Care tips for Phalaenopsis orchid spikes

Your Phalaenopsis orchids have begun spiking, and there is a lot of excitement and anticipation of a good bloom display. Why not? After all, your hard work and dedicated care is bearing fruits (in this case, flowersJ). But before you consider your job well done, there is more care to be taken at this stage to ensure you have a beautiful bloom-laden display.

Read on to follow these time-tested tips that will help you bloom your orchids successfully. Subscribe to the blog for regular updates on orchid care.

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

Developing spikes are a testament of the good care you have given your orchids all along. Special care needs to be taken of these spikes till they develop into blooms. When the spikes grow up to a few inches long and becomes thick and strong, you can train it to provide a display of your liking. If you prefer a more natural look, then you can allow the spikes to grow arched forward in the direction of light.

While these displays look beautiful, these are more suitable for spacious grow spaces and display areas. If your orchids are too closely spaced, then there is a risk of damage to the flower spike when you shift them or water them.

Also, if the blooms are large and the spike gets weighed down, there is a chance of the orchid tipping over. This can however be countered by placing the orchid inside a heavy ceramic pot. This will make it more stable and reduce the risk of tipping over and damaging the spike.

Alternatively, you can try staking the orchid spike. Once the spike grows to about 4 to 5 inches tall, it thickens out and becomes strong. At this point, you can consider training the spike to stand upright. The advantage of this arrangement is that it occupies less space and the risk of breaking a spike accidentally is reduced considerably.

Training the spike

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

To begin training the spike, you need to insert a stake vertically upright and with the help of a string, chord or flexible metal wire, you can bring the spike closer to the stake. Wrap one end of the chord or wire to the stake and make an adjustable loop that can be tightened as desired. This will exert minimal pressure on the spike and prevent it from snapping. Every one or two days, tighten the loop so that the spike gets closer to the spike.

When the spike touches the stake, you can remove the loop and attach the spike to the stake with the help of a tiny clip. Ensure that you do not press the stake with the clip and that the spike is loosely held to the stake. Also take utmost care that you do not place the clip on a node as it might prevent buds from developing from that node.

Fertilizing

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

At this stage, the plant’s nutritional requirements increase tremendously as a lot of energy is required to develop buds and good sized flowers. To ensure you get healthy blooms, you need to fertilize the plants regularly. Provide bloom boosters having a high phosphorous ratio. You can alternate it with NPK 20:20:20.

Also these new growths require a good supply of calcium and Epsom salt to provide a good bloom cycle. So ensure that you feed the plants with low concentrations of the same once a week during this period. This type of fertilizing will encourage branching of spikes and increased number of blooms.

Meeting light requirements

Adequate light influences the quality and quantity of blooms

Light is an important requirement for producing blooms. Phalaenopsis orchids respond well to bright indirect light and produce a good number of blooms when they get adequate light. The spikes develop in the direction of the light so place the plant in a direction that will produce a great display.

Shifting plants and changing their position frequently will give you a twisted unattractive looking spike. The result will be that instead of getting a uniform display of flowers in the same direction, you will find staggered displays that look lop-sided, and are not pleasing to the eye.

Protecting spikes from sudden temperature shifts

Sudden temperature fluctuations lead to bud blast in orchids

Orchids in bud spikes or bloom are extremely sensitive to sudden temperature shifts. They immediately respond with bud blast, i.e. yellowing and drying up of buds. So ensure that you keep your orchids in place that maintains a temperature conducive for their development and avoid exposing them to air conditioning out door units, close to air vents and close to sunny windows. Even a short drive from the nursery to your home in your car in the afternoon heat can lead to bud blast. This can be very disappointing. It almost feels like not making it to the finish line. So do be cautious of exposure to such fluctuations.

Protecting from pests and fungal attack

Pests can chew on the tender spike and developing buds

Your year-long labour will be rewarded when you get beautiful healthy blooms. To successfully bloom your orchids, utmost care needs to be taken of the spike while it is developing. It is tender, soft and delicate, so many insects chew on the spike and buds. Snails, slugs and worms also chew on tender spikes and buds. Sometimes, the entire stem of the spike is chewed off, leaving behind a stump, which can be a terrible downer.

To prevent this from happening, you need to check for insect bites on spikes and treat the orchids with a home-made dilute insecticidal solution made from neem oil, baking soda and dish wash soap (proportion – 2:2:1 tsp for a litre of water) . This diluted solution needs to be sprayed every two weeks. This will keep most pests such as mealy bugs, spidermites, scale and other insects at bay.

Spray the entire plant in the evening before last light. Allow it to work overnight and risne with water to remove excess solution. This will also ensure the orchids do not get damaged in stronger light or temperature.

Armed with these simple tips, you can be assured of a wonderful bloom season.

Till my next, happy growing!

Identifying flower spikes in Phalaenopsis orchids

Come spring and flower spikes begin to develop in Phalaenopsis orchids. There is always some guesswork involved in differentiating between an orchid root and spike in the early stage of their development. Read on to learn how to identify a spike from a root or new shoot.

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The cooler days of winter have begun receding and warm sunny days show signs of renewed vigour in your orchids, heralding the beginning of spring. After a slowdown in winter, towards the end of winter, you will find your orchids putting out new growths. The growths may be vegetative such as new pseudobulbs, or leaves and roots. You will also notice bud spikes and sheaths filling out, making you excited with the prospect of a good bloom season for your orchids.

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

Phalenopsis orchids or the moth orchids that we generally have in our collection are complex hybrids. They have been genetically manipulated to produce beautiful blooms in abundance. These flower spikes are induced by a drop of 7-10 degrees from the ambient daytime temperature. This means that warm days and relatively cooler nights will induce blooming in these orchids.

However, blooming also depends on a host of other factors such as maturity of the plant, its genetic makeup, health, adequate fertilization and exposure to stress. Bright indirect light also plays an important role in inducing spikes in orchids.

Sympodial orchids such as Cattleya and Oncidiums bloom on mature pseudobulbs, thereby making it easy for us to recognise when they produce buds. On the other hand, monopodial orchids such as Phalaenopsis and Vanda orchids produce bud spikes on the axis of the plant. These type of orchids also produce new shoots as well as roots on the axis of the plant. Therefore, when the first nubbings appear, it’s a guessing game whether the new growth is a potential bud spike or a new root, or even a new shoot.

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

While a bud spike elicits joy and excited anticipation, a root may not be welcomed with the same gusto. But I beg to differ. Roots are good news too. It actually indicates that the plant is making itself sturdy and strong at the base to withstand the weight of a long, bloom-laden flower spike. Only when your plant is fully secure will it push out a spike. So if you see the orchid pushing out roots, its’ only a matter of time before the right conditions will induce blooming in your orchid.

Spike versus root

Monopodial orchids put out new growths such as roots, shoots and spikes simultaneously. So how do you differentiate between a spike and a new growth (keiki) or a root? Well, there are a few simple ways you can predict whether the new growth is a spike or a root

  • Position of new growth
Spikes develop at the axil of the leaf, while roots emerge radially around the stem

Roots, apart from absorbing nutrients, provide the plant with proper support. To ensure this, roots develop radially from all sides of the stem, which then provide adequate support and strengthen the plant for a top heavy inflorescence.

Spikes, on the other hand, grow only from an axial bud. This is exactly the spot where the axis of the leaf begins on a monopodial orchid. Also to be noted is the fact that spikes generally appear at the axil of the third leaf from the top or crown. But they may also emerge further down if the ode has not bloomed earlier.

However, the confusion begins when roots begin emerging from the axial area of the leaf. Then you need to wait until a defined form of the new growth begins.

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

Occasionally, when the plant is not growing upright, and is slanted and growing in the direction of light, the bud spikes may not emerge from the axil of the leaf, but will shift slightly away from the axil of the leaf. This is seen due to phototrophic movement of the spike. It takes the shortest vertically upward route and emerges away from the axil of the leaf in the direction of light. This can sometimes be confusing to a new grower. However, in such a case, the shape of the new growth will help confirm whether it is a bud spike, new growth or a root.

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

One way to identify a root that has developed in the axis of a leaf is to check its direction of growth. If it’s growing away from the direction of light, or is pointing towards the medium, which provides moisture, then it’s confirmed that the new growth is a root.

In contrast, a spike will emerge from the axial bud, and will begin growing upwards in the direction of light.

  • Shape and colour of the new growth
Roots are rounded and have a glossy sheen, while pikes have a darker shade of green or burnished colour

As the new growth emerges, you can easily compare with other root tips to gauge whether the growth is a root. Spikes are usually a darker shade of green than the bright green or brown coloured root tips. Root tips are also shiny, pointed, rounded and slightly translucent when compared with spikes, which point upwards, are leaf green and opaque, with a prominent flat and mitten shaped projection. This differentiation in the tissue is markedly different from that of a root, which is rounded, glossy and has a silvery sheen.

Very often, spikes may have a burnished purple/brown tinge or may be burgundy coloured based on the colour of the flowers. So this can also help in identification of flower spikes. Roots also have brown or burnished tips. But this can be verified by comparing the new growth with pre-existing root tips.

Identifying a keiki or new basal growth

Keikis or new basal shoots or new growths also develop on the axis of the plant. These growths look similar to a spike since they are sheathed, but they do differentiate into leaf shaped structures at the tip early on.

A basal keiki developing on the Phalaenopsis schilleriana

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

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

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