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7 EASY SUMMER CARE TIPS for your orchids

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?’

Organise your care routine to enjoy this hobby better

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.

Summer  months can be hard on your orchids if you do not modify your care routine

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.


Orchids get affected by direct morning or evening light during summer

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 dehydrated plant closes the leaf flaps to prevent loss of water through transpiration

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.

My west facing window receives dappled light through a sheer curtain

2. Water your orchids more frequently

Give the roots a good soak until they get saturated

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.

Summer temperatures create warm and humid  conditions  within the pot, which encourage rot

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.

Mounted Phalaenopsis store moisture and do not need watering every day

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.

New roots, plump roots tell me that my Vanda likes my watering schedule

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

A little sphagnum moss  and a humidity tray help my lithophyte develop new growths

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

Line the edge of the pot with loosely packed sphagnum moss for increasing humidity

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.

Premium grade sphagnum moss works out best for all my orchid care needs

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

Air circulation brings down the heat and protects orchids from rot issues

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

Clean up dusty leaves for a healthier plant

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

Add silicon to your fertilizer once a month for a healthier growth

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 makes plants healthy and resistant to pest attack and climatic changes

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!

Spotlight: Tolumnia orchids

Tolumnia have a unique charm of their own and are sought after by orchid enthusiasts for their attractive blooms and small size. The first thing that comes to your mind when you think about Tolumnia orchids is that for their compact size, these small and  delicate blooms pack a punch when they bloom in multiples, in all their vibrant glory.

Mounted Tolumnia swaying in the gentle breeze

Orchid hobbyists love Tolumnia orchids for the following reasons:

  • Their blooms are beautiful and come in the most versatile of colours, patterns and combinations.
  • They are preferred for their compact sizes and grow well on mounts. So more plants can be accommodated in the grow space.
  • They are relatively inexpensive and affordable.
  • They mature very quickly. In two and a half years, they develop from a flask to blooming size.
  • The inflorescence sequentially blooms to produce new blooms on old spikes. So the spikes should not be cut, unless they dry off fully.
  • Since Tolumnia are epiphytes and can attach and grow on various substrates, you can experiment with different types of material and display them in beautiful settings.

Appearance

The plants grow to a height of 6-8 inches, with inflorescences measuring up to 8-12 inches or more. With their thick succulent leaves and beautiful fans, the plant looks refreshingly beautiful, even when not in bloom.

New fans arise from the older ones, thereby appearing to be astride the older fan. This was why they were earlier referred to as Equitant Oncidiums. However, except for the flower shape, which is similar to the dancing Lady oncidiums, they have very little similarity with oncidiums and on the contrary, share characteristics with vanda orchids, particularly in their fan type of structure or in their preference to growing bare root in high light conditions.

Growth habitat

In their native Caribbean habitat in the Bahamas, as well as places such as Florida, Cuba, Peurto Rico, and other places, Tolumnia orchids are found growing on thin peripheral branches of trees. This points towards their preference for bright, diffused sunlight, getting drenched in the rains and quickly drying up from the trade winds that are constantly blowing. The roots are hairy, with a thin covering called velamen, which absorbs moisture from the air.

Care requirements

To grow Tolumnia successfully, we need to keep these culture preferences in mind and mimic these conditions in the best possible way.

A combination of brief wet cycles, quick drying, bright light and air movement seem to work well

Growth medium

At the very outset, one thing is clear – Tolumnia orchids prefer a quick wet and dry cycle. They do not like being wet for prolonged periods, which is why many times, rot issues set in when grown in pots with organic media.

A more conducive environment would be to grow them on something rather than in a pot. Most hobbyists prefer growing them on mounts as this significantly reduces the risk of rot issues due to moisture retention. However, this means that the mounts need to be watered/misted daily once or twice, depending on the climatic conditions, which can get a little tedious at times.

Many hobbyists have successfully grown Tolumnia using a coarse and well-draining medium. This ensures that the roots get adequate moisture without remaining excessively wet.

The trick here is to use small pots with a minimal quantity of coarse medium, or alternatively, grow them bare-rooted in terracota pots.

The moisture retained in these pots is sufficient to help them grow well. Ensure you choose a small-sized pot so that it can facilitate a quick wet-dry cycle. A 4-inch pot can hold a specimen-size Tolumnia plant.

My potted Tolumnia did not grow well, So I mounted them and they like it better now

Personally, I have had little success with this method. I tried growing my Tolumnia in pots, especially so that I did not have to water them everyday, but they did not respond well. I also faced rot issues despite using coarse bark chips. Not one to give up easily, I switched over to mounts and they have been doing very well, without any issues.

I prefer mounting my Tolumnia for a number of reasons, the first one being that they are growing in near-natural conditions. The second reason being that they do not have rot issues. Watering daily is hassle-free as it does not take me more than five minutes to water my wood mounts. My Tolumnia  seem to like it, and respond favourably by blooming year after year.

Light

Tolumnia require bright, diffused light to bloom well

Tolumnia prefer bright, diffused light similar to Vandas and Cattleya, so you can place them where they get bright indirect light or morning and evening sunlight, which is mild.

Tolumnia that receive a good amount of light have light green leaves, while those that receive less than adequate light are dark green in colour. You can judge whether they are receiving adequate light by checking out for a purplish tinge on the periphery or tip of the leaves. If the purple tinge is pronounced, then you need to reduce the light intensity for providing optimal conditions.

I hang my wood-mounted Tolumnia on my window sill, wherein they receive bright, indirect light. They seem to like it and produce multiple new growths and bloom twice a year.

Temperature and humidity

Tolumnia can tolerate heat well, provided they receive air drafts and adequate humidity. This is why they grow on the peripheral branches of trees in the Mediterranean climate. In your home, you can grow them well at moderate a temperature of 55° to 90°F with a humidity of 50-70%. Placing humidity trays close by can help them meet their humidity requirements to grow well.

Watering

Since Tolumnia are thin rooted and small in size, their water requirements are considerably low.

If you are growing your Tolumnia in pots with coarse medium, you just need to wet the medium and ensure the excess water drains off fully.

This exposure is sufficient for meeting its moisture requirements. If the medium remains wet for a longer duration, the excess moisture will create conditions that promote rotting.

Also important to note is that only the roots should be damp. Water should not get into the base of the fans as this can lead to rotting of the leaves and fans.

This can be achieved by dipping the pot in a bowl of water, all the while ensuring that the level of water does not touch the base of the fan or rhizome. The roots should, however, be submerged in water. Once the medium gets wet, you can quickly remove the pot from water and allow the excess water to drain out into a shallow plate or tray. Allow the medium to dry fully, before watering the Tolumnia again.

Watering your mounted tolumnia is as simple as wetting the moss/roots and allowing the excess water to drain off

Watering your wood-mounted Tolumnia is much simpler. All you have to do is spray water every day or just hold it under running tap water and wet the roots. If water gets into the fans, ensure it dries off quickly by blotting it with tissue and placing it under a fan. Alternatively, hang it on your window sill and allow the breeze to dry out excess water quickly.

Your wood-mounted Tolumnia will dry out quickly. Depending on your climatic conditions and humidity levels, during summers, you may have to water them twice a day, if you find the leaves getting limp and dehydrated. You could also temporarily attach an extra amount of loosely packed sphagnum, which will provide the right amount of humidity to combat hot air drafts.

The rains will bring out the best in your wood-mounted Tolumnia. All you have to do is hang them out in the rain and allow them to soak in it.

If the rain is heavy, then remove them and place them in a protected area until they dry off. If there is alternative wetting and drying from breeze, then you can leave them exposed to rainfall. To allow them to dry off quickly, reduce excessive sphagnum moss, which you placed to provide adequate humidity during summers.  

Fertilizing

Once a week, you can make a weak fertilizer solution by applying half the recommended strength of fertilizer solution for your Tolumnia. I use a combination of NPK 20:20:20, Calcium Nitrate and Magnesium Sulphate.   I dilute it to a concentration of 110 TDS and apply it once a week. Once a month, I apply bloom booster fertilizer at a concentration of 110 TDS. This combination brings out the best in my orchids.

Cool winter rest

A cool winter rest is required for a good bloom cycle

Just like your dendrobium nobiles, catasetums and some other orchids, Tolumnia respond well to a cool winter rest. During the rainy season, they soak in its goodness and grow vigorously. This prepares them for the prolonged dry spell during winter.

I resort to watering them once a fortnight from October to mid-February. This ensures they slow down active growth, just as they do in nature. By providing these conditions, they conserve their energy for the blooming season in spring.

One need not worry about the orchid suffering from the neglect. The growth spurt in the rainy season ensures that the orchids remain healthy despite minimal watering. You can occasionally water them so that they do not get dehydrated and desiccated, but keep it to the minimum for better results.

Displaying your blooming Tolumnia orchid

Display your Tolumnia in attractive settings

Due to their compact size, Tolumnia work well for using them in terrariums that are well-lit. They can also be displayed as part of larger arrangements in combination with other plants. To learn more about displaying Tolumnia, read my posts on Project#3: Displaying your blooming Tolumnia orchid

I constantly experiment with new ideas and try to mount them either singly or in combination with different coloured Tolumnia. To learn more about this subject, red my post, Project#2: Mounting your Tolumnia orchid on wood.

In one such community planting project, I have mounted seven different Tolumnia on a single mount. While some of the plants have bloomed, I eagerly await the day when all the seven plants will bloom together, creating a stunning display of vibrant colours and patterns.

Experimenting with the diversity of two different orchids on a single mount

I recently planted a tiny Phalaenopsis hybrid (Phal. equestris X Phal. lindleni) along with a Tolumnia orchid on the same mount. While both have different requirements of light, watering and fertilizer, I am confident that their needs can be managed reasonably well. I will keep you posted on their adaptation to the mount and their growth response.

There are many ways in which you can experiment with new media and substrates for your Tolumnia. This is what makes orchid growing so exciting.

Until my next, happy growing!

Dividing and repotting your Cattleya orchid

Project#5: Dividing and repotting your overgrown Cattleya orchid

Being sympodial type of orchids, Cattleyas produce several new pseudobulbs that rise vertically from a horizontally extending rhizome. Within a year or two, they begin growing out of the pots, which is why most hobbyists resort to dividing their cattleya into back bulbs and newer growths. Both divisions can be repotted in newer and larger pots.

As a rule, I do not encourage dividing your orchid, unless warranted. A conservative attitude serves best in growing them into large specimen sized plants. So repotting into a larger sized pot would be the obvious choice.

But when you have space constraints  and do not want to have an overgrown, unruly plant, then it is best to take a more practical approach and consider dividing your plant into two divisions. The reason being that leaving the plant to put out further new shoots will only put the plant at risk, as all the new growths will grow outside the pot. Not only does this jeopardise the plant by way of getting bruised or tender new growths snapping off, but an unruly lopsided growth also looks aesthetically unappealing.

Dividing your orchid is a good option if you have growth space constraints

Recently, I was faced with this situation, wherein my Caulocattleya Chantilly Lace had some old pseudobulbs taking prime space in the pot, while the newer growths were extending awkwardly out of the pot. Going in for a bigger pot was out of question as my balcony grow space does not cater for larger pots.

Secondly, given that most of the pseudobulbs were done blooming, and that the plant is a vigorous grower, putting out four-five new pseudobulbs in a year, I took the call on dividing the cattleya, and repotting it, so that it grows well, and is safe from the risk of getting bruised or broken. The section with the older pseudobulbs that were potted separately, would also subsequently develop new pseudobulbs.

With this in mind, I set about dividing the plant and repotting the divisions as follows:

  • Preparing the plant for dividing and repotting

At the outset, I prepared the plant for dividing and repotting it, by fertilizing it two days prior to the project. Doing this ensured that my orchid absorbed nutrients and would be able to better withstand the shock of dividing it and repotting it.

Secondly, once I repot the orchid, I usually fertilize it only after two-three weeks. Doing this slows down the metabolism of orchids and leads it to a temporary state of dormancy. This slowdown in activity will allow the orchid to redirect its energy into recovering from the shock and subsequently put out new roots and shoots once fertilization is resumed.

  • Sterilizing the work surface and equipment
Sterilize the work area and equipment

I began the project by sterilizing the work surface by swabbing it with 10% bleach. I sterilized the equipment such as cutters and tweezers by rubbing them with surgical spirit.

The steel tweezers and cutters can be flamed for extra effectiveness, as this eliminates any microbes that may survive. Always ensure extreme caution while doing this. Also, keep the surgical spirit away from the flame as it is inflammable and could lead to accidents.

I then lay down all the sterilized equipment, as well as the stakes and string/wire-ties neatly, so that it becomes convenient to pick and use the right tools for the process.  

The tweezers are especially useful to reach into nooks and crevices and remove dried sheaths, tease out roots and separate them from the plant before eliminating the dead roots. This easy accessibility also prevents us from accidentally cutting off good roots or sheaths.

Tweezers are handy tools for removing dead roots and dried sheaths

With its great value-for-money offer, I bought this set of four tweezers from Amazon and highly recommend the same for your orchid maintenance kit. You can check out the same here.

  • Unpotting the orchid and inspecting it
A healthy root system can help the new divisions to thrive until new roots develop

In order to understand where to divide the orchid, you can make a rough assessment by checking out the plant.

However, do not rely on this method alone, as it could be misleading. A better way would be to unpot your orchid, remove all the old media and check out the rhizome of the plant. For all you know, the rhizome will give you a completely different perspective on the growth direction of the orchid.

On inspecting my orchid, I decided on dividing the plant into two sections, one with old canes and the other with the newer growths. However, this was not to be.

  • Assessing the plant and dividing it
Unpleasant surprise – the oldest pseudobulbs had begun to rot

Upon unpotting the orchid, I found that the rhizome was dark and moldy in two places. Apparently, it was suffering from rot issues due to the continued exposure to dampness and inadequate air drafts. This happened because the older pseudobulbs were at a lower level than the newer growths that were successively placed higher than the older pseudobulbs.

To know more about rot issues in orchids and their treatment, read my post, How to save your orchids from pests and diseases.

I quickly removed all the LECA (Light-weight Expanded Clay Aggregate) pellets, except for the ones stuck to the roots. I rinsed the rhizome and roots with mild liquid hand wash soap.

Doing this superficially removes dirt and also removes mold and other microbes/pests. It also helps in better assessment of the orchid’s condition and planing the best course of action.

When faced with a similar situation, if your grow space allows it, you could pot two of the best divisions together to get a specimen sized plant with multi-directional growth or you could exchange it for another plant or; even better, you could either sell it or gift it to a friend.

I  divided the cattleya into four divisions and eliminated the affected rhizome and pseudobulbs

In order to treat the same, I improvised my plan and ended up cutting the rhizome in three places and eliminating one old decaying pseudobulb. This gave me four divisions instead of two, each having two to four pseudobulbs. I wasn’t pleased about this development, but nonetheless, decided to repot all four of them separately and give them a chance to grow into four different plants.

  • Prophylactic treatment of the divisions

First things first, I needed to treat the diseased parts. Since the rot was superficial, I congratulated myself on discovering it in the nick of time, before the rot spread to the other sections of the rhizome. I scraped off the blackened rotting tissue from the rhizome until healthy tissue began to show. I again rinsed the sections and placed them in a shallow dish.

I scraped away the rotting tissue and applied 3% hydrogen peroxide to treat the root system

I then poured 3% hydrogen peroxide on the rhizome and roots of all four sections and allowed them to fizz for a good ten minutes. Doing this effectively kills the bacteria and fungi that were causing the rot. Spot application of powdered cinnamon at the cuts would further ensure the wounds dry up fast and reduce chances of reinfection.

  • Repotting the divisions in suitable media

I chose four medium-sized pots for planting the divisions. Since, the orchid was already growing in semi-hydroponic medium, I used pre-sterilized LECA pellets to repot three of the divisions.

Repotting divisions in semi-hydroponic medium

Using semi-hydroponics pots with a reservoir to hold water and nutrients, I positioned the plant appropriately, so that the new divisions that would arise, would have plenty of space to grow. I filled the pot with LECA pellets, all the while patting it to pack the medium in as compact a way as possible.

I decided to experiment with organic medium and so repotted the division with the oldest pseudobulbs in organic bark mix, along with strips of synthic, which is a moisture-retentive medium used in place of sphagnum moss.

The oldest divisions repotted in organic bark medium

I positioned the oldest cattleya division in the centre as I have no idea, where the new growth will emerge. I layered the pot with synthic strands at the bottom and topped it with a layer of bark chips. I repeated this layering till the top and finished off with a layer of bark chips. This will ensure there is a good balance of air and moisture in the medium, which will encourage healthy root growth. I placed a stake to support the division, and ensured it is held in the desired position by tying it up with a string.

For more details on choosing pot size and 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.

All divisions repotted and ready, with oldest and youngest sections in contrasting pots to study their growth
  • Post repotting care of the divisions

I placed the newly potted division in my grow space and have been checking on them to ensure they don’t dry up. I will begin fertilizing them after two-three weeks, since this quiet period of inactivity will help them recover and establish themselves better.

To begin with, I will begin fertilizing with half the recommended  strength of NPK 20:20:20 (100 TDS), calcium nitrate and magnesium sulphate. I will also add seaweed kelp once a month to the fertilizer.

Watch out this space for updates on how each of these sections develop.

Until my next, happy growing!

Project#4: Tidying up your orchid’s root system

Every year, your orchid grows new roots. As the number of new roots increase, peering through the transparent pot, you will notice several roots that are brown and mushy. This decay is a natural ageing process to shed off old roots.

A mix of old and new roots

The root system is now dominated by the roots from the newer growths. In order to create a healthy environment for these new roots, it is a good idea to clean up the root system and remove the old, dead roots.

While the general school of thought is to not disturb the orchid, I am a compulsive picker of old dried sheaths and roots that are visible, so that the orchids looks neat. This does not mean that I frequently unpot my orchids and go on a cleaning spree, every time I spot a dead and mushy root or two.

Instead, I assess whether the orchid medium remains wet due to lot of mushy dead roots. I also ensure the orchid is done with blooming, and check for the development of new growths and roots. This will indeed provide an opportune moment for repotting as the orchid will not suffer from dehydration due to lack of good roots. The new roots will quickly take over and minimise the shock of disturbing its root system.

Another reason why I like to tidy up the root system of my orchids is that dead mushy roots hold copious amounts of water. Prolonged dampness in the congested and closed environment within the confines of a pot encourages fungal and bacterial rot issues, which are commonly seen in orchids that grow in an excessively damp environment.

Dead, mushy roots encourage rot

The damp environment also acidifies the medium, leading to its early breakdown. Disintegrating medium further aggravates the dampness, leading to rot. Therefore, tidying up their root system will provide a healthy environment and prevent the root system from decaying, thereby encouraging the healthy growth of the plant, which in turn will lead to a healthy bloom cycle.

Aesthetically too, your orchid will look neat and well-groomed if the scruffy dried roots are taken off.

Green roots look healthy,  nurture the plant and provide good support

Now that you have understood the importance of cleaning up your orchid’s root system, you need to also recognise that the root system is the most important part of the plant, and is prone to set back. Therefore, you need to follow the below listed precautionary measures while cleaning up the root system:

  1. Always choose a good time for cleaning up your orchid’s root system. Preferably, time yourself when the new growths start showing up, and before the new shoot develops roots. This is of special significance as there is a high risk of damaging the new roots by bruising or breaking off the tip of the new roots. This in turn can affect its further development, as well as its capacity for nutrient and water absorption.
  2. Set aside some dedicated time to execute this project as you cannot complete it in a jiffy.
  3. Ensure that you have all the requirements like 3% bleach, rubbing alcohol, 3% hydrogen peroxide, foreceps, tweezers, fresh medium, if required, and a bigger pot ready for repotting the orchid.
  4. Sterilize equipment such as cutters, tweezers and forceps by rubbing with alcohol and flaming them. Take extreme precaution while doing so, so that there are no mishaps. Children need to carry out this step under adult supervision.
  5. Handle the plant carefully so that you do not damage any of the delicate parts of the plant such as roots, leaves and new growths.

Project

Tidying up the root system of my orchid

Cleaning up the orchid’s scruffy root system will make for one very happy plant

I mounted this Cattleya Walkeriana in June 2020.  The orchid liked its new environment during the rainy season and produced new roots. A few months later, once the rains stopped, I found the orchid suffering from lack of humidity. Frequent wet and dry cycle yook its toll on the roots and they began dying.

Things got worse when I had to suddenly6 leave town for four weeks and my orchids remained untended. When I returned, I found a severely dehydrated orchid with its roots shrivelled up and dried. Watering it regularly only made these roots mushy and unhealthy.

Fortunately, the orchid recovered from the setback and put forth a new growth and roots. I did not want the orchid to develop rot issues and so decided to cut off the mushy roots, without disturbing the new roots. Hopefully, the plant will thrive in its new healthy environment.

To execute this project, I carried out the following steps for the best results:

  1. Cleaned the work area by rubbing with a swab dipped in 10% bleach solution.
  2. Prepared the plant by watering it before hand to ensure the plant doesn’t get dehydrated since I do not water the plant for 24 hours after cutting the roots or stem. This is done to effectively seal the open wounds caused by cutting the roots or stem.
  3. Untied the wires and raffia tape that were used to secure the plant on the rock.
  4. Removed the moss surrounding the roots and looked for the mushy roots. I began separating them with a pair of electrical tweezers. The tweezers are especially useful to reach into nooks and crevices and remove dried sheaths, tease out roots and separate them from the plant before cutting them off. This easy accessibility also prevents us from accidentally cutting off good roots or sheaths.With its great value for money offer, I bought this set of four tweezers from Amazon and highly recommend the same for your orchid maintenance kit. You can check out the same here.
  5. Once the roots were cut off, I spritzed the root system with 3% hydrogen peroxide to reduce the risk of bacterial and fungal rot, and allowed them to sit for 10 minutes.
  6. I then covered the new roots loosely with a little moss, ensuring the moss is not too close to the base of the pseudobulbs. This will ensure the dampness from the moss does not encourage rot around the stem.
  7. I secured the moss and plant firmly in place with wire or raffia tape. Doing this will make the plant feels safe and will encourage further root production.
  8. Lastly, I placed it back in its tray and have been watering it every day by spraying a little water on the rock. The LECA bead humidity tray does the rest, by providing a humid environment throughout the day.

I stepped back to assess the plant and was pleased to see it all tidied up. I am confident the plant is much happier and will thrive in this low risk, environment. I will keep you posted about its progress.

There is a lot you can do to make your plants comfortable and provide a healthy environment for their growth. This dramatically reduces stem rot and root rot issues as well as the risk of developing diseases such as Fusarium Wilt.

To know more about orchid diseases and pest infections and their treatment, read my post, How to save your orchids from pests and diseases.

Orchids are resilient, and you will find them responding very well to seemingly small, yet important initiatives on your part, such as cleaning up of leaves, removing dried sheaths and cutting away dead roots, dividing the plants if they have outgrown their pots, and also cutting away old canes or pseudobulbs that are done with blooming.

All of these will give them a new lease of life and encourage them to focus their energy in putting on their best show during their bloom cycle. To know more about care tips for your orchids, read my post, 5 Basic care tips for your orchids.

Healthy growth conditions lead to a good bloom cycle

So make such projects a part of your orchid care regimen to provide them with healthy conditions for their growth.

Until my next, happy growing!

Project#3: Displaying your blooming Tolumnia orchid

Display your Tolumnia orchid in a natural setup

Spring is here and there’s excitement in the air. A much awaited time for orchid enthusiasts, you will now find many of your orchids beginning to spike and bloom. A greater part of the attraction towards the orchid hobby lies in enjoying their beautiful and fragrant blooms. One of the added bonuses of growing orchids is that most of them remain in bloom for at least a month, some continuing up to three months or more.

This provides plenty of scope to display the plant in various arrangements so that we can enjoy the blooms till they last. A case in point is the beautiful creations at your local orchid show, where orchids are aesthetically displayed in themed setups, bringing out their beauty to the fore.

Why should we try this out? For the simple reason that it would add an extra dimension to the orchid growing hobby. We need to savour their beauty in a fitting setup that would take the aesthetics of the hobby a notch higher. It would keep our creative juices flowing and is therapeutic for the mind and body. Last but not the least, it would help us be active, free of stress and happy, thereby contributing to our wellness. To know more about this feel-good factor that is generated, read my post, 7 Reasons why orchids can help you beat stress.

As an orchid hobbyist, every time your orchid blooms, you look forward to displaying your orchid on your window sill, mantelpiece, corner table, or even a showcase shelf. Sipping that hot cup of coffee and taking in the beauty of your orchids in bloom can give a great start to your day, instantly uplifting your spirits. You can’t help but congratulate yourself, on the fruits of your labour.

As I watched my Tolumnia orchid, which is mounted on wood, unfold its blooms, I could barely contain my excitement as I wished to display it in a beautiful setting that would add to the beauty of the plant. So I thought, why not provide a natural setting, and got so charged with the idea that I couldn’t wait to put it together at the earliest.

But before I speak about my project, let us understand a few basic considerations to ensure that our project is successfully executed and provides the desired results. These generalised considerations hold good for displaying any type of orchid. Doubly check on a few requirements to fulfil which, you need to:

  • Choose a suitable space for displaying your plant

By suitable, I mean that it should have a vantage point. That is, it should be at eye level, or at a level that will display the blooms at the best angle. It should preferably have a plain, uncluttered backdrop that would help display your creation to its best.

The third most important thing to consider is that it should be a safe place, where the chances of your orchid getting knocked down inadvertently are absolutely nil. You just cannot risk damaging your orchid or its blooms and need to make the location as safe as possible.

You could choose a safe corner table or shelf, or backed up against a wall or within a niche. This will keep your display safe and provide a fitting background for the display.

Another important factor is lighting. The right type of lighting will make your display magical. So unless you want additional lighting, choose a setup that is well-lit and creates an out-of-this-world effect.

  • Plan your theme and have all the props ready
Doodling lends clarity to your design

Always jot down your ideas and chalk out your theme for its systematic execution and an impressive end result. Diagrammatic doodles can give a rough idea of how you would want the finished result to appear. You could give it a natural look just by itself or provide a contrasting background by using various decorative props and embellishments.

Look out for a fitting backdrop

Put together your props, vase, sticking tape, wood mount and other requirements, pictures together. Ensure that water-resistant props such as twigs, pebbles and other are dipped in mild warm soap solution and taken out so that they are free of dust and kill insects that hide under the surface of the bark.

  • Select a sturdy holder/tray or vase for your display

Since your display will remain in position for a while, you need to ensure that it is placed on a sturdy platform or table and will not be shifted frequently. It will also need a heavy holder, tray or a vase, the centre of gravity of which, is closer to the base. This will ensure that the arrangement does not topple from being top heavy.

Alternatively, if you cannot find a heavy vase or container, you can fill up the vase or tray with pebbles, and this can provide adequate stability.

  • Choose and prepare your props for a good display
Dip the twigs in warm soapy water for a few minutes

Collect the props that will add an extra dimension to your display. They could be in the form of moss-covered twigs or river reed. You can also use dry grass and other dried flower arrangements to add that element of interest. You need to check on whether the props are colour-coordinated or provide a contrast, as per your theme’s requirement.

Sometimes, you can even use coloured rock, gravel and artificial pebbles, glass beads and textured sand to provide a fitting layout for your display. At other times, you can combine a few of your succulents and ferns to provide a beautiful lush green backdrop. These can bring out the beauty of your orchids.

However, a word of caution here – ensure the plants you use are free of disease and do not harbour pests such as snails, spider mites, scale and other pests and infections. Take care so that the soil from these plants does not fall into the orchid medium and get contaminated. You can prevent this from happening by covering the open surface with duct tape.

All these props, except for your garden plants, need to be cleaned and sterilised if possible, before being used.  This will ensure that your orchid remains free of disease and pest infestations.

  • Prepare your plant for display
Prepare your orchid

Once you choose your plant for display, you need to tidy it up for a beautiful display. Remove any dried sheaths and leaves, wipe the leaves clean with a very mild solution of liquid soap. Ensure that it is watered well and will remain fresh for a few days without being watered. If it is a wood mount, you need to wet it   and place it after the water has drained off.

Support the flowers with stakes so that they are displayed at the right angle and position, and not drooping over haphazardly. Following this tip will protect the flower spike from any potential damage. This can also be done much earlier when the buds begin opening up. Take extreme care so that you don’t accidentally snap a bud spike or damage it.

  • Fasten or support the props properly

The props need to be positioned in the desired angle or arrangement. You need to arrange it and step back to view whether it has the desired effect. Once you are satisfied with the placement, you can go ahead and fasten some transparent cellotape to secure it firmly in place.

Doing this is important as it will prevent the props from falling on your plant, crushing it or bruising it. You can also take out your plant for maintenance, and put it back, without disturbing the entire display.

  • Check if you can easily move your plant for watering it

Since your plant will have a long bloom period and can be a part of the display for several days or weeks, it is pertinent to position the plant in such a way that it can be easily removed from the display and watered and placed back.

In the case of wood mounts, you need to wet the mount and allow excess water to drain off before placing it back in the display.  Also, ensure the pot or mount is not precariously balanced as this could increase the risk of damage to the orchid.

  • Keep your plant safe with minimal handling

Restrict handling of your plant as much as possible as this would reduce the risk of damage to your plants considerably. Try to minimise handling by combining its care routine in one go.

For instance, you could water/fertilize you plant as well as tidy it up by wiping away dust and removing dried leaves and sheaths that can harbour pests.  You can also check for signs of new growth and carefully work around them, so that they are not harmed.  Be vigilant as always and scrutinize your plant for signs of disease. All these tasks can be done when the orchid is taken out for watering. This will minimise handling to a great extent. The plant can then be placed back in the display for another few days.

Project: Mounting your Tolumnia orchid

‘Getting a slice of the woods into your living room’

Test out your design

Tolumnia orchids are a good choice for compact and large composite displays due to their compact size and small sized delicate blooms. They grow well mounted on wood or in small-sized pots with very less medium. This makes them ideally suited for ‘nature’ themed displays.

In this project I have displayed a mounted Tolumnia orchid that is blooming. Since it is a young plant and a first-time bloomer, it has only one spike. As the plants develop more fans, you can expect multiple spikes, which would make for an amazing display. To know more about how to mount your Tolumnia on wood, read my post Project#2: Mounting your Tolumnia orchid on wood.

Step by step guide to creating a natural theme display for your Tolumnia orchid

1. Clean the area surrounding your display and make it clutter-free. Wipe the area clean to make it dust free.

2. Place the tray/bowl or vase in which the Tolumnia mount will be placed, in the earmarked area.

3. Arrange the props – moss covered twigs – in the right position so as to add an element of aesthetics to the display. Fasten them in place by using a transparent cello tape. 

4. Place the blooming Tolumnia wood mount at the desired spot and ensure it is secured. This is important so that your plant does not topple down at a mere touch.

5. Step back and assess your display critically. Rearrange, if required, to get a better effect.

6. You can raise the bar and provide a better display by refining the aesthetics a little more.  Create the woods effect by mimicking nature. Get the woods into your living room by positioning the display in front of a set of pictures of birds, or any other images that add to the mystic of the creation.

7. Now arrange the vase in such a way that it provides an effect as if the birds are perched on the moss covered branches that you have created.

Following these steps will indeed make for an amazing creation that will hold pride of place in your home, and will mark the beginning of many such creative projects when your orchids bloom.

Transform your living room with this display

Like, share and follow my blog for more such useful projects and care tutorials.

Till my next, happy showcasing!


Project#2: Mounting your Tolumnia orchid on wood

One of the most fascinating aspects of growing an orchid is that you can get as creative as you like and mount them on various substrates such as wood, bark, coconut coir shells, rocks and any other textured surfaces such as ceramic mounts. Your orchids will take to this arrangement like a duck to water, and there is very little that can go wrong in this near-natural environment that you would be providing.

In their natural habitat, orchids grow as epiphytes on tree branches and trunks, as lithophytes on rocks and in between chinks in the rocks. You also find ground or terrestrial orchids that grow in soil. It is this diversity in their growth habitat that gives rise to a host of exciting possibilities. You just need imagination to experiment with new ways and learn about what suits your orchids well.

Mounting Tolumnia orchids

Growing orchids by mounting them on a suitable substrate can be creatively satisfying. They serve as excellent display pieces even when your orchids are not blooming. Lush, healthy well-fed leaves and pseudobulbs on a backdrop of textured cork or a wood mount of any kind, creates a unique, natural display. I personally believe this to be a very thrilling aspect of growing orchids, making it a highly creative experience and taking the feel-good factor of this delightful hobby, a notch higher.

Let us begin by understanding what a mount is. A mount is any textured surface on which an orchid can attach itself to and grow. It may be in the form of a rugged wood mount, a rock with an interesting shape and texture or even a coconut coir shell. You may hang it vertically, or you can place it in a shallow bowl or tray, and even in a vase with driftwood to make the most amazing displays.

Now, depending on the type of orchid, you can select the option most suitable for its growth. Always try to mimic its natural habitat. For example, thick rooted orchids like phalaenopsis are relatively more resistant to root burn and dessication than thin rooted orchids like oncidiums and dendrobiums. So they can adapt pretty well to growing them on coconut coir and shells. On the other hand, oncidiums and tolumnia or equitant orchids grow well on wood mounts. Cattleya, especially the nobilior and walkeriana varieties, grow reasonably well on both wood mounts and rocks as these are commonly found growing on trees as well as lime plateaus and moss-covered rocks in Brazil.

Pros and cons of mounting your orchids

ProsCons
1.Wood mounts provide a near natural environment for growing your orchids.Requires good quality cork or durable wood mounts that do not rot or disintegrate due to daily wetting/soaking. Cork mounts are best suited for mounting, but can be expensive. You can look for inexpensive substitutes for cork from within your locality.
2.Roots attach firmly to the mount and make the orchid feel secure, promoting healthy growth.Firmly attached roots pose a problem if you need to change the mount when the orchid outgrows its mounts. The roots get destroyed on unmounting. So it would be better to choose mount size based on the rate of growth of your orchid and the surface area it requires to spread out.
3.Chances of disease and rot significantly reduce due to quick drying out between waterings.Requires frequent or everyday watering, which can be tedious. So if you enjoy watering and have the time for it, then this is a great way to grow your orchids.
4.Occupy less space and can be accommodated on walls and vertical structures.Frequent handling for daily watering can increase the risk of mechanical damage to plants. The risk of infection spreading through open wounds and bruises makes them susceptible to rot, leading to their deterioration.
5.Aesthetically pleasing and makes for beautiful displays with or without blooms.You will love your wood mounts, but the daily watering schedule can take a toll on you if you have a large number of wood mounts in your collection. You will need to dedicate time every day for watering them. It’s always good to keep the numbers smaller by choosing hardy ones for mounting. You can also increase the amount of moss for mounting your orchids so that they provide a humid environment over a longer period. This will also allow you to wet the mount quickly and put it back. You need not soak the mounts. This can reduce your watering time to a great extent.

Project#2: Mounting your tolumnia orchid on a locally sourced wood mount

Mounted Tolumnia

From time to time, I take up mounting projects for select orchids, but usually plan them just before the beginning of the rainy season. The reason being that rain water brings out the best in orchids and they respond very well by putting out new growths and roots in abundance throughout the rainy season.

Therefore, the process of adapting to the new surroundings happens much more smoothly, without increasing your anxiety over delayed rooting and attachment. Once the roots get firmly attached, the orchid begins growing new pseudobulbs and leaves, and begins preparing for a healthy bloom cycle from its mature pseudobulbs.

For demonstration purposes, I have chosen a Tolumnia orchid, which is one of my favourite orchid groups, due to their compact size, beautiful, lush green fans and to top it all, the most amazing and vibrant coloured flowers that continue to sequentially bloom from the same spike.

Besides, Tolumnia orchids prefer to grow on surfaces such as mounts as opposed to growing within a pot with medium. While they grow equally well within pots, they need to be carefully watered so that they don’t remain in a soggy environment for long, which creates a conducive environment for bacterial  and fungal rot.

Tolumnia orchids prefer moisture, but also like to dry out between waterings. The fans are susceptible to rotting when grown upright. Growing them on vertical mounts ensures that water does not remain trapped in between the leaves and fans, thereby minimising the chances of rotting.

Along with these factors, there are other considerations such as the structure, size, growth habit, rate of growth and multi-directional growth or unidirectional growth, etc., which needs to be taken into account for selecting the most suitable type of mount for your orchid.

If you do not wish to wait for the rains before mounting, you can go ahead and mount it right away. Orchids develop new growths as the cold winter days recede. Check when your orchid develops new growths. This is the best time for making the transition to the mount as the new growths will very soon produce new roots that will attach the orchid firmly to the wood mount. This will also help the orchid adapt faster to the new grow environment and will ensure the bloom cycle does not get majorly affected due to a setback.

Choosing your mount and preparing it for mounting

Requirements for mounting your orchid

Once you have decided on your orchid, now you need to find a suitable mount. Fortunately, Tolumnia orchids are small in size and therefore require small sized mounts. I however, like to mount different coloured Tolumnia orchids on a large size mount (community planting). This will create amazing bloom displays, something akin to the flower shikara or boat on the Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir, India!

So I chose a long cylindrical piece of dried wood, which I could either stick into a vase or lay it down like a wood log, on which the orchids would grow. I boiled it for a few minutes, which killed all germs and insects growing in the bark.

Select an area on the mount that will provide an aesthetically pleasing background for your mount and will allow it to feel at home and comfortably grow. Since Tolumnia orchids develop multiple growths or fans in all directions, you need to place the orchid on the centre of the mount. Gradually, its new growths will help it grow into a bushy clump and spread in all directions.

If you wish to vertically hang the mount, then drill a hole and make a hook with a metal wire of 10 gauge thickness. I prefer to make it a horizontal display or stick it vertically into a vase, so I gave this step a skip.

Apart from these major items, you will also need a cutter, tweezers,  sewing thread, moss, metal wire for making a hook, plant label, 3% hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol and flamer as well as 10% bleach.

The tweezers,ers are very handy for cleaning up orchids or separating out dead roots and cutting the. You can gain access to narrow crevices between the gtowths. I bought this set of four tweezers from Amazon. You can check out the same here.

How to mount the Tolumnia orchid – a step by step guide

Unpot your tolumnia
Teasing the medium out of the orchid roots with a pair of tweezers
Wind the thread diagonally to secure the orchid upright
All done up and ready
Get creative for a fabulous display
  1. Sterilize the work area by rubbing it with 10% bleach swab. Allow to dry.
  2. Wet the orchid and unpot it gently, without damaging its delicate hairy roots. Remove all pieces of media stuck to its roots. Wash the roots to remove traces of old media and check for any dead roots that are papery, flat, blackened or mushy.
  3. Sterilize the cutter by wiping it with rubbing alcohol and flaming it to kill any harmful germs that could get transferred to this orchid. Cool the cutter and cut the dead roots off, leaving behind only the good, healthy roots.
  4. Spray 3% hydrogen peroxide on the roots and keep the orchid aside for ten minutes.
  5. Take the wood mount that has been sterilised to kill any insects and microbes, and place it on the work area.
  6. Make a tiny bed for the orchid at the desired place by placing a little bit of moss and placing the tolumnia on it. Spread out the roots in all directions. Cover the roots with more strands of sphagnum moss and secure with your fingers, holding the plant and moss in the desired position.
  7. Use a long twine or raffia tape or sewing thread in a neutral colour to secure the orchid in place by repeatedly winding it around the moss. To secure a plant upright in the desired position, wind the thread diagonally to make the figure 8. This will hold the plant firmly in place. Tie up multiple knots to ensure the binding doesn’t open up. Cut off the loose ends to give it a neat finish and also prevent it from getting entangled with other plants and objects.
  8. Water the mount and hang it up in a suitable place.
  9. Water the mount daily by wetting it under a tap. Ensure that only the mount/roots get wet and not the fans of the Tolumnia. Fertilize it once a week by spraying a mild solution of orchid fertilizer (110 PPM).
  10. Very soon, your orchid will start growing roots and will eventually produce blooms from the mature fans.

Community planting

7 Tolumnia on one mount

Since Tolumnia orchids are small in size and grow as bushy clumps, they are good options for community planting projects. Instead of planting a single Tolumnia, you could plant five or more varieties with vibrant coloured blooms to create a beautiful display. I tried this project by planting seven different Tolumnia orchids on a single mount and had two of them blooming at the same time. I am eagerly awaiting the time when all seven of them will bloom at the same time. It would indeed be mind-blowing, I am sure.

Getting a slice of the woods into your living room

Nature in your living room

I have realised, over the years, that growing orchids is just the beginning of a wonderful journey of creativity. You could elevate this hobby to greater heights by displaying your mounted orchid in a beautiful arrangement that will teleport you instantly to the woods, where these orchids grow in wild abundance.

Mounting your orchids and creating these displays will provide you with immense satisfaction, which will contribute to your overall well-being. To know more about this equation, read my post on 7 Reasons why orchids can help you beat stress.

On this note, I urge you to get creative and wish you a happy mounting!


Project#1: Why, when and how to repot your orchids

Repotting your orchids in organic medium

Repotting your orchids can be a simple task for most people. However, there are certain aspects that need special attention. Ensuring that these things are done right will help your orchid adjust that much faster to its new grow environment and help the roots of the orchids function optimally.

The cattleya seedlings that I ordered online arrived in the nick of time and needed repotting. So I have documented the same for better understanding of the nuances of repotting orchids.

Why should you repot your orchid

Repot to grow orchids in a better medium

There are several reasons that could lead to a decision to repot your orchid in fresh medium that is more suited to your environment:

  1. Orchid hobbyists do not trust the medium that their newly purchased orchid is growing in.
  2. Following best practice of repotting your newly purchased orchid once the blooming is done will provide the opportunity to inspect the root system, tidy and disinfect it, and repot it.
  3. You need to check for signs of pest (read snails, slugs, mealy bugs, roaches, fungus knats and the like) or bacterial and fungal infection affecting the roots, and treat the same before repotting it in fresh medium. Read my post How to save your orchids from pests and diseases to learn more.
  4. If you observe signs of dehydration such as dull, limp and leathery leaves (especially the newest leaves), then you need to unpot your orchid, find out the reason for the same and take prompt remedial action, before repotting the same in fresh medium.
  5.  Organic medium such as bark decomposes and sphagnum moss gets compacted, over time. So they require repotting every 2-3 years.
  6. Your orchids grow every year and produce fresh roots that fill the pot and start growing out of holes or slits in the pots. This is an indicator that the pots need to be replaced with bigger ones.

When to repot your orchid

Once you have identified the orchids that need to be repotted, there are two options that need to be considered. Check if the orchid requires immediate repotting (due to pest or fungal infections or any other reason that spells urgency), But this is often ridden with risks as the orchid may take longer to get adjusted to the new medium.

So you need to carry out a risk analysis and may have to consider a tradeoff to save the orchid.

Repot when your orchid has new growths

In case you can put it off for a few months, then wait till the orchid develops new growths. These new growths will very soon produce new roots to support it. You need to repot your orchid before these roots begin to develop, since these new roots are extremely vulnerable to mechanical damage or could even break off while repotting. This would definitely be a setback to the plant, affecting its growth and bloom cycle.

What kind of medium and pot should you use

Organic medium is a good choice

Now that your decision is made, it is also important to decide on what pot size and medium will best suit your orchids. You can accordingly select either organic medium such as a bark mix or use inorganic media like LECA hydroton for repotting the orchids.

I generally use organic mixes, but also grow orchids with thick roots such as phalaenopsis and cattleya in LECA.

I source my orchid pine bark from Amazon due to its superior quality. You can check out the price here.

The pot also needs to be selected accordingly, based on the potting medium. For organic medium, it is best to use a pot that is one size bigger than its current size (choose a bigger size pot if your orchid is a vigorous grower). This is important as the orchid will not be repotted for another two or three years unless there is an emergency situation that requires immediate repotting.

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.

Since my environmental conditions are warm, the moisture from pots evaporates very fast, I prefer using regular pots for potting my orchids.If required, I burn some small holes to provide aeration. This provides me with better control to provide the right growth conditions to my orchids.

But if you are not gung-ho on DIY, then you can use pots with holes for your orchids. The transparent, holed pots that are available on Amazon will provide a good balance of air and moisture to your orchids.You can check them out here.

How should you repot your orchid

  1. Preparation

At the outset, you need to understand that repotting is not something you can carry out on-the-spot, in-a-jiffy, hurried manner. It needs to be planned and requires a little bit of preparation. This is why orchid hobbyists schedule their repotting so that it gets their full attention and time.

First and foremost, clean up the potting area by wiping it clean with 10% bleach solution. This will disinfect the work area.

Next, you need to sterilize your tools such as a cutter/pruner by wiping them with rubbing alcohol and flaming them if possible (Alcohol is inflammable, so take utmost precaution while handling it). Lay out the sterilized tools and materials like stakes, wire-ties and clips for securing the plant on the disinfected surface.

Use a container to collect the old potting medium and dispose it off. Take the required amount of fresh potting mix in a separate container and keep it handy.

2. Unpotting your orchid and cleaning up the root system

Before you begin unpotting, soak the orchid roots for a few minutes in a bowl of water. This will ensure minimal damage when you pry the roots away from the pot surface and medium. Remove the old medium completely, without disturbing the root system.

If there are a few pieces of bark/coconut chips stuck to the roots, then let them be, as pulling them off could damage the velamen (the thick coating covering orchid roots) and root, especially if the orchid has only a few good roots.

Cut off darkened, mushy roots

Clean the root system under a tap and place the orchid on the work area. Inspect the roots and cut off any mushy blackened roots. Leave the firm, pale yellow and green roots intact. Spray 3% hydrogen peroxide on the roots and allow it to sit for ten minutes. This will eliminate snails and their eggs. It will also kill bacteria and fungi and reduce chances of root rot significantly. You need not rinse the orchid again with water.

3. Repotting your orchid

Now that the orchid is ready for potting, take a suitable pot that is washed and ready for use. If you are using organic potting mix such as bark, sphagnum moss and perlite, then place a little sphagnum moss at the bottom. Layer with bark and sphagnum moss. You can add a little perlite to the mixture to ensure there is a good balance of moisture-retentive and well-aerated environment in the pot.

To pot up my cattleya seedlings, I decided to try out an inorganic moisture-retentive medium for the first time and mixed synthic, an organic material, in place of sphagnum moss. Sphagnum moss is becoming a scarce natural resource and so it is best that we switch over to man-made alternatives that are more affordable and readily available.

Potting in inorganic medium

I used LECA to pot two of the cattleya seedlings. I source  mine from  Amazon. Usually, I source the light and porous ones like the one here. But this time, I used the solid, heavy clay balls to find out their suitability for growing orchids. I will inform about my findings in a subsequent post.

When you repot the orchid in the pot, ensure that you plant it to one side and the direction of the newest growth is towards the centre of the pot. In the case of bidirectional growth, ensure that the orchid is positioned in the centre of the pot. Doing this will ensure the orchid rhizome does not extend outside the pot in a year’s time.

Orchid with bidirectional growth potted in the centre

Lastly, stake up your orchids to hold them firmly in the pot. This will prevent old root tips from getting damaged and will also help the plant feel more secure and put out new roots at the earliest. Label your orchids for easy identification. Water your orchids, so that the roots don’t get dehydrated.

All potted up and watered

With the repotting done, you need to now focus on watering and fertilizing the orchids right to ensure new roots start growing at the earliest.

Happy growing!


6 Tips to GET YOUR ORCHIDS READY for the blooming season

  1. Tidy up your orchids
  2. Look out for new growths
  3. Inspect and treat any signs of pests and disease
  4. Stake or train stray growths or spikes for a better display
  5. Change your watering and fertilizing schedule
  6. Repot your orchids with new growths if necessary

It’s that time of the year again, when warm sunshine begins to filter through your windows and the bleakness and cold of winter days is receding. Your orchids are out of their winter slumber (slowdown) and have resumed growth with renewed vigour. Sheaths and buds are filling out and preparing for a beautiful bloom display in spring.

While your orchids are busy preparing for the blooming season, you, as a care provider, play a significant role in ensuring that your orchid blooms are healthy and live up to your expectations.

Listed below are six ways in which you can achieve a better bloom cycle for your orchids, by getting them ready for the blooming season.

  1. Tidy up your orchids

First and foremost, you need to tidy up your orchids for a better bloom season. Dried growths and sheaths, old bloom spikes and leaves need to be cut off at the base. Leaves need to be cleaned up and made free of any dust or spots. This will help your orchid absorb light better for photosynthesis and also breathe better.

Moreover, tidying up your orchids will discourage pest infestations and reduce the risk of fungal and bacterial infections.

I always keep my STEELMAN 05600 7-Piece Tweezer Set handy. It provides me the convenience of tidying up my orchids easily and helps me gain access to every nook and cranny between the pseudobulbs, without damaging them. You can check out the same here.

Providing these optimal conditions will help the orchid become healthy and put forth beautiful, flawless blooms.

2. Look out for new growths

New growth popping out

With active growth resuming in your orchids, you will notice new growths in your orchids, whether they are new pseudobulbs, new spikes or roots.

At this stage, utmost care needs to be taken so that the new growths are unharmed by pests, do not rot due to retention of water and do not suffer mechanical damage while handling. After all, these are the ones that will help your orchids bloom in the coming season or next.

To learn more about taking care of new growths, check out my post on 7 Care tips for the NEW GROWTHS on your orchid.

3. Inspect and treat any signs of pests and disease

Treat for any microbial infections
Check for pest infestations

This is one of the most important preparatory steps for the bloom season. You need to scrutinize the leaves, buds, pseudobulbs and roots for sign of pest infestations as well as bacterial and fungal infections.

This could range from visible signs of spider mite, snail, scale and mealy bug infestations and disease such as crown and stem rot, root rot, mould infection, black rot, brown rot, fusarium and viral attacks. Any of these issues could lead to unhealthy growth, bud blast, deformed flowers or stunted growth, leading to a low quality bloom cycle. In severe cases, the plant, altogether, skips the bloom cycle, which would be most undesirable.

Once the issue is identified, you then need to take immediate remedial action so that the bloom cycle does not get affected. To learn more about these pest infestations and diseases and their treatment, check out my post on How to SAVE YOUR ORCHID from pests and diseases.

4. Stake or train stray growths or spikes for a better display

Stake your orchids for a beautiful bloom display

As much as you are looking forward to the blooms from your orchids, awkwardly positioned blooms can leave you disappointed when you finally appraise the fruits of your labour. Second, these spikes could come in the way when you are watering and fertilizing your plants, could knock down other pots or the flower spikes could get damaged while handling.

When the blooms open up, the orchids become top heavy and can tip the pot, if it is small and light weight. You need to anticipate this and place the orchid in a heavier and sturdier pot so that the plant doesn’t tip over. I get my ceramic pots from Amazon. You can check them out here.

To prevent any mishaps and to get a beautiful display, you need to gradually train stray spikes by staking them with clips or tying them up with twine. This will enhance the display and make it compact, thereby protecting the spike from potential damage.

5. Change your watering and fertilizing schedule

Start feeding your plants regularly

During winters, your orchids reach near dormant conditions and show little signs of growth or no growth at all. In keeping with this change, the orchids’ requirements for water and essential nutrients like Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium and trace elements decrease substantially. So accordingly, you need to reduce watering and fertilizer application.

In the case of winter-resting orchids such as the Dendrobium nobiles, catasetums and several others, you need to stop watering and fertilizing them when winter sets in, or water them sparingly once in a while to ensure they don’t get dehydrated.

With the cold temperatures replaced by warmer ones by mid-February, your orchids will begin showing signs of active growth. You will notice new shoots and root tips emerging. This is the time you begin watering and fertilizing the orchids regularly.

6. Right time to repot your orchids

Repot your orchid when new growths appear

If you are planning to repot your orchid, then now is the right time to do it since new growths have started popping out. The reason for this logic is that your new growths will soon put out new roots that will hold the plant firmly in the medium and provide it with nutrition for its growth.

Do not wait for the new roots to grow before potting. These new roots are delicate and could suffer damage easily if you decide to repot it after the roots appear. Losing these new roots would be a setback for the plant, and the new growths would show stunted growth. This in turn would lead to a low quality bloom cycle or entirely skip it, which would be most disappointing.

For more details on what type of media to use for repotting your orchids, read my post on Everything you wanted to know about ORGANIC MEDIA for growing orchids.

Going through this checklist and taking action at this juncture will help you prepare for the blooming season. You can look forward to a beautiful bloom display and derive maximum satisfaction from it. After all, this pit stop will help you reach the destination of your orchid growing journey without any eventualities.

Like, share and follow my blog for more tips on culture and care of orchids.

Please leave a comment in the comment box for feedback, any query and particular topic that you want me to wite about. I shall definitely get back to you on it.

Till then, happy growing!


How to SAVE YOUR ORCHID from pests and diseases

A complete care guide on treating the most commonly seen pest infestations and diseases in orchids

You have purchased orchids and are tending to their needs regularly, looking forward to a good blooming season, but suddenly one morning, you notice your sprightly orchid not so buoyant anymore. And your first instinct is to check:

What’s wrong with my orchid? How did it happen?

How can I resolve this issue and save my orchid?

Your first orchid casualty will have you brooding over your loss. I remember being distraught during my first year as an orchid hobbyist and frantically trying to put things right, especially as my Miltoniopsis fell prey to rot issues, Phalaenopsis suffered crown and stem rot,  my Nelly Islers couldn’t grow in my warm climate, and my Cattleya were time and again attacked by scale. Not to forget the slug and spider mite infestations that had me on edge until I ensured that all my plants were free of these pests. Whew! That was indeed a lot of hard work.

As alarming as it can get, do not get unduly hassled. A lot of problems can be resolved easily and let’s not forget that orchids in the wild live on for 100 years and more and propagate without any special care.

With a proper care routine and timely remedial treatment, your orchids will not only remain healthy, but will reward you with beautiful blooms year after year.

Before we get on to the specifics of these maladies, I would like to stress on the fact that the more time an orchid spends distressed and diseased, the longer it will take for it to bounce back. These conditions also lead to a setback for the orchid, leading to complications such as bud blast and in some cases, the orchid skips the bloom cycle altogether, which can be disappointing after the hard work that you have put in all year round.

 It is best to react with immediate effect and apply remedial treatment so that its chances of survival improve significantly.

Regularly scrutinize your orchids and check for signs of stress and pest infestation or other types of microbial infections while you are watering your orchids, fertilizing them, repotting them and grooming them.

At the outset, let us understand what are the common issues seen in orchids and what caused them.

Common diseases in orchids and their causes

SymptomsType of Malady
Wrinkled, dull, limp and leathery leavesRoot system damage  
Patchy chlorosis on leaves, with undersides of leaf turning black or brownSpider mite infestation
Crown and stem rot (soft rot)Bacterial and fungal infections
Dehydrated leaves and lack of signs of growth; purple ring visible on cross-section of rhizomeFusarium wilt
Scaly spots and patchesBiosduval scale
Powdery white patchesMealy bugs
Leaf spotsBacterial and viral infestations
Black spots on flowersBotrytis – bacterial infestation of leaves and flowers
Strips and ring like patches on leavesViral infections

Below is a brief overview of issues commonly faced by orchid hobbyists, with their remedial treatment and cure:

ROOT SYSTEM DAMAGE

Limp and leathery leaves indicate root system damage

Symptoms: Limp and Leathery leaves with no signs of growth. This is a clear sign of a stressed out orchid.

Causes: Below are the most common causes of root system damage:

  • Root system decay – Often the bane of overzealous watering by orchid hobbyists, this issue occurs due to excessive moisture and fertilizer application, especially if there is inadequate aeration and improper drainage. These conditions encourage the growth of bacteria and fungi, which attack the plant’s roots and decay them, thus affecting the uptake of moisture and nutrients from the plant.
  • Inadequate moisture – Occurs if the orchid is subjected to prolonged periods of dryness between watering. This could also be caused by exposure to bright direct sunlight and air drafts coupled with inadequate watering.
  • Snail infestation – You need to be wary about this right from the time you get home your newly purchased orchid. Watch out for signs of dehydration coupled with chewed up roots and tender new growths at the base of the plant.                                    
  • Physical damage during repotting – During repotting, sometimes the root system remains stuck to the original pot and potting media, especially when terracotta pots and wood mounts are used for growing your orchids. You need to gently pry open the roots in such cases. This leads to bruised and broken roots, which become vulnerable to bacterial and fungal rot, when repotted in fresh media. If the orchid does not have a healthy root system, then it does not absorb adequate moisture, thereby leading to dehydration. Since the moisture is not taken up by the plant, the medium remains excessively moist for long time, leading to decay of the remaining healthy roots.

Remedy:

  • Avoid excessive watering of orchids. Provide a good wet-dry cycle as per the requirements of the orchids. Also ensure that the root system receives adequate aeration by using a coarse medium and perforated pots. To learn more about these aspects, read my post Everything you wanted to know about ORGANIC MEDIA
  • Orchids require adequate moisture and humidity for their healthy growth. So frequent prolonged dry spells between watering that lead to severe dehydration should be avoided. Ensure your orchid responds well to the care routine you are providing and optimise it to get better results.
  • Chewed up new roots due to snail or slug damage can be a big setback for your plant. Unpot the orchid and disinfect the root system with hydrogen peroxide and then repot your orchid in fresh medium at the earliest.
  • Roots invariably end up getting damaged during repotting. To reduce this damage, you can moisten the roots and pry them gently using a thin, blunt knife. To prevent a setback for the plant due to repotting, the plant needs to put out fresh roots at the earliest. So, unless the plant is unhealthy and needs immediate repotting, it is always a good idea to repot when the plant gives out new shoots and roots. This will allow the plant to recuperate fast despite the setback.

Pest infestation

SPIDER MITE INFESTATION

Spider mite damage

Symptoms: Spider mites live and feed on the undersides of orchid leaves, scarring the leaves. They can easily be detected by looking out for a white sheen on the underside of leaves caused due to chlorosis (destruction of chlorophyll), which turns rough and brownish-black later.

Caused by spider mite infestation during dry, dusty and warm weather conditions, spider mites are extremely tiny insects that are red or brown in colour. Look out for webs and scan for mites, which can be seen under a magnifying glass or you could zoom in with your phone camera and you will spot them moving about. Alternatively, wipe the area with a damp cotton ball and if you spot tiny red dots, then this is a confirmation of spider mite infestation.

Treatment: As a conservative treatment, you can spray a solution of 2 drops of paraffin oil with 1 drop of dishwash liquid in 500ml of water. Spray the plants to cover all possible surfaces. Ensure that the plants are placed under a fan to ensure that the excess liquid dries off quickly and does not pool in crevices, leading to further complications of stem and crown rot.

Another more aggressive approach would be to spray a suitable miticide such as neem oil, pyrethrins, azadirachtin and horticultural oil (pick one from your local horticultural shop or search for it online), paying particular attention to manufacturer’s instructions (use below recommended dilution) and taking adequate safety precautions. Repeat application after two weeks until the mites disappear totally.

Prevention: As a preventive measure, do not allow your orchids to remain in dry and dusty conditions. Provide them with adequate humidity and air flow.

SNAILS AND SLUGS

Young leaf chewed off by snails and slugsSlugs

Symptoms: Snails and slugs live in the crevices of leaves and sheaths and in the root system and come out at night. They chew on tender shoots and growths, leaving stubs, and holes in their place. Also watch out for a shiny trail left behind when they move around.

Treatment: Immediately repot your orchid in fresh medium and discard the old medium.

Before repotting, rinse the orchid roots thoroughly and treat them with 3% hydrogen peroxide. This will kill any snails and also destroy their eggs if any.

Prevention: Isolate the plant when you buy it. Look out for signs of pest infestations. Unpot the orchid at the earliest and repot in fresh media.

APHIDS

Symptoms: Look out for tiny insects that suck the sap by attacking buds flowers and leaves, and leave behind a sticky gel mass. Bud blast and deformed flowers can be attributed to aphid infestation.

Treatment: Try to conservatively remove aphids by spraying water mixed with a few drops of dish wash liquid. For a major infestation, spray Orthene or Safer insecticidal soap using below recommended proportions.

THRIPS

Thrip damage

Symptoms: Thrips are very tiny insects that are not visible to us. They feed on flowers, leaves and buds, and very soon spread from one plant to the other.

Unopened buds drying and falling off, stunted growth and deformities in buds and flowers with damp spots are common signs of thrip infestation. Leaves have a pitted, stipled, silvery or bleached appearance.

 Treatment: On discovery, spray the affected plants and flowers once a week with Orthene, Malathion or Safer soap with concentrations below the recommended dose, and repeat for 3 consecutive weeks. This will help keep these insects at bay.

Prevention: Keep the plants, clean and free of dust and away from trees that are commonly infested with thrips such as trees that produce fruits and flowers.

BIOSDUVAL SCALE

Creamish round crusty spots indicate scale infestation

Symptoms: Like spidermites, scale are sap sucking insects that live on the underside of leaves. They are often seen in the axils of leaves, on pseudobulbs and on the rhizome of the infected plant. Old leaves and pseudobulbs that are in dry and dusty environment, are especially susceptible to scale.

The female reproduces by laying about 200 eggs, which take 5-6 days to hatch.These are creamish spots that are circular and crusty. A good way to confirm this is to scrape the spot with your finger nail. If it comes off, then it is definitely scale.

Another characteristic symptom is the chlorosis or yellowish halo surrounding these patches. In due course the area darkens and the leaves drop away, causing severe damage to the plant.

 Treatment: If the infection is mild, then use a cotton bud or Q-tip dipped in 1:1 solution of isopropyl alcohol and water. In case the infection is more severe, then spray with below recommended strength solution of Orthene or Malathion. Safer soap solution can also be used in a similar way to get rid of scale. It is important to apply these treatment remedies at a stage when the insects begin crawling as they are at their most vulnerable stage then. For best results, repeat the treatment after two weeks. Ensure that you cover all nooks and crevices, under the leaves and axil area.

Prevention: Treating them conservatively with isopropyl alcohol early on will reduce significant damage and spread to other plants.

Keep plants well-groomed by removing dried leaves and sheaths, and checking all crevices and underside of leaves for scale infestation.

MEALY BUGS

Mealy bugs on underside of leaf

Symptoms: Mealy bugs get their name from the powdery white cottony substance that covers these insects. They attack all parts of the orchid from roots to rhizome to the leaves. They especially make nests in crevices and hard to reach places like leaf axils, inside sheaths and tender new growths and suck the sap in these areas. The surrounding areas show prominent chlorosis, followed by darkening, and subesquently leading to yellowing of the leaf, causing it to drop prematurely.

Treatment: Similar to treating scale, mealy bugs can be cleaned with cotton buds or Q-tips dipped in isopropyl alcohol (spot cleaning is recommended as opposed to wiping entire leaves). For severe infections, spray all plant surfaces such as below the leaves and in the axils with below recommended dilution of Malathion or Orthene or Safer insecticide soap. Repeat application after two weeks.

Prevention: Remove old leaves and sheaths to check vulnerable places like leaf axils and underside of leaves. Ensure new additions to your orchid collections do not have mealy bugs. Isolate for two weeks, before placing them with your other plants.

Bacterial and fungal infections

BACTERIAL SOFT AND BROWN ROT (ERWINIA)

Symptoms: First visible signs include moisture filled soft spots with a yellow halo surrounding them. As the infection progresses, the rot progresses rapidly and leaves fall off. The infection can spread to the roots very quickly, finally spreading, albeit much slowly, to the rhizome and pseudobulbs. There is a characteristic foul odor of decaying tissue and a water soaked appearance. Bacteria mostly spread through open wounds.

Phalaenopsis, paphiopedlum and vanda orchids decline rapidly with such infections due to the attack on leaves or crown and stem causing rot issues. They are especially vulnerable since they are monopodial as compared to cattleya, oncidiums and dendrobiums, which have multiple pseudobulbs on a rhizome. So the chances of saving these orchids is greater than those of saving monopodial ones.

Treatment: Unpot your orchid and discard the medium. Remove infected tissue using a sterile cutter and dispose of the infected portions. Wash the healthy portion of the plant. Pat dry with tissue and spray with 3% hydrogen peroxide. Let stand for 10 minutes on a sterile surface area. Seal the cut portion or exposed tissue with cinnamon powder, which dries up and seals the wounds.

Prevention:  Crown, stem and leaf rot are commonly seen in cases where water and fertilizer get into the crevices and axils of leaves. Avoid splashing water on leaves and pseudobulbs as well as the crown of the plant while watering the orchid. The disease is spread by accumulation of water and bacteria that are present on the plant, which are encouraged by hot and moist conditions. Periodic spraying with a copper bactericide and ensuring there is no water dripping on to the plants will ensure that the orchids remain healthy and free of rot issues.

Bactericides like Physan or a copper fungicide can also be used in below the  recommended proportions. Do not repot the orchid immediately. Allow it to remain bare-root for 48 hours. After that, you can repot orchid in fresh medium. Clean up work surface with 10% bleach to remove any traces of infected material.

BOTRYTIS

Symptoms: Leaves and flowers are commonly affected.There will be a prominent browning and drying up of leaf tips, which progresses towards the base of the leaf.

Flowers develop black or brown spots, which are filled with moisture on the petals and sepals that merge and grow, marring the beauty of the flowers.

Treatment:  Spray a systemic fungicide such as thiophanate methyl or a protectant fungicide such as Mancozeb, with below recommended dose dilutions to clear up the infection.

Prevention: Good air movement, general cleanliness, higher light and lower temperatures discourage such infections. Remove dried up and wilted flowers as these get easily infected and spread it to other parts of the plant.

Avoid spraying water on leaves and flowers. In case you do, ensure that the excess moisture dries off quickly by placing it under a fan or where it receives air drafts.

FUSARIUM WILT

Symptoms:

If you spot leaves that are yellowish, thin, shrivelled, wrinkled or wilted, you should supect a fusarium infection. This is caused by the blockage of movement of sap through the vascular system of the plant.

When you cut open the rhizome of an infected section of the rhizome, you will find a prominent pinkish purple ring surrounding the rhizome. This is the confirmation of the dreaded fusarium infection. Mildly infected plants can survive up to a year, whereas a severely infected plant may decline rapidly over a period of 3-9 weeks.

Treatment: The first thing you need to do without any delay is to cut away the infected rhizome and discard it. Repot the portion showing healthy tissue without any purple band surrounding it. Clean the healthy portion of the plant and soak in thiophanate methyl as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Sterilize all tools and work area to prevent spread of the disease to other healthy plants.

Prevention:

Fusarium Wilt spreads from one plant to the other through improper sanitation and handling practices. Therefore make it a practice to sterilize your tools and work surface before you repot your orchid.

More importantly, sharing of water is seen as the culprit that can rapidly spread the disease and reduce your collection drastically. When you water your plants, ensure that the water from the drainage holes does not drip over the plants placed at a lower level. This can also spread fusarium.

Viral infections

Symptoms: These infections are often characterised by chlorotic and necrotic lesions, indicating destruction of chlorophyll and rotting of tissue. There may be a characteristic appearance of streaks and rings on leaves. The virus attacks all parts of the plant.

Treatment: Viral infections are devoid of any treatment methods due to the difficulty in diagnosis as well as their tendency to mutate. On seeing these symptoms, the best course of action would be to destroy it completely so that it does not spread any further.

Prevention:  Transmission of viral dieasases is inadvertently done when tools such as cutters come in contact with the sap. Therefore sterilization by rubbing with isopropyl alcohol and flaming it properly for 15-20 seconds is an absolutely necessity to protect your other plants. Another alternative would be to use single edge razor blades and discard them after use.

Prevention is better than cure

As a general rule, introduce best practices in the care routine of your plants to prevent the spread of diseases to your entire collection.

  1. Routinely inspect your orchids with a keen eye. Observe for signs of root damage, dehydration and pest infestation.
  2. Isolate the diseased orchid and treat it at the earliest so that the infection remained confined to a single orchid and does not spread to other plants.
  3. Avoid sharing of water between your orchids. Devise ways to water your orchids individually or at least minimise spread by restricting sharing within a small group of orchids. This way, your entire collection will not get infected.
  4. Use sterilized tools such as cutters and pruners for removing diseased portions and tidying up your plants. Always sterilize your work area with 10% bleach before placing your orchid on it.
  5. Repot your diseased orchid using fresh media and sterilized pots after treating it. Throw away the old media. Also sterilize stakes, supports, clips, etc. that are used for supporting the orchid.
  6. Keep your orchids well-hydrated and fertilize them regularly for a robust growth as their chances of survival dramatically increase if treated in the early stages of onset of disease..
  7. Have the necessary treatment remedies such as hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, cinnamon powder, potassium permanganate, any systemic bactericide and fungicide,  neem oil etc. handy so that your orchid can be treated at the earliest.
  8. Stock up on supplies like potting media, pots, stakes and other material to treat and repot your orchid without delay to minimise stress to an already stressed orchid.
  9. If there is a risk that your infected orchid can wipe out your entire collection, then it is better to let go of the plant rather than risk downsizing your collection due to rampant spread of the infection/ pest infestation.

You can’t save them all; instead you learn and grow

You win some and lose some

Every orchid grower faces a few or most of these conditions at some or the other time during their journey as an orchid hobbyist. You will feel bad every time a plant suffers a setback or you lose it, as you have been caring for it like a doting parent for months or even years. Second, these plants are expensive and a replacement is going to cost again. Third, sometimes, these problems reduce your collection significantly, and this can be very disheartening.

But then, you need to take these losses in your stride.

Believe me when I say, for the very best of reasons, what can’t be saved, needs to be let go.

At the end of the day, it is well worth understanding that orchids can be easily sourced and replaced through your local garden centre or nursery or even through online purchases.

With every such setback, you learn and grow, and become adept at problem-solving through exploration, experimentation and DIY hacks. This is what makes this hobby so exciting.

Due to the large number of issues and diseases seen in orchids, I will be extending this discussion  in a subsequent post.

Till then, happy growing!


Everything you wanted to know about ORGANIC MEDIA FOR GROWING ORCHIDS

Orchids grow extremely well on organic media such as bark chips, sphagnum moss, charcoal, coconut chips and wood mounts. This is because it mimics their natural habitat.

Orchids are epiphytes and in their natural habitat, are generally found growing attached to trees, on substrates  such as rocks  (lithophytes) and in soil (terrestrial). This allows the roots to be exposed to air, from which they absorb moisture.

Unlike plants, which require soil for their growth, orchids require a well-aerated coarse medium that mimics their natural habitat. Fortunately for orchid hobbyists, orchids can be grown in a range of media, both organic and inorganic.  

Both organic and inorganic orchid media allow the roots to:

  • Absorb adequate moisture, without becoming soggy
  • Breathe through the air pockets in the medium
  • Find their way through the medium
  • Anchor the plant firmly to the medium

While both types of media are used by orchid hobbyists, they have their pros and cons, and so a whole lot of exploration and experimentation make this hobby intriguing and interesting, with culture methods constantly evolving with time.

In this post, we will focus on the organic media used by hobbyists for growing orchids. I have also linked my preferred brands on Amazon, so that you can choose the same, if you have a requirement.

At the outset let us understand what exactly an organic medium is. This can be defined as any medium that is obtained from plant sources such as bark chips, coconut coir, sphagnum moss, fern blocks, charcoal, cork mounts etc.  

Before I begin discussing about organic media, I would like to spell out the pros and cons of using this type of media so that you get a fair idea of their advantages and drawbacks.

S. No.ProsCons
1Organic media mimic the natural habitat of orchids, which they quickly adapt to and thrive.They get eroded and broken down and need to be replaced every two to three years.
2They provide a conducive ecosystem for beneficial microflora such as bacteria and fungi that promote the growth of orchids.They can harbour pests such as insects and snails, which can be detrimental for orchids.
3Fresh media retain adequate moisture and air, and provide good drainage, which help the healthy growth of orchids.When the medium starts breaking down, it becomes soggy and acidic, promoting the growth of harmful fungi and bacteria, which in turn leading to rotting of roots and pseudobulbs.

However, even though an organic medium has a limited lifespan and gets eroded or broken down over time, say 2-3 years or may be even less, depending on the conditions it is subjected to, it remains the popular choice of hobbyists all over the world. This is because they would like to grow orchids as they would in nature.

Second, over the years, potting mixes that eliminate the inherent drawbacks of organic media are ensuring that once again organic media are gaining preference over inorganic media.

Even orchid nurseries and public gardens the world over, use organic media for growing orchids.

Types of organic media

The following types of organic orchid media are preferred by orchid hobbyists:

Bark chips

Pine bark is recommended to provide natural conditions for growing orchids. This also lasts longer and disintegrates more slowly compared to other bark chips.

Commercially available in various grades to cater for the growth of various types of orchids, it can be classified into fine grade, medium grade and coarse grade, depending on the size of the bark chips.

Fine grade retains more moisture and less air pockets, which is suitable for terrestrial orchids and seedlings. Medium grade bark is most popularly used by orchid hobbyists and caters to the needs of many types of orchids. Coarse grade bark, on the other hand is used for larger plants and those that require a well-draining medium. It provides adequate anchorage, and dries quickly even in a large pot or container.

I grow my orchids mostly in a mixture of bark and sphagnum moss and source them separately from Amazon. I prefer using premium imported medium sized pine bark that is clean, with smooth edges and provides my orchids the right environment for their growth. Moreover, this medium lasts for 3-5 years, so it works long term and saves me the hassle of repotting frequently. You can check out the same here.

Coconut Husk Chips

Coconut husk chips are commonly used for growing orchids as they provide the right combination of moisture retention and aeration, and decompose slowly. However, they don’t drain too well like bark does, for which it is commonly mixed with charcoal to provide adequate drainage.

Since this medium grows abundantly in the countries in South-East Asia, it is inexpensive compared to fir bark chips and sphagnum moss, and is widely used for growing orchids in this region.

It is worthwhile to remember that coco chips are made from mature brown coconuts due to their fibrous nature. They are rich in tannins and resin as well as salts such as sodium and potassium, which can cause root burn and decay. Therefore this medium needs to be pre-soaked for three days, changing the water after each day to remove the tannins, resin and salts.

There is however a disadvantage if this medium is used  for growing orchids since it has a strong affinity to bind with magnesium and calcium, which are provided as nutrient fertilizers for orchids.  This can lead to deficiency diseases in your orchids. To overcome this, the coconut chips can be buffered by soaking them in a solution of calcium nitrate and magnesium sulphate. This treatment will ensure that your orchids can absorb the supplied magnesium and calcium salts optimally and grow well.

Immature husk chips, on the other hand, are not suitable for growing orchids since they are tough and impermeable to water. Moreover, they retain excessive moisture and are prone to mold and algae attack. This can destroy your orchid’s roots, harming the plant majorly.

I use this medium for orchids that need a moisture retentive medium. I soak it repeatedly in fresh water and pre-treat it with calcium and magnesium solution. This ensures that it is safe to use. You can check my preferred brand on Amazon here.

Sphagnum moss

Sphagnum moss was the preferred medium of growth for phalaenopsis orchids for very long and is still used commercially by orchid growers since it helps provide adequate moisture and air to the orchids.

But a word of caution here, you need to check that it is not compacted, but is loosely packed, so that it provides adequate aeration to the roots. It is also highly absorbent, so you need to control the watering. This ensures that the medium does not become soggy and compacted, thereby choking the roots and leading to their decay.

If the medium starts getting compacted, then it is time to be replaced by fresh sphagnum moss, which is springier to the touch.

Sphagnum moss is commonly used in potting medium along with bark chips to increase moisture retention and increase the duration of the wet-dry cycle. I prepare my potting mixes using the highest quality of pure sphagnum moss as it is free of dirt and other contaminants. The quality is consistently good and it lasts for a long time. You can check out the same here.

Fern blocks

Fern block for mounting orchids

Fern blocks are tightly enmeshed fern stems that are closely packed and provide a good combination of moisture retention and adequate drainage. This is suitable for mounting orchids such as dendrobiums and other species orchids. It lasts for a very long time and decomposes slowly. But it requires daily watering as other bark mounts and so makes the hobby more tedious. Fern blocks are expensive and are sourced from the wild. They are mostly sold in eastern India, where ferns grow in abundance.

However, they grow very slowly, and therefore, sourcing them for growing orchids can adversely affect the ecosystem.

Charcoal

Charcoal provides excellent drainage and is commonly used with coconut husk chips to provide good drainage and prevent the medium from getting soggy. It is recyclable and inexpensive, thereby saving on the recurring cost of changing the medium for growing orchids. It is also suitable as a coarse well draining component of mixes for your vanda and other bare-root orchids.

Charcoal can be sourced from places that use wood fire as fuel. Or you can conveniently place an order here.

Cork and driftwood mounts

Cork bark makes for very good mounts for orchids as it does not absorb moisture and is thick and hard, making it resistant to swelling up and disintegrating when soaked. When the plant outgrows the mount, it can be transferred to another mount and the old one can be reused after boiling and sterilizing it. They look attractive and provide a natural beauty to your orchids.

Driftwood or dry pices of wood are cleaned up and are used as decorative mounts to give your orchids a natural environment. Orchid plants are harnessed with sphagnum moss and nylon wire to the wood to make attractive displays.

I buy my cork mounts from Amazon as I have not been able to source it locally. They beautifully offset your lush green orchids and make for great displays due to their textured surface. Also, a lot of my locally sourced bark mounts disintegrated after two years, forcing me to consider cork bark as a more long term solution. The price is a little more, but works out well in the long run. The best part is that you can reuse these bark pieces even after years of use. You can check them out here.

To learn about how to mount your orchids and look after them, you can check out my post, Project#2: Mounting your Tolumnia orchid on wood

Popular organic media mixes

Oncidium potted in bark chips and sphagnum moss

A lot of ready-to-use organic potting mixes are commercially available for growing your orchids. Based on the moisture requirement and your local climatic conditions, you can choose one that is most suitable for your orchids.

They offer the convenience of saving on time and effort, and prevent the messiness of pre-soaking your media and mixing it. The mixes are also pre-treated to keep them free of pests and fungus.

Bulk purchases also make ready mixes more affordable. So if you have a small collection and don’t want to spend a lot on potting mixes and have them lying around for a  long period, unused, you can get your friends to club their orders along with yours, and the economics of bulk purchases will result in significant savings.

Ready-to-use organic potting mixes can especially be used by people who are new to the hobby of growing orchids. As you gain an understanding of the function of each component of the mixes, you can formulate your own mixes, which you can test on your orchids and optimise them further to produce the best results.

I make my own potting mixes by sourcing the ingredients separately.

Choosing an organic potting mix for your orchids

You need to choose your organic potting mixes with care. The basic requirement is that the medium should be well-draining and provides the right balance of moisture and air to the orchid roots. This will provide a good wet-dry cycle, which is significant for the healthy growth of orchids.

While there is a general thumb rule of the kind of orchid mixes that are suitable for phalaenopsis, cattleya, paphiopedlums, oncidiums, based on their morphology and moisture requirements, you need to also consider the climatic conditions of your locality, the fluctuations in temperature and humidity, and your grow room conditions, the type, size and porosity of pots, before you prepare your potting mix.

The American Orchid Society has put forth the following guidelines for selecting media for different types of orchids:

Orchid typePot typeWet-dry cycle (Gap between watering)Potting mix
Phalaenopsis, paphiopedlum, miltoniopsis, miltonia, cymbidium and other terrestrial orchids (moisture-loving orchids)Clay or plastic; Large or medium  Up to 7 daysMedium to fine grade; High moisture retentive; Well-draining
Cattleya, oncidium/odontoglossum alliances (sympodials with well-defined pseudobulbs)Medium to large; Clay or plastic4-7 daysCoarse to medium grade; Moisture-retentive, yet well-draining
Dendrobiums, vandaceous types, terrate, pendent type oncidium types and other generaClay pots with holes;  Slatted baskets/pots2-3 daysCoarse grade; Well-draining
Tolumnia (Equitant oncidiums)Small Clay or slatted plastic pot1 dayCoarse grade; Well-draining

Apart from this, seedling plants prefer a moisture-retentive medium as they require higher level of moisture compared to mature plants, which can use up stored moisture in the pseudobulbs for their survival. However, seedling plants or mericlones also need a drying period of one week between waterings.

Creating your own potting mix

Fir bark potting mix with sphagnum moss

As you get more experienced, you are better able to gauge the type of medium that is most suitable for your orchids. You can mix and match and come up with the best recipe that will help your orchids grow and bloom well in your grow conditions.

Watch how your orchid responds, and pick a medium that is close to the specifications given by the seller. Gradually, increase or decrease the moisture level of the medium by adding the requisite amount of moss or coconut coir to the medium.

If your orchid gets adequate moisture and does not dry out too fast, nor remains soaking wet for days on end, then your orchid is getting the right wet dry cycle for its optimal growth.

Some of the mixes that have gained popularity are:

  1. Texas A&M University botanists recommend 80% bark and 20% sphagnum peat for growing phalaenopsis orchids.
  2. University of Tennessee horticulturists recommend a mix made of 3 parts fir bark, 1 part chopped sphagnum moss and 1 part perlite.
  3. For a finer grade mix for orchids with fine roots, which is more moisture-retentive, mix fine-grade fir bark or coco husk chips with fine charcoal pieces and perlite in a 4:1:1 proportion, respectively. Instead of coco chips, you can use sphagnum moss or even vermiculite. The perlite and vermiculite need to be pre-soaked for easier handling. While vermiculite is moisture retentive, it however, drains out since it is fine in texture. But orchids do respond well to the addition of perlite for aeration and vermiculite for moisture retention.
  4. For a medium grade mix, use bark or coco husk chips with medium charcoal and perlite in the ratio of 4:1:1, respectively.
Coconut husk chips with charcoal

The intent here is to provide the right balance of moisture and air for your orchids so that they thrive in your home conditions. While this may be difficult to gauge if you are new to the hobby, you could discuss it with your seller or connect with other experienced orchid enthusiasts on social media platforms and forums, and ask for their suggestions, by mentioning your climatic conditions. Alternatively, if you do not have the time to prepare these mixes, you can spare yourself the hassle and order your desired mix from Amazon such as this one.

Conserving your medium by treating it right

Now that you have understood about potting mixes and the characteristics of each component, it is very much necessary to treat your medium right, by not soaking it for prolonged periods or allowing salt to build up in the medium. Prolonged wetness with no drying up in between makes the medium acidic, leading to breakdown of medium. This results in the choking up of roots, decaying and making them susceptible to fungal attack.

Even though you source a high quality mix, always ensure that the medium dries off between watering. This will keep it in good condition over a longer period of time, leading to better economics compared to the recurring cost of repotting your orchids frequently in a mix that has the tendency to break down faster.

You can also check out my post, Project#1: Why, when and how to repot your orchids, which will provide you with a step-by-step guideline to repotting your orchids in a suitable medium.

Happy growing!