Fertilizing your orchids

Orchids require the right balance of factors that influence their growth. Fertilizing your orchids right 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.

Aerangis biloba – first time blooms under my care

My first three 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 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 care comes before fine-tuning your fertilising routine

Cattleya labiata Coerulea blooming for the first time

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 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 bird and insect droppings that run down the trees along with rain water. Rain water, which is rich in Vitamin B12 producing bacteria and fungi, 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 normally even while they are in bloom.

About orchid fertilisers

Initially, the Brassocattleya Jimminey Cricket did not bloom due to low concentrations of fertilizer. After tweaking the concentration, it bloomed repeatedly.

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 such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium as well as Calcium, Magnesium and other trace micronutrients. Most fertilisers have these components in a form that can be easily absorbed by orchids.

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 lower proportion of Phosphorus. However, speaking from personal experience, applying bloom boosters has not enhanced blooming in my orchids. In fact, my orchids began blooming well when I eliminated bloom boosters. NPK 20:20:20 application helped my orchids bloom just as well.

How often should you fertilise?

Include weak fertilizing every week with a number of different fertilizers to provide all types of nutrients and micronutrients

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 below recommended concentration, but I varied the type of fertilizer I applied so that they absorbed different types of nutrients and trace minerals.

For instance, I apply NPK 20:20:20 along with seaweed kelp once in 15 days. In between, I apply organic home-made liquid fertilizer twice a month and Silicon dioxide fertilizer once a month. In between, I apply mild doses of Calcium nitrate and Magnesium Sulphate together twice a month. This method of low dose fertilizer application, either stand-alone or in appropriate combination, has helped me improve blooming in my orchids. I will cover this aspect at length in a separate post.

Applying the right quantity of fertiliser to your orchids

Orchid hobby guide
Apply optimal concentrations of fertilizerto coax your orchid to bloom

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 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 such cases, you can continue fertilizing these orchids. However, a major portion of your collection would be done with the growth period, would 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 shrivelling. 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.

Do not fertilize if your orchid is not doing well

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.

As you tweak your fertilizing method, your orchids will bloom in significant numbers

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.

Happy growing!

Care tips for Phalaenopsis orchid spikes

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.

For a natural look, you allow the spike to arch towards the direction of light

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

Inch the spike little by little to train it for an upright display

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.

Fertilizing

Fertilize well regularly to meet the increased nutritional needs of the plant

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

Adequate light influences the quality and quantity of blooms

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

Sudden temperature fluctuations lead to bud blast in orchids

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

Pests can chew on the tender spike and developing buds

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.

Till my next, happy growing!

Identifying flower spikes in Phalaenopsis orchids

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.

Subscribe to the blog for regular updates on orchid culture and care.

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.

A drop in ambient temperature at night induces blooming in Phalaenopsis 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.

A spike (on left) and root  pushing out together. Notice the sheathed surface of the spike compared to the glossy plain surface of the root

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
Spikes develop at the axil of the leaf, while roots emerge radially around the stem

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 ode 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.

When the axis of the plant is inclined, the spikes do not emerge at the axil, but will emerge vertically upwards, away from the axil and towards the direction of light

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
Spikes grow upwards towards the direction of light as opposed to roots, which grow downwards towards the medium or away from the direction of light

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
Roots are rounded and have a glossy sheen, while pikes have a darker shade of green or burnished colour

As the new growth emerges, you can easily compare 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.

A basal keiki developing on the Phalaenopsis schilleriana

These tips will help you identify flower spikes early on. You can accordingly take special care of the orchid for a good bloom season. To learn more on how to take care of Phalaenopsis orchid spikes, you can read my post Care tips for Phalaenopsis orchid spikes.

To know more about preparing your orchids ready for blooming, you can read my post on 6 Tips to get your orchids ready for the bloom season.

Until my next, happy growing and have a great bloom season!

Winter Care for 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.

Deciduous orchids drop their leaves when temperatures drop

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.

Phalaenopsis orchids need a drop in night time temperature to develop bud spikes

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

Reduce watering and fertilizing to match your orchid’s growth rate

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.

Seedlings require a moist environment, so maintain adequate moisture during winter

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

Shift your orchids indoors if you have extreme drop in temperature during winter

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

My winter resting orchids get an occasional spritz of water that provides minimal moisture

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.

A basal keiki or baby plant developing instead of a spike due to overwatering and fertilizing in winter

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.

Medium

Use pine bark mix or a similar well-draining medium and ensure it dries off between watering

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.

For more information on this aspect, check out my post on ‘Everything you wanted to know about ORGANIC MEDIA FOR GROWING ORCHIDS

When your orchids have new growths

Water and fertilize your orchids based on their growth rate

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

Mealy bugs are rampant in the drier and dustier months

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.

Scale is also a menace during the winters

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.

For more details on identification and treatment of pest infestations in orchids, read my post on ‘How to SAVE YOUR ORCHIDS from pests and diseases’.

Enjoy the blooms on your Phalaenopsis orchid during winter

With these handy winter care tips, you will be able to organise your care routine better.

Do subscribe to the blog for more updates and posts on orchid culture and care. Share my post with orchid enthusiasts. Do comment and provide suggestions and tips of your personalised care routine. I love hearing from you and will definitely respond to your comments.

Till my next, happy growing!

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
Keep the leaves free of dust and dirt

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

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

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

2. Look out for new growths

New growth popping out

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

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

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

3. Inspect and treat any signs of pests and disease

Treat for any microbial infections
Check for pest infestations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Change your watering and fertilizing schedule

Start feeding your plants regularly

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

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

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

6. Right time to repot your orchids

Repot your orchid when new growths appear

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till then, happy growing!


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. You can also expose your orchids to morning and evening sunlight directly. If the leaves get warm in the sunlight, then it’s getting too much light. You need to move it to a diffused light area. PIf this is not available, you can invest in low cost LED panels to provide the same.

Humidity and air

Orchids thrive in a right balance of airflow and humidity

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

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

Temperature

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

Phalaenopsis bellina in bloom in December

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

Water

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

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

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

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

Fertilizers

Fertilze regularly for healthy growth and a good bloom cycle

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

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

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

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Till my next, happy growing!