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!

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#4: Tidying up your orchid’s root system

Every year, your orchid grows new roots. As the number of new roots increase, peering through the transparent pot, you will notice several roots that are brown and mushy. This decay is a natural ageing process to shed off old roots.

A mix of old and new roots

The root system is now dominated by the roots from the newer growths. In order to create a healthy environment for these new roots, it is a good idea to clean up the root system and remove the old, dead roots.

While the general school of thought is to not disturb the orchid, I am a compulsive picker of old dried sheaths and roots that are visible, so that the orchids looks neat. This does not mean that I frequently unpot my orchids and go on a cleaning spree, every time I spot a dead and mushy root or two.

Instead, I assess whether the orchid medium remains wet due to lot of mushy dead roots. I also ensure the orchid is done with blooming, and check for the development of new growths and roots. This will indeed provide an opportune moment for repotting as the orchid will not suffer from dehydration due to lack of good roots. The new roots will quickly take over and minimise the shock of disturbing its root system.

Another reason why I like to tidy up the root system of my orchids is that dead mushy roots hold copious amounts of water. Prolonged dampness in the congested and closed environment within the confines of a pot encourages fungal and bacterial rot issues, which are commonly seen in orchids that grow in an excessively damp environment.

Dead, mushy roots encourage rot

The damp environment also acidifies the medium, leading to its early breakdown. Disintegrating medium further aggravates the dampness, leading to rot. Therefore, tidying up their root system will provide a healthy environment and prevent the root system from decaying, thereby encouraging the healthy growth of the plant, which in turn will lead to a healthy bloom cycle.

Aesthetically too, your orchid will look neat and well-groomed if the scruffy dried roots are taken off.

Green roots look healthy,  nurture the plant and provide good support

Now that you have understood the importance of cleaning up your orchid’s root system, you need to also recognise that the root system is the most important part of the plant, and is prone to set back. Therefore, you need to follow the below listed precautionary measures while cleaning up the root system:

  1. Always choose a good time for cleaning up your orchid’s root system. Preferably, time yourself when the new growths start showing up, and before the new shoot develops roots. This is of special significance as there is a high risk of damaging the new roots by bruising or breaking off the tip of the new roots. This in turn can affect its further development, as well as its capacity for nutrient and water absorption.
  2. Set aside some dedicated time to execute this project as you cannot complete it in a jiffy.
  3. Ensure that you have all the requirements like 3% bleach, rubbing alcohol, 3% hydrogen peroxide, foreceps, tweezers, fresh medium, if required, and a bigger pot ready for repotting the orchid.
  4. Sterilize equipment such as cutters, tweezers and forceps by rubbing with alcohol and flaming them. Take extreme precaution while doing so, so that there are no mishaps. Children need to carry out this step under adult supervision.
  5. Handle the plant carefully so that you do not damage any of the delicate parts of the plant such as roots, leaves and new growths.

Project

Tidying up the root system of my orchid

Cleaning up the orchid’s scruffy root system will make for one very happy plant

I mounted this Cattleya Walkeriana in June 2020.  The orchid liked its new environment during the rainy season and produced new roots. A few months later, once the rains stopped, I found the orchid suffering from lack of humidity. Frequent wet and dry cycle yook its toll on the roots and they began dying.

Things got worse when I had to suddenly6 leave town for four weeks and my orchids remained untended. When I returned, I found a severely dehydrated orchid with its roots shrivelled up and dried. Watering it regularly only made these roots mushy and unhealthy.

Fortunately, the orchid recovered from the setback and put forth a new growth and roots. I did not want the orchid to develop rot issues and so decided to cut off the mushy roots, without disturbing the new roots. Hopefully, the plant will thrive in its new healthy environment.

To execute this project, I carried out the following steps for the best results:

  1. Cleaned the work area by rubbing with a swab dipped in 10% bleach solution.
  2. Prepared the plant by watering it before hand to ensure the plant doesn’t get dehydrated since I do not water the plant for 24 hours after cutting the roots or stem. This is done to effectively seal the open wounds caused by cutting the roots or stem.
  3. Untied the wires and raffia tape that were used to secure the plant on the rock.
  4. Removed the moss surrounding the roots and looked for the mushy roots. I began separating them with a pair of electrical tweezers. 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 cutting them off. This easy accessibility also prevents us from accidentally cutting off good roots or 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.
  5. Once the roots were cut off, I spritzed the root system with 3% hydrogen peroxide to reduce the risk of bacterial and fungal rot, and allowed them to sit for 10 minutes.
  6. I then covered the new roots loosely with a little moss, ensuring the moss is not too close to the base of the pseudobulbs. This will ensure the dampness from the moss does not encourage rot around the stem.
  7. I secured the moss and plant firmly in place with wire or raffia tape. Doing this will make the plant feels safe and will encourage further root production.
  8. Lastly, I placed it back in its tray and have been watering it every day by spraying a little water on the rock. The LECA bead humidity tray does the rest, by providing a humid environment throughout the day.

I stepped back to assess the plant and was pleased to see it all tidied up. I am confident the plant is much happier and will thrive in this low risk, environment. I will keep you posted about its progress.

There is a lot you can do to make your plants comfortable and provide a healthy environment for their growth. This dramatically reduces stem rot and root rot issues as well as the risk of developing diseases such as Fusarium Wilt.

To know more about orchid diseases and pest infections and their treatment, read my post, How to save your orchids from pests and diseases.

Orchids are resilient, and you will find them responding very well to seemingly small, yet important initiatives on your part, such as cleaning up of leaves, removing dried sheaths and cutting away dead roots, dividing the plants if they have outgrown their pots, and also cutting away old canes or pseudobulbs that are done with blooming.

All of these will give them a new lease of life and encourage them to focus their energy in putting on their best show during their bloom cycle. To know more about care tips for your orchids, read my post, 5 Basic care tips for your orchids.

Healthy growth conditions lead to a good bloom cycle

So make such projects a part of your orchid care regimen to provide them with healthy conditions for their growth.

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!


Project#2: Mounting your Tolumnia orchid on wood

One of the most fascinating aspects of growing an orchid is that you can get as creative as you like and mount them on various substrates such as wood, bark, coconut coir shells, rocks and any other textured surfaces such as ceramic mounts. Your orchids will take to this arrangement like a duck to water, and there is very little that can go wrong in this near-natural environment that you would be providing.

In their natural habitat, orchids grow as epiphytes on tree branches and trunks, as lithophytes on rocks and in between chinks in the rocks. You also find ground or terrestrial orchids that grow in soil. It is this diversity in their growth habitat that gives rise to a host of exciting possibilities. You just need imagination to experiment with new ways and learn about what suits your orchids well.

Mounting Tolumnia orchids

Growing orchids by mounting them on a suitable substrate can be creatively satisfying. They serve as excellent display pieces even when your orchids are not blooming. Lush, healthy well-fed leaves and pseudobulbs on a backdrop of textured cork or a wood mount of any kind, creates a unique, natural display. I personally believe this to be a very thrilling aspect of growing orchids, making it a highly creative experience and taking the feel-good factor of this delightful hobby, a notch higher.

Let us begin by understanding what a mount is. A mount is any textured surface on which an orchid can attach itself to and grow. It may be in the form of a rugged wood mount, a rock with an interesting shape and texture or even a coconut coir shell. You may hang it vertically, or you can place it in a shallow bowl or tray, and even in a vase with driftwood to make the most amazing displays.

Now, depending on the type of orchid, you can select the option most suitable for its growth. Always try to mimic its natural habitat. For example, thick rooted orchids like phalaenopsis are relatively more resistant to root burn and dessication than thin rooted orchids like oncidiums and dendrobiums. So they can adapt pretty well to growing them on coconut coir and shells. On the other hand, oncidiums and tolumnia or equitant orchids grow well on wood mounts. Cattleya, especially the nobilior and walkeriana varieties, grow reasonably well on both wood mounts and rocks as these are commonly found growing on trees as well as lime plateaus and moss-covered rocks in Brazil.

Pros and cons of mounting your orchids

ProsCons
1.Wood mounts provide a near natural environment for growing your orchids.Requires good quality cork or durable wood mounts that do not rot or disintegrate due to daily wetting/soaking. Cork mounts are best suited for mounting, but can be expensive. You can look for inexpensive substitutes for cork from within your locality.
2.Roots attach firmly to the mount and make the orchid feel secure, promoting healthy growth.Firmly attached roots pose a problem if you need to change the mount when the orchid outgrows its mounts. The roots get destroyed on unmounting. So it would be better to choose mount size based on the rate of growth of your orchid and the surface area it requires to spread out.
3.Chances of disease and rot significantly reduce due to quick drying out between waterings.Requires frequent or everyday watering, which can be tedious. So if you enjoy watering and have the time for it, then this is a great way to grow your orchids.
4.Occupy less space and can be accommodated on walls and vertical structures.Frequent handling for daily watering can increase the risk of mechanical damage to plants. The risk of infection spreading through open wounds and bruises makes them susceptible to rot, leading to their deterioration.
5.Aesthetically pleasing and makes for beautiful displays with or without blooms.You will love your wood mounts, but the daily watering schedule can take a toll on you if you have a large number of wood mounts in your collection. You will need to dedicate time every day for watering them. It’s always good to keep the numbers smaller by choosing hardy ones for mounting. You can also increase the amount of moss for mounting your orchids so that they provide a humid environment over a longer period. This will also allow you to wet the mount quickly and put it back. You need not soak the mounts. This can reduce your watering time to a great extent.

Project#2: Mounting your tolumnia orchid on a locally sourced wood mount

Mounted Tolumnia

From time to time, I take up mounting projects for select orchids, but usually plan them just before the beginning of the rainy season. The reason being that rain water brings out the best in orchids and they respond very well by putting out new growths and roots in abundance throughout the rainy season.

Therefore, the process of adapting to the new surroundings happens much more smoothly, without increasing your anxiety over delayed rooting and attachment. Once the roots get firmly attached, the orchid begins growing new pseudobulbs and leaves, and begins preparing for a healthy bloom cycle from its mature pseudobulbs.

For demonstration purposes, I have chosen a Tolumnia orchid, which is one of my favourite orchid groups, due to their compact size, beautiful, lush green fans and to top it all, the most amazing and vibrant coloured flowers that continue to sequentially bloom from the same spike.

Besides, Tolumnia orchids prefer to grow on surfaces such as mounts as opposed to growing within a pot with medium. While they grow equally well within pots, they need to be carefully watered so that they don’t remain in a soggy environment for long, which creates a conducive environment for bacterial  and fungal rot.

Tolumnia orchids prefer moisture, but also like to dry out between waterings. The fans are susceptible to rotting when grown upright. Growing them on vertical mounts ensures that water does not remain trapped in between the leaves and fans, thereby minimising the chances of rotting.

Along with these factors, there are other considerations such as the structure, size, growth habit, rate of growth and multi-directional growth or unidirectional growth, etc., which needs to be taken into account for selecting the most suitable type of mount for your orchid.

If you do not wish to wait for the rains before mounting, you can go ahead and mount it right away. Orchids develop new growths as the cold winter days recede. Check when your orchid develops new growths. This is the best time for making the transition to the mount as the new growths will very soon produce new roots that will attach the orchid firmly to the wood mount. This will also help the orchid adapt faster to the new grow environment and will ensure the bloom cycle does not get majorly affected due to a setback.

Choosing your mount and preparing it for mounting

Requirements for mounting your orchid

Once you have decided on your orchid, now you need to find a suitable mount. Fortunately, Tolumnia orchids are small in size and therefore require small sized mounts. I however, like to mount different coloured Tolumnia orchids on a large size mount (community planting). This will create amazing bloom displays, something akin to the flower shikara or boat on the Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir, India!

So I chose a long cylindrical piece of dried wood, which I could either stick into a vase or lay it down like a wood log, on which the orchids would grow. I boiled it for a few minutes, which killed all germs and insects growing in the bark.

Select an area on the mount that will provide an aesthetically pleasing background for your mount and will allow it to feel at home and comfortably grow. Since Tolumnia orchids develop multiple growths or fans in all directions, you need to place the orchid on the centre of the mount. Gradually, its new growths will help it grow into a bushy clump and spread in all directions.

If you wish to vertically hang the mount, then drill a hole and make a hook with a metal wire of 10 gauge thickness. I prefer to make it a horizontal display or stick it vertically into a vase, so I gave this step a skip.

Apart from these major items, you will also need a cutter, tweezers,  sewing thread, moss, metal wire for making a hook, plant label, 3% hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol and flamer as well as 10% bleach.

The tweezers,ers are very handy for cleaning up orchids or separating out dead roots and cutting the. You can gain access to narrow crevices between the gtowths. I bought this set of four tweezers from Amazon. You can check out the same here.

How to mount the Tolumnia orchid – a step by step guide

Unpot your tolumnia
Teasing the medium out of the orchid roots with a pair of tweezers
Wind the thread diagonally to secure the orchid upright
All done up and ready
Get creative for a fabulous display
  1. Sterilize the work area by rubbing it with 10% bleach swab. Allow to dry.
  2. Wet the orchid and unpot it gently, without damaging its delicate hairy roots. Remove all pieces of media stuck to its roots. Wash the roots to remove traces of old media and check for any dead roots that are papery, flat, blackened or mushy.
  3. Sterilize the cutter by wiping it with rubbing alcohol and flaming it to kill any harmful germs that could get transferred to this orchid. Cool the cutter and cut the dead roots off, leaving behind only the good, healthy roots.
  4. Spray 3% hydrogen peroxide on the roots and keep the orchid aside for ten minutes.
  5. Take the wood mount that has been sterilised to kill any insects and microbes, and place it on the work area.
  6. Make a tiny bed for the orchid at the desired place by placing a little bit of moss and placing the tolumnia on it. Spread out the roots in all directions. Cover the roots with more strands of sphagnum moss and secure with your fingers, holding the plant and moss in the desired position.
  7. Use a long twine or raffia tape or sewing thread in a neutral colour to secure the orchid in place by repeatedly winding it around the moss. To secure a plant upright in the desired position, wind the thread diagonally to make the figure 8. This will hold the plant firmly in place. Tie up multiple knots to ensure the binding doesn’t open up. Cut off the loose ends to give it a neat finish and also prevent it from getting entangled with other plants and objects.
  8. Water the mount and hang it up in a suitable place.
  9. Water the mount daily by wetting it under a tap. Ensure that only the mount/roots get wet and not the fans of the Tolumnia. Fertilize it once a week by spraying a mild solution of orchid fertilizer (110 PPM).
  10. Very soon, your orchid will start growing roots and will eventually produce blooms from the mature fans.

Community planting

7 Tolumnia on one mount

Since Tolumnia orchids are small in size and grow as bushy clumps, they are good options for community planting projects. Instead of planting a single Tolumnia, you could plant five or more varieties with vibrant coloured blooms to create a beautiful display. I tried this project by planting seven different Tolumnia orchids on a single mount and had two of them blooming at the same time. I am eagerly awaiting the time when all seven of them will bloom at the same time. It would indeed be mind-blowing, I am sure.

Getting a slice of the woods into your living room

Nature in your living room

I have realised, over the years, that growing orchids is just the beginning of a wonderful journey of creativity. You could elevate this hobby to greater heights by displaying your mounted orchid in a beautiful arrangement that will teleport you instantly to the woods, where these orchids grow in wild abundance.

Mounting your orchids and creating these displays will provide you with immense satisfaction, which will contribute to your overall well-being. To know more about this equation, read my post on 7 Reasons why orchids can help you beat stress.

On this note, I urge you to get creative and wish you a happy mounting!


Project#1: Why, when and how to repot your orchids

Repotting your orchids in organic medium

Repotting your orchids can be a simple task for most people. However, there are certain aspects that need special attention. Ensuring that these things are done right will help your orchid adjust that much faster to its new grow environment and help the roots of the orchids function optimally.

The cattleya seedlings that I ordered online arrived in the nick of time and needed repotting. So I have documented the same for better understanding of the nuances of repotting orchids.

Why should you repot your orchid

Repot to grow orchids in a better medium

There are several reasons that could lead to a decision to repot your orchid in fresh medium that is more suited to your environment:

  1. Orchid hobbyists do not trust the medium that their newly purchased orchid is growing in.
  2. Following best practice of repotting your newly purchased orchid once the blooming is done will provide the opportunity to inspect the root system, tidy and disinfect it, and repot it.
  3. You need to check for signs of pest (read snails, slugs, mealy bugs, roaches, fungus knats and the like) or bacterial and fungal infection affecting the roots, and treat the same before repotting it in fresh medium. Read my post How to save your orchids from pests and diseases to learn more.
  4. If you observe signs of dehydration such as dull, limp and leathery leaves (especially the newest leaves), then you need to unpot your orchid, find out the reason for the same and take prompt remedial action, before repotting the same in fresh medium.
  5.  Organic medium such as bark decomposes and sphagnum moss gets compacted, over time. So they require repotting every 2-3 years.
  6. Your orchids grow every year and produce fresh roots that fill the pot and start growing out of holes or slits in the pots. This is an indicator that the pots need to be replaced with bigger ones.

When to repot your orchid

Once you have identified the orchids that need to be repotted, there are two options that need to be considered. Check if the orchid requires immediate repotting (due to pest or fungal infections or any other reason that spells urgency), But this is often ridden with risks as the orchid may take longer to get adjusted to the new medium.

So you need to carry out a risk analysis and may have to consider a tradeoff to save the orchid.

Repot when your orchid has new growths

In case you can put it off for a few months, then wait till the orchid develops new growths. These new growths will very soon produce new roots to support it. You need to repot your orchid before these roots begin to develop, since these new roots are extremely vulnerable to mechanical damage or could even break off while repotting. This would definitely be a setback to the plant, affecting its growth and bloom cycle.

What kind of medium and pot should you use

Organic medium is a good choice

Now that your decision is made, it is also important to decide on what pot size and medium will best suit your orchids. You can accordingly select either organic medium such as a bark mix or use inorganic media like LECA hydroton for repotting the orchids.

I generally use organic mixes, but also grow orchids with thick roots such as phalaenopsis and cattleya in LECA.

I source my orchid pine bark from Amazon due to its superior quality. You can check out the price here.

The pot also needs to be selected accordingly, based on the potting medium. For organic medium, it is best to use a pot that is one size bigger than its current size (choose a bigger size pot if your orchid is a vigorous grower). This is important as the orchid will not be repotted for another two or three years unless there is an emergency situation that requires immediate repotting.

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

Since my environmental conditions are warm, the moisture from pots evaporates very fast, I prefer using regular pots for potting my orchids.If required, I burn some small holes to provide aeration. This provides me with better control to provide the right growth conditions to my orchids.

But if you are not gung-ho on DIY, then you can use pots with holes for your orchids. The transparent, holed pots that are available on Amazon will provide a good balance of air and moisture to your orchids.You can check them out here.

How should you repot your orchid

  1. Preparation

At the outset, you need to understand that repotting is not something you can carry out on-the-spot, in-a-jiffy, hurried manner. It needs to be planned and requires a little bit of preparation. This is why orchid hobbyists schedule their repotting so that it gets their full attention and time.

First and foremost, clean up the potting area by wiping it clean with 10% bleach solution. This will disinfect the work area.

Next, you need to sterilize your tools such as a cutter/pruner by wiping them with rubbing alcohol and flaming them if possible (Alcohol is inflammable, so take utmost precaution while handling it). Lay out the sterilized tools and materials like stakes, wire-ties and clips for securing the plant on the disinfected surface.

Use a container to collect the old potting medium and dispose it off. Take the required amount of fresh potting mix in a separate container and keep it handy.

2. Unpotting your orchid and cleaning up the root system

Before you begin unpotting, soak the orchid roots for a few minutes in a bowl of water. This will ensure minimal damage when you pry the roots away from the pot surface and medium. Remove the old medium completely, without disturbing the root system.

If there are a few pieces of bark/coconut chips stuck to the roots, then let them be, as pulling them off could damage the velamen (the thick coating covering orchid roots) and root, especially if the orchid has only a few good roots.

Cut off darkened, mushy roots

Clean the root system under a tap and place the orchid on the work area. Inspect the roots and cut off any mushy blackened roots. Leave the firm, pale yellow and green roots intact. Spray 3% hydrogen peroxide on the roots and allow it to sit for ten minutes. This will eliminate snails and their eggs. It will also kill bacteria and fungi and reduce chances of root rot significantly. You need not rinse the orchid again with water.

3. Repotting your orchid

Now that the orchid is ready for potting, take a suitable pot that is washed and ready for use. If you are using organic potting mix such as bark, sphagnum moss and perlite, then place a little sphagnum moss at the bottom. Layer with bark and sphagnum moss. You can add a little perlite to the mixture to ensure there is a good balance of moisture-retentive and well-aerated environment in the pot.

To pot up my cattleya seedlings, I decided to try out an inorganic moisture-retentive medium for the first time and mixed synthic, an organic material, in place of sphagnum moss. Sphagnum moss is becoming a scarce natural resource and so it is best that we switch over to man-made alternatives that are more affordable and readily available.

Potting in inorganic medium

I used LECA to pot two of the cattleya seedlings. I source  mine from  Amazon. Usually, I source the light and porous ones like the one here. But this time, I used the solid, heavy clay balls to find out their suitability for growing orchids. I will inform about my findings in a subsequent post.

When you repot the orchid in the pot, ensure that you plant it to one side and the direction of the newest growth is towards the centre of the pot. In the case of bidirectional growth, ensure that the orchid is positioned in the centre of the pot. Doing this will ensure the orchid rhizome does not extend outside the pot in a year’s time.

Orchid with bidirectional growth potted in the centre

Lastly, stake up your orchids to hold them firmly in the pot. This will prevent old root tips from getting damaged and will also help the plant feel more secure and put out new roots at the earliest. Label your orchids for easy identification. Water your orchids, so that the roots don’t get dehydrated.

All potted up and watered

With the repotting done, you need to now focus on watering and fertilizing the orchids right to ensure new roots start growing at the earliest.

Happy growing!