7 EASY SUMMER CARE TIPS for your orchids

Summer is here.  The sweltering heat can affect your orchids to a considerable extent. Keep them stress-free using these summer care tips, which would contribute to their healthy growth and blooming.

Most orchid hobbyists find this constant seasonal adjustment to be a bit of an issue. There is no ‘one solution fits all’ hack to resolve this issue since different types of orchids have different needs and the solutions accordingly vary to a great extent. The care instructions also need to be adjusted according to your grow conditions and climate. Now I can almost hear you say, ‘If this isn’t complicated enough, then what is?’

Organise your care routine to enjoy this hobby better

Rest assured, this doesn’t mean that an orchid hobbyist’s life is fraught with tension all through the year. If you organise your grow space and group your orchids according to their light, temperature and humidity requirements, your care routine gets considerably simplified. You could very well plan on a care routine that will suit your climate and the grow conditions you provide for your orchids.

Without digressing further, let’s get straight to the point of discussion.

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

The soaring summer temperatures, dry air and dust create stress for your home-grown or window-sill orchids. Unless additional measures are taken to protect them from the heat during these months, your orchids will likely react to these conditions by exhibiting symptoms such as:

  • Dehydrated leaves indicating prolonged dry spells between watering
  • Sun burn, drying up, blackening or bleaching of leaves due to exposure to direct strong sunlight
  • Mushy softness indicating strong direct light and excess moisture, coupled with poor air circulation
  • Wilting away of new growths or poorly developed new growths
  • Bud blast or dropping or withering of buds
  • Wilting and drying up of flowers before time

With so many problems arising due to excessive temperatures and strong light, it is imperative to protect your orchids from strong sunlight, higher-than-normal temperatures and the dust that arises from the hot and dry breeze. You could achieve this in the following ways:

1. Remove your orchids from direct sunlight

Orchids require adequate dappled sunlight to grow well and have a good bloom cycle. Some Vandas, Tolumnia and others can even grow well in direct morning and evening sunlight.


Orchids get affected by direct morning or evening light during summer

While this may promote growth and blooming, during summers, it is always better to remove them from direct morning and evening light because strong light along with higher temperature can lead to scorching heat conditions. This can lead to severe dehydration and  burnt leaves.

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

A good way to assess this would be to check your orchid’s leaves. If they remain limp, with closed flaps and are not opened out fully as they normally would, then they are drying up way too fast and lack regular hydration. This could also be a result of overwatering your orchids, coupled   with direct sunlight and little or no air drafts, eventually leading to rotting of the roots.

To prevent this from happening, move your orchids to an area that receives dappled sunlight or indirect light. You could also use a shade net or if indoors, a translucent curtain that just allows the right amount of light. Make sure your orchids are not overwatered and there is good air movement, either natural or with the help of a fan.

My west facing window receives dappled light through a sheer curtain

2. Water your orchids more frequently

Give the roots a good soak until they get saturated

Depending on your climatic conditions, you may require to water your orchids more frequently during summers as they lose water through transpiration.  The medium tends to dry up faster due to the heat and dry air drafts. If you use small-sized pots for your orchids, then this poses a problem. They tend to dry up faster and so require frequent watering in summer.

In order to resolve this issue, you can consider repotting your orchid in a bigger pot with a well-draining organic medium like pine bark chips with a few strands of moisture-retentive sphagnum moss layered in between. This will provide the right balance of air and moisture to the medium. Always consider this option when your orchid produces new growths. This will help it adapt faster to the new medium.

If your orchid is already growing in a suitable medium, then you don’t have to change the medium. You can unpot the orchid gently by not disturbing its root system. Use a pot that is one or two sizes bigger, layer with some moss and bark chips at the bottom, place the orchid gently on this and pack up the sides with more medium of the same kind. This will provide adequate moisture to the plant and prevent it from drying up. 

To know more about repotting your orchids, read my post on repotting orchids

In case you use inorganic medium such as LECA beads in a semi-hydroponic system, you need to repot in a larger container and provide extra air vents in the container to provide adequate ventilation. This is important when the pots are exposed to summer temperatures, the environment within the pot becomes warm and moist, with little air circulation.

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

This promotes rotting of roots and pseudobulbs, which will then make the plant dehydrated and affect its growth. Very soon, the rot moves up from the roots to the rhizome and stem. In this case, the plant may not survive, unless the rotted portion is removed at the earliest and the plant is treated with a fungicide and repotted in fresh medium.

For more details on pot size and choosing the right organic potting media, read my post, Everything you wanted to know about organic media for growing your orchids, which discusses the topic at length.

To prevent this from happening, you need to use pots with holes or slits to provide good air circulation. Alternatively, you can just make these holes by using a soldering iron tool or punching holes with a heated screw driver. Be extra careful while handling these objects so that you don’t harm yourself.

If you want to be spared of this effort, you can simply invest in self watering pots that have a decent reservoir size. This will simplify this problem to a great extent. You can check out these self-watering pots on Amazon that are attractive and affordable, and will put an end to your watering woes.

Mounted Phalaenopsis store moisture and do not need watering every day

In the case of mounted and bare-rooted orchids, daily watering is mandatory. In summers, you may even have to water them twice-a-day. To reduce this hassle, you can allow them to soak up in a tub of water until the roots are fully saturated, especially the thick-rooted orchids such as vanda and phalaenopsis orchids. You can then water them every second day or as per their requirement.

Always check how they respond. Lookout for signs of dehydration such as limp, leathery leaves and thin, wrinkled roots. Increase the frequency of watering as temperatures rise so that the plant receives adequate hydration.

This will help you guage their requirements. Once they are adjusted, you can reorganise the orchids based on their watering needs. Believe me, this works very well and your care routine gets considerably simplified.

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

Repeated training in such a way gets your orchids used to these intermittent drinks, which, if you think about it, is how they grow in nature. I follow Bumblebee  Orchids’ windowsill Vanda watering routine and have trained my Vanda orchids in such a way that I water them every third day. They seem to be responding well to it. You can check out her YouTube  video on the same.

3. Provide adequate humidity

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

Warm summer breeze reduces humidity in the air. This poses a problem for orchids as they require humidity for their healthy growth. While some heat tolerant varieties such as the Cattleya nobilior, walkeriana, Dendrobiums and others are unaffected by summer heat and thrive in such temperatures, most other orchids require additional measures such as humidifiers and evaporative coolers to maintain the required temperatures and humidity.

Some hobbyists provide these conditions in their grow spaces with water fountains, humidifiers etc. But the vast majority increase humidity by placing humidity trays made from pebbles and water in a shallow tray. The level of water should be much below the level of the pebbles. This allows for continuous evaporation of water, thereby increasing humidity levels in the area. Orchids respond well to this type of humidity.

However, make sure you empty the water and clean the trays once in three days. Stagnant water becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes and should therefore be avoided. Even if you place these trays, ensure that only a thin layer of water is used and this is allowed to dry up fully before replenishing the same.

4. Add a moisture-retentive top layer to your orchid pot

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

The warm temperatures induce active vegetative growth in orchids. So you find them producing new growths and roots prolificly. These are very delicate and can easily wither away due to excessive dryness or heat. Same is the case with seedlings. Their requirement of humidity is more than fully grown plants and therefore get dehydrated by the warm and dry summer breeze.

A very effective way to increase humidity in these cases is to place loosely packed sphagnum moss strands as the topmost layer of the medium. This increases the humidity level around the plant.

Ensure that the moss is not too closely packed around the plant, but is lined along the periphery as this is where the roots are located. So, all you need to do is spray some water to tide them through the daytime temperature. When they dry up by next morning, spritz the moss with a little water to keep it damp.

Avoid spraying water in excess. This will result in soggy conditions, which will compact the moss, leading to rotting of new growths and roots. Always spray minimal amount of water and check how much time it takes to dry up completely. Then increase as required.

A good way is to assess the requirement depending on how the new roots and growths respond. If they are dry and shrivelled, then increase it slightly. If they remain damp continuously and are not allowed to dry, then rot will set in. Always remember if you are unsure – less is better than more, whether you are watering or fertilizing your orchids.

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

The good thing about superficial layering with sphagnum moss is that you can remove the top layer when the rains begin in June. Keeping this layer on during the rainy season will lead to bacterial and fungal rot, especially if your orchids are growing in your balcony or window-sill, as mine do.

I allow my orchids to soak up rain water. To ensure they do not rot, I remove the superficial layer of moss that was used as a temporary top layer during the summer and place them in the rain, ensuring water does not collect in the crown. Since I stay in a tropical climate, once the rains stop in September, I again layer the plants with loosely packed sphagnum moss to prevent the top layer from drying up during the dry winter months.

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

I use premium quality New Zealand sphagnum moss for my organic mix as well as for the superficial layering. It is clean and has long strands, which is safe to handle and works great for my orchids. However, since this is not available now, you can check out this alternative, which is equally good.

5. Provide good air circulation

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

Along with the provision of excess humidity in summer, you need to provide good air circulation. If you have an indoor grow space then a small electric pedestal or ceiling fan can meet your requirements. All your orchids need is gentle air drafts, which will distribute humidity and air, and not maintain prolonged periods of wetness. This ensures that fungal or bacterial rot does not set in.

When rising temperature and humidity pose a problem in your indoor grow space, you can also use an air conditioner to provide air circulation, if you do not mind the additional power bills.

6. Keeping your orchids clean and dust-free

Clean up dusty leaves for a healthier plant

Orchids are slow-growing plants and therefore require additional help from your side to boost their growth. They need to carry out photosynthesis to promote healthy growth and blooming. Therefore their leaves need to be kept clean at all times.

Dusty leaves become a problem in summer due to the dry air. This makes the plant vulnerable to pests such as spider mites, mealy bugs and scale. To protect the orchid from these issues, the leaves need to be regularly cleaned with a cotton ball or wipe dipped in very mild soapy water. Ensure that water does not get trapped in the crevices as this could lead to stem or crown rot. For added safety, blot out the trapped moisture with a tissue and dry it well under a fan.

7. Fertilizing your orchids

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

My fertilizing routine remains the same for most months of the year, barring a few winter months from mid-October to mid-February, when I reduce fertilizing orchids due to a slowdown in growth. However, after that, in spring and summer, orchids resume vigorous vegetative growth and this is when you begin fertilizing them to meet their growth requirements.

Whatever fertilizer you may be using, you could help your plants boost their growth and make them more resistant to dehydration, pest attack and microbial diseases by supplementing your regular fertilizer with a silicon supplement like this one.

Silicon makes plants healthy and resistant to pest attack and climatic changes

Silicon is a naturally occurring substance in soil and helps the plant achieve robust growth in terms of thickness of the leaves and roots, enhances bloom size and quality and increases photosynthetic activity within the leaves. The silicon increases cell-wall thickness, thereby making the plant stronger from within. Externally, it makes the leaves and pseudobulbs thicker, shinier, greener and the flowers more healthy and long-lasting.

This enables it to also withstand stress in case of changing climatic conditions, which is why it is a good idea to begin adding this supplement when the new growths start popping out. You could begin by using quarter of the recommended dosage once a month and see how your plants respond. Gradually, increase it to half the recommended dosage. In this case, less is always better.

I hope this post provides with some good insights for keeping your orchids healthy in the summer months. Please leave a comment in the comment box if you like these tips. If you can come up with additional tips, do leave a comment and I will see how best I can include them.

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Until my next, happy growing!

6 Tips to GET YOUR ORCHIDS READY for the blooming season

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

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

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

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

  1. Tidy up your orchids

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

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

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

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

2. Look out for new growths

New growth popping out

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

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

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

3. Inspect and treat any signs of pests and disease

Treat for any microbial infections
Check for pest infestations

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

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

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

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

Stake your orchids for a beautiful bloom display

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

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

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

5. Change your watering and fertilizing schedule

Start feeding your plants regularly

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

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

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

6. Right time to repot your orchids

Repot your orchid when new growths appear

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till then, happy growing!


How to SAVE YOUR ORCHID from pests and diseases

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

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

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

How can I resolve this issue and save my orchid?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common diseases in orchids and their causes

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

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

ROOT SYSTEM DAMAGE

Limp and leathery leaves indicate root system damage

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

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

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

Remedy:

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

Pest infestation

SPIDER MITE INFESTATION

Spider mite damage

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

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

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

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

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

SNAILS AND SLUGS

Young leaf chewed off by snails and slugsSlugs

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

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

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

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

APHIDS

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

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

THRIPS

Thrip damage

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

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

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

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

BIOSDUVAL SCALE

Creamish round crusty spots indicate scale infestation

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

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

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

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

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

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

MEALY BUGS

Mealy bugs on underside of leaf

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

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

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

Bacterial and fungal infections

BACTERIAL SOFT AND BROWN ROT (ERWINIA)

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

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

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

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

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

BOTRYTIS

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

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

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

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

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

FUSARIUM WILT

Symptoms:

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

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

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

Prevention:

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

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

Viral infections

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

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

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

Prevention is better than cure

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

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

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

You win some and lose some

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till then, happy growing!


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!


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. If this is not available, you can invest in low cost LED panels to provide the same.

Humidity and air

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.

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

Found growing on trees and 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

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 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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Till my next, happy growing!