I am excited to bring you a spotlight post on one of my favourite orchids – the Aerangis biloba. In this post, I cover its growth and bloom cycle along with the care I provide, to ensure it’s successful blooming.
The Aerangis biloba ticks all the right boxes for an orchid hobbyist. It is compact, has a lovely foliage, bears beautiful white blooms, is hardy and needs very little care. At least, this has been my experience. I bought the orchid in July 2021 as a midsize plant. I mounted it on cork bark and it loved its new home. It produced new roots that hugged the cork and 11 months later, voila, it gave me blooms. I was super-thrilled at my success.
Of course, it has a lot to do with the tropical climate of Mumbai, which is warm and humid throughout the year, and is therefore ideally suited for these warm-growing type of orchids. However, I have seen people growing these under controlled conditions in their indoor setups even in diverse climatic conditions, and they grow pretty well and bloom.
The Aerangis biloba, is hard to come by as it is relatively expensive. So if you come across it, it’s worth making it a part of your collection. Just provide the right conditions for it to grow and bloom, and it will make you very happy.
A little about its native habitat – The Aerangis biloba originates from the western and central parts of Africa. It thrives in warm and humid conditions. It grows well in dappled light and does not like being exposed to bright sunlight. The orchid thrives in 80% humidity, but is hardy enough to withstand occasional drying up, say like when you are on a holiday for a week (at least, this has been my experience). It becomes a little dehydrated, but bounces right back when it gets hydrated. Being epiphytic, it prefers being mounted on bark, but can grow equally well when potted.
The Aerangis biloba is a compact and slow growing orchid. So it fits right in if you have a small grow space like mine. It is monopodial, meaning it grows like the Phalaenopsis or Vanda orchids on a single stem or axis. The leaves are elongated, dark green in colour and have an interesting mix of reticulate and parallel veining, which makes them very attractive. They also have dark spots, which are naturally produced in response to the amount of light it receives. So don’t get worried if the leaves develop them. The leaves are elongated and end in an attractive two lobed tip, a characteristic from which this species gets its name–biloba.
As for its culture and care, the Aerangis biloba grows well on wooden mounts as well as in organic media such as bark chips with some moisture retentive sphagnum moss or cocoa chips. This orchid loves a good wet-dry cycle. It does not like to be in a continuously moist environment. I mounted mine almost two years back on a cork mount. It established itself well in no time. I added a generous amount of moss to maintain humidity levels. However, I did notice that the new roots did not like staying in the damp moss. They moved away from the moss and attached themselves directly onto the cork bark. I regularly fertilise the orchid with NPK 20:20:20, seaweed kelp, as well as with Calcium nitrate and Epsom salt during periods of active growth. I minimise fertilising in winter since there is a slowdown in growth.
The orchid continues to grow slowly by producing new leaves all year round, even when it is in bloom. After a dormant period in winter when growth slows down, the orchid regains active growth and develops pendant racemes or spikes that shoot out from the axial buds on the stem in spring. The spike begins developing buds all through summer, that is the months of April and May.
Once the spike grows, nubbings begin appearing on the spike. Interestingly, the buds at the tip of the spike begin forming first followed by the bud formation towards the base of the spike. Once they are big enough, the tips separate out from the spike and tiny spurs are visible. The buds begin swelling up and the spurs elongate as temperature and humidity increase to very high levels, causing the clouds to saturate.
Now, here’s the thing that amazes me — the orchid opens its first blooms when Mumbai receives its first monsoon shower. Maybe it’s the humidity saturation that finally helps the blooms open up. As opposed to the growth habit of other orchids, this one blooms first from the tip of the pendent spike, and the blooms towards the base of the spike open last.
The blooms are white in colour with perfect bilaterally symmetrical lanceolate petals and sepals. The white centre gives it a beautiful, pristine look, its beauty undiluted by strong colours. The only colour is a subtle peach tint at the tips of the sepals. The spur is also peach coloured, which adds a lovely contrast and breaks away from making the appearance of the blooms too stark. The spur is thin and transparent too. If you look closely, you can see the level of nectar in it, which is an ample reward for a moth/butterfly with a long proboscis that comes along to suck the nectar and in the process, pollinates the flower.
A word of caution. The petals are thin and delicate. So avoid wetting them or exposing them to rain as they do not dry out fast during the monsoons. The blooms, on being wet, are prone to developing botyritis, a bacterial/fungal rot that appears as wet and dark patches on the petals and sepals.
The flowers typically last for around ten to fifteen days. Last year, I had around five blooms that bloomed successfully. This year, the numbers increased. I have a total of thirteen blooms.
The orchid developed two spikes this year, but only one of them developed and the other aborted due to extreme dry summer conditions. The dry and warm spell has extended for almost four months, impacting the health of some of my orchids. On hindsight, I realise I couldn’t keep up with the humidity requirement of the Aerangis biloba. Next year , I am planning on giving it a temporary superficial padding of sphagnum moss, that will keep it hydrated and ensure good humidity all through the bloom season from March to June. of course, I would be removing the extra moss when the monsoons set in.
All in all, I am very pleased with the orchid and how it is growing despite an extended summer and lack of humidity. If you noticed, I have added a seedling on the left since this one is developing to the right of the mount. I hope to have a bushy plant in a couple of years.
I recommend this orchid for your collection as it is hardy and fuss free. The blooms are delicate and beautiful. If you grow it on a mount, the show will indeed be very beautiful. The bloom display will make you feel like you have a brought a slice of nature right into your living room. And to top it, the orchid has a lovely floral fragrance like that of jasmine at dawn and dusk. However, there is no fragrance during the day or at night.
I have some browning in the blooms and some of the blooms have been chewed up. It looks like thrip damage. Some of my other orchids have also been affected. I will spray some organic insecticide such as neem oil with a dishwasher liquid to take care of the issue. If the issue is not resolved, then, I might try out a suitable pesticide, though I try to avoid their use as much as possible.
That said, thank you so much for being here. Please subscribe to the blog for regular updates on orchid care. You can also check out my youTube channel if you are looking for tips on orchid care. Please leave a comment if you have any queries regarding this orchid. I will get back to you on it.
Every once in a while, we come across orchid buds that dry up and drop. This is referred to as bud blast. Read on to know how I made a few changes to overcome this issue.
Bud blast is every orchid hobbyist’s worst nightmare. It can make you very anxious and disappointed, especially after the hard work you have put in to care for your orchid, and of course, not to forget the long wait for its blooms.
I recently had issues with bud blasts in my orchids.
Now, here is what is important. Bud blasts can be caused by many different reasons such as inadequate fertilising, sudden temperature shifts, drop in humidity levels, transport stress, inadequate watering, and many others. However, sudden change in temperature, exposure to warm dry breeze and dehydration are the most commonly observed reasons causing bud blast.
I discovered recently that orchids having bud spikes suffer in fluctuating environments and therefore need stable conditions to successfully bloom.
Two of my orchids suffered bud blasts due to sudden dry and warm climatic fluxes that dried up the root system far too quickly. The first one is the Renanthara monachica, which was bare-rooted. It generally blooms during the warmer months and is pretty resistant to very bright light and warm temperatures. The second one is the Rodriguezia venusta. It came mounted on a small piece of teak wood and has a good root system. It needs bright indirect light and warm temperatures to spike. I have observed that both these orchids are sensitive to their roots drying out even for a short while. They react to this shock by drying up buds and spikes.
Let me give you a brief idea of the climatic conditions of my area. Mumbai has a tropical climate. Humidity levels and temperatures are very conducive for growing orchids. But during October and November, day time temperatures begin to rise and humidity levels begin to drop. This dry heat, coupled with warm breeze, leads to bud blasts in orchids. A similar phenomenon takes place in March and April, when temperatures begin rising along with a dip in humidity levels. So there is a high incidence of bud blast during these months.
You can watch my YouTube video on this subject if you prefer a more graphic discussion.
To give you a better perspective, I want to give you an idea of the conditions I provide in my grow area.
I grow my orchids on the windowsills of my third floor apartment. Since my apartment is west facing, most of my windows get strong direct afternoon light, which is not suitable for orchids. However, I have made some makeshift arrangements using a white shade cloth to shield my orchids from direct sunlight and heat during the afternoons. This arrangement works great for me. I tuck the shade cloth up after 4 pm, when it is relatively cooler. And I follow this throughout the year. My orchids continue to grow well in these conditions.
Now, coming back to my affected orchids, I purchased them in October 2022. They were healthy. The Renanthara monachica came with a tiny spike. All was well and the buds developed to blooming size. I was excited and eagerly awaited for the buds to open. Unfortunately, just before blooming, the buds turned a deep orange and shrivelled up one after the other. This could have been triggered due to dehydration as I went on a holiday for about five days. So I put it down to stress and dehydration. The bud blasts continued with only one or two blooms opening. I was very disappointed, but thought that it could be due to stress caused by a change in the environment coupled with lack of hydration when I was away. The orchid, however, continued to grow normally.
In March, I was excited to notice a bud spike again. I was filled with the anticipation of a good bloom season this time. Unfortunately the mature buds began blasting just before opening. I kept shifting the orchid to cooler places, misted it several times during the day, but the buds continued to blast. I lost a total of 9 buds, one after the other.
I was desperately trying to find the cause. It did point out to inadequate nutrition, but I brushed aside the thought since all my other orchids looked healthy, with a lot of vigour. At this juncture, I learnt from Danny, aka Miss Orchid Girl’s YouTube videos that the Renanthara monachica does not like it if its roots dry up. A shout out to Danny for providing me with this tip. It did come as a surprise since I was under the impression that Vandas grow better when kept bare-rooted. I learnt that this one, unlike other Vandas, prefers perpetual humid conditions around its root system.
The obvious explanation to this phenomenon is that the orchid’s nutritional requirements increase during the bloom cycle. A dehydrated orchid is often malnourished and lacking in energy for blooming. The orchid cannot cope with such nutritional deficiencies during this crucial period and therefore decides to abort or eliminate the buds in order to conserve energy for its survival.
Having understood the cause, I immediately used small grade cork bark chips along with a handful of coconut husk chips to pot the bare-rooted orchid. I layered the bottom of the pot with a few coconut chips, which are moisture retentive and spread some cork chips on top of it for providing aeration. I repeated the layers again and placed the basket in the pot. I added more cork chips until the root system was fully covered. I watered the orchid and allowed the excess water to drain off. With a silent prayer I placed the orchid in its place.
The next morning, to my surprise, the bud had not blasted, instead the orchid had a beautiful bloom. I was excited over my, let’s say, overnight success? But I wanted to test it further. After two days, a second bloom opened and I was thrilled over my success. Since then, the remaining buds have opened normally.
I am happy about my success and wanted to share this experience and learning with you. An obvious takeaway from this experience is to maintain adequate humidity levels around the root system to provide the plant with a continuous supply of nutrients, thereby preventing bud blast.
So we need to be extra-cautious and keep a lookout for these unexpected situations, especially if the roots get completely dried up even for a short while, as in the case of my affected bare-rooted and mounted orchids. We need to react at the earliest to arrest it at the early stages.
Of course, not all orchids are sensitive to these fluctuations. My phalaenopsis orchids were also in spike, but continued to develop and bloom unaffected by the dry and warm temperatures. Maybe, because their roots are sitting in a moisture retentive medium. So maintaining adequate moisture around the root system is important for successfully blooming your orchid. This is especially important in the case of bare-rooted and mounted orchids, which are more prone to drying up quickly.
But I wasn’t so lucky with my other orchid, the Rodrigezia venusta. I did not get the chance to salvage the damage. So I can, at best, put it down to a good learning experience. The orchid seemed to be growing just fine. It had some coconut husk around the roots, which was sufficient to give it a good wet-dry cycle. I left it undisturbed, and in February, it developed two spikes. But both spikes turned yellow and shrivelled up due to the warm dry breeze. I shifted it to a cooler place, but the damage was already done. So I will just have to wait until the orchid blooms next year. It has now gone into vegetative growth. I am planning to mount it on cork bark and will provide it with some extra moss during its bloom cycle to maintain sufficient moisture levels around the roots.
Time and again, we will face such challenges. Overcoming these issues will lead to a better understanding of how we can care for our orchids. Hope you found this post helpful. To know more about summer care for orchids, you can read my post on Care tips for orchids during the warm summer months.
Do leave behind a comment if you are facing any issues with your orchids. I will see if I can help you resolve them.
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Snail infestations could wipe out your entire collection of orchids. It’s as serious as that. Repeated checks and timely intervention are key to protecting your orchids from snail damage. Read on to learn how to take care of the issue and follow preventive care tips.
My orchids were attacked by bush snails recently, and it came as a bolt from the blue!
At first, I thought it was only one orchid, but on further inspection, I noticed tiny bush snails on other orchids too and was on my wit’s end trying to get them under control.
Fortunately, since I grow my orchids in sections on my windowsills, only a small portion of my collection was affected. The process of elimination continued over the next few weeks. I conservatively tried to eliminate snails without the use of chemical pesticides such as metaldehyde. Based on my experience, I am giving you tips on how to ensure that your orchid collection remains free of these pests.
Bush snails and orchiddamage
Bush snails are tiny and have a shell on their back. They mostly chew on new roots, tender new growths, buds, flowers and leaves. Loss of roots and root tips is especially worrying as it affects the nutritional uptake of the orchid, thereby preventing it from developing properly. This also affects the stability of the plant, which discourages it from sending out bud spikes.
Therefore, it is important that we eliminate the snails at the earliest. Check your orchids for chewed up roots and root tips. I did notice some bruised root tips, but always put it down to mechanical damage or assumed the tips dried up due to lack of nutrients. I also assumed that it may have been caused by insects such as thrips.
I was very much disturbed at the time as I was facing snail infestations for the first time in my five years of orchid growing. It so happened that it had rained throughout the previous night, and the next morning, as I surveyed my happy orchids, I was thinking to myself – ‘they look nice and healthy, and have enjoyed getting soaked in the goodness of rain……’
On closer inspection, I was shocked to see a number of tiny snails crawling all over one of my Vanda orchids, probably hatchlings that were nested in the roots of the Vanda orchid. Since it was raining through out the night, probably, the snails decided to come out of hiding.
I was shocked and terrified of losing all my orchids as snails spread very quickly. At that time, I thought that only one of them was affected as all the others looked clean. But I knew there would be more in hiding. So I decided to take care of the immediate emergency at hand, and later scrutinise the other orchids for snails.
The best thing to do in such a scenario is to physically remove the snails and make a thorough investigation to check for any more hiding in the root system. Since my Vanda grows in a slatted basket with cork bark chunks, I did not want to disturb its root system as I would damage a lot of roots.
Remedial measures for snail infestation
I immediately set about removing the snails that were visible. I used a Q-tip and an absorbent kitchen towel to remove the snails. The Q-tip worked very well as the snails clung to the cotton fibre. I could place the snails on the towel without worrying over them sneaking away. You could also use toothpicks to reach into narrow crevices and remove any hiding in between the sheaths and leaf bracts.
With the immediate threat resolved, I brought the infested Vanda inside for a thorough inspection. I did not want to treat it with chemical pesticides such as metaldehyde or with hydrogen peroxide as I wished to avoid their usage as much as possible. I left the Vanda as it was, and quarantined it from my other orchids.
Tracing the source of snail infestation
Having taken care of the emergency, I then wondered about the source of the snails. I have a dedicated grow space that is well protected. So the snails could have come along with the orchids I had purchased recently.
Normally, I repot my new buys at the earliest, but this time, since I was a tad busy, I decided to repot one of them later. I did not find any snails in the medium while repotting the other orchids, and the roots seemed healthy. With no signs of chewed up roots, I assumed none of them had snails. I needed to find out the source of the pest infestation. I resolved to act quickly to prevent more such pest attacks. I quarantined the orchid until I repotted it soon thereafter.
Continued remedial action to eliminate snails
Snails have a tendency to come out of hiding at night. Later, I checked on the infested orchid at midnight and found some more tiny snails close to its root system and the base of the plant. I was sure there would be more snails hiding in the root system. So, the next morning, I immersed the Vanda in a tub of water for an hour. This would help dislodge any left over snails into the water. As expected, I found a few snails in the water. I repeated my nightly checks and immersed the Vanda in a water tub every morning for the next week or so until I was sure that all the snails had been eliminated. I haven’t come upon snails since the last two days. I just hope that’s the last I see of them.
I also carried out similar night checks for my other orchids and found tiny snails on the Vandas. On immersing them individually in water tubs for about 15 minutes, the snails came out of hiding and began moving to the upper portions of the orchid that were dry. Using a Q-tip or cotton bud, I removed the snails and placed them on a mat. I repeated this for the next couple of days and now my orchids seem to be free of them. However, I would be checking on them everyday until I am sure they are absolutely free of snails.
I did look up snail infestation discussion threads on the Orchid Board, a few research papers and conservative remedial measures on YouTube. Some of the conservative methods included coffee grounds, powdered egg shells, diatomaceous earth, fermented yeast solution, copper tape, magnesium sulphate, garlic and coffee concoction and even sea weed fertiliser application. These applications create an undesirable environment for snails. I have begun trying them out one by one, and will inform you on what works best.
There were also the more aggressive methods such as application of metaldehyde pellets, iron phosphate and hydrogen peroxide, which I may consider using if the snails return in my collection.
Care tips to save your orchids from snail attack
With this experience behind me, I wish to give you tips on how you can prevent such pest attacks:
Keep a keen eye on your orchids and inspect them for pests every day. You could do this while watering and fertilizing them. On noticing something wrong or a pest infestation, immediately quarantine them and physically remove the pests if possible.
Inspect your snail-infested orchid late in the night as snails come out of hiding at night. You can draw them out from their hiding places by placing a few cabbage or lettu e leaves on top of the medium. Alternatively, you can pla e a cup of scale beer or a sugar solution with some yeast in it. The snails get attracted to the smell of the fermented liquids and will fall into the cup and drown.
Remove the snails from the plant. Repeat this until you are sure that your orchid is free of these pests.
Use copper tape or sprinkle diatomaceous earth, coarsely powdered egg shells and coffee grounds to protect your orchids from snails. All these methods provide a physically undesirable environment for snails, thereby acting as barriers.
If possible, clean up the infested orchid and repot it in fresh medium. This will doubly ensure that no pests are left behind. If your orchid is bare-rooted like my Vanda, then immerse it in water for an hour every morning. This will help dislodge the few remaining ones.
Quarantine your newly purchased orchids and repot them at the earliest as they may carry snails in their medium. Commercial orchid growers face huge losses due to snail damage. Though they take lot of preventive measures and try their best to not send infested orchids,, snails do find their way into their collections sometimes.
Provide an environment that discourages their growth. Snails thrive in a damp environment. So it is better to keep your grow area dry by watering your orchids every morning rather than evening. This will allow excess water to evaporate.
With this said, every now and then, the best of us will face these uncalled for situations. You just need to problem solve at the earliest and your orchids will be safe.
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Orchids require the optimal balance of factors that influence their healthy growth. Fertilizing your orchids can be a real game changer if you get it right. Your orchid will be in robust form and will bloom generously during the season. The trick is in tweaking it to suit your grow conditions. In this post, I am touching upon the fundamentals of fertilizing orchids and giving tips on getting good results.
My first four years into the orchid hobby were spent on learning how to tend to my orchids. While I had a sizeable and healthy collection, the blooms were few and far between. My family even began convincing me that I had been duped by the sellers and these plants could bloom well only in green houses.
But YouTube offered many success stories of growing orchids at home, and I knew that I had to keep trying out new ways to increase blooming. I kept fertilizing my orchids once a week by spraying them with concentrations of 200 TDS of NPK fertilizer, but it just did not seem to be enough. The few orchids that bloomed produced one or two flowers. That’s when I realised that perhaps they required more frequent application at higher concentrations.
I got new insights on nutrition for orchids by watching Rick L’s Orchids channel on YouTube. His explanations seemed logical and his orchids looked healthy and bloomed abundantly. I laid down a similar strategy for fertilizing my orchids. I fine-tuned it to suit my climatic conditions and my orchids are responding well by producing more blooms with each passing season.
However, I have achieved results after experimenting repeatedly. I am sharing my insights and tips on applying fertilisers that helped improve blooming.
Basic orchid carecomes before fine-tuning your fertilising routine
Getting a beautiful bloom show is every orchid lover’s dream. And while some orchids put on their best show without any special care, the majority of orchids, especially cultivated hybrids, require the right balance of light, moisture, temperature and nutrition to coax them to bloom. From my experience as an orchid hobbyist, I have realised that missing out on even one of the above mentioned factors will affect the outcome of an entire year’s care. So when we talk about fertilising your orchids, it is utmost important that you do not overlook basic factors such as suitable light, moisture and temperature to achieve good results.
Orchids are mostly epiphytic, and in their native environment depend on the trees on which they grow to provide them with nutrition – not as parasites sucking the sap of the tree, but by absorbing the the nutrients from dust that has settled over time, bird and insect droppings that run down the trees along with rain water. Rain water, which collects Vitamin B12 producing bacteria and fungi from the air, also helps the orchids absorb these nutrients, thereby optimally meeting their requirement of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. Along with these, Calcium, Magnesium and other trace micronutrients are also made available to the orchid.
When there are no rains, the aerial roots absorb moisture from the air and thereby help the orchid survive. The orchids also have thick fleshy pseudobulbs and leaves, which serve as reservoirs of stored energy. This is used up by the orchid to grow and bloom during periods of drought.
With this understanding, we need to now provide nutrition in similar ways and mimic nature. Of course, with the growing number of special hybrids, the need for fertilising year round has become a norm as these orchids produce large blooms and also have more number of spikes and blooms. However, the basic principles remain the same, wherein the orchid requires maximum nutrition during its growth period, and the stored nutrients get utilised during the bloom period. However, opinions differ, and some hobbyists continue to feed minimally or nominally even while they are in bloom.
About orchid fertilisers
Orchids need to be fertilised when they are in vegetative growth. This is crucial for their proper development and blooming. So when you observe new leaf or root growth or the development of a bud spike or new shoot, then you need to feed it with fertiliser to meet its increasing requirement for growing new tissue.
To this end, we should apply a fertiliser that is rich in basic building blocks (macronutrients) such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium as well as Calcium, magnesium, and other trace micronutrients such as zinc, manganese, cobalt, boron, , copper, iron and molybdenum. Most fertilisers have these components in a form that can be easily absorbed by orchids. Nitrogen promotes good leaf and shoot growth. Phosphorus promotes healthy root growth as well as development of bud spikes and blooms. Potassium makes plants robust and strong, builds resistance to pest attack.
Orchid fertilisers can be grouped into Chemical and Organic fertilisers. Chemical fertilisers are those that are manufactured in an industrial process and are in a chemically pure form, either in a powder form or as a solution. Examples of these are NPK 20:20:20 and solutions of Calcium Nitrate and Magnesium Sulphate (Cal-Mag).
Organic fertilisers, on the other hand, are made from plant or animal matter and even their excreta. These substances are in the form of bio-compounds that need to be further broken down by microbes in the medium to get absorbed by the plants. Examples are sea weed kelp, fish fertiliser and other home-made fertilisers such as soaked rice water, green tea extract, garlic extract, banana peel extract, diluted coconut water etc.
While the above fertilizers enhance vegetative growth, commercial growers use bloom booster fertilizers to improve bloom production. This is an NPK type of fertilizer with a higher proportion of Phosphorus. A balanced NPK 20:20:20 fertilizer application alternating with a high phosphorus and potassium fertilizer helped my orchids grow and bloom just as well.
How often should you fertilise?
Well, there is no one-size fits-all answer to this question. It all depends on your climatic conditions, your grow area – whether indoor or outdoor, your frequency of watering, the medium in which the orchid is growing, ambient temperature, etc.
Generally speaking, you can fertilise once a week, or you could divide the same dose into half and do a twice weekly routine, if you are watering your orchids twice a week. Remember to flush your orchids with plain water in between to avoid build up of fertiliser. Initially, I fertilised my orchids once a week, but that just didn’t get them to bloom. After going through Rick L’s videos on YouTube, I began fertilising my orchids twice a week at recommended concentration, but I varied the type of fertilizer I applied so that they absorbed different types of nutrients and trace minerals.
Before I talk about my fertilizing routine, it would be good to give you an idea of my setup. I grow my orchids on my windowsills, and they get plenty of natural light and air. I grow orchids in well-draining bark chips along with some moisture-retentive sphagnum moss or coco chips. My setup allows me to water my orchids lightly by spraying them everyday.
For instance, I apply NPK 20:20:20 along with Calcium nitrate and Epsom salt once in 4 days. I repeat with the same after four days. After 3 more days, I apply a high phosphorus and potassium fertilizer such as NPK 00:52:34. In between, I apply organic homemade liquid fertilizer twice a month and Silicon dioxide fertilizer once a month. This method of appropriate dose fertilizer application, either stand-alone or in combination, has helped me improve growth in my orchids. Lots of healthy roots, pseudobulbs, and leaves will ensure healthy blooming in your orchids. I will cover this aspect at length in a separate post.
Applying the right quantity of fertiliser to your orchids
Having said this, there are some ground rules to begin with. Doing it right and understanding the basics of applying the right quantity of fertiliser is important. Following the recommended doses and frequency as advocated by the fertiliser manufacturer helps if your fertiliser is designed for orchids. But if it is a general plant fertiliser, it is always better to start with half the recommended dose and increase or decrease it based on the response of your plants.
If the leaf and root tips start drying out, it is an indicator of leaf tip burn, then it means the concentration of salts is too high. The quantity of fertiliser needs to be reduced in such cases. However, if the orchids show healthy development, then the dosage caters optimally to the plant’s nutrient requirement. On the other hand, if the plant shows no improvement in growth, and new growths die back or have stunted growth, then you need to increase the dosage gradually until your plants become healthy and lush green. These healthy growths will then produce blooms during the season.
Concentrations matter based on size of orchid, the thickness of the leaves and roots. Orchids with thick, spongy velamen and thick leaves such as Vanda and Phalaenopsis orchids require regular doses of fertiliser like a teaspoon of fertiliser in 5 litres of water. But for thin leaved and thin velamen-root orchids such as Oncidiums, Tolumnia, Catasetums and Bulbophyllums and others, the dilution can be reduced by adding half teaspoon of fertiliser in 5 litres of water. If the orchid fertiliser is not improving growth, then you can marginally increase dosage until these orchids start developing healthy roots, leaves and shoots.
When not to fertilize
You should fertilise your orchids during periods of active growth. This is usually during the warmer summer months and rainy season. Your orchids will produce new roots, leaves and new pseudobulbs. The right amount of fertiliser application will help in their healthy development. However, as ambient temperature drops down with the advent of winter, you need to minimally water and fertilise your orchids based on their growth.
There would be a few exceptions, such as Oncidiums, which would start producing new growths in winter. In such cases, you can continue fertilizing these orchids. However, a major portion of your collection would be done with the growth period, remain dormant, and conserve energy for the bloom period in spring. In such cases, water them sparingly and allow them to rest in a near-dry condition. Don’t worry if you see the pseudobulbs 66. That is a part of their cycle, even in the wild. Once the temperatures rise back to normal, the orchids will push out new growths such as sheaths, spikes, new shoots, and roots. At this stage, you need to resume watering and fertilizing.
Another instance of when you should avoid fertilizing your orchid is when your orchid is sick or has undergone a shock such as a transplantation shock or sudden change in ambient environment. This could be when you buy a new orchid and bring it home, repot it or if it has some underlying infection and is therefore not growing normally. In such a scenario, it is best to not increase stress by fertilizing it during this period. Gradually, when the orchid shows sign of recovery and growth, you can begin fertilizing it with very low concentrations to begin with and gradually resume to normal levels.
With these fundamentals in mind, you can go ahead and experiment with different kinds of fertilizers. You can check out which ones are most suited for your grow conditions. Remember to keep it optimal. Your orchids will thrive and reward you with healthy blooms during the season.
Your Phalaenopsis orchids have begun spiking, and there is a lot of excitement and anticipation of a good bloom display. Why not? After all, your hard work and dedicated care is bearing fruits (in this case, flowers). But before you consider your job well done, there is more care to be taken at this stage to ensure you have a beautiful bloom-laden display.
Read on to follow these time-tested tips that will help you bloom your orchids successfully. Subscribe to the blog for regular updates on orchid care.
Developing spikes are a testament of the good care you have given your orchids all along. If you are not sure whether the new growth on your phaaenopsis orchid is a spike, then my previous post on identifying spikes in phalaenopsis orchids will help you with this.
Special care needs to be taken of these bloom spikes till they develop into blooms. When the spikes grow up to a few inches long and becomes thick and strong, you can train it to provide a display of your liking. If you prefer a more natural look, then you can allow the spikes to grow arched forward in the direction of light.
While these displays look beautiful, these are more suitable for spacious grow spaces and display areas. If your orchids are too closely spaced, then there is a risk of damage to the flower spike when you shift them or water them.
Also, if the blooms are large and the spike gets weighed down, there is a chance of the orchid tipping over. This can however be countered by placing the orchid inside a heavy ceramic pot. This will make it more stable and reduce the risk of tipping over and damaging the spike.
Alternatively, you can try staking the orchid spike. Once the spike grows to about 4 to 5 inches tall, it thickens out and becomes strong. At this point, you can consider training the spike to stand upright. The advantage of this arrangement is that it occupies less space and the risk of breaking a spike accidentally is reduced considerably.
Training the spike
To begin training the spike, you need to insert a stake vertically upright and with the help of a string, chord or flexible metal wire, you can bring the spike closer to the stake. Wrap one end of the chord or wire to the stake and make an adjustable loop that can be tightened as desired. This will exert minimal pressure on the spike and prevent it from snapping. Every one or two days, tighten the loop so that the spike gets closer to the spike.
When the spike touches the stake, you can remove the loop and attach the spike to the stake with the help of a tiny clip. Ensure that you do not press the stake with the clip and that the spike is loosely held to the stake. Also take utmost care that you do not place the clip on a node as it might prevent buds from developing from that node.
At this stage, the plant’s nutritional requirements increase tremendously as a lot of energy is required to develop buds and good sized flowers. To ensure you get healthy blooms, you need to fertilize the plants regularly. Provide bloom boosters having a high phosphorous ratio. You can alternate it with NPK 20:20:20.
Also these new growths require a good supply of calcium and Epsom salt to provide a good bloom cycle. So ensure that you feed the plants with low concentrations of the same once a week during this period. This type of fertilizing will encourage branching of spikes and increased number of blooms.
Meeting light requirements
Light is an important requirement for producing blooms. Phalaenopsis orchids respond well to bright indirect light and produce a good number of blooms when they get adequate light. The spikes develop in the direction of the light so place the plant in a direction that will produce a great display.
Shifting plants and changing their position frequently will give you a twisted unattractive looking spike. The result will be that instead of getting a uniform display of flowers in the same direction, you will find staggered displays that look lop-sided, and are not pleasing to the eye.
Protecting spikes from sudden temperature shifts
Orchids in bud spikes or bloom are extremely sensitive to sudden temperature shifts. They immediately respond with bud blast, i.e. yellowing and drying up of buds. So ensure that you keep your orchids in place that maintains a temperature conducive for their development and avoid exposing them to air conditioning out door units, close to air vents and close to sunny windows. Even a short drive from the nursery to your home in your car in the afternoon heat can lead to bud blast. This can be very disappointing. It almost feels like not making it to the finish line. So do be cautious of exposure to such fluctuations.
Protecting from pests and fungal attack
Your year-long labour will be rewarded when you get beautiful healthy blooms. To successfully bloom your orchids, utmost care needs to be taken of the spike while it is developing. It is tender, soft and delicate, so many insects chew on the spike and buds. Snails, slugs and worms also chew on tender spikes and buds. Sometimes, the entire stem of the spike is chewed off, leaving behind a stump, which can be a terrible downer.
To prevent this from happening, you need to check for insect bites on spikes and treat the orchids with a home-made dilute insecticidal solution made from neem oil, baking soda and dish wash soap (proportion – 2:2:1 tsp for a litre of water) . This diluted solution needs to be sprayed every two weeks. This will keep most pests such as mealy bugs, spidermites, scale and other insects at bay.
Spray the entire plant in the evening before last light. Allow it to work overnight and risne with water to remove excess solution. This will also ensure the orchids do not get damaged in stronger light or temperature.
Armed with these simple tips, you can be assured of a wonderful bloom season.
Come spring and flower spikes begin to develop in Phalaenopsis orchids. There is always some guesswork involved in differentiating between an orchid root and spike in the early stage of their development. Read on to learn how to identify a spike from a root or new shoot.
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The cooler days of winter have begun receding and warm sunny days show signs of renewed vigour in your orchids, heralding the beginning of spring. After a slowdown in winter, towards the end of winter, you will find your orchids putting out new growths. The growths may be vegetative such as new pseudobulbs, or leaves and roots. You will also notice bud spikes and sheaths filling out, making you excited with the prospect of a good bloom season for your orchids.
Phalenopsis orchids or the moth orchids that we generally have in our collection are complex hybrids. They have been genetically manipulated to produce beautiful blooms in abundance. These flower spikes are induced by a drop of 7-10 degrees from the ambient daytime temperature. This means that warm days and relatively cooler nights will induce blooming in these orchids.
However, blooming also depends on a host of other factors such as maturity of the plant, its genetic makeup, health, adequate fertilization and exposure to stress. Bright indirect light also plays an important role in inducing spikes in orchids.
Sympodial orchids such as Cattleya and Oncidiums bloom on mature pseudobulbs, thereby making it easy for us to recognise when they produce buds. On the other hand, monopodial orchids such as Phalaenopsis and Vanda orchids produce bud spikes on the axis of the plant. These type of orchids also produce new shoots as well as roots on the axis of the plant. Therefore, when the first nubbings appear, it’s a guessing game whether the new growth is a potential bud spike or a new root, or even a new shoot.
While a bud spike elicits joy and excited anticipation, a root may not be welcomed with the same gusto. But I beg to differ. Roots are good news too. It actually indicates that the plant is making itself sturdy and strong at the base to withstand the weight of a long, bloom-laden flower spike. Only when your plant is fully secure will it push out a spike. So if you see the orchid pushing out roots, its’ only a matter of time before the right conditions will induce blooming in your orchid.
Spike versus root
Monopodial orchids put out new growths such as roots, shoots and spikes simultaneously. So how do you differentiate between a spike and a new growth (keiki) or a root? Well, there are a few simple ways you can predict whether the new growth is a spike or a root
Position of new growth
Roots, apart from absorbing nutrients, provide the plant with proper support. To ensure this, roots develop radially from all sides of the stem, which then provide adequate support and strengthen the plant for a top heavy inflorescence.
Spikes, on the other hand, grow only from an axial bud. This is exactly the spot where the axis of the leaf begins on a monopodial orchid. Also to be noted is the fact that spikes generally appear at the axil of the third leaf from the top or crown. But they may also emerge further down if the node has not bloomed earlier.
However, the confusion begins when roots begin emerging from the axial area of the leaf. Then you need to wait until a defined form of the new growth begins.
Occasionally, when the plant is not growing upright, and is slanted and growing in the direction of light, the bud spikes may not emerge from the axil of the leaf, but will shift slightly away from the axil of the leaf. This is seen due to phototrophic movement of the spike. It takes the shortest vertically upward route and emerges away from the axil of the leaf in the direction of light. This can sometimes be confusing to a new grower. However, in such a case, the shape of the new growth will help confirm whether it is a bud spike, new growth or a root.
Direction of new growth
One way to identify a root that has developed in the axis of a leaf is to check its direction of growth. If it’s growing away from the direction of light, or is pointing towards the medium, which provides moisture, then it’s confirmed that the new growth is a root.
In contrast, a spike will emerge from the axial bud, and will begin growing upwards in the direction of light.
Shape and colour of the new growth
As the new growth emerges, you can easily compare them. with other root tips to gauge whether the growth is a root. Spikes are usually a darker shade of green than the bright green or brown coloured root tips. Root tips are also shiny, pointed, rounded and slightly translucent when compared with spikes, which point upwards, are leaf green and opaque, with a prominent flat and mitten shaped projection. This differentiation in the tissue is markedly different from that of a root, which is rounded, glossy and has a silvery sheen.
Very often, spikes may have a burnished purple/brown tinge or may be burgundy coloured based on the colour of the flowers. So this can also help in identification of flower spikes. Roots also have brown or burnished tips. But this can be verified by comparing the new growth with pre-existing root tips.
Identifying a keiki or new basal growth
Keikis or new basal shoots or new growths also develop on the axis of the plant. These growths look similar to a spike since they are sheathed, but they do differentiate into leaf shaped structures at the tip early on.
These tips will help you identify flower spikes early on. You can accordingly take special care of the orchid for a good bloom season.
Alternatively, watch my YouTube video on identifying bud spikes in phalaenopsis orchids.
Changing seasons need you to bring in modifications to the way you care for your orchids. Making small adjustments in your orchid care routine during winter will ensure that you get healthy and beautiful blooms during spring. Read on to know more about the changes you need to make to provide the best care suited for your orchids during the colder months.
The last of the rains have receded and your orchids have been thriving so far due to the increased humidity and goodness of rainwater. There has been a spurt of new growths throughout the season and now, as winter sets in, days tend to get shorter, and slightly warmer and dryer (due to the relative proximity of the earth to the sun in October). Night time temperatures begin dropping and nights get longer. These changes in the cycles of light and darkness, coupled with cool dry breezes, induce changes in the growth of orchids.
In nature, orchids, after the rainy season, are subject to lower levels of moisture and humidity, along with cool dry breezes during winters. The orchids adapt quickly to these adverse changes by slowing down their pace of growth or becoming fully dormant. Deciduous orchids shed their leaves and survive using the energy stored in their canes.
What to expect
These climatic changes have a profound effect on your orchid’s growth and development. While the care tips for your orchids vary from season to season, come winter, and you need to regroup your orchids according to their water and sunlight requirement. This modification is necessary since various sub-classes of orchids have varied requirements.
While Phalaenopsis and Oncidium orchids react to the drop in temperature and daylight hours by developing flower spikes, there are others like Dendrobium and Catastinae orchids that go into dormancy during the winter months. Cattleyas and Oncidiums continue to push out new growths, albeit a little slower due to falling temperatures. This prepares them for the spring blooming season, when they begin developing sheaths and buds prolifically as the days grow warmer.
Getting familiar with these changes in different classes of orchids will seem complicated at first, however, being proactive about learning about your orchid’s care requirements will help you organise your orchids in such a way that you will find it effortless to look after your growing collection of orchids.
Making small adjustments in your orchid care routine during the winters will ensure that you get healthy and beautiful blooms during spring. Here are a few pointers that you would need to consider to provide the best care suited for your orchids during the colder months:
Winter care tips for your orchids
Reduced watering and fertilizing
When the rains recede and autumn sets in, there would be a steady drop in temperature and humidity levels. The dry winter months have shorter days and longer nights. Less heat and shorter days coupled with night time temperature drops means that now the medium will not dry out fast. Hence you need to reduce watering.
Second, you need to watch out whether the orchid is in active growth mode, wherein it continues developing new growths, buds, spikes, roots, etc. If this is the case, then you can water and fertilize the orchid. But always ensure that the fertilizer is half or even quarter of the recommended strength. This will meet your orchid’s needs during these months.
If you continue providing full strength fertilizers, it may lead to root burn and the orchid has a high chance of developing rot issues due to the high levels of fertilizer and moisture being retained in the medium over a prolonged period. Therefore, always allow the medium to dry out before you water the orchid again.
While orchids thrive in humid conditions, they do not like being potted in wet medium that does not allow the roots to breathe freely. Well ventilated pots with slits and holes along with proper drainage will promote a wet-dry cycle that is conducive for the orchid’s growth.
If you have seedlings in your orchid collection, then you will need to ensure they get watered adequately. Do not allow the medium to dry out fully before watering again. They have sensitive roots that need moisture for their growth. Also do not overwater them as this will lead to root rot.
Temperature and sunlight changes
If your winters are marked by frost, snowfall and extreme cold conditions. Then you would need to shift your orchids indoors or in more hospitable conditions with sufficient heating and even artificial lighting. This will ensure that they survive, and even grow and bloom, despite extreme climatic conditions outside.
If you are staying in a warm tropical climate like mine, with very little fluctuation in temperature and humidity, then your orchids will continue to actively produce new growths and buds despite slight drop in temperature. In such a scenario, you need not alter your care regimen during the winters. You can, at the most, reduce your frequency of fertilization since there is a drop in pace of growth in the cooler months. Also, the day-time temperatures are pretty high due to the proximity of the earth to the sun in October- November.
So your orchids need to be kept cool, moist, but not soggy, and fertilizing strength should be reduced in order to prevent root burn. I fertilize my orchids every fortnight instead of weekly as the temperatures dip a little beginning November. I resume weekly fertilizing in March as temperatures rise and orchids resume active growth mode. Moreover, I separate out my winter resting orchids and lightly mist them once a week if I find them too dehydrated.
Cool winter rest
Deciduous orchids like Dendrobium species and Nobiles as well as Catasetums drop their leaves during winter. This is a natural response to the changing season. Since there is very little ambient moisture, the orchid tries to conserve the moisture that it has stored in its canes (rain water and nutrients absorbed during the rainy season plumps up their canes).
To prevent loss of moisture through transpiration, the orchids drop their leaves and stop further growth. Once the winter months are over, the warmer temperatures promote new shoot and root growth, and the plant prepares for the bloom season in spring.
Some of the orchids that require a cool winter rest are Dendrobium lindleyii, Dendrobium anosmum, Dendrobium aphyllum, Dendrobium nobile orchids, and many others. Even Brassavolas and Brassocattleyas appreciate a cool winter rest for a good bloom season, although they do not shed their leaves. Their thin, long succulent leaves are structurally adapted to prevent loss of moisture though transpiration.
However, look out for signs of dehydration in the form of wrinkled leaves and shrivelled canes in your resting orchids. Lightly spritzing these orchids once in a while will be sufficient to keep them hydrated. Do not worry about the dehydration too much. Once you begin watering them in spring, they tend to fill out again.
If you continue watering these winter resting orchids, then their canes may develop rot issues since the medium remains soggy for long periods. If they survive this ordeal, then they will produce a whole lot of keikis (baby plants or basal growths), instead of producing blooms. This would be real disappointing after all the care you have put in throughout the year. Therefore it is important that we refrain from watering them for at least three months during winters.
Since there is a drop in temperatures during winter, the medium tends to dry out more slowly than it would during the warmer months. Always water enough to keep the medium moist, but ensure it does not remain soggy. Provide good ventilation by mixing chunky bark with moisture retentive medium. This will ensure the right balance between moisture and aeration in the medium.
Use small size pots or pots with slits or holes on the sides for adequate ventilation. Also ensure that there are drainage holes at the bottom to allow excess water to drain out. In the case of orchids that are mounted on wood or any other medium, you need to ensure they get watered every day, unless they are winter resting orchids.
With a drop in temperature, there is a slowdown in growth in your orchids until it comes to a standstill in extreme cold temperature. Depending on the temperature drop in your surroundings, you need to observe whether your orchid is continuing to grow or it has slowed down. You need to alter your watering and fertilizing schedule accordingly. Reduce fertilizing if your orchids show a slowdown and stop fertilizing those that show no signs of growth. Continue watering them minimally to ensure they do not get overly dehydrated. You can start watering and fertilizing them gradually in a graded manner as the temperatures begin rising again during spring.
Keeping pests at bay
As temperatures drop, there is reduced humidity. The dryness and dust that settles on your orchids outdoors gives rise to problems of pest attacks. Spider mites, mealy bugs and scale attack become rampant in the drier months during winter.
Keep your orchids clean and dust free by spraying them with a solution of mild liquid dishwash soap. Alternatively, you can gently wipe the leaves with a sponge or dampened tissue. Don’t worry if some moisture enters the crown. You can draw out the moisture using a folded or rolled tissue. Allow to dry fully under a fan or in the open breeze. This will facilitate quick drying and prevent rot issues.
In case you have any of these pest infestations, isolate these plants and treat them with a suitable solution to eliminate them completely. You can use diluted rubbing alcohol to treat scale and mealy bug infestation and use mild soap solution with a little paraffin oil to keep spider mites at bay.
With these handy winter care tips, you will be able to organise your care routine better.
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It’s summer once again. The sweltering heat can affect your orchids to a considerable extent. Keep them stress-free using these summer care tips, which would contribute to their healthy growth and blooming.
Most orchid hobbyists find this constant seasonal adjustment to be a bit of an issue. There is no ‘one solution fits all’ hack to resolve this issue since different types of orchids have different needs and the solutions accordingly vary to a great extent. The care instructions also need to be adjusted according to your grow conditions and climate. Now I can almost hear you say, ‘If this isn’t complicated enough, then what is?’
Rest assured, this doesn’t mean that an orchid hobbyist’s life is fraught with tension all through the year. If you organise your grow space and group your orchids according to their light, temperature and humidity requirements, your care routine gets considerably simplified. You could very well plan on a care routine that will suit your climate and the grow conditions you provide for your orchids.
Without digressing further, let’s get straight to the point of discussion.
The soaring summer temperatures, dry air and dust create stress for your home-grown or window-sill orchids. Unless additional measures are taken to protect them from the heat during these months, your orchids will likely react to these conditions by exhibiting symptoms such as:
Dehydrated leaves indicating prolonged dry spells between watering
Sun burn, drying up, blackening or bleaching of leaves due to exposure to direct strong sunlight
Mushy softness indicating rot caused by strong direct light and excess moisture, coupled with poor air circulation
Wilting away of new growths or poorly developed new growths
Bud blast or dropping or withering of buds
Wilting and drying up of bud spikes and flowers
With so many problems arising due to excessive temperatures and strong light, it is imperative to protect your orchids from strong sunlight, higher-than-normal temperatures and the dust that arises from the hot and dry breeze. You could achieve this in the following ways:
1. Remove your orchids from direct sunlight
Orchids require adequate dappled sunlight to grow well and have a good bloom cycle. Some Vandas, Tolumnia and others can even grow well in direct morning and evening sunlight.
While this may promote growth and blooming in spring, as summers begin, it is always better to remove them from direct morning and evening light because strong light along with higher temperature can lead to scorching heat conditions. This can lead to severe dehydration and burnt leaves.
A good way to assess this would be to check your orchid’s leaves. If they remain limp, with closed flaps and are not opened out fully as they normally would, then they are drying up way too fast and lack regular hydration. This could also be a result of overwatering your orchids, coupled with direct sunlight and little or no air drafts, eventually leading to rotting of the roots.
To prevent this from happening, move your orchids to an area that receives dappled sunlight or indirect light. You could also use a shade net or if indoors, a translucent curtain that just allows the right amount of light. Make sure your orchids are not overwatered and there is good air movement, either natural or with the help of a fan.
2. Water your orchids more frequently
Depending on your climatic conditions, you may require to water your orchids more frequently during summers as they lose water through transpiration. The medium tends to dry up faster due to the heat and dry air drafts. If you use small-sized pots for your reasonably large orchids, then this poses a problem. They tend to dry up faster and so require frequent watering in summer.
In order to resolve this issue, you can consider repotting your large sized orchid in a bigger pot with a well-draining organic medium like bark chips with a few strands of moisture-retentive sphagnum moss or coco chips layered in between. This will provide the right balance of air and moisture to the medium. Always consider this option when your orchid produces new growths. This will help it adapt faster to the new medium.
If your orchid is already growing in a good medium, then you don’t have to change the medium. You can unpot the orchid gently by not disturbing its root system. Use a pot that is one size bigger, layer with some moss and bark chips at the bottom, place the orchid gently on this and pack up the sides with more medium of the same kind. This will provide adequate moisture to the plant and prevent it from drying up.
In case you use inorganic medium such as LECA beads in a semi-hydroponic system, you need to repot in a larger container and provide extra air vents in the container to provide adequate ventilation. This is important when the pots are exposed to summer temperatures, the environment within the pot becomes warm and moist, with little air circulation.
This promotes rotting of roots and pseudobulbs, which will then make the plant dehydrated and affect its growth. Very soon, the rot moves up from the roots to the rhizome and stem. In this case, the plant may not survive, unless the rotted portion is removed at the earliest and the plant is treated with a fungicide and repotted in fresh medium.
To prevent this from happening, you need to use pots with holes or slits to provide good air circulation. Alternatively, you can just make these holes by using a soldering iron tool or punching holes with a heated screw driver. Be extra careful while handling these objects so that you don’t harm yourself.
If you want to be spared of this effort, you can simply invest in self watering pots that have a decent reservoir size. This will simplify this problem to a great extent.
In the case of mounted and bare-rooted orchids, daily watering is mandatory. In summers, you may even have to water them twice-a-day. To reduce this hassle, you can allow them to soak up in a tub of water until the roots are fully saturated, especially the thick-rooted orchids such as vanda and phalaenopsis orchids. Then hang them back in place. This will allow them to be hydrated till the next day.
Always check how they respond. Look out for signs of dehydration such as limp, leathery leaves and thin, wrinkled roots. Increase the frequency of watering as temperatures rise so that the plant receives adequate hydration.
This will help you guage their requirements. Once they are adjusted, you can reorganise the orchids based on their watering needs. Speaking out of experience, this works very well, and your care routine will get considerably simplified.
3. Provide adequate humidity
Repeated training in such a way gets your orchids used to these intermittent drinks, which, if you think about it, is how they grow in nature. I have trained my Vanda orchids in such a way that I allow them to soak every third day. In between, I spray water on them in the morning and evening to maintain humidity. But if I feel that they dry up faster in summer, then I increase the frequency of these intermittent soaks. You can make this out if the root velamen shrinks and shrivels due to dehydration.
Warm summer breeze reduces humidity in the air. This poses a problem for orchids as they require humidity for their healthy growth. While some heat tolerant varieties such as Cattleyas and Dendrobiums are unaffected by summer heat and thrive in such temperatures, most other orchids require additional measures such as humidifiers and evaporative coolers to maintain the required temperatures and humidity.
Some hobbyists provide these conditions in their grow spaces with water fountains, humidifiers etc. But the vast majority increase humidity by placing humidity trays made from pebbles and water in a shallow tray. The level of water should be much below the level of the pebbles. This allows for continuous evaporation of water, thereby increasing ambient humidity levels. Orchids respond well to this type of humidity.
However, make sure you empty the water and clean the trays once in three days. Stagnant water becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes and should therefore be avoided. Even if you place these trays, ensure that only a thin layer of water is used and this is allowed to dry up fully before replenishing the same.
4. Add a moisture-retentive top layer to your orchid pot
The warm temperatures induce active vegetative growth in orchids. So you find them producing new growths and roots. These are very delicate and can easily wither away due to excessive dryness or heat. Same is the case with seedlings. Their requirement of humidity is more than mature plants and therefore get dehydrated by the warm and dry summer breeze.
A very effective way to increase humidity in these cases is to place loosely packed sphagnum moss strands as the topmost layer of the medium. This increases the ambient humidity.
Ensure that the moss is not too closely packed around the plant, but is lined along the periphery as this is where the roots are located. So, all you need to do is spray some water to tide them through the daytime temperature. When they dry up by next morning, spritz the moss with a little water to keep it damp.
Avoid spraying water in excess. This will result in soggy conditions, which will compact the moss, leading to rotting of new growths and roots. Always spray minimal amount of water and check how much time it takes to dry up completely. Then increase as required.
A good way is to assess the requirement depending on how the new roots and growths respond. If they are dry and shrivelled, then increase it slightly. If they remain damp continuously and are not allowed to dry, then rot will set in. Always remember if you are unsure – less is better than more, whether you are watering or fertilizing your orchids.
The good thing about superficial layering with sphagnum moss is that you can remove the top layer when the rains begin in June. Keeping this layer on during the rainy season will lead to bacterial and fungal rot, especially if your orchids are growing in your balcony or window-sill, as mine do.
I allow my orchids to soak up rain water. To ensure they do not rot, I remove the superficial layer of moss that was used as a temporary top layer during the summer and place them in the rain, taking care to prevent water from collecting in the crown. To know more about this, you can read my post on care tips for the rainy season.
I use premium quality New Zealand sphagnum moss for my organic mix as well as for the superficial layering. It is clean and has long strands, which is safe to handle and works great for my orchids.
5. Provide good air circulation
Along with the provision of excess humidity in summer, you need to provide good air circulation. If you have an indoor grow space then a small electric pedestal or ceiling fan can meet your requirements. All your orchids need is gentle air drafts, which will distribute humidity and air, and not maintain prolonged periods of wetness. This ensures that fungal or bacterial rot does not set in.
When rising temperature and humidity pose a problem in your indoor grow space, you can also use an air conditioner to provide air circulation, if you do not mind the additional power bills.
6. Keeping your orchids clean and dust-free
Orchids are slow-growing plants and therefore require additional help from your side to boost their growth. They need to carry out photosynthesis to promote healthy growth and blooming. Therefore their leaves need to be kept clean at all times.
Dusty leaves become a problem in summer due to the dry air. This makes the plant vulnerable to pests such as spider mites, mealy bugs and scale. To protect the orchid from these issues, the leaves need to be regularly cleaned with a cotton ball or wipe dipped in very mild soapy water. Ensure that water does not get trapped in the crevices as this could lead to stem or crown rot. For added safety, blot out the trapped moisture with a tissue and dry it well under a fan.
7. Fertilizing your orchids
My fertilizing routine remains the same for most months of the year, barring a few winter months from mid-October to mid-February, when I reduce fertilizing orchids due to a slowdown in growth. However, after that, in spring and summer, orchids resume vigorous vegetative growth and this is when you begin fertilizing them to meet their growth requirements.
Whatever fertilizer you may be using, you could help your plants boost their growth and make them more resistant to dehydration, pest attack and microbial diseases by supplementing your regular fertilizer with a silicon supplement.
Silicon is a naturally occurring substance in soil and helps the plant achieve robust growth in terms of thickness of the leaves and roots, enhances bloom size and quality and increases photosynthetic activity within the leaves. The silicon increases cell-wall thickness, thereby making the plant stronger from within. Externally, it makes the leaves and pseudobulbs thicker, shinier, greener, and the flowers more healthy and long-lasting. I apply an organic silicon supplement once a month.
This enables it to also withstand stress in case of changing climatic conditions and sudden weather fluctuations, which is why it is a good idea to begin adding this supplement when the new growths start popping out. You could begin by using quarter of the recommended dosage once a month and see how your plants respond. Gradually, increase it to half the recommended dosage.
I hope this post provides you with some good insights for keeping your orchids healthy in the summer months. Please leave a comment in the comment box if you like these tips. If you can come up with additional tips, do leave a comment and I will see how best I can include them.
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Stake or train stray growths or spikes for a better display
Change your watering and fertilizing schedule
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.
Tidy up your orchids
First and foremost, you need to tidy up your orchids for a better bloom season. Dried growths and sheaths, old bloom spikes and leaves need to be cut off at the base. Leaves need to be cleaned up and made free of any dust or spots. This will help your orchid absorb light better for photosynthesis and also breathe better.
Moreover, tidying up your orchids will discourage pest infestations and reduce the risk of fungal and bacterial infections.
Providing these optimal conditions will help the orchid become healthy and put forth beautiful, flawless blooms.
2. Look out for new growths
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.
3. Inspect and treat any signs of pests and disease
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
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 fertilizingschedule
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
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.
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.
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Now that you have settled down into a comfortable routine of growing your orchids by providing them with the right conditions for their growth, there are additional requirements that will keep them healthy and free of pests, help them grow well and prepare them for the blooming season. Just as you take care of your other indoor plants, you need to regularly check on them and ensure that they are healthy and disease-free. This regular maintenance will facilitate their peak growth and help them flower year after year.
Listed below are care tips that would help you spruce up your orchids and maintain them in optimal conditions at all times.
Orchids need to grow in clean and healthy medium that will provide the right balance of moisture and air for their optimal growth. In their native habitat, orchids grow on trees and absorb humidity from the atmosphere.
Similarly, they need to receive a continuous supply of moisture from the medium, without being excessively wet. A combination of chunky bark with strands of moss will provide the right balance of air and moisture. This medium can last for a year or two, but may begin disintegrating faster, if it is not allowed to dry out between waterings.
Orchids need to be re-potted when:
They are not potted in suitable medium for their growth.
They are growing/extending out of the pot and so require a bigger sized pot.
Medium such as bark begins rotting and disintegrating.
Medium gets infested with snails or fungus, which can destroy a plant completely.
To repot, you need to discard the old medium, wash and sterilize the pot if you plan on reusing it, and repot using fresh medium. (I will be covering this process at length in a separate post.)
Orchid plants need to be spruced up from time to time to provide a neat and groomed appearance. Old dried leaves, sheaths and pseudobulbs should be removed as these could harbour pests.
Sometimes, the rhizome travels outside the plant, sending out tangled roots that are susceptible to bruising. This also reduces the compactness of the plant and reduces its aesthetic appeal. Canes and pseudobulbs that are awkwardly shaped can knock down other plants by getting entangled, or they themselves can get knocked down, leading to damage. These need to be cut and repotted.
Longer canes that are bent out of shape can be braced using stakes and wire ties. In time, they will conform to the shape they are trained for and will accordingly grow to provide a beautiful display.
Wrinkled and limp leaves are signs of a stressed and dehydrated orchid. Check the reason for this condition by unpotting the plant. This happens mostly when the orchid lacks good roots and hence cannot absorb water. The plant continues to survive despite lack of roots and gets revived when new roots appear. Reduce the watering in such a case as the medium can get soggy and lead to fungal infections. A stressed plant can rapidly go downhill as it is easily susceptible to fungal and pest attack.
3. Keeping plants dust-free
Orchids need to be kept free of dust as it affects their growth significantly. The leaves need to absorb sunlight for photosynthesis. Moreover, the stomata that are present under the leaves need to breathe freely to facilitate the exchange of gases.
If the leaves are covered with dust, these functionalities get adversely affected and it slows down growth, thereby affecting bloom production. So it is very much important to keep the plants clean by spraying them with water and allowing them to dry under a fan or placing them where they are exposed to air drafts.
This ensures that moisture is not retained in the crown of the plant and inside the sheaths of new growths, thereby preventing rotting of the pseudo bulbs. Another efficient way is to draw out the trapped moisture by blotting it with absorbent tissue paper.
A safer, and equally effective way is to wipe the leaves with a very mild solution of dishwash soap. Dip a soft cloth or sponge and gently wipe clean the leaves, ensuring that the leaves do not get bruised. Unless very dusty, avoid wiping the underside of the leaves, to prevent the stomata pores from getting clogged. This method will ensure better photosynthesis, respiration and growth of the plant.
Another alternative to the dish-wash soap method is to squeeze a 2-3 drops of lime juice in 100 ml of water and clean the leaves with it. This makes the leaves shiny and healthy.
4. Spike and bloom care
Orchids generally bloom once or twice a year and during this time, special care needs to be taken to provide them with adequate moisture and fertilizer, especially when the spike begins to grow. When the buds begin to bloom, avoid the application of fertilizer to make the blooms last longer. Some growers support the use of fertilizers during blooming. Personally, I have lost blooms whenever, I have applied fertilizers, especially if the plants are stressed out due to transportation or have been re-potted recently. So depending on how your orchids respond, you can follow either way for the best results.
Orchid spikes are fragile and need to be handled with care. They can be supported with stakes to ensure they provide an attractive display. Once the blooming is done, the spike can be cut off at the base, leaving a little stump, especially in the case of Oncidiums and Cattleyas. On the other hand, you can also leave the spikes on Phalaenopsis or Tolumnia till they dry out. Since they are sequential bloomers, they may surprise you with more blooms on secondary spikes.
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.