Project#6: Mounting your orchid on cork bark

The most attractive aspects of the orchid hobby are its versatility and potential for experimentation. Mounting your orchids on various types of substrates to recreate the magic of their natural habitat can be one of the most exciting parts of this hobby. Cork bark commands a premium place among the various types of mounts, not only due to its interesting rugged texture, but also due to its lightness, strength and long life when compared to other types of wood mounts.

While it’s no mean feat to mount your orchid on cork bark, knowing about this medium, using the right material for mounting, and its correct maintenance thereafter, will help you get the most out of this coveted material. So get set to provide your prized collection a boost in terms of aesthetics and fuss-free growing. And last, but not the least, give vent to your creativity and display your orchids in the best possible way, even when not in bloom. The effect is sheer magic. The satisfaction – guaranteed.

About cork bark

Cork bark – natural, rugged and long-lasting

While cork is known for its rugged attractiveness, it is the cost that is a major deterrent for orchid hobbyists.

50% of global cork production comes from Portugal, accounting for nearly 70% of world trade. The bark is obtained from the Quercus suber or cork oak trees. The trees are slow-growing, with a lifespan of 200 years, and are ready for harvesting once they mature. Interestingly, the bark is carefully removed without harming the tree. The tree grows back the bark over a period of ten years before it is ready for harvesting again. This slow growth and gap of 10 years makes cork a costly material. A heavy import duty of 29.8% further makes cork expensive, which is why it commands a premium price.

Price notwithstanding, as you become an experienced grower, you will inevitably begin experimenting with different types of media and substrates, and ultimately consider cork or even driftwood for mounting orchids. The satisfaction of growing and blooming orchids as they would in nature, is unmatched, which is why seasoned orchid hobbyists take great pride in their collection of cork mounted orchids. You have to only look at the Instagram posts of ‘Romain Orchids’, to understand why mounting orchids on cork or drift wood can take your display to the next level.

The Upside of cork mounts

While cork is attractive in a wild, natural way, what makes it a preferred material for mounting orchids is its rough texture with crevices, bumps and holes, which provide orchid roots the perfect grip to attach themselves firmly. The medium is water resistant and does not absorb water or become soggy, due to which it does not rot easily. Of course, if it is maintained soaking wet for prolonged periods without drying up in between, then rot and fungal infections do set in and weaken the bark.

Cork is seen as good value for money since it is long-lasting and can be reused if your orchid outgrows its mount after several years. All you have to do is to remove the orchid carefully without damaging its roots, and mount it on a bigger one. The old mount can then be sterilized and reused for mounting other orchids.

Since mounts are hung vertically, you also end up saving a lot of space. This way, you can grow your collection comfortably without space constraints. Moreover, you can save up on expensive media, pots, and planters, which require frequent repotting, especially if you use organic medium that breaks down periodically.

Most important of all, since your orchid is hanging vertically with minimal medium, and has a good wet-dry cycle, the quick drying ensures that the risk of development of rot disease is minimalized to a great extent.

And the downside

All you need is a spray bottle and a mister for watering and misting your mounted orchids

The downside is that orchid mounts tend to dry out rather quickly, unlike their potted counterparts. So you need to mount the orchids that tend to thrive in a quick wet-dry cycle. This means that you will be watering your mounts every day, sometimes even twice a day, depending on how quickly they dry out. As a beginner, a quick way to gauge this would be to be on the lookout for signs of dehydration. Accordingly, you can adjust your watering routine.

Daily watering could be a daunting proposition, especially if you are preoccupied with other things. Fitting this into your busy schedule could turn this into a cumbersome task. Yet, orchid hobbyists are drawn to mounted orchids because of the sheer beauty of this natural display. To be able to recreate this near natural environment within your grow space and enjoy the resultant effect, makes all the effort worthwhile.

With a sprayer, watering your orchid mounts is easy and quick work

But it’s not as bad as you think. There are a number of ways you can make your watering routine less tedious. Investing in a good water spray will get your watering done in very little time. Some orchid hobbyists add a little bit of extra moss (loosely packed) and this keeps the humidity levels reasonably suitable for the orchid’s healthy growth. If you are using minimal amount of moss, then light spritzing of the mount with a mister later during the day also helps in pmaintaining good humidity levels.

What kind of orchids should you mount on cork bark

Aerangis biloba – a compact and mature plant that would grow well on the cork mount

Orchid hobbyists are drawn to mounting their orchids due to the beautiful effect they create. The challenge of achieving the best possible effect is something that they deliberate on and choose their orchids with great care.

First and foremost on the checklist would be to pick an orchid that is hardy and can tolerate dry conditions reasonably well. Orchids such as Dendrobiums, Brassavola, Cattleya and species Phalaenopsis will do well on mounts. While Oncidiums need high humidity around their roots, you can grow them well on mounts too if you can provide them with good humidity by padding up with extra sphagnum moss. This can be done later once you gauge your orchid’s moisture requirements.

Second, would be to consider the aesthetics depending on the cork piece that you would be using. Larger orchids such as Brassavola, Cattleya and Phalaenopsis require larger bark pieces as compared to compact or miniature orchids. This is desired so that the bark forms a natural backdrop for your orchids, thereby enhancing their visual appeal significantly.

Third, miniature orchids have a charm of their own and their water requirement is minimal (a quick wet-dry cycle). So these orchids grow well on mounts. Tolumnia, Dendrobium aggregatum, Sophronitis cernua, Neofinetia falcata and Aerangis orchids, to name a few, look amazing on mounts. An added bonus is that they look great even when not in bloom. When in bloom, they appear very exotic and wild, like getting a slice of the woods into your grow space.

Culture

Mounted orchids need a simple and easy care routine

Cork mounted orchids require very little care, unlike potted orchids that require repotting and putting together a suitable potting mix.

The most important care requirement would be to water the mounts daily.  If your mounted orchid has thick roots such as in the case of Phalaenopsis, give it a good soak for a few minutes or alternatively, hold it under running water for two minutes. The velamen turns green when the water gets absorbed. After a few minutes, again soak the orchid for a few minutes. This will ensure the roots get saturated with moisture. This, together with the damp moss will meet the orchid’s moisture requirement. You can fertilize your orchids in a similar way once a week for good results.

For your miniature and thin rooted orchids such as Aerangis or Tolumnia, you can give it a good spritz with a sprayer. That will take care of its water requirements. Excessive watering or soaking in this case will lead to rot issues. Also take extra care to avoid water pooling up in the crown of your orchids as well as inside new growths or sheaths

A general rule to be followed while watering mounted orchids would be to avoid keeping the moss soaking wet for prolonged periods. Allowing it to dry out fully before watering it again will ensure that the cork does not disintegrate due to prolonged exposure to soaking wet conditions. Use minimal quantity of moss for mounting, depending on the orchid’s moisture requirement. If need be, you can always add more moss later, if the mounts dry up too fast.

Hang your mounted orchids in bright indirect light as it is important for blooming your mounted orchids. Direct morning or evening light can also be tolerated fairly well by these orchids. During summer, you will need to check on your orchids frequently and even move your mounts away from harsh summer daylight.

Fertilizing your orchids can be done either by soaking the mount for a few minutes or by spraying it. Do ensure that you do not share water between your mounts as bacterial and fungal diseases could spread to your healthy orchids. I prefer spraying the orchids and saturating their roots for a few minutes and repeating after a gap of few minutes.

Project

Enjoying the sunshine and rain on my window sill

I have always wanted to mount my orchids on cork bark, but since it is imported from Portugal, it is not easily available in India. Experimenting with different types of wood mounts brought in mixed results. Recently, I treated myself to some cork bark pieces paying a hefty price. I was excited when my package arrived.

I spent time on choosing the right type of orchids to match the cork mounts. For this project, I chose three orchids – Aerangis biloba, Neofinetia falcata and Sideria japonica. All the three are small type of orchids and create a beautiful effect when mounted.

I was excited and full of anticipation even as I mounted the orchids. When I was done, I was thrilled and very satisfied with the results. While the mounts were expensive, the joy it gives me every day more than makes up for it. I eagerly look forward to the day these orchids will bloom. It would indeed be a dream come true for me.

Execution

Requirements:

Cork bark mounts

Orchids for mounting

Sphagnum moss

Fishing line or neutral toned thread

Mini power drill

Thick metal wire hanger

Metal wire cutter/plier

Method:

  1. Clean the cork bark by scrubbing it with liquid dish wash. Ensure that you rinse it off completely so that no residue remains. Allow it to dry off completely.
  2. Get your orchid ready for mounting by cleaning it up. Remove any dead roots and old potting medium completely by giving the root system a good rinse. Moistening the roots of the orchid will minimise damage to the roots. Dry roots are more susceptible to snapping, while moistening them will make them more pliable.
  3. Sterilize your work area by rubbing it with a surgical spirit swab.
  4. Place the bark on the work surface and check the positioning of the plant. Hold the plant and mount upright to get an idea of how it would look. Try a couple of ways and assess which one will give the desired result. Mounting your plants inverted will help prevent crown rot. Once you finalise the positioning, remove the plant and mark the place that you want to pass the wire hanger through.
  5. Use the metal drill to carefully drill a hole of the desired size. The bark is soft and needs to be handled carefully to avoid damage.
  6. Pass the wire hanger and press into a loop so that the mount is firmly held and does not flop from one side to the other.
  7. Now place the plant on the cork and place a small quantity of moss on the roots of the orchid. This will help in keeping the roots moist. Ensure that the moss is not too close to the stem of the orchid. The stem should not be buried in moss as it will read to stem rot.
  8. Holding the moss and plant in place, use fishing line or thin thread to fasten the orchid to the mount. Ensure that the moss is fluffy and not very compacted. This will ensure that the orchid roots get sufficient air to breathe. You can even add cleaned up natural moss patches from your neighbourhood to give it an interesting look. The moss will grow and spread on the mount, adding to its beauty.
  9. Wind the thread several times to ensure the orchid is held snugly in place.
  10. Tie double knots several times to prevent the unravelling of the mount. Cut off any excess thread to give it a neat appearance.
  11. Attach the label on the back side of the mount, mentioning name and date of mounting. This will help in keeping it concealed.
  12. Spritz water on the moss and hang it up in place. Avoid wetting the crown area while watering your orchid.

Mounting your orchids on cork bark raises the bar for orchid hobbyists. To be able to mimic nature’s unmatched beauty and bring it into your home is one of the most creatively satisfying experiences. The orchid hobby is supposed to be savoured and enjoyed. So if you have time at your disposal and the inclination to water your orchids every day, then go for it and enjoy looking after your cork mounted orchids. Your orchids will love it even more and will thrive in this new environment.

On this note, Happy growing till my next!

Six orchid care tips for the rainy season

The monsoon downpours have begun and your orchids will get a fresh lease of life when you make the most of the season and allow them to soak up its goodness. Rich in Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Vitamin B12, and balanced at the right pH for their optimal growth, the rain will help your orchids thrive and bloom throughout the season. But the trick here is to expose your orchids in the right way, for the right time and to check thereafter that they are growing well and not facing issues of rot.

Read on to learn more about my six orchid care tips for the rainy season to take full advantage of the rains. An added benefit would be that we can look forward to some respite from our regular watering and fertilizing schedule, and focus on other orchid related projects.

Please Like, Share and Subscribe to the blog if you find these tips useful.

My windowsill vanda orchids enjoying the rains

After the hot and dusty summers, your orchids will welcome the rains with gusto. The first shower will drench your orchids and invigorate them to produce new growths and roots in abundance. The spurt in growth is significantly noticeable, some shooting up by almost a centimetre in a single day. As the leaves and stems get drenched and water trickles down the stems and into the roots, you notice visible changes such as a bright green colour, turgid leaves and new growths that are almost bursting out of their sheaths. Well that’s not all. Rain water will swell up the buds on the nodes, which develop into spikes in the case of vandas, oncidiums and phaenopsis, just as you will find buds pushing themselves out of their sheaths, as in the case of cattleyas. Such is the amazing impact of the rain on your orchids.

This should come as no surprise to you, knowing that most orchids, in their natural habitat grow in the rain forests, where there are frequent downpours and a predominantly humid environment. Epiphytic orchids (orchids that grow on trees) get drenched in the rains and spread out their roots on the tree trunks. Since the roots are exposed to air, they tend to dry off quickly and therefore roots do not rot even with repeated downpours. The leaves and crown are so arranged that water that falls on them just slips away and falls. Also the breeze following a downpour quickly dries off the plants, preventing collection of water and microorganisms in the crown and other nooks and crevices.

Providing an environment that mimics nature

However, growing orchids in your home environment or in a greenhouse is quite another story. The growing conditions you provide in terms of potting media, light and air movement will vary based on your climatic conditions. Growing phalaenopsis orchids with their crown positioned vertically to provide an aesthetically pleasing display, may not exactly be conducive for exposing your orchids to the rain. To remove the tediousness of everyday watering, we have also modified our care routine by growing orchids in moisture retentive medium. While this can work well during the warm dry summers, it can adversely affect your orchids if they are continuously exposed to the rain during the monsoons.

I grow my orchids on my windowsill, in my tropical grow conditions using organic potting mixes of pine bark and sphagnum moss. Warm summers are followed by the rainy season. While I make some superficial changes to provide a conducive environment for growth during various seasons, additional care needs to be taken so that the orchids don’t develop issues such as fungal and bacterial rot. Taking care of these issues will help you provide the right amount of exposure to rain, which will stimulate growth and blooming in your orchid.

Let us begin with the commonly faced issues when our orchids are exposed to rain:

Leaf rot in cattleya orchid
  1. Crown Rot – This is one of the most common issues faced by orchid hobbyists when their orchids are exposed to rain. When rain water collects in the crowns of monopodial plants such as phalaenopsis or vanda orchids, the long exposure to moisture, along with the bacteria and fungi that are on the surface of the leaves, tend to create an unhealthy environment for the orchid, wherein the bacteria and fungi start multiplying due to excessively moist conditions. This leads to rotting of the tender tissue in the crown of the plant. The infection spreads to the other portions of the stem and the plant slowly begins to lose its leaves. Timely intervention can help you save the orchid, but it will set back its growth and blooming to some extent.
  2. Rotting of leaves – Rain drops often collect in the base of the axil of the leaves. These regions are snugly bound to the stem and can allow moisture to accumulate. This again leads to an environment conducive for bacterial and fungal growth. Since the leaves are arranged on either side of the stem or pseudobulb in the case of vanda, phalaenopsis, oncidium and tolumnia, dendrobium and other such orchids, the infection spreads quickly to the stem and other parts. Sometimes, soft water-filled black spots appear on the leaves. If left untreated, they quickly spread and destroy the whole leaf and subsequently the stem. Only timely intervention and appropriate remedial measures can save the plant.
  3. Root rot – Moisture retentive medium such as sphagnum moss, when added to the potting medium tends to hold copious amounts of water. This is utilised by the the plant and the medium dries off after a couple of days. But when your orchids soak up rain water, the medium remains damp for prolonged periods, then fungal and bacterial infections become rampant. The roots become soggy and begin rotting. The first sign of root rot is when the leaves become thin and dehydrated despite moisture in the pot. This is indicative of a damaged root system. If not treated on time, the infection quickly travels up the root, to the rhizome and the pseudobulbs. This further causes the leaves and stem to turn yellow and black and decay.
  4. Rot of new growths – Just as with crown rot, rain water that remains trapped in new growths of oncidium and cattleya orchids can also lead to bacterial and fungal rot. As the water travels into the crevices, it collects bacteria and fungi on the surface of the plant and its narrow vertical structure does not allow air to enter and dry up the moisture. The prolonged dampness promotes bacterial and fungal attack on the roots, leading to rotting of the delicate tissue. Losing a new growth to rot can lead to setback for the plant as these new shoots are the ones that would mature and bloom in the coming season. Moreover, orchids put out new roots through these new growths. If the orchid does not have a healthy root system, then this could prove to be a major setback for the plant. So, these delicate new growths need to be protected from rainfall.

Advantages of rain water for your orchids

Now you must be wondering that if there is so much of risk involved, then why you should even consider placing your orchids in the rain. Well, for the simple reason that rain water has manifold benefits on your orchids. The first and foremost being that it has the right pH of around 6.5, which is suitable for healthy orchid growth and blooming.

The second compelling reason is that it contains Vitamin B12, which is produced by the microorganisms in air and on surfaces of plants as a metabolic by-product. As the rainwater comes down, it collects these by-products, which are rich in Nitrogen and Phosphorus (If you check out the structure of Vitamin B12, you will find several nitrogen atoms and a phosphate group in each molecule). So rainwater is the most readily absorbable form of fertilizer that you can provide for your orchids. In fact, I skip the fertilizing routine, whenever I allow my orchids to soak up in the rain. The results are simply amazing. They develop a lush green hue that is incomparably beautiful and healthy.

Another advantage of rainfall is that it can help your dehydrated orchids become hydrated and healthy once again. Since rainwater is readily absorbable, you can place your severely dehydrated orchid in rain and the leaves and pseudobulbs will plump up again. I have revived quite a few orchids that were dehydrated due to an inadequate root system. The plant basically gets a new lease of life and will begin producing new roots and growths when it gets soaked in the rain.

This cattleya sheath grew almost a centimeter in length after a continuous downpour

Healthy plants thrive in the rain by shooting up to almost a centimetre in length of new growths, leaves and roots. Spikes and sheaths also begin to develop as a result of rain. I have known cases where a vanda orchid did not bloom for ten consecutive years, but bloomed in the eleventh year, when the hobbyist allowed the vanda to soak up the rain during monsoon. Such is the power of rain water. In fact, experienced orchid hobbyists often collect rainwater in large clean storage tanks and water their orchids with it throughout the year.

Now let us understand how you can effectively provide the above advantages without adversely affecting or damaging your orchids. A little care will help you keep your orchids safe while exposing them to the rain. While most of your orchids will thrive in the rain, you may face issues in some orchids based on their health. You need to watch over them with a keen eye, for any signs of susceptibility.

Six care tips for your orchids during the rainy season:

Follow these six cautious care tips to protect your orchids when you expose them to rain:

  1. Prepare your orchids for the rainy season

My tropical grow conditions are ideally suited for warm growing orchids. During summers, the climate tends to get very warm and dry, increasing my frequency of watering. To increase humidity, I superficially line up the periphery of the pot with sphagnum moss. This provides humidity and keeps the orchids cool. But come rainy season, and I remove this top layer of moss and replace it with bark chips. This p prevents excessive moisture retention, which would lead to rotting of the orchid roots and stems.

Along with this, I also clean up the leaves of the orchids with a soft cloth or sponge dipped in mild dish-wash solution and allow them to dry under a fan. This removes any superficial dust and mites.

Small waterproof bags can be used to cover the new growths

When it begins to rain, I use small polythene bags to cover the new growths and protect them from holding moisture. I followed this tip from the YouTube channel, My Green Pets, and it has worked just fine for me.

  • Prevent retention of moisture for a prolonged period
Ensure water does not get retained in the crown of the orchid

Since we grow orchids upright as opposed to how they grow in the wild, water tends to pool up in the crown area of the pseudobulb, leading to rot. To prevent this from happening to your orchids, you can allow them to soak in the rain and once it is saturated, tilt the pot slightly and allow the excess water to run off along the axil of the youngest leaf. This will allow minimal moisture to remain in the crown, which can easily be dried up by air-drafts.

Tip your orchid pots at an angle to
allow excess water to drain out

If you grow your orchids outdoors in your balcony, patio or on your window-sill, the breeze will dry off the remaining moisture. But remember to tip the pots sidewards at a 45º angle so that excess water does not remain trapped in the pot. Alternatively, place the orchids under a fan. This will ensure that they dry off quickly. You could also draw out the moisture by rolling up absorbent paper and blotting out the moisture.

  • Check on your orchids after they get wet in the rain

One way to ensure your orchids are safe, is to check them every day for signs of infections and rot, especially after you have exposed them to rainfall. Catching infections, rot and pest infestations early on will help you save your orchid by taking appropriate preventive measures. Look out for soft, damp, dark spots on the leaves. This is an indication of leaf rot. Also yellowing and soft rot in the crown region or the stem indicates crown rot and stem rot, respectively. These require immediate remedial action.

  • Ensure a good wet-dry cycle

While it rains always every day during the season, we cannot give our orchids the advantage of getting soaked day-after-day during the season. The reason being that we pot our orchids in moisture retentive organic medium like coconut chips, sphagnum moss and bark chips.

Good drainage and adequate ventilation holes ensure a healthy environment for root growth

Excessive retention of rainwater can lead to a soggy environment. Orchid roots do not like prolonged soaking wet conditions and quickly begin to rot. Excessive moisture over prolonged periods in the medium makes the medium very acidic. This is either caused by excessive moisture retention due to moisture absorbent media or due to poor drainage and ventilation of the pots. You need to ensure that both these issues are set right before you think of soaking up your orchids in the rain. If not detected early on, the rotting can even spread to the pseudobulbs, and destroy the plant completely.

To prevent rot from setting in, you need to limit the exposure of your potted orchids to rainfall. Let your potted orchids reach near-dry conditions before allowing them to soak up rainwater again. If they are already moist, do not expose them to rain again as excessive moisture in the medium will promote rotting of roots and new growths.

On the other hand, inorganic medium such as LECA pebbles, river rock or lava rock, pose less of a risk than organic media. Even better, if your orchids are mounted on good quality wood or any inorganic material that is non-absorbent, you can go ahead and allow them to soak in the rain during the entire season. Just ensure they dry up after each soak, so that no water pools up in the new growths and crowns. You can easily tip your mounts to one side to drain out any moisture that is trapped in new growths or sheaths.

Inorganic media is a safe bet during the rainy season due to good aeration of the medium
  • Take quick remedial action if you observe signs of rotting

Once you identify any rot issues in any of your orchids, you need to take quick remedial action to treat them at the earliest.

Removing the rotted portion of the leaf on time can help save your orchid

In the case of stem, crown and leaf rot, you may have to remove the rotted tissue by cutting or scraping away the affected portion. Apply cinnamon powder on the cut surfaces to prevent them from getting re-infected.

For root rot issues, you may need to cut away the affected portion of the roots and rhizome and apply 3% hydrogen peroxide to the healthy part of the rhizome and root system. In case the infection is severe, you may need to apply a suitable fungicide in below recommended proportions. This will help salvage the healthy portion of the plant.

Some hobbyists recommend a fungicidal spray (prophylactic) every fifteen days to prevent fungal and bacterial rot. Personally, I avoid spraying harmful chemicals and instead prefer much conservative and harmless methods to control rot issues. I use fungicides cautiously, only when there is a major problem with orchids. These are highly toxic and therefore should be applied with extreme caution and care, especially if you have children and pets around.

  • Additional precautions to be taken

Once you wet your orchids in the rain, do not allow the excess water from the medium to drain out onto other pots. This can lead to rotting of the crown, stem, roots, leaves and also new growths of the orchid. The rot is mainly due to spread of infection from one pot to another. This can be prevented by placing a saucer under the pot to collect water or allowing it to drain out fully before hanging it up above your other plants.

Another reason for spread of infection can be attributed to the use of unsterilized equipment for trimming your orchid leaves and roots. This can get aggravated and lead to spread of the infection due to a prolonged moist environment. So always sterilize your cutters with rubbing alcohol and flame it with necessary precaution. Ensure all safety measures are taken during this procedure.

For instance, Fusarium Wilt is a fungal disease that is commonly spread by sharing of water and using unsterilized pruners or cutters for trimming your orchids.

For more information on orchid diseases, pest infestations as well as their treatment and preventive measures, you can read my post How to save your orchids from pests and diseases.

Give your orchids this advantage provided by nature

Armed with these tips, you can confidently allow your orchids to soak up in the rain and get all its inherent advantages. This will promote their healthy growth and blooming. And you get some respite from watering your orchids. Just watching them soak in the rain will make you very happy. After all, growing orchids is also about keeping ourselves peppy and happy.

Please leave a comment below if you have some more useful tips so that I can include the same in the post (and credit you for the same).

Till my next, happy growing!

Dividing and repotting your Cattleya orchid

Project#5: Dividing and repotting your overgrown Cattleya orchid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Preparing the plant for dividing and repotting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tweezers are handy tools for removing dead roots and dried sheaths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Prophylactic treatment of the divisions

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

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

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

  • Repotting the divisions in suitable media

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

Repotting divisions in semi-hydroponic medium

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

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

The oldest divisions repotted in organic bark medium

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until my next, happy growing!

Project#3: Displaying your blooming Tolumnia orchid

Display your Tolumnia orchid in a natural setup

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Choose a suitable space for displaying your plant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look out for a fitting backdrop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Prepare your plant for display
Prepare your orchid

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

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

  • Fasten or support the props properly

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

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

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

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

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

  • Keep your plant safe with minimal handling

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

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

Project: Mounting your Tolumnia orchid

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

Test out your design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transform your living room with this display

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

Till my next, happy showcasing!


Everything you wanted to know about ORGANIC MEDIA FOR GROWING ORCHIDS

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

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

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

Both organic and inorganic orchid media allow the roots to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Types of organic media

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

Bark chips

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

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

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

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

Coconut Husk Chips

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sphagnum moss

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

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

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

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

Fern blocks

Fern block for mounting orchids

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

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

Charcoal

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

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

Cork and driftwood mounts

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

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

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

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

Popular organic media mixes

Oncidium potted in bark chips and sphagnum moss

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing an organic potting mix for your orchids

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

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

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

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

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

Creating your own potting mix

Fir bark potting mix with sphagnum moss

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

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

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

Some of the mixes that have gained popularity are:

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

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

Conserving your medium by treating it right

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

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

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

Happy growing!


Nine things you should know before embarking on the orchid hobby

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

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

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

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

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

1.       Time

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

2.       Effort

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

3.       Commitment

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

4.       Getting to know orchids better

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

5.       One rule does not fit all

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

6.       Managing your expenses

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

7.       Your collection will predictably grow

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

8.       Experimentation and innovation

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

9.       Taking your passion to the next level

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

A Phalaenopsis Cornu cervi hybrid

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

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

Till my next, happy growing!