Sunday, December 25, 2011

Big Phal: A Minor Update

A small keiki opens in the front, with older keiki in background

     The third growth on my phalaenopsis "NOID phattie" has now revealed itself as another keiki.  This brings the total up to three confirmed keikis on my phal.  I am not yet sure what I will do with three more copies of this orchid after I grow the baby plants up to flowering size.

     In the meantime, the spikes are also activating many more nodes below the ones which produced these keikis.  These very miniature growths are still much too small for me to tell what they are, but since the theme of this orchid seems to be keikis, that's what I expect out of these newest growths as well.  There are about 5 of them.

smallest new growth

     My one worry is whether all these keikis are taking up too many resources from the parent plant.  I would hate to have this very large orchid reproduce itself onto death.  The big phal seems healthy enough, however, so unless I start seeing a decline in its appearance, I don't intend to interfere with however many keikis it ultimately decides to grow.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Oncidium NOID: a set-back

poor root health

     While watering my orchids the other day, I accidentally jostled my old oncidium NOID, and the plant fell completely out of its pot.  This exposed the rather pitiful current state of its roots, which is quite worse than what I had hoped.  Aside from the one longish root at the upper left of the picture, the plant's only living roots are the new growing tips.  Although the oncidium has been sprouting roots continuously for the last 2 months, they haven't been surviving.  I trimmed back a few rotten dead roots (long root on bottom right).
     The lack of roots and the ease with which the orchid tipped out of its pot both indicate that I had originally placed it in way too large of a pot.  To correct the situation, I searched for the shallowest pot I owned that would still be wide enough at the top to fit the oncidium's pseudobulbs.  The smaller new pot allows the plant to be more stable, and the smaller volume of media will be able to dry out faster.  Both of these changes should help improve the orchid's root health

comparison: oncidium in new, much smaller pot

     Since the pseudobulbs still have much more thickness than the ones on the oncidium 'the rescue' NOID I am not at this point worried about losing this orchid.  However I am disappointed that my 'NOID isn't farther along in its recovery.  I really hope the smaller pot helps, but the timeline before I can hope to see my favorite old orchid bloom again seems even longer now.

EDIT 3/29: Identified as Wilsonara Pacific Perspective!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Orchid Care: On Watering my Orchids

all I use to water my orchids

     Improper watering has probably killed more orchids than all other forms of neglect combined, and was the likeliest cause of death in my prior attempts at growing orchids.  Unlike most houseplants, orchids need to have their roots dry out between waterings.  Otherwise they rot.  Often by the time the leaves of an orchid start to look withered, the roots will have already rotted away.  The dehydrated appearance of the leaves only adds to the confusion, when over-watering caused the problem in the first place.

     Most orchids are planted in bark mixtures. Unlike potting soil, orchid bark mixes don't exhibit a capillary effect, so a dry mix on top can still be very moist just one layer deeper into the pot. (This is often all too true for sphagnum moss as well).  Orchids benefit not from the wetness of the media, but from the high humidity that the wet media helps produce in the air pockets within the pot.

fast-draining media is crucial for orchid root health

     All my plants have either a wooden skewer or a plastic stake in the media, which I use to check for dryness. I water at least some of my orchids every 2-3 days, although individual plants can go over a week before they need watering.  The temperature in the apartment, the room humidity, and how actively an orchid is growing all affect its water needs.

when the bottom of the stake is dry, it's time to water

     I allow my cattleya to completely dry out between waterings.  The  plant currently has a healthy root system, and plump pseudobulbs on its new growths.  If the plant doesn't get enough hydration, I will notice a wrinkling of the pseudobulbs and will be able to adjust the watering frequency accordingly.  With this one, I'm really trying to err on the side of underwatering, rather than risk damage to the roots.

round shiny pseudobulbs indicate a happy plant

     I keep my 2 phals slightly wetter than the cattleya--I water them when the skewers are mostly dry, instead of waiting for them to fully dry out.  I've noticed that the big phal seems to only need watering once a week or so; the bigger pot takes longer to dry in the middle.

     For all my other orchids, I wait until the skewers are partially dried out.  It's harder to describe this level of moisture, but it's somewhere part way between freshly soaked, and completely dry.  The paphs and oncidiums have thinner roots, which like to have a constant level of humidity around them.  The dendrobium victoria reginae is a wet-growing orchid (unlike most other dens which prefer dryer conditions). Edit(1/18): due to the declining health of the dendrobium, I have decreased the watering to paph level. Lastly the cymbidium is in full active growth, and using up a lot of water as a result.

     Since I don't know the quality or hardness of Manhattan's water supply, I filter my water through a pitcher before using it on the orchids.  I find myself needing to replace the pitcher filters every few months (or else they slow down to an infuriating trickle) so the filters must be catching something.  Some orchids are more sensitive to water quality than others, but I honestly don't know if mine would fare any worse with unfiltered tap water.  Ultimately, filtering is easy enough that I err on the side of caution.

     To water my plants, I place each pot into a bowl or drainless ceramic pot, and fill it with water up to the level of the potting mix.  I then allow the plant to soak for about 20 minutes, before I drain the water from the pot and replace the orchid on its shelf.  I reuse the same 3/4 gallon of water on all my plants.

The soak

     The only exemption to this process is my angraecum leonis, which I grow in a vase rather than in potting media.  Here, there is no risk to rotting the roots, as they are completely open to the air. I water my angraecum anytime I water any of my other orchids: every 2-3 days.  Edit (1/18): I now water my ancm leonis daily. I simply fill up the vase with water up to the very top, and let it sit for about an hour.  The roots turn bright green as they soak up water.  Then I pour out the water until none of the roots are submerged, but leaving a small amount in the vase to add humidity.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Living or dead: the root of the question

     Whether to assess the health of my plants, or for trimming while repotting, or just for aesthetics, I often want to know whether my orchids' roots are healthy or not.  While I could easily distinguish a fat green root from a mushy black rotten one, I would often get stymied by thin dried out tan roots.

cattleya: fresh green root growing on right, tan mature roots on left

     One very useful trick for making living roots to stand out is to soak them in water.  Orchid roots are covered by a spongy layer of tissue called velamen.  This layer protects the roots and helps them absorb atmospheric moisture.  When dry, the velamen is a white/tan color, but it becomes transparent when saturated with water.  This allows the inner green color of living roots to show through.  New roots are always green because they haven't yet grown the velamen covering.
Phalaenopsis roots turn green after spraying with water 

closeup: the transition from living root to dead end becomes evident

     Angraecum leonis: the dead root turns dark brown, while the rest of the roots become greener

     The effect on the angraecum leonis is less apparent because I watered it yesterday, so the roots have not had time to fully dry out.  Root color is actually a way that many growers monitor when it's time to water a plant, since it's the most direct measure of how much moisture the roots are getting. This works best for orchids grown mounted or in clear pots where you can see their roots easily.

     One caveat to this system: brown doesn't always mean dead.  Some types of media can cause discoloration in the roots, and my paph orchids tend to always have dark brown roots.  Plump sturdy roots are often healthy regardless of color.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ctt Jewel Box "Scheherazade" AM/AOS (C aurantiaca x Lc Anzac)

     At this point, I was the owner of 9 orchid plants: 2 phalaenopsis, 2 oncidium, 2 paphiopedilum, 1 dendrobium, and 1 angraecoid.  Room under my lights was starting to run out.  I had representatives of most of the common orchid subtypes, but I had intentionally neglected the cattleyas.  The catts (also known as corsage orchids) have a very large following, but I just didn't see what the fuss was about.  All the orchid-selling websites seemed to have huge selections of cattleya hybrids, but none of the photographs of those blooms really impressed me.

     I changed my opinion on the catts after seeing a few specimens in person at the botanical garden in DC.  These blooms are often massive, overwhelming the plants.  What looked like messy crumpled flowers on the photographs, were large resplendent blooms in real life.  At that point I decided to give cattleya culture a try.  Enter the Slc 'Scheherazade.'

     I purchased this plant from the same vendor who sold me my den victoria reginae, and my paph sanderianum.  The vendor's nursery was local to New York, and both my previous plants from him had shipped in pristine condition.

     The orchid arrived with two flower sheaths.  Flower sheaths are simply leaf-life growths at the tops of pseudobulbs which indicate that the orchid may bloom from those pbulbs when in season.

sheath #1

sheath #2

     I haven't noticed any change in the plant over the last 2 months, except for one new root near the surface of the media.  However, if all goes well, I may be able to see flowers around February.  I will be monitoring the sheaths for any developments.  

Edit (2/23/12): I came to the understanding that due to taxonomical shakeups in the cattleya genus, the slc Jewel box has been renamed to cattlianthe (ctt) jewel box.  I will refer to the plant by its current name from now on.

Oncidium NOID: the rescue

Luscious foliage

     I picked up this orchid along with a masdevallia from the local botanical garden in August.  The plants were marked down due to being sold out of bloom, and while they both had beautiful leaves, their root systems were in critical condition.  The masdevallia died within a few weeks of purchase, but this oncidium NOID has become a study in how far an orchid can go into neglect and still survive.

pseudobulbs should never be this flattened

     What I hadn't realized at the time of purchase, was that this plant did not have a single living root, and its pseudobulbs were dehydrated to the point of being as flat as the leaves.  This damage was likely caused by poor watering technique.  In the last few months, the newest growth on the plant rotted off because the orchid could not support it.  Meanwhile, it has put out several new roots, and is now setting out a small new growth as well.

a new growth poking through

     Hopefully between this oncidium and my other onc noid I will eventually own a healthy plant to enjoy the genus' canonical round pseudobulbs and easy regular blooms.

Paphiopedilum Sanderianum

     Who can resist the allure of 3-foot long flower petals?  I first heard about this plant while searching for my den victoria reginae, and ordered it on impulse from the same vendor.  Adult specimens of this species are obscenely expensive, selling for hundreds of dollars.  So instead I purchased this juvenile plant which is supposed to reach flowering size in about 2 years.  Its current leaf span is 16 inches, and the paph sanderianum has proven right its reputation as an infamously slow grower.

     The plant arrived with one yellowing old leaf which promptly fell off, and a about an inch of a new leaf poking out of the crown.  Over the last 4 months, little has changed except for the very slow growth on the newest leaf.

Now about 4 inches long

     The pale green coloring at the base of the new leaf indicate that it is still growing, as it should be.  The older leaves are approximately 9 inches long and since this is a growing plant, the newer leaves should all be larger than their predecessors. 3 inches of total growth over the 4 months that I've owned this orchid make for a study in patience.  Compare this to my paph NOID, which has nearly doubled in size over a comparable time span.  Blooming this one is going to take a long while.

Dendrobium Victoria-Reginae: seeking the blues

     After my first two internet orchid acquisitions proved successful (read: didn't die after a couple weeks) I started browsing various orchid nurseries for a blue orchid.  When most people talk about blue orchids, they are referring to vanda hybrids.  However, I wasn't particularly fond of those species' growth habit or their tendency to grow into a huge sprawling mass.

     Setting the blue vandas aside, I eventually found a reference to the Dendrobium victoria Reginae, a neat tiny plant which blooms with blueish-violet flowers.  At 6 inches tall, it's supposedly already at blooming size, which makes this currently the smallest orchid in my possession.

     When I first acquired this plant, the new growth was only 2 inches tall; as you can see it has since grown to nearly the height of the older cane.  The growth had also put out roots of its own, but unfortunately those rotted away. This observation prompted a repotting, and fortunately the older roots all seem healthy and green.  Hopefully the plant will make further successful attempts to grow new roots.

     The new growth is very responsive to the direction of the light source, and it has been a trial to keep this orchid growing upright.  The canes are top heavy, with very thin stalks at ground level, and my biggest fear is to accidentally snap one of them off while watering.  The plant is staked upright, which gives it some support, and hopefully some root growth will develop to offer further stability.

cymbidium billion dollar baby '#1' x gordon gibbs 'dashing'

     I ordered this orchid at the same time as the angraecum leonis, and at one point I was afraid I had nearly killed it.

     The cymbidium arrived very root bound, and in the repotting process I ended up disrupting many of its bountiful roots in an attempt to clear away old potting media.  A week after I had repotted, most of the roots left on the plant had rotted away from the damage, and the orchid started losing leaves from its oldest pseudobulb at an alarming rate.  I ended up having to repot the orchid a second time into the smallest pot I own, and cut away all but 2 or 3 short roots.

     Several months and another repotting later, the orchid has made a sharp recovery.  New roots grew in at an astonishing pace, and the orchid is now very confortably potted with plenty room to grow.

     Since making its recovery, the orchid has also produced 3 new growths of indeterminate nature.  With cymbidiums, it is often nearly impossible to distinguish flower spikes from leaves at the early stages.  Currently, the orchid is sporting 1 growth that is clearly fated to produce leaves, and 2 that I am less certain about.  One of these growths first appeared in late September, and has remained cryptic and completely unchanged ever since.  The other two I've only noticed a few weeks ago.

flower spike or leaves?

a month later, still mysterious

new sprouts: two in front, and the leaf growth hiding in back

     I still think it unlikely to produce flowers for me this season, but I am very excited by the amount of growth this plant has shown recently, as well as its tenacious recovery from my clumsy early repotting attempts earlier this year.

Angraecum Leonis: first internet acquisition

an experiment in vase culture

    As colorful as the NYC flower shops can be, their exorbitant prices inspired me to try out purchasing orchids over the internet.  Online catalogs for the first time exposed me to the wide array of orchid species from which there's no going back.  This angraecum leonis is one of the first plants I ordered.

    The orchid arrived in a small pot of rock-hard sphagnum moss, with what turned out to be the entirety of its remaining living roots out in the air.  I knew it was time to repot, when I accidentally jostled the plant, and it fell completely out of its pot.  I initially repotted into orchid media, but then came across a reference to people growing vandaceous orchids in vases over at the OrchidBoard and decided to try it out for myself.

    At this point I didn't really know how to distinguish living vs dead roots, so I think I ended up trimming away some roots that were still alive.  The trick to making living roots stand out is to soak the plant in water.  Roots that are alive will turn a bright green color, while the dead ones remain a tannish brown.

    With vase culture, the roots of the orchid are more exposed and dry out much quicker.  The benefit is that there is no media to decompose, and the plant never really needs to be repotted (some orchids are very sensitive to their roots being disturbed during repotting and will sulk for a long time afterward).  Orchids like the angraecum are true epiphytes, and will be found with their roots exposed to the open air in nature.  Since New York winters can be very dry due to apartment heating, the vase (and the water at the bottom) helps retain a locallly high humidity level.  

     The orchid's leaves are very wrinkled, indicating dehydration.  However, it has shown enormous root growth (7 new roots in the last 5 months) and has also started growing a new leaf.  I currently water the orchid every 2 or 3 days by filling up the vase with filtered water+fertilizer and letting the roots soak for appx an hour.  While I could water more frequently to help the plant get better hydrated, I want to encourage further growth of the root system to adapt to a less demanding watering regimen.  Since the health of the plant hasn't deteriorated in the past 5 months of vase culture, I am hopeful that it will eventually adapt to less frequent watering.    

I should do something about the algae...

Phalaenopsis NOID: the big phattie

Just like the paphiopedilum in the earlier post, I picked this phal up from one of the flower stores on 28th st of Manhattan.  This monster of an orchid never had a name tag, but it did have 3 flower spikes, 8 leaves, and a massive root system.

The phal in July

Like many orchids, it suffered from the stress of transportation between the store and my apartment.  The blooms didn't last very long, and some of the buds blasted before they could open.  The plant also dropped one of its older leaves, and likely lost a few roots before I got around to repotting it out of what was rather degraded sphagnum moss potting mixture.

Although the phal dropped its flowers, the spikes remained green, and a few months later started showing signs of fresh activity.

fresh growth from an old spike

Each of the 3 spikes was producing new growths, and I was very excited at the prospect of reblooming the orchid so quickly.  However, as time went on, something the growths started appearing a bit odd.

a few weeks later

Instead of  round immature buds, the growths started forming into leaves, which will eventually grow into new plants that can be separated into pots of their own.  I now have two definite keikis, one growth that's still uncertain whether it will become keiki or flower spike, and several very early growths at nearly every node along the old spike.  
young keikis

I have to admit I was hoping for flowers, but I am still excited to grow my very first orchid keikis.  I'm not sure what I'll do when the keikis are ready for separation from the mother plant, as I am running low on room under the growth lights.  However it will probably be the better part of a year before they're big enough.

Paphiopedilum NOID

Beautiful, nameless

     It wasn't always a NOID.  This was my first new orchid bought in NYC.  I picked it up in Manhattan's garden district, in one of the several flower stores along 28th and Broadway.  The flower initially had a tag, describing across between two other paph hybrids.  But for some reason I no longer remember, I didn't keep the tag.  Perhaps I'll go back to that store next July to see if I could spot the same-looking flowers and jot down the name of the cross.  In the mean time, this NOID paph is probably the healthiest of all my orchids.  The bloom lasted a whole month, and in the following months the orchid has put out a new growth which is promising to outgrow the original set of leaves.

love the leaf coloring

When I repotted the orchid in October, it had a small but healthy root system, and the new growth was putting out thick new roots of its own.  The new leaves have been growing at splendid pace.

This is a closeup of the new growth at the base.  I am not sure if it's normal for the 'stalk' of the new growth to be so slender and tall.  I've heard of orchids being described as 'leggy' when not exposed to sufficient light, so I wonder if that's the case here.  The two nubs in the center of the picture look like the beginnings of new roots, which will hopefully help stabilize the growth if they make it into the potting mix.

Oncidium NOID: the faded glory

     This oncidium NOID is the only other orchid to have survived the move with me.  I picked up the plant 2 years ago at a farmer's market with a 3 foot tall spike resplendent in burgundy blooms.  A plant so large was a sure bet to rebloom for me year after year, I thought.  If I knew then what I know now, I would have seen the signs of trouble.  Within two weeks, it dropped most of its flowers, and has sulked since.

wrinkled pseudobulbs are a sign of trouble

     Two years later, after some reading on proper oncidium care, I finally got suspicious about the state of the plant.  The pseudobulbs on this plant are all strongly wrinkled, which is a sign of dehydration.  While it is natural for old pseudobulbs to wrinkle slightly over time, the newest growth (top right of picture) should be plump.  The wrinkled state of these pbulbs are a clear sign of root trouble.  Another red flag is that the newest pseudobulb is only half the size of the two older ones.  If an orchid is healthy and growing, then new growths should never be smaller.  In the very top picture of this post, you can also see wrinkling on the two leaves at the front.  The wrinkling indicates that the orchid was not getting enough water at the time when those leaves were forming.

     When I finally got around to repotting the plant, the plant fell out of its oversized 8-inch pot... with the roots contained within the shape of a smaller 5" diameter mass.  The rest of the outside pot was filled with badly decayed wood shavings, and contained no roots at all.  Meanwhile in the heart of the root mass I found a smaller 2.5" plastic pot buried around the oldest growth.  This plant has not been properly repotted since it's very first deflasking!

    Lesson learned: always repot an orchid when you first get it.  You never know the true health of a plant until you see the state of its roots, and even reputable seeming vendors can sell orchids which are in bad need of repotting.

After I finished cutting away the old plastic from the root mass, the plant was left with very few healthy roots.  Within weeks of the repotting however, the young growths sprouted a veritable pincushion of new root tips.

A few weeks after re-potting: you can almost hear its sigh of relief

The roots today

Even a couple months after the initial repotting, the plant continues putting out roots.  Some of the initial roots have failed, while others seem to have established themselves (the white roots on the left).  Meanwhile, the leaves on the new growth have since doubled in size. 

I particularly like the purple tinge on the new growths

 I am a little concerned by the black spots on the top of the new leaves though.  I'm not sure what caused this damage, but at least it hasn't progressed since first appearing.

water damage or lampburn?

The plant still has a ways to go before it fully recovers.  Oncidiums bloom from new pseudobulbs, and since the newest pbulb has already aborted an attempt at blooming, I will likely have to wait for a new pseudobulb to grow before I can hope for a flower spike. I guess I will have to be patient before I can hope to see those gorgeous blooms again.

EDIT 3/29: Identified as Wilsonara Pacific Perspective!

Phalaenopsis NOID: the old survivor

The old survivor

     Here is the oldest member of my motley orchid collection, which also has the honor of being the first and only orchid I have ever successfully rebloomed.  

     The plant has seen better days in the nearly 3 years it spent in my possession.  By the time it came with me to New York, it had only one decently-sized leaf and two roots to support itself.  In the months since it grew the two small leaves you can see in the picture.  Usually a healthy phalaenopsis should produce new leaves that are as large or larger than the older leaves.  The miniature size of the two newest leaves on this plant are a clear sign that it has experienced damage to its root system.

     The plant is a tenacious little noid though, and in the past month it has sprouted 5 healthy new roots, which have been speedily growing into the media.  At this rate, I expect the orchid should have fully recovered by next blooming season.

The start of an orchid hobby

     I've wanted to grow orchids for a few years now, and have managed to keep alive a plant or two for a couple years.  Six months ago I moved to NYC for grad school, and now I finally have a semi-permanent place of my own where I can finally indulge in trying to grow and flower different kinds of orchids. 

     I started out with 2 plants which survived the move with me, but quickly acquired 8 more.  At this point, at the risk of filling up my tiny studio apartment, I am trying to limit future acquisitions to special occasions, and instead focus on getting my plants the healthiest they can be.  Since this is my very first plunge into the orchid hobby, I'll be trying to track all the small changes in my plants so I can learn better to take care of them.

The orchids last summer one month after the move: lovely view from my window of a brick wall

The orchid setup now

     My current orchid growing setup involves a couple daylight lamps on a 24 hour timer, a metal shelf, and a humidifier.  The New York winter is dark, and the apartment's windows face out into a brick wall; hopefully the lighting setup provides a better light source than my windows would.  The upper lamp provides 1300 lumens, while the lower lamp is supposed to produce closer to 7000 foot candles of light.  I don't have the tools to measure light intensity, but they're quite bright. The full cost of the setup was a little over $250, courtesy of Amazon.  

     One unexpected benefit of growing orchids under timed lights is that when the lamps turn on at 8 am, the light dual-functions as a natural wakeup alarm, and really helps fight off morning grogginess of a dark east coast winter.