Bush snails on my orchids – Preventive and remedial care tips

Snail infestations could wipe out your entire collection of orchids. It’s as serious as that. Repeated checks and timely intervention are key to protecting your orchids from snail damage. Read on to learn how to take care of the issue and follow preventive care tips.

Snails severely stunt the growth of your orchid

My orchids were attacked by bush snails recently, and it came as a bolt from the blue!

At first, I thought it was only one orchid, but on further inspection, I noticed tiny bush snails on other orchids too and was on my wit’s end trying to get them under control.

Fortunately, since I grow my orchids in sections on my windowsills, only a small portion of my collection was affected. The process of elimination continued over the next few weeks. I conservatively tried to eliminate snails without the use of chemical pesticides such as metaldehyde. Based on my experience, I am giving you tips on how to ensure that your orchid collection remains free of these pests.

Bush snails and orchid damage

Bush snail on my Vanda orchid

Bush snails are tiny and have a shell on their back. They mostly chew on new roots, tender new growths, buds, flowers and leaves. Loss of roots and root tips is especially worrying as it affects the nutritional uptake of the orchid, thereby preventing it from developing properly. This also affects the stability of the plant, which discourages it from sending out bud spikes.

Therefore, it is important that we eliminate the snails at the earliest. Check your orchids for chewed up roots and root tips. I did notice some bruised root tips, but always put it down to mechanical damage or assumed the tips dried up due to lack of nutrients. I also assumed that it may have been caused by insects such as thrips.

Orchid root tips chewed up by snails, whi h I habits growth and blooming

I was very much disturbed at the time as I was facing snail infestations for the first time in my five years of orchid growing. It so happened that it had rained throughout the previous night, and the next morning, as I surveyed my happy orchids, I was thinking to myself – ‘they look nice and healthy, and have enjoyed getting soaked in the goodness of rain……’

On closer inspection, I was shocked to see a number of tiny snails crawling all over one of my Vanda orchids, probably hatchlings that were nested in the roots of the Vanda orchid. Since it was raining through out the night, probably, the snails decided to come out of hiding.

I was shocked and terrified of losing all my orchids as snails spread very quickly. At that time, I thought that only one of them was affected as all the others looked clean. But I knew there would be more in hiding. So I decided to take care of the immediate emergency at hand, and later scrutinise the other orchids for snails.

The best thing to do in such a scenario is to physically remove the snails and make a thorough investigation to check for any more hiding in the root system. Since my Vanda grows in a slatted basket with cork bark chunks, I did not want to disturb its root system as I would damage a lot of roots.

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Remedial measures for snail infestation

Physical removal is one of the first steps to be taken in such a scenario
Sometimes, putting off repotting may cause more damage tha you can think

I immediately set about removing the snails that were visible. I used a Q-tip and an absorbent kitchen towel to remove the snails. The Q-tip worked very well as the snails clung to the cotton fibre. I could place the snails on the towel without worrying over them sneaking away. You could also use toothpicks to reach into narrow crevices and remove any hiding in between the sheaths and leaf bracts.

With the immediate threat resolved, I brought the infested Vanda inside for a thorough inspection. I did not want to treat it with chemical pesticides such as metaldehyde or with hydrogen peroxide as I wished to avoid their usage as much as possible. I left the Vanda as it was, and quarantined it from my other orchids.

Tracing the source of snail infestation

Having taken care of the emergency, I then wondered about the source of the snails. I have a dedicated grow space that is well protected. So the snails could have come along with the orchids I had purchased recently.

Normally, I repot my new buys at the earliest, but this time, since I was a tad busy, I decided to repot one of them later. I did not find any snails in the medium while repotting the other orchids, and the roots seemed healthy. With no signs of chewed up roots, I assumed none of them had snails. I needed to find out the source of the pest infestation. I resolved to act quickly to prevent more such pest attacks. I quarantined the orchid until I repotted it soon thereafter.

Continued remedial action to eliminate snails

Snails have a tendency to come out of hiding at night. Later, I checked on the infested orchid at midnight and found some more tiny snails close to its root system and the base of the plant. I was sure there would be more snails hiding in the root system. So, the next morning, I immersed the Vanda in a tub of water for an hour. This would help dislodge any left over snails into the water. As expected, I found a few snails in the water. I repeated my nightly checks and immersed the Vanda in a water tub every morning for the next week or so until I was sure that all the snails had been eliminated. I haven’t come upon snails since the last two days. I just hope that’s the last I see of them.

I also carried out similar night checks for my other orchids and found tiny snails on the Vandas. On immersing them individually in water tubs for about 15 minutes, the snails came out of hiding and began moving to the upper portions of the orchid that were dry. Using a Q-tip or cotton bud, I removed the snails and placed them on a mat. I repeated this for the next couple of days and now my orchids seem to be free of them. However, I would be checking on them everyday until I am sure they are absolutely free of snails.

I did look up snail infestation discussion threads on the Orchid Board, a few research papers and conservative remedial measures on YouTube. Some of the conservative methods included coffee grounds, powdered egg shells, diatomaceous earth, fermented yeast solution, copper tape, magnesium sulphate, garlic and coffee concoction and even sea weed fertiliser application. These applications create an undesirable environment for snails. I have begun trying them out one by one, and will inform you on what works best.

There were also the more aggressive methods such as application of metaldehyde pellets, iron phosphate and hydrogen peroxide, which I may consider using if the snails return in my collection.

Care tips to save your orchids from snail attack

With this experience behind me, I wish to give you tips on how you can prevent such pest attacks:

Immersing your orchid in water will force the snails to come out of hiding
  1. Keep a keen eye on your orchids and inspect them for pests every day. You could do this while watering and fertilizing them. On noticing something wrong or a pest infestation, immediately quarantine them and physically remove the pests if possible.
  2. Inspect your snail-infested orchid late in the night as snails come out of hiding at night. You can draw them out from their hiding places by placing a few cabbage or lettu e leaves on top of the medium. Alternatively, you can pla e a cup of scale beer or a sugar solution with some yeast in it. The snails get attracted to the smell of the fermented liquids and will fall into the cup and drown.
  3. Remove the snails from the plant. Repeat this until you are sure that your orchid is free of these pests.
  4. Use copper tape or sprinkle diatomaceous earth, coarsely powdered egg shells and coffee grounds to protect your orchids from snails. All these methods provide a physically undesirable environment for snails, thereby acting as barriers.
  5. If possible, clean up the infested orchid and repot it in fresh medium. This will doubly ensure that no pests are left behind. If your orchid is bare-rooted like my Vanda, then immerse it in water for an hour every morning. This will help dislodge the few remaining ones.
  6. Quarantine your newly purchased orchids and repot them at the earliest as they may carry snails in their medium. Commercial orchid growers face huge losses due to snail damage. Though they take lot of preventive measures and try their best to not send infested orchids,, snails do find their way into their collections sometimes.
  7. Provide an environment that discourages their growth. Snails thrive in a damp environment. So it is better to keep your grow area dry by watering your orchids every morning rather than evening. This will allow excess water to evaporate.

With this said, every now and then, the best of us will face these uncalled for situations. You just need to problem solve at the earliest and your orchids will be safe.

Happy growing!

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Fertilizing your orchids

Orchids require the correct balance of factors that influence their healthy growth. Fertilizing your orchids can be a real game changer if you get it right. Your orchid will be in robust form and will bloom generously during the season. The trick is in tweaking it to suit your grow conditions. In this post, I am touching upon the fundamentals of fertilizing orchids and giving tips on getting good results.

Aerangis biloba – first time blooms under my care

My first three years into the orchid hobby were spent on learning how to tend to my orchids. While I had a sizeable and healthy collection, the blooms were few and far between. My family even began convincing me that I had been duped by the sellers and these plants could bloom well only in green houses.

But YouTube offered many success stories of growing orchids at home, and I knew that I had to keep trying out new ways to increase blooming. I kept fertilizing my orchids once a week with concentrations of 200 TDS of NPK fertilizer, but it just did not seem to be enough. The few orchids that bloomed produced one or two flowers. That’s when I realised that perhaps they required more frequent application at higher concentrations.

I got new insights on nutrition for orchids by watching Rick L’s Orchids channel on YouTube. His explanations seemed logical and his orchids looked healthy and bloomed abundantly. I laid down a similar strategy for fertilizing my orchids. I fine-tuned it to suit my climatic conditions and my orchids are responding well by producing more blooms with each passing season.

However, I have achieved results after experimenting repeatedly. I am sharing my insights and tips on applying fertilisers that helped improve blooming.

Basic orchid care comes before fine-tuning your fertilising routine

Cattleya labiata Coerulea blooming for the first time

Getting a beautiful bloom show is every orchid lover’s dream. And while some orchids put on their best show without any special care, the majority of orchids, especially cultivated hybrids, require the right balance of light, moisture, temperature and nutrition to coax them to bloom. From my experience as an orchid hobbyist, I have realised that missing out on even one of the above mentioned factors will affect the outcome of an entire year’s care. So when we talk about fertilising your orchids, it is utmost important that you do not overlook basic factors such as suitable light, moisture and temperature to achieve good results.

Orchids are mostly epiphytic, and in their native environment depend on the trees on which they grow to provide them with nutrition – not as parasites sucking the sap of the tree, but by absorbing the the bird and insect droppings that run down the trees along with rain water. Rain water, which is rich in Vitamin B12 producing bacteria and fungi, also helps the orchids absorb these nutrients, thereby optimally meeting their requirement of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. Along with these, Calcium, Magnesium and other trace micronutrients are also made available to the orchid.

When there are no rains, the aerial roots absorb moisture from the air and thereby help the orchid survive. The orchids also have thick fleshy pseudobulbs and leaves, which serve as reservoirs of stored energy. This is used up by the orchid to grow and bloom during periods of drought.

With this understanding, we need to now provide nutrition in similar ways and mimic nature. Of course, with the growing number of special hybrids, the need for fertilising year round has become a norm as these orchids produce large blooms and also have more number of spikes and blooms. However, the basic principles remain the same, wherein the orchid requires maximum nutrition during its growth period and the stored nutrients get utilised during the bloom period. However opinions differ and some hobbyists continue to feed minimally or normally even while they are in bloom.

About orchid fertilisers

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

Orchids need to be fertilised when they are in vegetative growth. This is crucial for their proper development and blooming. So when you observe new leaf or root growth or the development of a bud spike or new shoot, then you need to feed it with fertiliser to meet its increasing requirement for growing new tissue.

To this end, we should apply a fertiliser that is rich in basic building blocks such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium as well as Calcium, Magnesium and other trace micronutrients. Most fertilisers have these components in a form that can be easily absorbed by orchids.

Orchid fertilisers can be grouped into Chemical and Organic fertilisers. Chemical fertilisers are those that are manufactured in an industrial process and are in a chemically pure form, either in a powder form or as a solution. Examples of these are NPK 20:20:20 and solutions of Calcium Nitrate and Magnesium Sulphate (Cal-Mag).

Organic fertilisers, on the other hand, are made from plant or animal matter and even their excreta. These substances are in the form of bio-compounds that need to be further broken down by microbes in the medium to get absorbed by the plants. Examples are sea weed kelp, fish fertiliser and other home-made fertilisers such as soaked rice water, green tea extract, garlic extract, banana peel extract, diluted coconut water etc.

While the above fertilizers enhance vegetative growth, commercial growers use bloom booster fertilizers to improve bloom production. This is an NPK type of fertilizer with a lower proportion of Phosphorus. However, speaking from personal experience, applying bloom boosters has not enhanced blooming in my orchids. In fact, my orchids began blooming well when I eliminated bloom boosters. NPK 20:20:20 application helped my orchids bloom just as well.

How often should you fertilise?

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

Well, there is no one-size fits-all answer to this question. It all depends on your climatic conditions, your grow area – whether indoor or outdoor, your frequency of watering, the medium in which the orchid is growing, ambient temperature, etc.

Generally speaking, you can fertilise once a week, or you could divide the same dose into half and do a twice weekly routine, if you are watering your orchids twice a week. Remember to flush your orchids with plain water in between to avoid build up of fertiliser. Initially, I fertilised my orchids once a week, but that just didn’t get them to bloom. After going through Rick L’s videos on YouTube, I began fertilising my orchids twice a week below recommended concentration, but I varied the type of fertilizer I applied so that they absorbed different types of nutrients and trace minerals.

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

Applying the right quantity of fertiliser to your orchids

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

Having said this, there are some ground rules to begin with. Doing it right and understanding the basics of applying the right quantity of fertiliser is important. Following the recommended doses and frequency as advocated by the fertiliser manufacturer helps if your fertiliser is designed for orchids. But if it is a general plant fertiliser, it is always better to start with half the recommended dose and increase or decrease it based on the response of your plants.

If the leaf and root tips start drying out, it is an indicator of leaf tip burn, then it means the concentration of salts is too high. The quantity of fertiliser needs to be reduced in such cases. However, if the orchids show healthy development, then the dosage caters optimally to the plant’s nutrient requirement. On the other hand, if the plant shows no improvement in growth, and new growths die back or have stunted growth, then you need to increase the dosage gradually until your plants become healthy and lush green. These healthy growths will then produce blooms during the season.

Concentrations matter based on size of orchid, the thickness of the leaves and roots. Orchids with thick, spongy velamen and thick leaves such as Vanda and Phalaenopsis orchids require regular doses of fertiliser like a teaspoon of fertiliser in 5 litres of water. But for thin leaved and thin velamen-root orchids such as Oncidiums, Tolumnia, Catasetums and Bulbophyllums and others, the dilution can be reduced by adding half teaspoon of fertiliser in 5 litres of water. If the orchid fertiliser is not improving growth, then you can marginally increase dosage until these orchids start developing healthy roots, leaves and shoots.

When not to fertilize

You should fertilise your orchids during periods of active growth. This is usually during the warmer summer months and rainy season. Your orchids will produce new roots, leaves and new pseudobulbs. The right amount of fertiliser application will help in their healthy development. However, as ambient temperature drops down with the advent of winter, you need to minimally water and fertilise your orchids based on their growth.

There would be a few exceptions such as Oncidiums, which would start producing new growths. In such cases, you can continue fertilizing these orchids. However, a major portion of your collection would be done with the growth period, would remain dormant and conserve energy for the bloom period in spring. In such cases, water them sparingly and allow them to rest in a near-dry condition. Don’t worry if you see the pseudobulbs shrivelling. That is a part of their cycle even in the wild. Once the temperatures rise back to normal, the orchids will push out new growths such as sheaths, spikes, new shoots and roots. At this stage, you need to resume watering and fertilizing.

Do not fertilize if your orchid is not doing well

Another instance of when you should avoid fertilizing your orchid is when your orchid is sick or has undergone a shock such as a transplantation shock or sudden change in ambient environment. This could be when you buy a new orchid and bring it home, repot it or if it has some underlying infection and is therefore not growing normally. In such a scenario, it is best to not increase stress by fertilizing it during this period. Gradually, when the orchid shows sign of recovery and growth, you can begin fertilizing it with very low concentrations to begin with and gradually resume to normal levels.

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

With these fundamentals in mind, you can go ahead and experiment with different kinds of fertilizers. You can check out which ones are most suited for your grow conditions. Remember to keep it optimal. Your orchids will thrive and reward you with healthy blooms during the season.

Happy growing!

Six orchid care tips for the rainy season

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

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

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My windowsill vanda orchids enjoying the rains

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

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

I strictly avoided wetting the leaves and only watered the orchids in the root region earlier. I did face crown rot and stem rot issues. So I decided to make the orchids resistant to crown rot by spraying them down with my gardening spray pump.

I took this step as I have a west facing windows, which allow good air circulation. So if you do not have good air circulation in your grow area or do not have a fan to circulate air, then this is best avoided.

Initially, when I begun spraying water, I found water pooling in the crown even after hours after i was done with watering. So I used to tip the pots to drain out the water from the crown. But after some days, I noticed the orchids draining out water from the crown automatically. Talk about adaptation! 🙂 I have never faced crown rot issues after that, even during the rainy season when there is a continuous downpour.

Providing an environment that mimics nature

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

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

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

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

Advantages of rain water for your orchids

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six care tips for your orchids during the rainy season:

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

  1. Prepare your orchids for the rainy season

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

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

Small waterproof bags can be used to cover the new growths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Ensure a good wet-dry cycle

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

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

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

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

or any inorganic material that is non-absorbent, you can go ahead and allow them to soak in the rain during the entire season. Just ensure they dry up after each soak, so that no water pools up in the new growths and crowns. You can easily tip your mounts to one side to drain out any moisture that is trapped in new growths or sheaths.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Additional precautions to be taken

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till my next, happy growing!

Project#4: Tidying up your orchid’s root system

Orchids need a regular maintenance routine. Tidying up your orchids gives them a healthy environment, which prevents attack from pests and diseases. This ensures the orchid remains robust and is ready to put out beautiful blooms during the season.

In this project, I demonstrate how to clean up the root system of a lithophytic orchid (mounted on a rock).

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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 took its toll on the roots and they began dying.

Things got worse when I had to suddenly 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.
  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#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!


How to SAVE YOUR ORCHID from pests and diseases

A complete care guide on treating the most commonly seen pest infestations and diseases in orchids

You have purchased orchids and are tending to their needs regularly, looking forward to a good blooming season, but suddenly one morning, you notice your sprightly orchid not so buoyant anymore. And your first instinct is to check:

What’s wrong with my orchid? How did it happen?

How can I resolve this issue and save my orchid?

Your first orchid casualty will have you brooding over your loss. I remember being distraught during my first year as an orchid hobbyist and frantically trying to put things right, especially as my Miltoniopsis fell prey to rot issues, Phalaenopsis suffered crown and stem rot,  my Nelly Islers couldn’t grow in my warm climate, and my Cattleya were time and again attacked by scale. Not to forget the slug and spider mite infestations that had me on edge until I ensured that all my plants were free of these pests. Whew! That was indeed a lot of hard work.

As alarming as it can get, do not get unduly hassled. A lot of problems can be resolved easily and let’s not forget that orchids in the wild live on for 100 years and more and propagate without any special care.

With a proper care routine and timely remedial treatment, your orchids will not only remain healthy, but will reward you with beautiful blooms year after year.

Before we get on to the specifics of these maladies, I would like to stress on the fact that the more time an orchid spends distressed and diseased, the longer it will take for it to bounce back. These conditions also lead to a setback for the orchid, leading to complications such as bud blast and in some cases, the orchid skips the bloom cycle altogether, which can be disappointing after the hard work that you have put in all year round.

 It is best to react with immediate effect and apply remedial treatment so that its chances of survival improve significantly.

Regularly scrutinize your orchids and check for signs of stress and pest infestation or other types of microbial infections while you are watering your orchids, fertilizing them, repotting them and grooming them.

At the outset, let us understand what are the common issues seen in orchids and what caused them.

Common diseases in orchids and their causes

SymptomsType of Malady
Wrinkled, dull, limp and leathery leavesRoot system damage  
Patchy chlorosis on leaves, with undersides of leaf turning black or brownSpider mite infestation
Crown and stem rot (soft rot)Bacterial and fungal infections
Dehydrated leaves and lack of signs of growth; purple ring visible on cross-section of rhizomeFusarium wilt
Scaly spots and patchesBiosduval scale
Powdery white patchesMealy bugs
Leaf spotsBacterial and viral infestations
Black spots on flowersBotrytis – bacterial infestation of leaves and flowers
Strips and ring like patches on leavesViral infections

Below is a brief overview of issues commonly faced by orchid hobbyists, with their remedial treatment and cure:

ROOT SYSTEM DAMAGE

Limp and leathery leaves indicate root system damage

Symptoms: Limp and Leathery leaves with no signs of growth. This is a clear sign of a stressed out orchid.

Causes: Below are the most common causes of root system damage:

  • Root system decay – Often the bane of overzealous watering by orchid hobbyists, this issue occurs due to excessive moisture and fertilizer application, especially if there is inadequate aeration and improper drainage. These conditions encourage the growth of bacteria and fungi, which attack the plant’s roots and decay them, thus affecting the uptake of moisture and nutrients from the plant.
  • Inadequate moisture – Occurs if the orchid is subjected to prolonged periods of dryness between watering. This could also be caused by exposure to bright direct sunlight and air drafts coupled with inadequate watering.
  • Snail infestation – You need to be wary about this right from the time you get home your newly purchased orchid. Watch out for signs of dehydration coupled with chewed up roots and tender new growths at the base of the plant.                                    
  • Physical damage during repotting – During repotting, sometimes the root system remains stuck to the original pot and potting media, especially when terracotta pots and wood mounts are used for growing your orchids. You need to gently pry open the roots in such cases. This leads to bruised and broken roots, which become vulnerable to bacterial and fungal rot, when repotted in fresh media. If the orchid does not have a healthy root system, then it does not absorb adequate moisture, thereby leading to dehydration. Since the moisture is not taken up by the plant, the medium remains excessively moist for long time, leading to decay of the remaining healthy roots.

Remedy:

  • Avoid excessive watering of orchids. Provide a good wet-dry cycle as per the requirements of the orchids. Also ensure that the root system receives adequate aeration by using a coarse medium and perforated pots. To learn more about these aspects, read my post Everything you wanted to know about ORGANIC MEDIA
  • Orchids require adequate moisture and humidity for their healthy growth. So frequent prolonged dry spells between watering that lead to severe dehydration should be avoided. Ensure your orchid responds well to the care routine you are providing and optimise it to get better results.
  • Chewed up new roots due to snail or slug damage can be a big setback for your plant. Unpot the orchid and disinfect the root system with hydrogen peroxide and then repot your orchid in fresh medium at the earliest.
  • Roots invariably end up getting damaged during repotting. To reduce this damage, you can moisten the roots and pry them gently using a thin, blunt knife. To prevent a setback for the plant due to repotting, the plant needs to put out fresh roots at the earliest. So, unless the plant is unhealthy and needs immediate repotting, it is always a good idea to repot when the plant gives out new shoots and roots. This will allow the plant to recuperate fast despite the setback.

Pest infestation

SPIDER MITE INFESTATION

Spider mite damage

Symptoms: Spider mites live and feed on the undersides of orchid leaves, scarring the leaves. They can easily be detected by looking out for a white sheen on the underside of leaves caused due to chlorosis (destruction of chlorophyll), which turns rough and brownish-black later.

Caused by spider mite infestation during dry, dusty and warm weather conditions, spider mites are extremely tiny insects that are red or brown in colour. Look out for webs and scan for mites, which can be seen under a magnifying glass or you could zoom in with your phone camera and you will spot them moving about. Alternatively, wipe the area with a damp cotton ball and if you spot tiny red dots, then this is a confirmation of spider mite infestation.

Treatment: As a conservative treatment, you can spray a solution of 2 drops of paraffin oil with 1 drop of dishwash liquid in 500ml of water. Spray the plants to cover all possible surfaces. Ensure that the plants are placed under a fan to ensure that the excess liquid dries off quickly and does not pool in crevices, leading to further complications of stem and crown rot.

Another more aggressive approach would be to spray a suitable miticide such as neem oil, pyrethrins, azadirachtin and horticultural oil (pick one from your local horticultural shop or search for it online), paying particular attention to manufacturer’s instructions (use below recommended dilution) and taking adequate safety precautions. Repeat application after two weeks until the mites disappear totally.

Prevention: As a preventive measure, do not allow your orchids to remain in dry and dusty conditions. Provide them with adequate humidity and air flow.

SNAILS AND SLUGS

Young leaf chewed off by snails and slugs

Symptoms: Snails and slugs live in the crevices of leaves and sheaths and in the root system and come out at night. They chew on tender shoots and growths, leaving stubs, and holes in their place. Also watch out for a shiny trail left behind when they move around.

Treatment: Immediately repot your orchid in fresh medium and discard the old medium.

Before repotting, rinse the orchid roots thoroughly and treat them with 3% hydrogen peroxide. This will kill any snails and also destroy their eggs if any.

Prevention: Isolate the plant when you buy it. Look out for signs of pest infestations. Unpot the orchid at the earliest and repot in fresh media.

APHIDS

Symptoms: Look out for tiny insects that suck the sap by attacking buds flowers and leaves, and leave behind a sticky gel mass. Bud blast and deformed flowers can be attributed to aphid infestation.

Treatment: Try to conservatively remove aphids by spraying water mixed with a few drops of dish wash liquid. For a major infestation, spray Orthene or Safer insecticidal soap using below recommended proportions.

THRIPS

Thrip damage

Symptoms: Thrips are very tiny insects that are not visible to us. They feed on flowers, leaves and buds, and very soon spread from one plant to the other.

Unopened buds drying and falling off, stunted growth and deformities in buds and flowers with damp spots are common signs of thrip infestation. Leaves have a pitted, stipled, silvery or bleached appearance.

 Treatment: On discovery, spray the affected plants and flowers once a week with Orthene, Malathion or Safer soap with concentrations below the recommended dose, and repeat for 3 consecutive weeks. This will help keep these insects at bay.

Prevention: Keep the plants, clean and free of dust and away from trees that are commonly infested with thrips such as trees that produce fruits and flowers.

BIOSDUVAL SCALE

Creamish round crusty spots indicate scale infestation

Symptoms: Like spidermites, scale are sap sucking insects that live on the underside of leaves. They are often seen in the axils of leaves, on pseudobulbs and on the rhizome of the infected plant. Old leaves and pseudobulbs that are in dry and dusty environment, are especially susceptible to scale.

The female reproduces by laying about 200 eggs, which take 5-6 days to hatch.These are creamish spots that are circular and crusty. A good way to confirm this is to scrape the spot with your finger nail. If it comes off, then it is definitely scale.

Another characteristic symptom is the chlorosis or yellowish halo surrounding these patches. In due course the area darkens and the leaves drop away, causing severe damage to the plant.

 Treatment: If the infection is mild, then use a cotton bud or Q-tip dipped in 1:1 solution of isopropyl alcohol and water. In case the infection is more severe, then spray with below recommended strength solution of Orthene or Malathion. Safer soap solution can also be used in a similar way to get rid of scale. It is important to apply these treatment remedies at a stage when the insects begin crawling as they are at their most vulnerable stage then. For best results, repeat the treatment after two weeks. Ensure that you cover all nooks and crevices, under the leaves and axil area.

Prevention: Treating them conservatively with isopropyl alcohol early on will reduce significant damage and spread to other plants.

Keep plants well-groomed by removing dried leaves and sheaths, and checking all crevices and underside of leaves for scale infestation.

MEALY BUGS

Mealy bugs on underside of leaf

Symptoms: Mealy bugs get their name from the powdery white cottony substance that covers these insects. They attack all parts of the orchid from roots to rhizome to the leaves. They especially make nests in crevices and hard to reach places like leaf axils, inside sheaths and tender new growths and suck the sap in these areas. The surrounding areas show prominent chlorosis, followed by darkening, and subesquently leading to yellowing of the leaf, causing it to drop prematurely.

Treatment: Similar to treating scale, mealy bugs can be cleaned with cotton buds or Q-tips dipped in isopropyl alcohol (spot cleaning is recommended as opposed to wiping entire leaves). For severe infections, spray all plant surfaces such as below the leaves and in the axils with below recommended dilution of Malathion or Orthene or Safer insecticide soap. Repeat application after two weeks.

Prevention: Remove old leaves and sheaths to check vulnerable places like leaf axils and underside of leaves. Ensure new additions to your orchid collections do not have mealy bugs. Isolate for two weeks, before placing them with your other plants.

Bacterial and fungal infections

BACTERIAL SOFT AND BROWN ROT (ERWINIA)

Symptoms: First visible signs include moisture filled soft spots with a yellow halo surrounding them. As the infection progresses, the rot progresses rapidly and leaves fall off. The infection can spread to the roots very quickly, finally spreading, albeit much slowly, to the rhizome and pseudobulbs. There is a characteristic foul odor of decaying tissue and a water soaked appearance. Bacteria mostly spread through open wounds.

Phalaenopsis, paphiopedlum and vanda orchids decline rapidly with such infections due to the attack on leaves or crown and stem causing rot issues. They are especially vulnerable since they are monopodial as compared to cattleya, oncidiums and dendrobiums, which have multiple pseudobulbs on a rhizome. So the chances of saving these orchids is greater than those of saving monopodial ones.

Treatment: Unpot your orchid and discard the medium. Remove infected tissue using a sterile cutter and dispose of the infected portions. Wash the healthy portion of the plant. Pat dry with tissue and spray with 3% hydrogen peroxide. Let stand for 10 minutes on a sterile surface area. Seal the cut portion or exposed tissue with cinnamon powder, which dries up and seals the wounds.

Prevention:  Crown, stem and leaf rot are commonly seen in cases where water and fertilizer get into the crevices and axils of leaves. Avoid splashing water on leaves and pseudobulbs as well as the crown of the plant while watering the orchid. The disease is spread by accumulation of water and bacteria that are present on the plant, which are encouraged by hot and moist conditions. Periodic spraying with a copper bactericide and ensuring there is no water dripping on to the plants will ensure that the orchids remain healthy and free of rot issues.

Bactericides like Physan or a copper fungicide can also be used in below the  recommended proportions. Do not repot the orchid immediately. Allow it to remain bare-root for 48 hours. After that, you can repot orchid in fresh medium. Clean up work surface with 10% bleach to remove any traces of infected material.

BOTRYTIS

Symptoms: Leaves and flowers are commonly affected.There will be a prominent browning and drying up of leaf tips, which progresses towards the base of the leaf.

Flowers develop black or brown spots, which are filled with moisture on the petals and sepals that merge and grow, marring the beauty of the flowers.

Treatment:  Spray a systemic fungicide such as thiophanate methyl or a protectant fungicide such as Mancozeb, with below recommended dose dilutions to clear up the infection.

Prevention: Good air movement, general cleanliness, higher light and lower temperatures discourage such infections. Remove dried up and wilted flowers as these get easily infected and spread it to other parts of the plant.

Avoid spraying water on leaves and flowers. In case you do, ensure that the excess moisture dries off quickly by placing it under a fan or where it receives air drafts.

FUSARIUM WILT

Symptoms:

If you spot leaves that are yellowish, thin, shrivelled, wrinkled or wilted, you should supect a fusarium infection. This is caused by the blockage of movement of sap through the vascular system of the plant.

When you cut open the rhizome of an infected section of the rhizome, you will find a prominent pinkish purple ring surrounding the rhizome. This is the confirmation of the dreaded fusarium infection. Mildly infected plants can survive up to a year, whereas a severely infected plant may decline rapidly over a period of 3-9 weeks.

Treatment: The first thing you need to do without any delay is to cut away the infected rhizome and discard it. Repot the portion showing healthy tissue without any purple band surrounding it. Clean the healthy portion of the plant and soak in thiophanate methyl as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Sterilize all tools and work area to prevent spread of the disease to other healthy plants.

Prevention:

Fusarium Wilt spreads from one plant to the other through improper sanitation and handling practices. Therefore make it a practice to sterilize your tools and work surface before you repot your orchid.

More importantly, sharing of water is seen as the culprit that can rapidly spread the disease and reduce your collection drastically. When you water your plants, ensure that the water from the drainage holes does not drip over the plants placed at a lower level. This can also spread fusarium.

Viral infections

Symptoms: These infections are often characterised by chlorotic and necrotic lesions, indicating destruction of chlorophyll and rotting of tissue. There may be a characteristic appearance of streaks and rings on leaves. The virus attacks all parts of the plant.

Treatment: Viral infections are devoid of any treatment methods due to the difficulty in diagnosis as well as their tendency to mutate. On seeing these symptoms, the best course of action would be to destroy it completely so that it does not spread any further.

Prevention:  Transmission of viral dieasases is inadvertently done when tools such as cutters come in contact with the sap. Therefore sterilization by rubbing with isopropyl alcohol and flaming it properly for 15-20 seconds is an absolutely necessity to protect your other plants. Another alternative would be to use single edge razor blades and discard them after use.

Prevention is better than cure

As a general rule, introduce best practices in the care routine of your plants to prevent the spread of diseases to your entire collection.

  1. Routinely inspect your orchids with a keen eye. Observe for signs of root damage, dehydration and pest infestation.
  2. Isolate the diseased orchid and treat it at the earliest so that the infection remained confined to a single orchid and does not spread to other plants.
  3. Avoid sharing of water between your orchids. Devise ways to water your orchids individually or at least minimise spread by restricting sharing within a small group of orchids. This way, your entire collection will not get infected.
  4. Use sterilized tools such as cutters and pruners for removing diseased portions and tidying up your plants. Always sterilize your work area with 10% bleach before placing your orchid on it.
  5. Repot your diseased orchid using fresh media and sterilized pots after treating it. Throw away the old media. Also sterilize stakes, supports, clips, etc. that are used for supporting the orchid.
  6. Keep your orchids well-hydrated and fertilize them regularly for a robust growth as their chances of survival dramatically increase if treated in the early stages of onset of disease..
  7. Have the necessary treatment remedies such as hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, cinnamon powder, potassium permanganate, any systemic bactericide and fungicide,  neem oil etc. handy so that your orchid can be treated at the earliest.
  8. Stock up on supplies like potting media, pots, stakes and other material to treat and repot your orchid without delay to minimise stress to an already stressed orchid.
  9. If there is a risk that your infected orchid can wipe out your entire collection, then it is better to let go of the plant rather than risk downsizing your collection due to rampant spread of the infection/ pest infestation.

You can’t save them all; instead you learn and grow

You win some and lose some

Every orchid grower faces a few or most of these conditions at some or the other time during their journey as an orchid hobbyist. You will feel bad every time a plant suffers a setback or you lose it, as you have been caring for it like a doting parent for months or even years. Second, these plants are expensive and a replacement is going to cost again. Third, sometimes, these problems reduce your collection significantly, and this can be very disheartening.

But then, you need to take these losses in your stride.

Believe me when I say, for the very best of reasons, what can’t be saved, needs to be let go.

At the end of the day, it is well worth understanding that orchids can be easily sourced and replaced through your local garden centre or nursery or even through online purchases.

With every such setback, you learn and grow, and become adept at problem-solving through exploration, experimentation and DIY hacks. This is what makes this hobby so exciting.

Due to the large number of issues and diseases seen in orchids, I will be extending this discussion  in a subsequent post.

Till then, happy growing!


Everything you wanted to know about ORGANIC MEDIA FOR GROWING ORCHIDS

An increasing number of orchid hobbyists opt for organic media for growing orchids due to the close-to-native environment they provide. A variety of options available make this a fertile ground for experimentation to mix snd match to suit the orchid’s growth requirement. Aesthetically too, orchids get a fitting base  or backdrop to make the display attractive in a more natural way.

Orchids grow extremely well in organic media such as bark chips, sphagnum moss, charcoal, coconut chips and on 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 generally 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 media like coco chips and sphagnum moss.

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 orchid 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 chips and sphagnum moss. 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.

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 pine 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 nitrate and magnesium sulphate solution. This ensures that it is safe to use.

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.

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.

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 backdrop for 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.

Cork mounts beautifully offset your lush green orchids and make for great displays due to their textured surface. Also, a lot of my locally sourced wood 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 buy cork mounts and chips here.

To learn about how to mount your orchids and look after them, you can check out my post, Project#6: Mounting your orchid on cork bark

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 area 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.

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!


7 CARE TIPS for NEW GROWTHS on your orchids

New growth in oncidium popping out

Seldom is there anything more exciting than the discovery of a new growth or a bud spike on your orchid.

After all the hard work that you have put in over several months, your orchids will reward you by pushing out a new growth or spike. Taking care of these new growths will ensure that you get a healthy bloom cycle and derive maximum pleasure from it.

During winter, you can feel the pace of growth of your orchids slowing down and coming to almost a standstill, but do not be misled that your orchid is resting. Contrary to this, your orchid is focusing its energy into producing new growths in the form of vegetative growths of the rhizome, or a keiki (a new baby plant) that can be separated from the mother plant when it grows to a decent size, and can bloom on attaining maturity. Both these types of growths help in vegetative propagation of the orchid.

New growths, on the other hand, can also be either roots or bud spikes, the latter being a means for reproductive propagation of the orchid through pollination and production of a seed pod. Therefore protecting these new growths and facilitating their propagation, growth and blooming becomes very important.

Watch my YouTube video to learn all about care tips for new growths

Since orchids generally grow very slowly and flower once or twice a year, protecting every new growth, be it a vegetative growth, a bud spike or even a new root becomes a priority, as damage to any one of these could become a setback for the plant, thereby delaying the bloom cycle or in worst cases, giving it a miss.

In such an eventuality, it is only natural to feel dejected, but then, orchids can be very resilient and forgiving. For all you know, they may just take you by surprise by pushing out a new growth to replace the damaged one.

To understand why new growths are delicate, one needs to study their structure. They arise as nubbings on the rhizome and push out pointed, spiky growths that push their way out through thick leaves or sheaths and even rough growth media such as bark chips or LECA pebbles. They are tightly bound by layers of protective sheathing, which protects the innermost tender growth.

Roots too are covered by a thick, spongy velamen, which protects the thin wiry root within. Bud spikes, on the other hand, are delicate and need to be protected with adequate support as they grow.

Due to their location at the base of the plant and sheathed structure, new growths are vulnerable to:

  • Breaking off – They can easily get crushed or bruised or even cut off during routine handling.
  • Rotting – They can retain water in between the sheaths, which does not receive adequate aeration. This can harbour bacteria and fungi, leading to rotting of the new growth.
  • Drying up – They require adequate humidity and water to grow well. Water is important as it helps supply nutrients to the plants. Therefore, not getting these conditions leads to their withering off, or alternatively remaining stunted.
  • Undernourishment – When new nubbings begin showing up, it is visibly clear that all the nutrients are directed towards the development of these new growths. Inadequate nourishment will lead to drying up or withering off of these growths. In some cases, while the new growths may continue to slowly grow, their growth will be stunted and they will not produce healthy blooms, or they may totally skip on the bloom cycle in order to conserve energy for their survival.
  • Temperature fluctuations – This is especially relevant to bud spikes. Exposing them to even an hour of extreme heat or cold temperature can lead to bud blast and the withering up of the flower spike.

While these susceptibilities may project orchids as being very fussy plants, you should not get disheartened from growing them. They are hardy and can go on to live for 100 years and more. Rest assured, they are just like other indoor plants, whose new growths require the same kind of protection for their proper development.

All you need to do is be mindful of these 7 care tips for protecting the new growths on your orchids:

Look out for new growths

The importance of inspecting your orchids for pests, new growths, any sign of disease and anything unusual cannot be stressed enough. A good time to do this is to watch out for the first signs of new growths and signs of distress, while watering your orchids. This ensures that you take extra care to protect them from any bruising, breaking or wetting them while watering.  

Water and fertilize them right

New growths on an oncidium

While watering and fertilizing your orchids, ensure that you do not wet new growths that arise from the rhizome. Whether they are new growths on an oncidium or a cattleya, or basal keikis of dendrobiums or phalaenopsis orchids, ensure that they remain dry at all times as it is very difficult to prevent water from getting trapped between the sheaths. And even if water gets trapped, it does not dry fast, thereby providing the ideal conditions for bacterial and fungal rot.

A good way to prevent wetting these growths is to immerse the pot in a container of water as opposed to watering them from a watering can or tap. Take extra care to ensure that the water level is below the rhizome or base of the plant where the roots arise.

A lot of us are guilty of dripping water over new growths while placing back our orchids one above the other, leading to the loss of new growths. Ensure that you do not drop water from drainage holes of other pots that are placed above these plants. Keeping a shallow dish or tray underneath and allowing the excess water to drain off before placing back the pot can help you save many-a-new-growth.

Prevent sudden temperature and humidity fluctuations

One of the most common reasons for bud blast or withering off of tender new spikes is the exposure to sudden temperature fluctuations. So if you bought your orchid and kept it in a car that has got heated in the afternoon heat, or put your plant near the radiator or air-conditioning vent, or even when your online purchase arrives with spikes or blooms, most orchids respond to these stressful changes by dropping their buds.

So ensure your car cools down reasonably before placing your orchid in it. Within your home, place the orchid away from the radiator or air-conditioning vents. Also avoid keeping your orchids in direct sunlight or in an area that gets heated up by the afternoon sun. Preferably keep them in a well-aerated and humid place for optimal growth and flowering.

Handle with care

A phalaenopsis basal keiki

More often than not, it is our overzealous fussing and handling of our orchids that leads to the damage of new growths. I remember being upset when I broke a bud spike while clicking pictures of it. Thankfully, the orchid spent out a brand new spike in its place. But not all orchids are this forgiving. Therefore, it becomes necessary to handle them with extreme care.

Tidy up your plants regularly

New growths are susceptible to attack from pests such as snails, mealy bugs, thrips, spider mites and aphids. This is mostly the case as they are close to the base of the plant, which allows pests to hide in the medium. In the case of cattleya and oncidiums, it is always better to remove the outermost dried sheaths as these can harbour pests. They also soak up water and fertilizer, and provide a damp and soggy environment that promotes rotting of pseudobulbs, new growths and spikes.

Inspect your plants closely and spray them with mild insecticides that will keep them under control. Ensure that the plant is exposed to air drafts so that the excess moisture evaporates quickly.

Provide adequate support for proper growth

This is one of the most important factors for ensuring new growths reach maturity. New growths need to be trained so that they grow in a compact way and do not protrude or fan out. This ensures that they do not get bruised or broken by getting entangled or knocked about due to their awkward positioning.

Root tips are especially susceptible to bruising and roots stop growing if the tip gets broken or damaged. So it is always best to train the roots back towards the plant and into the medium, especially in the case of cattleya and oncidiums.

Phalaenopsis roots, on the contrary, are more difficult to train and may snap off. If the plant has a good root system, you need to take a call on trimming off or gradually training an excessively long or awkwardly protruding root that could cause potential damage to the plant by getting entangled with other plants in its vicinity.

Release new growths if they get trapped in sheaths

On rare occasions, your new growths such as buds, spikes and basal growths get stuck in sheaths and need some intervention from you to grow properly. Leaving them stuck in the sheath will lead to crooked spikes that will not allow them to develop and bloom properly.

So you need to study them closely and make a snip carefully in the sheath to release the spike. Do not forcibly pull out a bent spike as you could damage it. Instead, provide it with the space to grow freely and it may straighten out and grow normally.

Repot at the right time

If you are considering repotting your orchid in fresh medium, the best time would be when it produces new growths. Ensure that you repot the orchid even before the first root starts showing. Repotting after the roots begin growing may damage the tender root tips and prevent them from growing further. This affects the stability of the new growth and makes it susceptible to breaking.

To know more about organic orchid media and potting mixes, read my post on Everything you wanted to know about ORGANIC MEDIA FOR GROWING ORCHIDS

Take special care to remove any rough media such as sharp bark chips and rough pebbles from pushing against new growths. Also avoid packing media around new growths so that they do not absorb moisture and rot. Exposing them to air by loosely packing the medium below the new growths will allow excess moisture to dry off.

Armed with this knowledge, your improved care regimen will prove advantageous as new growths continuously pop up in your collection. Protecting these growths and facilitating their healthy development means that your orchids will be primed to bloom in the coming season.

Happy growing!