Summer is here. The sweltering heat can affect your orchids to a considerable extent. Keep them stress-free using these summer care tips, which would contribute to their healthy growth and blooming.
Most orchid hobbyists find this constant seasonal adjustment to be a bit of an issue. There is no ‘one solution fits all’ hack to resolve this issue since different types of orchids have different needs and the solutions accordingly vary to a great extent. The care instructions also need to be adjusted according to your grow conditions and climate. Now I can almost hear you say, ‘If this isn’t complicated enough, then what is?’
Rest assured, this doesn’t mean that an orchid hobbyist’s life is fraught with tension all through the year. If you organise your grow space and group your orchids according to their light, temperature and humidity requirements, your care routine gets considerably simplified. You could very well plan on a care routine that will suit your climate and the grow conditions you provide for your orchids.
Without digressing further, let’s get straight to the point of discussion.
The soaring summer temperatures, dry air and dust create stress for your home-grown or window-sill orchids. Unless additional measures are taken to protect them from the heat during these months, your orchids will likely react to these conditions by exhibiting symptoms such as:
- Dehydrated leaves indicating prolonged dry spells between watering
- Sun burn, drying up, blackening or bleaching of leaves due to exposure to direct strong sunlight
- Mushy softness indicating strong direct light and excess moisture, coupled with poor air circulation
- Wilting away of new growths or poorly developed new growths
- Bud blast or dropping or withering of buds
- Wilting and drying up of flowers before time
With so many problems arising due to excessive temperatures and strong light, it is imperative to protect your orchids from strong sunlight, higher-than-normal temperatures and the dust that arises from the hot and dry breeze. You could achieve this in the following ways:
1. Remove your orchids from direct sunlight
Orchids require adequate dappled sunlight to grow well and have a good bloom cycle. Some Vandas, Tolumnia and others can even grow well in direct morning and evening sunlight.
While this may promote growth and blooming, during summers, it is always better to remove them from direct morning and evening light because strong light along with higher temperature can lead to scorching heat conditions. This can lead to severe dehydration and burnt leaves.
A good way to assess this would be to check your orchid’s leaves. If they remain limp, with closed flaps and are not opened out fully as they normally would, then they are drying up way too fast and lack regular hydration. This could also be a result of overwatering your orchids, coupled with direct sunlight and little or no air drafts, eventually leading to rotting of the roots.
To prevent this from happening, move your orchids to an area that receives dappled sunlight or indirect light. You could also use a shade net or if indoors, a translucent curtain that just allows the right amount of light. Make sure your orchids are not overwatered and there is good air movement, either natural or with the help of a fan.
2. Water your orchids more frequently
Depending on your climatic conditions, you may require to water your orchids more frequently during summers as they lose water through transpiration. The medium tends to dry up faster due to the heat and dry air drafts. If you use small-sized pots for your orchids, then this poses a problem. They tend to dry up faster and so require frequent watering in summer.
In order to resolve this issue, you can consider repotting your orchid in a bigger pot with a well-draining organic medium like pine bark chips with a few strands of moisture-retentive sphagnum moss layered in between. This will provide the right balance of air and moisture to the medium. Always consider this option when your orchid produces new growths. This will help it adapt faster to the new medium.
If your orchid is already growing in a suitable medium, then you don’t have to change the medium. You can unpot the orchid gently by not disturbing its root system. Use a pot that is one or two sizes bigger, layer with some moss and bark chips at the bottom, place the orchid gently on this and pack up the sides with more medium of the same kind. This will provide adequate moisture to the plant and prevent it from drying up.
To know more about repotting your orchids, read my post on repotting orchids
In case you use inorganic medium such as LECA beads in a semi-hydroponic system, you need to repot in a larger container and provide extra air vents in the container to provide adequate ventilation. This is important when the pots are exposed to summer temperatures, the environment within the pot becomes warm and moist, with little air circulation.
This promotes rotting of roots and pseudobulbs, which will then make the plant dehydrated and affect its growth. Very soon, the rot moves up from the roots to the rhizome and stem. In this case, the plant may not survive, unless the rotted portion is removed at the earliest and the plant is treated with a fungicide and repotted in fresh medium.
For more details on pot size and choosing the right organic potting media, read my post, Everything you wanted to know about organic media for growing your orchids, which discusses the topic at length.
To prevent this from happening, you need to use pots with holes or slits to provide good air circulation. Alternatively, you can just make these holes by using a soldering iron tool or punching holes with a heated screw driver. Be extra careful while handling these objects so that you don’t harm yourself.
If you want to be spared of this effort, you can simply invest in self watering pots that have a decent reservoir size. This will simplify this problem to a great extent. You can check out these self-watering pots on Amazon that are attractive and affordable, and will put an end to your watering woes.
In the case of mounted and bare-rooted orchids, daily watering is mandatory. In summers, you may even have to water them twice-a-day. To reduce this hassle, you can allow them to soak up in a tub of water until the roots are fully saturated, especially the thick-rooted orchids such as vanda and phalaenopsis orchids. You can then water them every second day or as per their requirement.
Always check how they respond. Lookout for signs of dehydration such as limp, leathery leaves and thin, wrinkled roots. Increase the frequency of watering as temperatures rise so that the plant receives adequate hydration.
This will help you guage their requirements. Once they are adjusted, you can reorganise the orchids based on their watering needs. Believe me, this works very well and your care routine gets considerably simplified.
Repeated training in such a way gets your orchids used to these intermittent drinks, which, if you think about it, is how they grow in nature. I follow Bumblebee Orchids’ windowsill Vanda watering routine and have trained my Vanda orchids in such a way that I water them every third day. They seem to be responding well to it. You can check out her YouTube video on the same.
3. Provide adequate humidity
Warm summer breeze reduces humidity in the air. This poses a problem for orchids as they require humidity for their healthy growth. While some heat tolerant varieties such as the Cattleya nobilior, walkeriana, Dendrobiums and others are unaffected by summer heat and thrive in such temperatures, most other orchids require additional measures such as humidifiers and evaporative coolers to maintain the required temperatures and humidity.
Some hobbyists provide these conditions in their grow spaces with water fountains, humidifiers etc. But the vast majority increase humidity by placing humidity trays made from pebbles and water in a shallow tray. The level of water should be much below the level of the pebbles. This allows for continuous evaporation of water, thereby increasing humidity levels in the area. Orchids respond well to this type of humidity.
However, make sure you empty the water and clean the trays once in three days. Stagnant water becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes and should therefore be avoided. Even if you place these trays, ensure that only a thin layer of water is used and this is allowed to dry up fully before replenishing the same.
4. Add a moisture-retentive top layer to your orchid pot
The warm temperatures induce active vegetative growth in orchids. So you find them producing new growths and roots prolificly. These are very delicate and can easily wither away due to excessive dryness or heat. Same is the case with seedlings. Their requirement of humidity is more than fully grown plants and therefore get dehydrated by the warm and dry summer breeze.
A very effective way to increase humidity in these cases is to place loosely packed sphagnum moss strands as the topmost layer of the medium. This increases the humidity level around the plant.
Ensure that the moss is not too closely packed around the plant, but is lined along the periphery as this is where the roots are located. So, all you need to do is spray some water to tide them through the daytime temperature. When they dry up by next morning, spritz the moss with a little water to keep it damp.
Avoid spraying water in excess. This will result in soggy conditions, which will compact the moss, leading to rotting of new growths and roots. Always spray minimal amount of water and check how much time it takes to dry up completely. Then increase as required.
A good way is to assess the requirement depending on how the new roots and growths respond. If they are dry and shrivelled, then increase it slightly. If they remain damp continuously and are not allowed to dry, then rot will set in. Always remember if you are unsure – less is better than more, whether you are watering or fertilizing your orchids.
To learn more about taking care of new growths, check out my post on 7 Care tips for the NEW GROWTHS on your orchid.
The good thing about superficial layering with sphagnum moss is that you can remove the top layer when the rains begin in June. Keeping this layer on during the rainy season will lead to bacterial and fungal rot, especially if your orchids are growing in your balcony or window-sill, as mine do.
I allow my orchids to soak up rain water. To ensure they do not rot, I remove the superficial layer of moss that was used as a temporary top layer during the summer and place them in the rain, ensuring water does not collect in the crown. Since I stay in a tropical climate, once the rains stop in September, I again layer the plants with loosely packed sphagnum moss to prevent the top layer from drying up during the dry winter months.
I use premium quality New Zealand sphagnum moss for my organic mix as well as for the superficial layering. It is clean and has long strands, which is safe to handle and works great for my orchids. However, since this is not available now, you can check out this alternative, which is equally good.
5. Provide good air circulation
Along with the provision of excess humidity in summer, you need to provide good air circulation. If you have an indoor grow space then a small electric pedestal or ceiling fan can meet your requirements. All your orchids need is gentle air drafts, which will distribute humidity and air, and not maintain prolonged periods of wetness. This ensures that fungal or bacterial rot does not set in.
When rising temperature and humidity pose a problem in your indoor grow space, you can also use an air conditioner to provide air circulation, if you do not mind the additional power bills.
6. Keeping your orchids clean and dust-free
Orchids are slow-growing plants and therefore require additional help from your side to boost their growth. They need to carry out photosynthesis to promote healthy growth and blooming. Therefore their leaves need to be kept clean at all times.
Dusty leaves become a problem in summer due to the dry air. This makes the plant vulnerable to pests such as spider mites, mealy bugs and scale. To protect the orchid from these issues, the leaves need to be regularly cleaned with a cotton ball or wipe dipped in very mild soapy water. Ensure that water does not get trapped in the crevices as this could lead to stem or crown rot. For added safety, blot out the trapped moisture with a tissue and dry it well under a fan.
7. Fertilizing your orchids
My fertilizing routine remains the same for most months of the year, barring a few winter months from mid-October to mid-February, when I reduce fertilizing orchids due to a slowdown in growth. However, after that, in spring and summer, orchids resume vigorous vegetative growth and this is when you begin fertilizing them to meet their growth requirements.
Whatever fertilizer you may be using, you could help your plants boost their growth and make them more resistant to dehydration, pest attack and microbial diseases by supplementing your regular fertilizer with a silicon supplement like this one.
Silicon is a naturally occurring substance in soil and helps the plant achieve robust growth in terms of thickness of the leaves and roots, enhances bloom size and quality and increases photosynthetic activity within the leaves. The silicon increases cell-wall thickness, thereby making the plant stronger from within. Externally, it makes the leaves and pseudobulbs thicker, shinier, greener and the flowers more healthy and long-lasting.
This enables it to also withstand stress in case of changing climatic conditions, which is why it is a good idea to begin adding this supplement when the new growths start popping out. You could begin by using quarter of the recommended dosage once a month and see how your plants respond. Gradually, increase it to half the recommended dosage. In this case, less is always better.
I hope this post provides with some good insights for keeping your orchids healthy in the summer months. Please leave a comment in the comment box if you like these tips. If you can come up with additional tips, do leave a comment and I will see how best I can include them.
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Until my next, happy growing!