Orchid Growing FAQs

Different orchids have different type of flower and spike. So first of all, you should identify what type of orchid you have first. But let me assume that you are referring to the most common orchid, Phalaenopsis, since it does have one of the most conspicuous spikes.

The spike of Phalaenopsis has the ability to rebloom, albeit the flowers will be smaller and fewer in the second bloom. Here’s what you do if you would like a second batch of flower: use a new or disinfected razor blade and cut right above the second nodes from the base. A node is the little brown or green shield along the spike. If luck is with you, another spike will emerge from new top node.

Usually freely-branched Phalaenopsis is more likely to send out a second spike.

But if your orchid is relatively young, or is somewhat week, my suggestion is that you forego pushing more flowering from the same spike. In this case, just cut the spike at the very base. This will let the plant recuperate. Months later when the plant sends out another spike from the base, your flowers will be more numerous, bigger and stronger.

For non-Phalaenopsis orchids, you can just go ahead and cut the spike from the base as well.

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Some of us have this experience with our orchids: when we bought the orchids, the flowers are intense blue or pink, but in the subsequent blooms, the orchid flowers are no longer the same color.

It’s a little deceptive, isn’t it? The reality is that a lot of orchid flowers are dyed!! Growers injected the flower dye at the base of the spike.

Most likely, the original color of these orchid flowers are white (easy to dye). There’s no way for you to achieve the same intense blue or pink again, unless you feed your spike with dyed water too.

But I always like my orchids natural. Knowing where the color came from, the dyed version never attracted me.

How can you tell if an orchid has been dyed? They do have a certain look to them. The color may not be completely even, and each flower has a slightly different shade to them.

Also, you may be able to find a tiny hole at the base of the spike where the dye was fed.

Also, if you find a blue Phalaenopsis, then the likelihood is that the plant is dyed. There’s no naturally-occurred blue Phalaenopsis (yet); they are only somewhat purplish blue. Therefore, if you see a really blue Phalaenopsis, it’s not natural.

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It’s pretty convenient to be able to leave an ice cube on your orchid without moving it around to water. However, personally, it’s not something that I would recommend for a long term solution.

I always tell people to flush the medium when watering their orchids, meaning that pour water on the potting material until it’s thoroughly drenched. That way, the accumulated salt and material can be flushed out, and you can also ensure that the potting material is equally wet.

Watering with an ice cube has the opposite effect. You are just wetting the top of the potting material. What I found is that while the coldness doesn’t negatively impact the health of the orchid, the shallow watering is really the culprit.

Nevertheless, ice cube has a secondary, and maybe desirable effect. Many orchids require a decisively drop of temperature (10 degree F or more) to initiate flower spikes. Therefore, by putting several ice cubes on the medium, you may be able to fool the plant to believe that the temperature is really dropping.

There are proponent and opponent of the ice cube treatment, whether for the purpose of watering or initiating flowers. It works for me sometimes, but again, I wouldn’t use it as a sole way to hydrate my orchids.

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Certainly. That’s how orchids reproduce in nature. However, there’s a big caveat.

Majority of the orchids have both male and female parts, so they can self-pollinate. But to ensure a healthy and diverse gene pool, orchids are really designed to pollinate with another flower. Once pollinated, seed pods will begin to develop. Depending on the species, it may take months for the seed pods to mature.

Orchid Seed PodIn nature, the seed pods will split open by itself when ripe. Millions and millions of ultra light seeds will drift until they land on whatever surfaces they happen to hit.

The reason orchid seeds are so light is that they contain no nutrients to germinate and sustain baby plants. This is quite different from the norm in the plant kingdom–most seeds do have reserve to at least keep it alive for a while.

And because of this lack of reserve, orchid seeds need to find food immediately. Nature has the most amazing way to provide. Orchid seeds have a symbiotic relationship with a¬†mycorrhizal fungi. Orchids feed on the nutrient that is the result of the process and begin to germinate. This mycorrhizal fungi exist in the orchids’ natural habitat only. That means different orchids work with only specific type of fungi.

You may ask, “how do nurseries produce so many plants when the process is so particular?” You guessed it, human of course has some way to duplicate nature. But instead of going to scout for the specific fungi, we provide the nutrients that would be resulted from the symbiotic relationship.

After we harvest the orchid seeds, they are put into a disinfected flask along with a jelly-like substance full of nutrients. The flask is carefully sealed so nothing undesirable would be present. The orchid seeds will germinate if the flask is squeaky clean with healthy seeds. You may also need to transplant the little plants into another disinfected flask to allow more room to grow. With this method, many of the million orchid seeds in one pod will be able to grow into orchids.

Once they grow proper roots, you can de-flask and plant them into the appropriate medium.

From the time of pollination to the first flowering can easily take 3 to 6 years! That means if the orchid turns out to have ugly duck flowers, you wouldn’t know until many years have gone by. So make sure you are investing your time wisely and only reproduce with super winner orchids. And of course, if you know the genetics of orchids, you will have a better chance of producing gorgeous flowers.

American Orchid Society published a list of orchid seed pod harvesting time.

Photo courtesy of American Orchid Society.

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So you got your orchid while it was in bloom, and now you are wondering why it doesn’t send you another spike.

There are many reasons that an orchid doesn’t flower. Contrary to the unwarranted reputation, orchids are very hard to kill, at least in my opinion. However, it’s not uncommon for them to sit around with no flowers if they are not provided with a good environment.

Without looking at your orchid, I would suggest you pay attention to these three reasons.

1) Your orchid does not receive enough light. Even the least light-demanding orchids, such as Phalaenopsis, require light to flower. It’s not to say that they need direct sunlight; in fact, they very much don’t. Strong indirect light or soft morning sun is ideal.

One way to tell if your orchid plant receives enough light is to look at its leaves. While dark green leaves look beautiful to the untrained eyes, a healthy orchid that gets sufficient light should have light green leaves.

To rectify this problem, you should gradually increase the light level. Do not suddenly place it under much stronger light, as that may burn the leaves.

2) Your orchid has root rot. Overwatering is one way to cause the roots of your orchids to rot, and the orchid then has nothing to absorb water with.

When I say overwatering, I don’t mean you pour too much water in the pot. In fact, you always should pour water down the pot until water comes out in the bottom, so that minerals and fertilizers can be washed out. What I mean is that you water too frequently without letting the medium gets a little dryer in between watering.

Another way that causes root rot is over-fertilizing. If you use too much fertilizer, the roots will get chemical burn and die back.

To tell whether root rot is the culprit, check out the leaves and the roots. Your orchid’s leaves may shrivel due to its lack of ability to absorb water. For chemical burn, the tips of the leaves would be burnt. You may think that they are sunburnt, but if only the tips are burned, they actually are caused by chemicals.

Even if the leaves look perfect, the root still could be the problem. Push some of the potting medium aside to check if they roots are still intact. Don’t yank the whole plant out to check. Be gentle. Black and brown hollow roots mean they are dead.

If root rot is the problem, you will need to repot your plant. Follow the instruction on repotting orchids.

3) Your orchid needs more time. Unlike other plants that you might be used to growing, orchids don’t flower as much. It’s very common for an orchid to flower only once a year. Newly developed hybrids might flower two or three times a year, but that doesn’t happen for every orchid.

So even under perfect care in the perfect environment, you can’t expect your orchid to send you new spike every month.

Of course there could be other reasons that your orchid doesn’t send you flowers. For example, it might need a drop of night temperature, or it needs a shorter day/longer night¬†to initiate spikes. But I would start with the three main causes above.

 

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Most orchids are epiphyte, which means in nature, they cling onto the surfaces of tree branches and rocks. Therefore in the wild, their roots are exposed to the air.

But when we human grow orchids, we like them to be neat and contained. It’s really against the nature of these plants.

When your orchid is sending roots outside of the pot, it means it’s really happy and is growing vigorously. That is a good sign.

If you cut those healthy roots, essentially you are taking energy away from it and the plant is weaken as a result.

My recommendation is that you leave the air roots where they are.

One exception is that if your plant’s new growth is outside of the pot, and new roots of the growth are (or very soon will be) outside of the pot. In that case, your pot is too small and you need to repot is one size up.

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