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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.

New growths are important for helping a plant adjust to the new environment after repotting

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
Keep the leaves free of dust and dirt

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.

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

Stakes provide good support, protect spikes against damage and make for a great 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 slugs

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 in organic media such as bark chips, sphagnum moss, charcoal, coconut chips and on 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 generally 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 media like coco chips and sphagnum moss.

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 orchid 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 chips and sphagnum moss. 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.

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 pine 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 nitrate and magnesium sulphate solution. This ensures that it is safe to use.

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.

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.

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 backdrop for 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.

Cork mounts beautifully offset your lush green orchids and make for great displays due to their textured surface. Also, a lot of my locally sourced wood 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 buy cork mounts and chips here.

To learn about how to mount your orchids and look after them, you can check out my post, Project#6: Mounting your orchid on cork bark

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 area 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.

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!


7 CARE TIPS for NEW GROWTHS on your orchids

New growth in oncidium popping out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look out for new growths

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

Water and fertilize them right

New growths on an oncidium

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

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

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

Prevent sudden temperature and humidity fluctuations

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

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

Handle with care

A phalaenopsis basal keiki

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

Tidy up your plants regularly

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

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

Provide adequate support for proper growth

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

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

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

Release new growths if they get trapped in sheaths

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

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

Repot at the right time

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

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

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

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

Happy growing!


7 Reasons why orchids can help you beat stress

We are going through some of the toughest times, where everyone has been affected by COVID-19 in some way or the other. The morale is generally low, with prolonged lock downs taking their toll on adults and children alike. Keeping yourself upbeat and optimistic are the need of the hour. Activities such as indoor gardening, orchid growing and terrariums will add renewed purpose to your day. Bonus: Your joy will multiply when your orchids bloom.

Read on to understand how growing orchids or any other plants can help you beat stress.

Tending to my orchids after my work day, watering them, tidying them up, or inspecting the newest growths and bud spikes, I can feel the calmness and freshness seeping into me and I ponder, who needs to meditate to beat stress? This ‘me-time’ leaves me elated, refreshed, focused and active. I always ask myself, ‘Why do my orchids make me happy?’

While stress has become an inevitable part of our lives, something that cannot be wished away, it needs to be dealt with on an every day basis to come out unscathed by it. Depression, anxiety, anger, irritability, restlessness, feeling overwhelmed, demotivated, lack of focus, trouble sleeping, worrying and indecisiveness—all leave us feeling we should do something to relieve it, but are unable to figure out a solution.

To find the answer to my above question, I did some research and came up with some interesting information.

Agnes E. Van Den BergMariëtte H.G. Custers conducted a study on a group of 30 people, who were given a stressful task and were then asked to do 30 minutes of gardening or 30 minutes of reading. It was observed that both activities led to a decrease in cortisol levels, but the decrease was significantly greater in the group that took up gardening, which restored a positive mood. The same group, when asked to take up reading after completing 30 minutes of gardening, found a further deterioration in their positive mood.

No wonder then that we seek nature to relieve us of our stress. The woods beckon us every time we need a time-out from the rigours of modern life.

My window sill comes alive with greenery and pretty blooms

Imagine walking through a vast expanse of green canopied woods, with the crunch of dried twigs and leaves under your feet and patches of moss and fern covered rocks lining your path, camouflaging nooks and crannies. And in such picturesque surroundings, you chance upon a clump of beautiful orchids bowing down from low hanging branches and rocks. It would simply take your breath away!

What if I could tell you that you could create the same magic right in your living room?

All you need to create this aura is a few orchid plants and the knowhow about their culture and care.

As an avid gardener, I have found that orchids relieve stress like none other. They are beautiful and intriguing, and have the mysterious power of drawing you to their beauty. They can contribute to your overall wellness by evoking positive feelings of joy, enthusiasm, and tranquillity.

Growing orchids, as a hobby, can be extremely satisfying. While they need dedicated care and bloom once or twice a year, it is the journey that leads to the blooms that can contribute to your wellness.

You will very soon realise that the joy lies in the anticipation of the blooms—watching the plants grow, nurturing them and waiting for the first buds or spikes to appear. The joy lies in the excitement of discovering a new growth that has the potential to bloom, and watching it reach maturity. The joy lies in guessing whether a new growth is just another new root tip or whether it is a flower spike. There is also the element of delight, when you suddenly discover a flower spike when you are watering your plants. And last, but not the least, the unmatched excitement of unboxing your online purchase of orchids. The list could go on…

However, there is more to orchids than making you happy and stress-free. It opens up a plethora of opportunities and advantages that would contribute to your overall well-being. Listed below are a few reasons why taking up this hobby would irrevocably change your life by helping you:

Become active

Greenery within your home makes you feel good

Caring for orchids means being on your feet, watering and fertilizing them and ensuring they are in peak condition. You can also experiment on mounting your orchids on wood bark or growing them on rocks and in terrariums.  All of this physical activity releases endorphins or the feel good hormones. Being active also helps us exercise our limbs and improves our agility, thereby significantly reducing the onset of lifestyle diseases like blood pressure, diabetes and heart ailments.

Cruise control your life

Taking up this quiet activity will help you organise your life better. You will start planning your schedule and completing your chores faster and more efficiently just to make sure you get to spend time with your collection of orchids. This relaxing hobby also helps you plan your schedule and ponder on decisions to be taken. It helps you gain clarity on prioritising things that are important and prevent you from fretting over minor issues, thus reducing your stress significantly. It diverts you from  negativity and helps you remain unfazed by toxic behaviour of people around you.

Connect with people

Making connections with people has become more important to us than ever before. With our busy lifestyles, connecting with like-minded people can be a challenge, but not anymore. Joining hobby enthusiast groups either locally, where you can meet and learn about orchids within your city, or becoming a member of online communities on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or Reddit, which provides a platform for discussion, posting images of your blooms or getting advice on caring for your orchids from experts, will help you become more social and build lasting friendships.

Set aside some ‘Me-time’

Taking some time off from your busy morning schedule to have a cup of steaming coffee and browsing through your collection of orchids and other plants can be the most relaxing way to start your day. The same goes for spending some quiet, undisturbed ‘me-time’ in the evenings after a hectic work day. This calming activity  will leave you synergised and bring out the best in yourself.

Bring nature indoors with your orchids

Challenge yourself

The positive energy you derive from growing orchids can lend direction to your life. Small little issues that you resolve every day for your orchids will prepare you to take control of your life and put it back on the right track. You can get rid of passive habits and lethargy and become proactive in every walk of life.

Take a break from work and enjoy your coffee watching your plants

The biggest bane of our times is that we spend too much time with our laptops and smartphones. Making a conscious effort to wean away from gadgets and get engaged in activity that leaves you active and refreshed, could help you become more relaxed, healthy and positive.

This could enable you change any unhealthy habits that you have been trying hard to get rid of and help you become the best version of yourself. By doing this, you can set new goals that could be life-changing, and work towards achieving them.

Work smarter, not harder

Organise your care routine to make this hobby enjoyable

This is my favourite one. While working hard is a good thing, working efficiently to achieve the same results with lesser effort is a definitive life skill that will stand you in good stead in the long run. I have learnt this by working smarter to look after my orchids and this attribute has spilled into other areas of my life, making me wonder, why I hadn’t been doing it all along.

For instance, if you want to avoid remembering each orchid’s watering needs and going crazy over their watering schedules, a smarter way to resolve this issue and reduce the tediousness of the job, would be by adjusting the moisture retentive characteristic of the growth medium. This helps in synchronising your watering schedule to a great extent. Another way out could be by grouping your orchids as per their watering needs. You could segregate them into weekly and bi-weekly watering schedule. Gradually, this aspect begins influencing other areas of your life, bringing in more organized efficiency on a daily basis. Get the picture?

Develop a positive outlook

Orchids help you develop a positive attitude, hope and loads of patience. They grow slowly, flower every year and outlive humans. Such is their resilience that sometimes the sickest plants, with no shred of hope, suddenly spring back to life by sending out a ‘keiki’ or a new plant shoot. So this ‘never-give-up’ attitude can help us build hope in the bleakest of situations and give us the grit and determination to keep us going.

Orchids can be resilient

I remember breaking a tender, newly developed flower spike accidentally during my over-enthusiastic photography. To my surprise, it sent out a new spike after a few days (to appease my anguish!).

With all these obvious advantages, the number of orchid enthusiasts is growing by leaps and bounds. You just need to explore orchid groups on Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit and Instagram to know about the hobby’s rising popularity.

As a beginner, you can get a headstart by reading up on growing orchids and understanding their culture requirements. You need to keep in mind that orchids have specific care requirements that will help them grow and bloom well. To know more about orchid care and culture, read my post on Beginner’s guide to growing orchids.

Subscribe to my blog for more information and useful tips on nurturing orchids that will reward you with the most exquisite blooms.


5 Basic Care Tips for your Orchids

Now that you have settled down into a comfortable routine of growing your orchids by providing them with the right conditions for their growth, there are additional requirements that will keep them healthy and free of pests, help them grow well and prepare them for the blooming season. Just as you take care of your other indoor plants, you need to regularly check on them and ensure that they are healthy and disease-free. This regular maintenance will facilitate their peak growth and help them flower year after year. 

Listed below are care tips that would help you spruce up your orchids and maintain them in optimal conditions at all times.

1. Repotting

Orchids need to grow in clean and healthy medium that will provide the right balance of moisture and air for their optimal growth. In their native habitat, orchids grow on trees and absorb humidity from the atmosphere.

Similarly, they need to receive a continuous supply of moisture from the medium, without being excessively wet. A combination of chunky bark with strands of moss will provide the right balance of air and moisture. This medium can last for a year or two, but may begin disintegrating faster, if it is not allowed to dry out between waterings.

Orchids need to be re-potted when:

  • They are not potted in suitable medium for their growth.
  • They are growing/extending out of the pot and so require a bigger sized pot.
  • Medium such as bark begins rotting and disintegrating.
  • Medium gets infested with snails or fungus, which can destroy a plant completely.

To repot, you need to discard the old medium, wash and sterilize the pot if you plan on reusing it, and repot using fresh medium. (I will be covering this process at length in a separate post.)

To learn more about different types of media and potting mixes, read my post on Everything you wanted to know about ORGANIC MEDIA FOR GROWING ORCHIDS

2. Tidying up

Orchid plants need to be spruced up from time to time to provide a neat and groomed appearance. Old dried leaves, sheaths and pseudobulbs should be removed as these could harbour pests. 

Sometimes, the rhizome travels outside the plant, sending out tangled roots that are susceptible to bruising.  This also reduces the compactness of the plant and reduces its aesthetic appeal. Canes and pseudobulbs that are awkwardly shaped can knock down other plants by getting entangled, or they themselves can get knocked down, leading to damage. These need to be cut and repotted.  

Longer canes that are bent out of shape can be braced using stakes and wire ties. In time, they will conform to the shape they are trained for and will accordingly grow to provide a beautiful display. 

Wrinkled and limp leaves are signs of a stressed and dehydrated orchid. Check the reason for this condition by unpotting the plant. This happens mostly when the orchid lacks good roots and hence cannot absorb water. The plant continues to survive despite lack of roots and gets revived when new roots appear. Reduce the watering in such a case as the medium can get soggy and lead to fungal infections. A stressed plant can rapidly go downhill as it is easily susceptible to fungal and pest attack.

3. Keeping plants dust-free

Orchids need to be kept free of dust as it affects their growth significantly. The leaves need to absorb sunlight for photosynthesis. Moreover, the stomata that are present under the leaves need to breathe freely to facilitate the exchange of gases. 

If the leaves are covered with dust, these functionalities get adversely affected and it  slows down growth, thereby affecting bloom production. So it is very much important to keep the plants clean by spraying them with water and allowing them to dry under a fan or placing them where they are exposed to air drafts. 

This ensures that moisture is not retained in the crown of the plant and inside the sheaths of new growths, thereby preventing rotting of the pseudo bulbs. Another efficient way is to draw out the trapped moisture by blotting it with absorbent tissue paper.

A safer, and equally effective way is to wipe the leaves with a very mild solution of dishwash soap. Dip a soft cloth or sponge and gently wipe clean the leaves, ensuring that the leaves do not get bruised. Unless very dusty, avoid wiping the underside of the leaves, to prevent the stomata pores from getting clogged. This method will ensure better photosynthesis, respiration and growth of the plant.

Another alternative to the dish-wash soap method is to squeeze a 2-3 drops of lime juice in 100 ml of water and clean the leaves with it. This makes the leaves shiny and healthy.

4. Spike and bloom care

Orchid spike care

Orchids generally bloom once or twice a year and during this time, special care needs to be taken to provide them with adequate moisture and fertilizer, especially when the spike begins to grow. When the buds begin to bloom, avoid the application of fertilizer to make the blooms last longer. Some growers support the use of fertilizers during blooming. Personally, I have lost blooms whenever, I have applied fertilizers, especially if the plants are stressed out due to transportation or have been re-potted recently. So depending on how your orchids respond, you can follow either way for the best results.

Orchid spikes are fragile and need to be handled with care. They can be supported with stakes to ensure they provide an attractive display. Once the blooming is done, the spike can be cut off at the base, leaving a little stump, especially in the case of Oncidiums and Cattleyas. On the other hand, you can also leave the spikes on Phalaenopsis or Tolumnia till they dry out. Since they are sequential bloomers, they may surprise you with more blooms on secondary spikes. 

Learn more about taking care of new growths such as shoots, spikes and roots in my post, 7 CARE TIPS for NEW GROWTHS on your orchids

In rare cases, old woody Phalaenopsis spikes are retained on the plant as these can be used for anchoring fresh spikes, giving a natural look. But scraggly spikes can look unsightly, so it is always important that your orchids look neat and aesthetically appealing. 

5. Pest Control

Orchids need to be protected from pests such as snails, thrips, mealy bugs, roaches, spidermites and fungal attack. So it is important to scrutinize your plants regularly to keep them in check. There is an urgency to isolate and treat them as early as possible as sometimes, these could lead to irreparable damage and many-a-times, orchids succumb to these fast-spreading infestations. 

You can use conservative and harmless treatment methods like hydrogen peroxide for snails and protection against fungal and bacterial growth, besides using rubbing alcohol for getting rid of mealy bugs. Spraying with a suitable systemic fungicide is helpful in the treatment of thrips or fusarium infestation. The latter involves a lengthy period of isolation and treatment of the plant.

Spider mites are a menace for orchids. These quickly multiply and thrive if the plant foliage is kept dry and dusty. Frequent spraying of water on the foliage is an absolute no-no as it makes them susceptible to rotting from remaining wet. 

I am a big fan of DIY solutions. So I recommend the one shared by Miss Orchid Girl (Visit www.missorchidgirl.com for more details) to make a mild solution of liquid dish-wash soap and a drop of paraffin oil. This is an ingredient in moisturisers and body lotions. So adding a drop of this can work as well.

Apart from this, your orchids may also be a home to other insects such as ants and springtail, which are harmless—the former search for happy sap, the syrupy secretions at the apex and feed on it; the latter clear up fungal growth in the medium. So these can be left alone too. However, be watchful of ants as they can help spread mealy bug infestations from one plant to another.

While these form the basic care tips for maintaining your orchid collection, growing and caring for orchids allows a lot of flexibility. Depending on factors like the medium, the environment you are providing and most importantly, how your orchids respond to your care, the problems you face, you can deviate and come up with a care regimen that suits them best. 

Happy growing!


Beginner’s guide to GROWING ORCHIDS

Growing orchids can be easy if you know about their culture requirements. Found in the forests at the foothills of the Himalayas, Assam and in some parts of Karnataka in India as well as other parts of the world, these plants are epiphytes and grow attached to branches and rocks, soaking up moisture and stray rays of the sun that are filtered through the chinks in the foliage. They generally thrive and flower prolifically in warm and humid climates, which receive a fair amount of rainfall. But wherever you may live, you can provide orchids with these conditions by growing them under controlled conditions. 

Fortunately for us orchid lovers, providing these conditions is no mean feat. Orchids grow in temperatures that are comfortable for us to live in. So if our homes are warm and comfortable for us, they can also provide the ideal growth conditions for orchids. Finding the perfect balance between humidity, air circulation, moisture, and light will help your plants thrive and bloom year after year, bringing joy and feeling rewarded for the time and effort that has gone into their care. 

Listed below are the most important factors that will help your orchids mature and bloom once, twice or even three times a year, depending on the type of orchid:

Light

Light is a crucial factor, not only for the growth of your orchids, but also for blooming them. In nature, orchids grow on tree tops in diffused light, there are several genera like the Vandas, Cattleyas and Dendrobiums that require bright light for their optimal growth. On the other hand, Phalaenopsis, Oncidiums and others have lower light requirements. 

You may have often noticed that some of your orchids grow year after year into lush healthy plants, but do not produce blooms. This indicates that you are not fulfilling their light requirements adequately. Placing your plants in diffused or indirect light streaming through an east or north facing window will fulfil these requirements. You can also expose your orchids to morning and evening sunlight directly. If the leaves get warm in the sunlight, then it’s getting too much light. You need to move it to a diffused light area. PIf this is not available, you can invest in low cost LED panels to provide the same.

Humidity and air

Orchids thrive in a right balance of airflow and humidity

Orchids love humidity, and draw moisture from the air in their humid native habitat. They thrive in such conditions as opposed to dry conditions. As hobbyists, we need to constantly improvise to provide humidity to plants, based on the seasons. Layering the pots with moss, adding humidity trays, keeping a water fountain or misting your orchids with a spray, or investing in a humidifier will help in providing them with a humid environment. This will ensure that your plants remain fresh and healthy. 

Along with humidity, arises the issue of increased bacterial and fungal infections. To keep these at bay and provide a healthy atmosphere, it is important that the plants receive fresh drafts of air through good air circulation, especially if your grow space is indoors. In case of the latter, you can switch on a fan to keep the excess humidity in check and ensure plants do not become vulnerable due to long periods of dampness. If you do not want to grow them indoors, you can grow them on your windowsill, but will need to provide humidity trays layered with LECA.

Temperature

Most orchids thrive in moderately warm temperatures between18-28 degrees Celsius. Cool growers like Miltoniopsis, Dracula, Masdevalia, Calanthe, Cymbidium and many others prefer lower temperatures between 16-22 degrees Celsius. Providing the right temperature is extremely important for them to grow well.

Phalaenopsis bellina in bloom in December

Apart from this, a significant fall in temperature between day and night time will trigger blooming in these orchids. Orchids are sensitive to sudden temperature changes, leading to stress and bud blast. The blooms may also wither with even a short exposure to sudden shift in temperature. Reading up on temperature preferences of a particular orchid genus and keeping a watchful eye on how your orchids respond to a slight shift in temperature will help you gauge which is the most suitable range for their optimal growth and blooming.

Water

Simplify your watering routine with a portable sprayer for watering your orchids

Found growing on trees in swampy and wooded forests, and on rocky surfaces in their natural habitat, orchids have roots covered with a succulent sheath called velamen that draws moisture from the air. The roots, which are thin and wiry, then absorb the moisture from the velamen, thereby keeping the plant hydrated. It is due to this reason that orchids do not need daily watering (which definitely saves us a lot of hard work!), but can grow well by watering them once or twice a week depending on their requirement. 

More orchids get killed due to overwatering than leaving them dry for extended periods. A good way to gauge your orchid’s watering needs is to check their roots. If they are green in colour, then they are well hydrated. Watering plants that are already saturated with moisture will result in rotting of roots, leading to a major setback for the plant. 

On the other hand, if the roots are silvery grey or white in colour, then they need to be watered. A good way to water your plants would be to soak the pots for a few minutes until the velamen turns green due to saturation with water. Ensure that the topmost layer of the medium does not get wet. Doing this will prevent water getting into new growths or sheaths of mature pseudobulbs that are just above the medium and very susceptible to rotting.

Fertilizers

Fertilze regularly for healthy growth and a good bloom cycle

In nature, orchids get their nutrition from bird and insect droppings, which are carried down by rain water. Since the nutritional requirements of orchids are not fulfilled by the media/substrate such as bark, LECA pellets and moss, as opposed to the nutrient dense soil that provide nutrition to regular plants, there is a need to administer organic or inorganic fertilizers at regular intervals (weekly or fortnightly) for their healthy development and blooming. 

Fertilizers with Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (N, P, K, respectively) in equal proportions, such as 20:20:20, coupled with sea weed kelp, calcium and magnesium and other trace minerals will help your orchids thrive. The concentration/dilution in terms of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) can vary from 110 to 200 to 350 depending on the genera. It would be best to invest in a TDS Meter for measuring the strength accurately as orchids are extremely sensitive to root burn, which is commonly caused by higher concentrations of fertilizers. 

While these are the major factors for orchid culture and care, there are other factors I will be covering in my next post, such as orchid repotting, maintenance, spike and bloom care, supplies and expenditure, as well as growing your collection, which will give your orchid hobby a boost. 

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Please leave a comment in the comment box or dash off an email at contact@orchidanu.com if you would like me to cover specific topics of your interest.

Till my next, happy growing!


Nine things you should know before embarking on the orchid hobby

Orchids are the most beautiful and exquisite wonders of nature. While the blooms are admired the world over, it has been over a decade since orchids have gained popularity as a hobby. But the snowball is growing bigger and bigger as it rolls and today, there are millions of orchid hobbyists in remote corners of the world, who are going to great lengths to rear orchids in their homes or hot houses.

Over the years, orchid growing has also gained a reputation of being a stress buster, leaving people happy and positive. No wonder then that the orchid hobby is gaining traction with the young and old, alike.

To know more about the connection between growing orchids and becoming patient, happy and positive, read my post on 7 Reasons why orchids can help you beat stress

However, as with every other hobby, orchid growing requires commitment  and investment of time. If you are working full time or are committed elsewhere, then it will require special consideration, since you will need to divert your time and energy towards developing this hobby.

Listed below are nine things that will prepare you for embarking on your orchid care and cultivation journey:

1.       Time

Developing the orchid hobby may sound exciting, but would be an add-on to your weekend chores. While you may put off your laundry or tidying up for later during the week, you won’t be able to do the same with your orchid watering/fertilizing schedule. So, just as you would take care of a pet, orchids demand time and attention, or could wither up due to negligence. So, given the busy work schedule, it would be best to start with a modest collection of a few hardy orchids, and add more as you get used to their culture and care requirements.

2.       Effort

While we are attracted to the exquisite beauty of orchid blooms, getting your orchids to bloom requires you to invest considerable effort. Nonetheless, this should not deter you from developing this relaxing hobby. Understanding this will prepare you to start small with a minimal number of orchids, and depending on the effort you can put in towards their regular care, you can grow your collection of orchids.

3.       Commitment

Orchids require commitment to their care and culture. While some varieties like dendrobiums and cattleyas are hardy, and can withstand draught conditions to some extent, there are other types such as phalaenopsis, vandas and oncidiums that require regular watering and care. So one needs to set aside time to cater to their culture needs. A good way is to test the waters with a few hardy ones and then move on to the more demanding types, depending on the time that you can spare.

4.       Getting to know orchids better

Fore-warned is fore-armed. So is the case with orchid culture. Before you decide to take it up as a hobby, look up for information on orchids, their varieties and culture requirements. This will make the journey more enjoyable and you will achieve better results. It will also give you an idea about the commitment required to develop this hobby and whether it will fit into your lifestyle.

5.       One rule does not fit all

While a lot of information on orchid care and culture is available online, you need to consider your local environment and accordingly modify the care requirements to get the desired results. A good way to gauge whether the care you are providing is suiting your orchid, is to watch how your orchid is responding to your care, and modify to achieve better results.

6.       Managing your expenses

Growing orchids can be a reasonably expensive hobby as the plants and growth media like pine bark and sphagnum moss are costly. As an orchid growing hobbyist, I have tried various alternative media that are less expensive and can be sourced locally. Inorganic media like LECA pebbles, river rock, charcoal and lava rock can be reused.  Using bark mounts and DIY ideas have helped me bring down the expenses considerably, thereby allowing me to channelize my savings towards buying more orchids. Moreover, sourcing orchids through local growers and hobbyists, being part of online orchid buy and sell groups on social media, buying smaller size plants and making the most of orchid discount sales as well as clearance sales in nurseries, garden centres, including orchid exhibitions cum sales, can help you bring down costs considerably.

7.       Your collection will predictably grow

Once you start looking after orchids comfortably and they begin thriving and blooming under your care, you will invariably want to diversify your collection, especially if you want blooms during every season. Before you know it, your orchid collection will start growing. So it’s worth your while to earmark a dedicated grow space in your home and keep it well-organized.

8.       Experimentation and innovation

As your collection grows and you become confident about looking after your orchids, the fun part begins. You can begin experimenting with growth media, fertilizers and different ways of growing orchids such as water culture, semi-water culture or on bark mounts, mounting on rocks and other media. There is never a dull moment and you will be amazed by the way your orchids respond to the right conditions.

9.       Taking your passion to the next level

As you get comfortable growing orchids and blooming them year after year, you could go a notch higher and focus on specialising your collection with your favourite types of orchids such as a collection of paphiopedlums, species collections, miniature orchids and the like. You can share your experiences through blogs and tutorial/care videos. You can also start selling your orchids as they grow and begin multiplying. Taking your hobby further, you can get creative with orchid flower arrangements, growing them in a terrarium and recreating the forest habitat using various substrates like bark, pebbles, rocks and other media.

A Phalaenopsis Cornu cervi hybrid

Growing orchids can be a very satisfying hobby and can contribute to your wellness. (Check out my post, Orchids and Wellness for more information.) Taking an informed call on whether you are prepared for this hobby will definitely answer a lot of questions that you may have as a beginner. Knowing about the commitment, expenditure, preparation involved and the personal growth you will eventually experience, will ensure that your passion grows with each passing year.

For more information on orchid culture and care, read my blog posts on www.orchidanu.com

Till my next, happy growing!