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.

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.

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

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.

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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!

Dividing and repotting your Cattleya orchid

Project#5: Dividing and repotting your overgrown Cattleya orchid

Being sympodial type of orchids, Cattleyas produce several new pseudobulbs that rise vertically from a horizontally extending rhizome. Within a year or two, they begin growing out of the pots, which is why most hobbyists resort to dividing their cattleya into back bulbs and newer growths. Both divisions can be repotted in newer and larger pots.

As a rule, I do not encourage dividing your orchid, unless warranted. A conservative attitude serves best in growing them into large specimen sized plants. So repotting into a larger sized pot would be the obvious choice.

But when you have space constraints  and do not want to have an overgrown, unruly plant, then it is best to take a more practical approach and consider dividing your plant into two divisions. The reason being that leaving the plant to put out further new shoots will only put the plant at risk, as all the new growths will grow outside the pot. Not only does this jeopardise the plant by way of getting bruised or tender new growths snapping off, but an unruly lopsided growth also looks aesthetically unappealing.

Dividing your orchid is a good option if you have growth space constraints

Recently, I was faced with this situation, wherein my Caulocattleya Chantilly Lace had some old pseudobulbs taking prime space in the pot, while the newer growths were extending awkwardly out of the pot. Going in for a bigger pot was out of question as my balcony grow space does not cater for larger pots.

Secondly, given that most of the pseudobulbs were done blooming, and that the plant is a vigorous grower, putting out four-five new pseudobulbs in a year, I took the call on dividing the cattleya, and repotting it, so that it grows well, and is safe from the risk of getting bruised or broken. The section with the older pseudobulbs that were potted separately, would also subsequently develop new pseudobulbs.

With this in mind, I set about dividing the plant and repotting the divisions as follows:

  • Preparing the plant for dividing and repotting

At the outset, I prepared the plant for dividing and repotting it, by fertilizing it two days prior to the project. Doing this ensured that my orchid absorbed nutrients and would be able to better withstand the shock of dividing it and repotting it.

Secondly, once I repot the orchid, I usually fertilize it only after two-three weeks. Doing this slows down the metabolism of orchids and leads it to a temporary state of dormancy. This slowdown in activity will allow the orchid to redirect its energy into recovering from the shock and subsequently put out new roots and shoots once fertilization is resumed.

  • Sterilizing the work surface and equipment
Sterilize the work area and equipment

I began the project by sterilizing the work surface by swabbing it with 10% bleach. I sterilized the equipment such as cutters and tweezers by rubbing them with surgical spirit.

The steel tweezers and cutters can be flamed for extra effectiveness, as this eliminates any microbes that may survive. Always ensure extreme caution while doing this. Also, keep the surgical spirit away from the flame as it is inflammable and could lead to accidents.

I then lay down all the sterilized equipment, as well as the stakes and string/wire-ties neatly, so that it becomes convenient to pick and use the right tools for the process.  

The tweezers are especially useful to reach into nooks and crevices and remove dried sheaths, tease out roots and separate them from the plant before eliminating the dead roots. This easy accessibility also prevents us from accidentally cutting off good roots or sheaths.

Tweezers are handy tools for removing dead roots and dried sheaths

With its great value-for-money offer, I bought this set of four tweezers from Amazon and highly recommend the same for your orchid maintenance kit. You can check out the same here.

  • Unpotting the orchid and inspecting it
A healthy root system can help the new divisions to thrive until new roots develop

In order to understand where to divide the orchid, you can make a rough assessment by checking out the plant.

However, do not rely on this method alone, as it could be misleading. A better way would be to unpot your orchid, remove all the old media and check out the rhizome of the plant. For all you know, the rhizome will give you a completely different perspective on the growth direction of the orchid.

On inspecting my orchid, I decided on dividing the plant into two sections, one with old canes and the other with the newer growths. However, this was not to be.

  • Assessing the plant and dividing it
Unpleasant surprise – the oldest pseudobulbs had begun to rot

Upon unpotting the orchid, I found that the rhizome was dark and moldy in two places. Apparently, it was suffering from rot issues due to the continued exposure to dampness and inadequate air drafts. This happened because the older pseudobulbs were at a lower level than the newer growths that were successively placed higher than the older pseudobulbs.

To know more about rot issues in orchids and their treatment, read my post, How to save your orchids from pests and diseases.

I quickly removed all the LECA (Light-weight Expanded Clay Aggregate) pellets, except for the ones stuck to the roots. I rinsed the rhizome and roots with mild liquid hand wash soap.

Doing this superficially removes dirt and also removes mold and other microbes/pests. It also helps in better assessment of the orchid’s condition and planing the best course of action.

When faced with a similar situation, if your grow space allows it, you could pot two of the best divisions together to get a specimen sized plant with multi-directional growth or you could exchange it for another plant or; even better, you could either sell it or gift it to a friend.

I  divided the cattleya into four divisions and eliminated the affected rhizome and pseudobulbs

In order to treat the same, I improvised my plan and ended up cutting the rhizome in three places and eliminating one old decaying pseudobulb. This gave me four divisions instead of two, each having two to four pseudobulbs. I wasn’t pleased about this development, but nonetheless, decided to repot all four of them separately and give them a chance to grow into four different plants.

  • Prophylactic treatment of the divisions

First things first, I needed to treat the diseased parts. Since the rot was superficial, I congratulated myself on discovering it in the nick of time, before the rot spread to the other sections of the rhizome. I scraped off the blackened rotting tissue from the rhizome until healthy tissue began to show. I again rinsed the sections and placed them in a shallow dish.

I scraped away the rotting tissue and applied 3% hydrogen peroxide to treat the root system

I then poured 3% hydrogen peroxide on the rhizome and roots of all four sections and allowed them to fizz for a good ten minutes. Doing this effectively kills the bacteria and fungi that were causing the rot. Spot application of powdered cinnamon at the cuts would further ensure the wounds dry up fast and reduce chances of reinfection.

  • Repotting the divisions in suitable media

I chose four medium-sized pots for planting the divisions. Since, the orchid was already growing in semi-hydroponic medium, I used pre-sterilized LECA pellets to repot three of the divisions.

Repotting divisions in semi-hydroponic medium

Using semi-hydroponics pots with a reservoir to hold water and nutrients, I positioned the plant appropriately, so that the new divisions that would arise, would have plenty of space to grow. I filled the pot with LECA pellets, all the while patting it to pack the medium in as compact a way as possible.

I decided to experiment with organic medium and so repotted the division with the oldest pseudobulbs in organic bark mix, along with strips of synthic, which is a moisture-retentive medium used in place of sphagnum moss.

The oldest divisions repotted in organic bark medium

I positioned the oldest cattleya division in the centre as I have no idea, where the new growth will emerge. I layered the pot with synthic strands at the bottom and topped it with a layer of bark chips. I repeated this layering till the top and finished off with a layer of bark chips. This will ensure there is a good balance of air and moisture in the medium, which will encourage healthy root growth. I placed a stake to support the division, and ensured it is held in the desired position by tying it up with a string.

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

All divisions repotted and ready, with oldest and youngest sections in contrasting pots to study their growth
  • Post repotting care of the divisions

I placed the newly potted division in my grow space and have been checking on them to ensure they don’t dry up. I will begin fertilizing them after two-three weeks, since this quiet period of inactivity will help them recover and establish themselves better.

To begin with, I will begin fertilizing with half the recommended  strength of NPK 20:20:20 (100 TDS), calcium nitrate and magnesium sulphate. I will also add seaweed kelp once a month to the fertilizer.

Watch out this space for updates on how each of these sections develop.

Until my next, happy growing!

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

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

A mix of old and new roots

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

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

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

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

Dead, mushy roots encourage rot

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

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

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

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

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

Project

Tidying up the root system of my orchid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healthy growth conditions lead to a good bloom cycle

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

Until my next, happy growing!