Winter Care for Orchids

Changing seasons need you to bring in modifications to the way you care for your orchids. Making small adjustments in your orchid care routine during winter will ensure that you get healthy and beautiful blooms during spring. Read on to know more about the changes you need to make to provide the best care suited for your orchids during the colder months.

The last of the rains have receded and your orchids have been thriving so far due to the increased humidity and goodness of rainwater. There has been a spurt of new growths throughout the season and now, as winter sets in, days tend to get shorter, and slightly warmer and dryer (due to the relative proximity of the earth to the sun in October).  Night time temperatures begin dropping and nights get longer. These changes in the cycles of light and darkness, coupled with cool dry breezes, induce changes in the growth of orchids.

Deciduous orchids drop their leaves when temperatures drop

In nature, orchids, after the rainy season, are subject to lower levels of moisture and humidity, along with cool dry breezes during winters. The orchids adapt quickly to these adverse changes by slowing down their pace of growth or becoming fully dormant. Deciduous orchids shed their leaves and survive using the energy stored in their canes.

What to expect

These climatic changes have a profound effect on your orchid’s growth and development. While the care tips for your orchids vary from season to season, come winter, and you need to regroup your orchids according to their water and sunlight requirement. This modification is necessary since various sub-classes of orchids have varied requirements.

Phalaenopsis orchids need a drop in night time temperature to develop bud spikes

While Phalaenopsis and Oncidium orchids react to the drop in temperature and daylight hours by developing flower spikes, there are others like Dendrobium and Catastinae orchids that go into dormancy during the winter months. Cattleyas and Oncidiums continue to push out new growths, albeit a little slower due to falling temperatures. This prepares them for the spring blooming season, when they begin developing sheaths and buds prolifically as the days grow warmer.

Getting familiar with these changes in different classes of orchids will seem complicated at first, however, being proactive about learning about your orchid’s care requirements will help you organise your orchids in such a way that you will find it effortless to look after your growing collection of orchids.

Making small adjustments in your orchid care routine during the winters will ensure that you get healthy and beautiful blooms during spring. Here are a few pointers that you would need to consider to provide the best care suited for your orchids during the colder months:

Winter care tips for your orchids

Reduced watering and fertilizing

Reduce watering and fertilizing to match your orchid’s growth rate

When the rains recede and autumn sets in, there would be a steady drop in temperature and humidity levels. The dry winter months have shorter days and longer nights. Less heat and shorter days coupled with night time temperature drops means that now the medium will not dry out fast. Hence you need to reduce watering.

Second, you need to watch out whether the orchid is in active growth mode, wherein it continues developing new growths, buds, spikes, roots, etc. If this is the case, then you can water and fertilize the orchid. But always ensure that the fertilizer is half or even quarter of the recommended strength. This will meet your orchid’s needs during these months.

If you continue providing full strength fertilizers, it may lead to root burn and the orchid has a high chance of developing rot issues due to the high levels of fertilizer and moisture being retained in the medium over a prolonged period. Therefore, always allow the medium to dry out before you water the orchid again.  

While orchids thrive in humid conditions, they do not like being potted in wet medium that does not allow the roots to breathe freely. Well ventilated pots with slits and holes along with proper drainage will promote a wet-dry cycle that is conducive for the orchid’s growth.

Seedlings require a moist environment, so maintain adequate moisture during winter

If you have seedlings in your orchid collection, then you will need to ensure they get watered adequately. Do not allow the medium to dry out fully before watering again. They have sensitive roots that need moisture for their growth. Also do not overwater them as this will lead to root rot.

Temperature and sunlight changes

Shift your orchids indoors if you have extreme drop in temperature during winter

If your winters are marked by frost, snowfall and extreme cold conditions. Then you would need to shift your orchids indoors or in more hospitable conditions with sufficient heating and even artificial lighting. This will ensure that they survive, and even grow and bloom, despite extreme climatic conditions outside.

If you are staying in a warm tropical climate like mine, with very little fluctuation in temperature and humidity, then your orchids will continue to actively produce new growths and buds despite slight drop in temperature. In such a scenario, you need not alter your care regimen during the winters. You can, at the most, reduce your frequency of fertilization since there is a drop in pace of growth in the cooler months. Also, the day-time temperatures are pretty high due to the proximity of the earth to the sun in October- November.

So your orchids need to be kept cool, moist, but not soggy, and fertilizing strength should be reduced in order to prevent root burn. I fertilize my orchids every fortnight instead of weekly as the temperatures dip a little beginning November. I resume weekly fertilizing in March as temperatures rise and orchids resume active growth mode. Moreover, I separate out my winter resting orchids and lightly mist them once a week if I find them too dehydrated.

Cool winter rest

My winter resting orchids get an occasional spritz of water that provides minimal moisture

Deciduous orchids like Dendrobium species and Nobiles as well as Catasetums drop their leaves during winter. This is a natural response to the changing season. Since there is very little ambient moisture, the orchid tries to conserve the moisture that it has stored in its canes (rain water and nutrients absorbed during the rainy season plumps up their canes). 

To prevent loss of moisture through transpiration, the orchids drop their leaves and stop further growth. Once the winter months are over, the warmer temperatures promote new shoot and root growth, and the plant prepares for the bloom season in spring.

Some of the orchids that require a cool winter rest are Dendrobium lindleyii, Dendrobium anosmum, Dendrobium aphyllum, Dendrobium nobile orchids, and many others.  Even Brassavolas and Brassocattleyas appreciate a cool winter rest for a good bloom season, although they do not shed their leaves. Their thin, long succulent leaves are structurally adapted to prevent loss of moisture though transpiration.

However, look out for signs of dehydration in the form of wrinkled leaves and shrivelled canes in your resting orchids. Lightly spritzing these orchids once in a while will be sufficient to keep them hydrated. Do not worry about the dehydration too much. Once you begin watering them in spring, they tend to fill out again.

A basal keiki or baby plant developing instead of a spike due to overwatering and fertilizing in winter

If you continue watering these winter resting orchids, then their canes may develop rot issues since the medium remains soggy for long periods. If they survive this ordeal, then they will produce a whole lot of keikis (baby plants or basal growths), instead of producing blooms. This would be real disappointing after all the care you have put in throughout the year. Therefore it is important that we refrain from watering them for at least three months during winters.

Medium

Use pine bark mix or a similar well-draining medium and ensure it dries off between watering

Since there is a drop in temperatures during winter, the medium tends to dry out more slowly than it would during the warmer months. Always water enough to keep the medium moist, but ensure it does not remain soggy. Provide good ventilation by mixing chunky bark with moisture retentive medium. This will ensure the right balance between moisture and aeration in the medium.

Use small size pots or pots with slits or holes on the sides for adequate ventilation. Also ensure that there are drainage holes at the bottom to allow excess water to drain out. In the case of orchids that are mounted on wood or any other medium, you need to ensure they get watered every day, unless they are winter resting orchids.

For more information on this aspect, check out my post on ‘Everything you wanted to know about ORGANIC MEDIA FOR GROWING ORCHIDS

When your orchids have new growths

Water and fertilize your orchids based on their growth rate

With a drop in temperature, there is a slowdown in growth in your orchids until it comes to a standstill in extreme cold temperature. Depending on the temperature drop in your surroundings, you need to observe whether your orchid is continuing to grow or it has slowed down. You need to alter your watering and fertilizing schedule accordingly. Reduce fertilizing if your orchids show a slowdown and stop fertilizing those that show no signs of growth. Continue watering them minimally to ensure they do not get overly dehydrated. You can start watering and fertilizing them gradually in a graded manner as the temperatures begin rising again during spring.

Keeping pests at bay

Mealy bugs are rampant in the drier and dustier months

As temperatures drop, there is reduced humidity. The dryness and dust that settles on your orchids outdoors gives rise to problems of pest attacks. Spider mites, mealy bugs and scale attack become rampant in the drier months during winter.

Keep your orchids clean and dust free by spraying them with a solution of mild liquid dishwash soap. Alternatively, you can gently wipe the leaves with a sponge or dampened tissue. Don’t worry if some moisture enters the crown. You can draw out the moisture using a folded or rolled tissue. Allow to dry fully under a fan or in the open breeze. This will facilitate quick drying and prevent rot issues.

Scale is also a menace during the winters

In case you have any of these pest infestations, isolate these plants and treat them with a suitable solution to eliminate them completely. You can use diluted rubbing alcohol to treat scale and mealy bug infestation and use mild soap solution with a little paraffin oil to keep spider mites at bay.

For more details on identification and treatment of pest infestations in orchids, read my post on ‘How to SAVE YOUR ORCHIDS from pests and diseases’.

Enjoy the blooms on your Phalaenopsis orchid during winter

With these handy winter care tips, you will be able to organise your care routine better.

Do subscribe to the blog for more updates and posts on orchid culture and care. Share my post with orchid enthusiasts. Do comment and provide suggestions and tips of your personalised care routine. I love hearing from you and will definitely respond to your comments.

Till my next, happy growing!

Project#6: Mounting your orchid on cork bark

The most attractive aspects of the orchid hobby are its versatility and potential for experimentation. Mounting your orchids on various types of substrates to recreate the aura of their natural habitat can be one of the most exciting parts of this hobby. Cork bark commands a premium place among the various types of mounts, not only due to its interesting rugged texture, but also due to its lightness, strength and long life when compared to other types of wood mounts.

While it’s no mean feat to mount your orchid on cork bark, knowing about this medium, using the right material for mounting, and its correct maintenance thereafter, will help you get the most out of this coveted material. So get set to provide your prized collection a boost in terms of aesthetics and fuss-free growing. And last, but not the least, give vent to your creativity and display your orchids in the best possible way, even when not in bloom. The effect is sheer magic. The satisfaction – guaranteed.

About cork bark

Cork bark – natural, rugged and long-lasting

While cork is known for its rugged attractiveness, it is the cost that is a major deterrent for orchid hobbyists.

50% of the global cork production comes from Portugal, accounting for nearly 70% of world trade. The bark is obtained from the Quercus suber or cork oak trees. The trees are slow-growing, with a lifespan of 200 years, and are ready for harvesting once they mature. Interestingly, the bark is carefully removed without harming the tree. The tree grows back the bark over a period of ten years before it is ready for harvesting again. The slow growth and a gap of 10 years make cork a costly material. A heavy import duty of 29.8% further makes cork expensive, which is why it commands a premium price.

Give your orchid the best possible home by mounting it on cork bark

Price notwithstanding, as you become an experienced grower, you will inevitably begin experimenting with different types of media and substrates, and ultimately consider cork or even driftwood for mounting orchids. The satisfaction of growing and blooming orchids as they would in nature, is unmatched, which is why seasoned orchid hobbyists take great pride in their collection of cork mounted orchids. You have to only look at the Instagram posts of ‘Romain Orchids’ or the You tube channel of ‘Roger’s Orchids’, to understand why mounting orchids on cork or drift wood can take your display to the next level.

Premium quality cork bark mounts

If you are looking for cork bark to mount your orchids, you will find it here.

The Upside of cork mounts

While cork is attractive in a wild, natural way, what makes it a preferred material for mounting orchids is its rough texture with crevices, bumps and holes, which provide orchid roots the perfect grip to attach themselves firmly. The medium is water resistant and does not absorb water or become soggy, due to which it does not rot easily. Of course, if it is maintained soaking wet for prolonged periods without drying up in between, then rot and fungal infections do set in and weaken the bark.

Cork is seen as good value for money since it is long-lasting and can be reused if your orchid outgrows its mount after several years. All you have to do is to remove the orchid carefully without damaging its roots, and mount it on a bigger one. The old mount can then be sterilized and reused for mounting other orchids.

Since mounts are hung vertically, you also end up saving a lot of space. This way, you can grow your collection comfortably without space constraints. Moreover, you can save up on expensive media, pots, and planters, which require frequent repotting, especially if you use organic medium that breaks down periodically.

Most important of all, since your orchid is hanging vertically with minimal medium, and has a good wet-dry cycle, the quick drying ensures that the risk of development of rot disease is minimalized to a great extent.

And the downside

All  you need is a spray bottle and a mister for watering and misting your mounted orchids

The downside is that orchid mounts tend to dry out rather quickly, unlike their potted counterparts. So you need to mount the orchids that tend to thrive in a quick wet-dry cycle. This means that you will be watering your mounts every day, sometimes even twice a day, depending on how quickly they dry out. As a beginner, a quick way to gauge this would be to be on the lookout for signs of dehydration. Accordingly, you can adjust your watering routine.

Daily watering could be a daunting proposition, especially if you are preoccupied with work, among other things. Fitting this into your busy schedule could turn it into a cumbersome task. Yet, orchid hobbyists are drawn to mounted orchids because of the sheer beauty of this natural display. To be able to recreate this near natural environment within your grow space and enjoy the resultant effect, makes all the effort worthwhile.

With a sprayer, watering  your orchid mounts is easy and quick work

But it’s not as bad as you think. There are a number of ways you can make your watering routine less tedious. Investing in a good water spray will get your watering done in very little time. Some orchid hobbyists add a little bit of extra moss  (loosely packed) and this keeps the humidity levels reasonably suitable for the orchid’s healthy growth. If you are using minimal amount of moss, then light spritzing of the mount with a mister later during the day also helps in maintaining good humidity levels.

What kind of orchids should you mount on cork bark

Aerangis biloba –  a compact and mature plant that would grow well on the cork mount

Orchid hobbyists are drawn to mounting their orchids due to the beautiful effect they create. The challenge of achieving the best possible effect is something that they deliberate on and choose their orchids with great care.

First and foremost on the checklist would be to pick an orchid that is hardy and can tolerate dry conditions reasonably well. Orchids such as Dendrobiums, Brassavola, Cattleya and species Phalaenopsis will do well on mounts. While Oncidiums need high humidity around their roots, you can grow them well on mounts too if you can provide them with good humidity by padding up with extra sphagnum moss. This can be done later once you gauge your orchid’s moisture requirements.

Second, would be to consider the aesthetics depending on the cork piece that you would be using. Larger orchids such as Brassavola, Cattleya and Phalaenopsis require larger bark pieces as compared to compact or miniature orchids. This is desired so that the bark forms a natural backdrop for your orchids, thereby enhancing their visual appeal significantly.

Third, miniature orchids have a charm of their own and their water requirement is minimal (a quick wet-dry cycle). So these orchids grow well on mounts. Tolumnia, Dendrobium aggregatum, Sophronitis cernua, Neofinetia falcata and Aerangis orchids, to name a few, look amazing on mounts. An added bonus is that they look great even when not in bloom. When in bloom, they appear very exotic and wild, like getting a slice of the woods into your grow space.

Culture

Mounted orchids need a simple and easy care routine

Cork mounted orchids require very little care, unlike potted orchids that require repotting and putting together a suitable potting mix.

The most important care requirement would be to water the mounts daily.  If your mounted orchid has thick roots such as in the case of Phalaenopsis, give it a good soak for a few minutes or alternatively, hold it under running water for two minutes. The velamen turns green when the water gets absorbed. After a few minutes, again soak the orchid for a few minutes. This will ensure the roots get saturated with moisture. This, together with the damp moss will meet the orchid’s moisture requirement. You can fertilize your orchids in a similar way once a week for good results.

For your miniature and thin rooted orchids such as oncidium or Tolumnia, you can give it a good spritz with a sprayer. That will take care of its water requirements. Excessive watering or soaking in this case will lead to rot issues. Also take extra care to avoid water pooling up in the crown of your orchids as well as inside new growths or sheaths

A general rule to be followed while watering mounted orchids would be to avoid keeping the moss soaking wet for prolonged periods. Allowing it to dry out fully before watering it again will ensure that the cork does not disintegrate due to prolonged exposure to soaking wet conditions. Use minimal quantity of moss for mounting, depending on the orchid’s moisture requirement. If need be, you can always add more moss later, if the mounts dry up too fast.

Hang your mounted orchids in bright indirect light as it is important for blooming your mounted orchids. Direct morning or evening light can also be tolerated fairly well by these orchids. During summer, you will need to check on your orchids frequently and even move your mounts away from harsh summer daylight.

Fertilizing your orchids can be done either by soaking the mount for a few minutes or by spraying it. Do ensure that you do not share water between your mounts as bacterial and fungal diseases could spread to your healthy orchids. I prefer spraying the orchids and saturating their roots for a few minutes and repeating after a gap of few minutes.

Project

Enjoying the sunshine and rain on my window sill

I have always wanted to mount my orchids on cork bark, but since it is imported from Portugal, it is not easily available in India. Experimenting with different types of wood mounts brought in mixed results. Recently, I treated myself to some cork bark pieces paying a hefty price. I was excited when my package arrived.

I spent time on choosing the right type of orchids to match the cork mounts. For this project, I chose three orchids – Aerangis biloba, Neofinetia falcata and Sideria japonica. All the three are small type of orchids and create a beautiful effect when mounted.

I was excited and full of anticipation even as I mounted the orchids. When I was done, I was thrilled and very satisfied with the results. While the mounts were expensive, the joy it gives me every day more than makes up for it. I eagerly look forward to the day these orchids will bloom. It would indeed be a dream come true for me.

Execution

Requirements:

Cork bark mounts

Orchids for mounting

Sphagnum moss

Fishing line or neutral toned thread

Mini power drill

Thick metal wire hanger

Metal wire cutter/plier

Method:

  1. Clean the cork bark by scrubbing it with liquid dish wash. Ensure that you rinse it off completely so that no residue remains. Allow it to dry off completely.
  2. Get your orchid ready for mounting by cleaning it up. Remove any dead roots and old potting medium completely by giving the root system a good rinse. Moistening the roots of the orchid will minimise damage to the roots. Dry roots are more susceptible to snapping, while moistening them will make them more pliable.
  3. Sterilize your work area by rubbing it with a surgical spirit swab.
  4. Place the bark on the work surface and check the positioning of the plant. Hold the plant and mount upright to get an idea of how it would look. Try a couple of ways and assess which one will give the desired result. Mounting your plants inverted will help prevent crown rot. Once you finalise the positioning, remove the plant and mark the place that you want to pass the wire hanger through.
  5. Use the metal drill to carefully drill a hole of the desired size. The bark is soft and needs to be handled carefully to avoid damage.
  6. Pass the wire hanger and press into a loop so that the mount is firmly held and does not flop from one side to the other.
  7. Now place the plant on the cork and place a small quantity of moss on the roots of the orchid. This will help in keeping the roots moist. Ensure that the moss is not too close to the stem of the orchid. The stem should not be buried in moss as it will read to stem rot.
  8. Holding the moss and plant in place, use fishing line or thin thread to fasten the orchid to the mount. Ensure that the moss is fluffy and not very compacted. This will ensure that the orchid roots get sufficient air to breathe. You can even add cleaned up natural moss patches from your neighbourhood to give it an interesting look. The moss will grow and spread on the mount, adding to its beauty.
  9. Wind the thread several times to ensure the orchid is held snugly in place.
  10. Tie double knots several times to prevent the unravelling of the mount. Cut off any excess thread to give it a neat appearance.
  11. Attach the label on the back side of the mount, mentioning name and date of mounting. This will help in keeping it concealed.
  12. Spritz water on the moss and hang it up in place. Avoid wetting the crown area while watering your orchid.

Mounting your orchids on cork bark raises the bar for orchid hobbyists. To be able to mimic nature’s unmatched beauty and bring it into your home is one of the most creatively satisfying experiences. The orchid hobby is supposed to be savoured and enjoyed. So if you have time at your disposal and the inclination to water your orchids every day, then go for it and enjoy looking after your cork mounted orchids. Your orchids will love it even more and will thrive in this new environment.

Update: The Aerangis, well -established after five months
Update: 11 months after mounting on cork bark
Cork bark provides a near-natural environment for your orchids

Click here to purchase premium quality cork bark.

On this note, Happy growing till my next!

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.

Please Like, Share and Subscribe to the blog if you find these tips useful.

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!

Beginner’s guide to GROWING ORCHIDS

Growing orchids can be easy if you know about their culture requirements. Found in the forests at the foothills of the Himalayas, Assam and in some parts of Karnataka in India as well as other parts of the world, these plants are epiphytes and grow attached to branches and rocks, soaking up moisture and stray rays of the sun that are filtered through the chinks in the foliage. They generally thrive and flower prolifically in warm and humid climates, which receive a fair amount of rainfall. But wherever you may live, you can provide orchids with these conditions by growing them under controlled conditions. 

Fortunately for us orchid lovers, providing these conditions is no mean feat. Orchids grow in temperatures that are comfortable for us to live in. So if our homes are warm and comfortable for us, they can also provide the ideal growth conditions for orchids. Finding the perfect balance between humidity, air circulation, moisture, and light will help your plants thrive and bloom year after year, bringing joy and feeling rewarded for the time and effort that has gone into their care. 

Listed below are the most important factors that will help your orchids mature and bloom once, twice or even three times a year, depending on the type of orchid:

Light

Light is a crucial factor, not only for the growth of your orchids, but also for blooming them. In nature, orchids grow on tree tops in diffused light, there are several genera like the Vandas, Cattleyas and Dendrobiums that require bright light for their optimal growth. On the other hand, Phalaenopsis, Oncidiums and others have lower light requirements. 

You may have often noticed that some of your orchids grow year after year into lush healthy plants, but do not produce blooms. This indicates that you are not fulfilling their light requirements adequately. Placing your plants in diffused or indirect light streaming through an east or north facing window will fulfil these requirements. You can also expose your orchids to morning and evening sunlight directly. If the leaves get warm in the sunlight, then it’s getting too much light. You need to move it to a diffused light area. PIf this is not available, you can invest in low cost LED panels to provide the same.

Humidity and air

Orchids thrive in a right balance of airflow and humidity

Orchids love humidity, and draw moisture from the air in their humid native habitat. They thrive in such conditions as opposed to dry conditions. As hobbyists, we need to constantly improvise to provide humidity to plants, based on the seasons. Layering the pots with moss, adding humidity trays, keeping a water fountain or misting your orchids with a spray, or investing in a humidifier will help in providing them with a humid environment. This will ensure that your plants remain fresh and healthy. 

Along with humidity, arises the issue of increased bacterial and fungal infections. To keep these at bay and provide a healthy atmosphere, it is important that the plants receive fresh drafts of air through good air circulation, especially if your grow space is indoors. In case of the latter, you can switch on a fan to keep the excess humidity in check and ensure plants do not become vulnerable due to long periods of dampness. If you do not want to grow them indoors, you can grow them on your windowsill, but will need to provide humidity trays layered with LECA.

Temperature

Most orchids thrive in moderately warm temperatures between18-28 degrees Celsius. Cool growers like Miltoniopsis, Dracula, Masdevalia, Calanthe, Cymbidium and many others prefer lower temperatures between 16-22 degrees Celsius. Providing the right temperature is extremely important for them to grow well.

Phalaenopsis bellina in bloom in December

Apart from this, a significant fall in temperature between day and night time will trigger blooming in these orchids. Orchids are sensitive to sudden temperature changes, leading to stress and bud blast. The blooms may also wither with even a short exposure to sudden shift in temperature. Reading up on temperature preferences of a particular orchid genus and keeping a watchful eye on how your orchids respond to a slight shift in temperature will help you gauge which is the most suitable range for their optimal growth and blooming.

Water

Simplify your watering routine with a portable sprayer for watering your orchids

Found growing on trees in swampy and wooded forests, and on rocky surfaces in their natural habitat, orchids have roots covered with a succulent sheath called velamen that draws moisture from the air. The roots, which are thin and wiry, then absorb the moisture from the velamen, thereby keeping the plant hydrated. It is due to this reason that orchids do not need daily watering (which definitely saves us a lot of hard work!), but can grow well by watering them once or twice a week depending on their requirement. 

More orchids get killed due to overwatering than leaving them dry for extended periods. A good way to gauge your orchid’s watering needs is to check their roots. If they are green in colour, then they are well hydrated. Watering plants that are already saturated with moisture will result in rotting of roots, leading to a major setback for the plant. 

On the other hand, if the roots are silvery grey or white in colour, then they need to be watered. A good way to water your plants would be to soak the pots for a few minutes until the velamen turns green due to saturation with water. Ensure that the topmost layer of the medium does not get wet. Doing this will prevent water getting into new growths or sheaths of mature pseudobulbs that are just above the medium and very susceptible to rotting.

Fertilizers

Fertilze regularly for healthy growth and a good bloom cycle

In nature, orchids get their nutrition from bird and insect droppings, which are carried down by rain water. Since the nutritional requirements of orchids are not fulfilled by the media/substrate such as bark, LECA pellets and moss, as opposed to the nutrient dense soil that provide nutrition to regular plants, there is a need to administer organic or inorganic fertilizers at regular intervals (weekly or fortnightly) for their healthy development and blooming. 

Fertilizers with Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (N, P, K, respectively) in equal proportions, such as 20:20:20, coupled with sea weed kelp, calcium and magnesium and other trace minerals will help your orchids thrive. The concentration/dilution in terms of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) can vary from 110 to 200 to 350 depending on the genera. It would be best to invest in a TDS Meter for measuring the strength accurately as orchids are extremely sensitive to root burn, which is commonly caused by higher concentrations of fertilizers. 

While these are the major factors for orchid culture and care, there are other factors I will be covering in my next post, such as orchid repotting, maintenance, spike and bloom care, supplies and expenditure, as well as growing your collection, which will give your orchid hobby a boost. 

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Please leave a comment in the comment box or dash off an email at contact@orchidanu.com if you would like me to cover specific topics of your interest.

Till my next, 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.