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!