allows pests to hide in the medium. In the case of cattleya and oncidiums, it is always better to remove the outermost dried sheaths as these can harbour pests. They also soak up water and fertilizer, and provide a damp and soggy environment that promotes rotting of pseudobulbs, new growths and spikes.

Inspect your plants closely and spray them with mild insecticides that will keep them under control. Ensure that the plant is exposed to air drafts so that the excess moisture evaporates quickly.

Provide adequate support for proper growth

This is one of the most important factors for ensuring new growths reach maturity. New growths need to be trained so that they grow in a compact way and do not protrude or fan out. This ensures that they do not get bruised or broken by getting entangled or knocked about due to their awkward positioning.

Root tips are especially susceptible to bruising and roots stop growing if the tip gets broken or damaged. So it is always best to train the roots back towards the plant and into the medium, especially in the case of cattleya and oncidiums.

Phalaenopsis roots, on the contrary, are more difficult to train and may snap off. If the plant has a good root system, you need to take a call on trimming off or gradually training an excessively long or awkwardly protruding root that could cause potential damage to the plant by getting entangled with other plants in its vicinity.

Release new growths if they get trapped in sheaths

On rare occasions, your new growths such as buds, spikes and basal growths get stuck in sheaths and need some intervention from you to grow properly. Leaving them stuck in the sheath will lead to crooked spikes that will not allow them to develop and bloom properly.

So you need to study them closely and make a snip carefully in the sheath to release the spike. Do not forcibly pull out a bent spike as you could damage it. Instead, provide it with the space to grow freely and it may straighten out and grow normally.

Repot at the right time

If you are considering repotting your orchid in fresh medium, the best time would be when it produces new growths. Ensure that you repot the orchid even before the first root starts showing. Repotting after the roots begin growing may damage the tender root tips and prevent them from growing further. This affects the stability of the new growth and makes it susceptible to breaking.

To know more about organic orchid media and potting mixes, read my post on Everything you wanted to know about ORGANIC MEDIA FOR GROWING ORCHIDS

Take special care to remove any rough media such as sharp bark chips and rough pebbles from pushing against new growths. Also avoid packing media around new growths so that they do not absorb moisture and rot. Exposing them to air by loosely packing the medium below the new growths will allow excess moisture to dry off.

Armed with this knowledge, your improved care regimen will prove advantageous as new growths continuously pop up in your collection. Protecting these growths and facilitating their healthy development means that your orchids will be primed to bloom in the coming season.

Happy growing!


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