Locked Down with Orchids?

Hobbyists who now find themselves housebound have an opportunity to whip their orchid collection into shape like never before. Somewhere between the Victory Garden being planted and the flower beds being mulched, there is a sizable wedge of time that can be set aside for the “great move” in which indoor orchids are relocated outside. Tropical plants, after all, are happiest when they are exposed to nature’s breezes, humidity, and warmth. The “great move” can’t officially begin until night temperatures are at least in the mid 50’s which for most of us are in a month or so. 

But enthusiasts can get a jump on repotting right now and this will markedly improve the health of their plants. The simple process of changing the growing material results in a flurry of new roots and foliage.

Consider the ubiquitous Phalaenopsis, which generally blooms between January and April. After the flowers finish and the stems are cut off, this orchid needs to take a break and regroup for next year. Fresh sphagnum moss in the container encourages existing and virgin roots to extend deep inside and wrap around, thus, anchoring the plant in the pot and providing a solid foundation for new leaves. 

Other orchids do just as well being repotted. Cattleyas and Oncidiums tend to climb out of their pots so reworking the media and tucking the roots back in helps to get these plants reestablished. Paphiopedilums are just happy with the added attention which often triggers the emergence of a flower bud. 

In most cases, repotted orchids are put right back into the same container so that the roots stay snug and ‘pot bound’. Growers have a multitude of choices for potting media from bark chips to wine corks, though sphagnum moss usually gets the job done. Except in dire circumstances, only those orchids not in spike, bud, or bloom should be disturbed. 

While handling the plants, it’s also a good time to check for insects on the foliage. Sticky substances on the undersides of leaves may indicate the presence of scale, mealy bugs, or mites. Minor infestations are easily treated with rubbing alcohol and a cotton ball.

In order to execute the “great move”, a suitable outdoor location must be found that is particularly friendly to orchids. This step is trickier than it sounds due to the ever-changing position of the sun and the potential for occasional high wind. The payoff is great, however, and worth the effort.

The big danger to outdoor growing is direct sunlight which can cook an orchid in under an hour. Great care must be taken to temper the solar intensity such that the leaves are never warm to the touch. Partially shaded trees or mesh fabric are common filtering techniques.

Many growers hang their orchids though benches or tables can also be implemented as long as the plants are resting in heavy containers that won’t blow over.

Nearly all orchids like to be rained on which is why they thrive in the rainforest. The notable exception is Phalaenopsis which run the risk of getting crown rot if water sits between the leaves overnight. Thus, this orchid needs to be located where the foliage won’t get wet such as on a covered porch. 

Being locked down with orchids is not the end of the world. In fact, it’s a great opportunity to give the plants a little rehab that might otherwise be forgotten. The orchids are appreciative and will reward their owners with bountiful blooms in the coming months.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020 - 23:00