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. Also the breeze following a downpour quickly dries off the plants, preventing collection of water and microorganisms in the crown and other nooks and crevices.

Providing an environment that mimics nature

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

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

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

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

Advantages of rain water for your orchids

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six care tips for your orchids during the rainy season:

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

  1. Prepare your orchids for the rainy season

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

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

Small waterproof bags can be used to cover the new growths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Ensure a good wet-dry cycle

While it rains 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Additional precautions to be taken

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

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

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

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

Give your orchids this advantage provided by nature

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

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

Till my next, happy growing!

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.

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!


Orchids and Wellness

Orchids bring joy like none other. They are beautiful and intriguing, and have the mysterious power of drawing you to their beauty. They are stress busters and can contribute to your overall wellness by evoking positive feelings of joy, enthusiasm and tranquility.

No wonder then, that the woods beckon us every time we need a break from the rigours of modern life. Imagine yourself walking through a vast expanse of green canopied woods, with the crunch of gravel underneath your feet and pockets of moss and fern covered rocks lining your path, camouflaging nooks and crannies. And in such picturesque surroundings, you chance upon a clump of beautiful orchids growing on tree trunks, branches and rocks. It would simply take your breath away!

What if I could tell you that you could create the same magic right in your living room? That would definitely be a dream come true for the nature lover in you! All you need to create this aura is a few orchid plants and the knowhow about their culture and care.

As a first-timer, you may have been gifted an orchid plant, or picked one in a garden centre, or decided to add one to your house plant collection. To begin with, you need to know that orchids need special growing conditions such as moderately warm temperatures, humidity and coarse media that provides adequate aeration to the roots.

If you are a gardening buff, orchid growing can be a breeze. They are just like ordinary plants, and in nature, grow attached to substrates like tree bark, rocks and other surfaces, which is why they are classified as epiphytes.

As a hobby, orchid growing can be extremely satisfying. While they need dedicated care and bloom, once or twice a year, it is the journey that leads to this blooming that can contribute to your wellness.

Kagawara Sandy Gold

You will very soon realise that the joy lies in the anticipation of the blooms, watching the plants grow, nurturing them and waiting for the first buds or spikes to appear. The joy lies in the excitement of discovering a new growth that has the potential to bloom, and watching it reach maturity. The joy lies in guessing whether a new growth is just another new root tip or whether it is a flower spike. There is also the element of delight, when you suddenly discover a flower spike when you are watering your plants. And last, but not the least, the unmatched excitement of unboxing your online purchase of orchids. The list could go on…

Of course, be warned, once you get orchid fever, you do not ever get cured!

As a beginner, you can get a headstart by reading up on growing orchids and understanding their culture requirements. Orchids have specific care requirements that will help them grow and bloom well.

Watch this space for more information and useful tips on nurturing orchids that will reward you with the most exquisite blooms.