Monday, January 30, 2012

Oncidium flower spike!

     I was so excited to spot this last night.  This is not an orchid I expected to see blooming any time soon (its roots were in pretty bad shape). I am really hopeful that the flower spike takes, as it is probably my favorite among my plants. It aborted a flower spike last year due to poor potting conditions, so here's hoping that this time I'll do better.
     I'm not sure what triggered it--perhaps the apartment has been a little colder, or that I changed my watering style to be more conservative.  Now that the spike is there, I will be watering the oncidium with a low nitrogen bloom booster fertilizer, but otherwise trying to keep the conditions as stable as possible.
     One interesting note is that this spike showed up really suddenly.   Just a couple days ago I was looking at the wrinkling on the little leaf with concern (a sign of dehydration/root issues) and there was no sign of the spike.  I'll be keeping close tabs as the spike grows and develops over the next several weeks.

yay! :-)

Edit 3/28: Now blooming!
EDIT 3/29: Identified as Wilsonara Pacific Perspective!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Phalaenopsis Keikis

     The larger keikis on my noid phal are now about 3 months old.  I still see no sign of roots emerging from these baby plants, but the leaves have been steadily growing in size.  I trimmed back the spikes above where the keikis were emerging, mostly for aesthetic benefit.  The upper parts of the spikes seemed unlikely to grow any more since all the nodes had been used up in the flowering last summer.

     In addition to the trimming, I used scissors to expand the drainage holes in the plastic pot.  I didn't like how the potting media was taking more than a week to dry out between waterings (the root health of this plant is mediocre currently).  By enlarging the drainage holes and taking the plastic pot out of the larger decorative pot, I am hoping to increase the air circulation near the phal's roots.

     Meanwhile, the nodes below the big keikis are slowly growing on all three spikes.  I still can't tell what these are yet, although I won't be surprised if these turn out to be even more keikis.

   I've been thinking about what to do with these 3-6 new orchids once they're big enough to separate from the mother plant.  I'd like to try growing one of them as a mounted orchid, another in vase culture, and maybe pot the rest of the plants into one joint pot.  This way I can experiment with different culture techniques on plants I am not too emotionally attached to (or financially vested in), and learn whether my apartment's conditions can support those types of growing styles.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Paphiopedilum NOID growing well

     While watering my orchids yesterday I decided to reposition my paph noid in its pot.  The tall new growth looked unstable and I wanted to position the paph a little deeper in the media.  The repotting process showed me that the roots are doing well, with no rot or root loss since Fall.  

     Also, even when the media looked overly dry on the surface, the media at the bottom of the pot was still damp (without being soggy).  I took this as a good sign, overall, as well as an indicator that I could afford to scale back on the watering without dehydrating my plant.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Is my cattleya preparing to flower?

attempting closeup pictures like this really make me want a better camera

    My original goal when buying all my orchids was that I may someday be able to always have at least one blooming at all times of the year.  However, in the 6 months that I've been growing them, I haven't yet had any blooms.  In part, many of my orchids are still in recovery mode.  The two oncidiums and the small phal are recovering from near death.  My paph sanderianum, cymbidium, and den victoria-reginae are still too small to flower.  And two of my orchids (the big phal and the paph) I bought in bloom last summer, and it is too soon for them to bloom again.

     After discounting the sick, the young, and the already-bloomed, I am left with two orchids which may be ready to bloom in then ear future.  One is my angraecum leonis.  The other is my slc 'scheherazade.'

     This cattleya's usual blooming season is in mid-February.  I bought this plant in its healthy adult form, with two flower sheaths on its newest pseudobulbs.  The flower sheaths are a sign that the pseudobulbs may bloom sometime in the future.  While one of the sheaths is completely empty, the other appears to have some new growth inside.  I tried to capture the shadow of that growth in the picture above; the triangle shaped silhouette at the point where the sheath emerges from the leaf and pseudobulb.

     The sheath on the other pseudobulb doesn't have anything like this.  Is that tiny shadow a promise of flowers in a month?  I don't know... but I'll be hoping and waiting.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Oncidium NOID: the rescue orchid recovers

new growths on the left and right sides of the plant

     My oncidium rescue has been slowly growing for the past few months, with two new growths on opposite sides of the plant.  The one on the left picture is clearly visible, while the one on the right is mostly hidden within the folds of a larger leaf.  Since I was in a repotting frame of mind after dealing with my den victoria-reginae's troubles, I decided to pop the incidium out of its pot to take a look at the root situation.

picture on right shows the very first pseudobulb: small and withered now

     As you can see in the picture above, this orchid does not have much roots.  Most of the rootlike stubble that you see is actually where I had trimmed back the dead roots months ago soon when I first bought the orchid.  The only living roots are the 5 longish roots on the very left of the picture.  These have been growing out from the newest big growth.  I noticed that with oncidiums, roots seem to only grow from new parts of the plant.  The old pseudobulbs seem to be entirely inactive.

     Bringing the new roots into closeup, you can see 3 new root tips sprouting out.  Although none of these roots are green, it is not atypical for roots growing without light.  The new root tips make irrefutable proof that these roots are alive.

     Meanwhile, further up on the same growth, 3 new roots are showing through.  Since these roots sprouted above the level of the potting media, they are green colored.

oncidium in new pot, now closer to the lights

     I had last repotted this oncidium in the fall.  Although such frequent repotting is not ideal for orchids, I had several reasons to repot at this time anyway.  

     First, the media I had used last time was not the best for oncidium roots.  I had used the typical coarse orchid mix that phals are often potted in.  However, the rule of thumb is: the thinner the roots, the finer the media.  Oncidium roots are much thinner than those of phalaenopsis.  This time I used some "paph and phrag orchid mix" from, which is better suited for thin orchid roots.  Perhaps for future repottings I will purchase media specifically formulated for incidiums, but for now I saved money by using what I had at hand.
an ideal orchid pot would have lots of drainage holes

     Second, I wanted to switch the orchid to a better pot.  The previous container had only one drainage hole in the bottom, while the new one has 8.  Better drainage will help the media dry out faster and prevent root rot.

     Also, last time I had managed to pot the orchid at a crooked angle.  Repotting allowed me to correct that. And finally, checking on the state of the roots lets me know if I am properly caring for the orchid and catch potential problems early.  Meanwhile, since the orchid has so few roots, repotting is less likely to disrupt the orchids health.  Unlike with overgrown orchids, this oncidium comes out of its pot easily, without breaking off delicate root tips.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dendrobium in danger: I think my dendrobium victoria-reginae is in trouble

A leaf turns yellow then falls

     The signs were there months ago, when a new root tip suddenly and inexplicably rotted away.  My dendrobium victoria-reginae is suffering.  After the loss of the small new root, I noticed that the top of the newest growth seemed deformed and dried out.  Meanwhile, of all my orchids, this one was the only plant to lose leaves after a dry period over christmas break.  Something is wrong with this orchid, and I am not sure what I need to be doing to fix it.

dried out top of new growth
    Earlier this week I decided to unpot the orchid and check on the health of its roots.  What I saw was discouraging.  The same multitude of roots which were green and healthy 2 months ago were now mushy and mostly rotten.  The pitiable state of the roots explained the weak and shrunken appearance of the plant.

     Although all but the first 2 inches on the central root seemed dead, I decided to be conservative in trimming back the roots.  I only cut back the most obviously mushy/rotten roots.  Since the dendrobium seemed to have so few good roots left, I didn't want to risk cutting off any roots which might still be functional.

dendrobium roots after trimming the most rotten tips

     All the roots in the above picture were green and healthy just two months ago.  After trimming away the deadest of the dead roots, I repotted the orchid into the smallest pot I had, reusing the original potting media.

     I am uncertain as to why my dendrobium victoria-reginae has faltered in this way. I had followed the typical instructions for growing this species of orchid: grow on the wet side under lower light. But all the signs indicate that something is very wrong with my current culture conditions for this orchid.  My first suspicion (and the usual culprit in orchid decline) is that I have been overwatering.  From now on, I will let the pot dry out more, so that I am treating the orchid more like I treat  my paphiopedilums.  (In fact, I haven't watered the orchid since repotting on tuesday). Also, I moved the orchid to a slightly more shaded location on the growth shelf.

two new root tips

     Fortunately where there is life, there is hope.  And I caught the trouble with this orchid relatively early (though I should have been more suspicious 2 months ago when the first root rotted).  Although this orchid will never grow back the leaves it lost, it is not yet at deaths door.  The picture above shows 2 new root tips poking out of the base of the cane.  I had actually only noticed one to take the picture, but when examining the photo in close-up I noticed the nub of the smaller root on the right.

     Of course, if the original problem remains unfixed, these new roots will soon perish just like their predecessor did.  An orchid can only put out so many new roots to die before it exhausts its energy reserves.  However, if a slightly dryer growth condition is the key to preventing further rot, then these two tiny root nubs can flourish and help the plant recover.  I'll be keeping a very close watch for any signs of either further deterioration or of improvement.  


Monday, January 9, 2012

How often should I water my angraecum leonis?

     As I described in this earlier post, I've been growing my angraecum leonis in a vase, with its roots exposed to the air.  Angraecums are members of the vandaceous family of orchids, and like vandas, they can grow very well in baskets, mounts, other exposed-root conditions.

     Although I love how mounted orchids look, they require near daily watering and consistently high humidity to thrive, which I may not always be able to provide.  While NYC is incredibly humid during the summer (80-90% humidity for the majority of last summer), in the winter humidity drops to the 50-60% range.  Meanwhile indoor heating dries the air out in my apartment even further.  Although I do have a supersonic humidifier near my orchids, I don't always remember to keep it filled and running. As a compromise, I've been growing my angraecum leonis in a vase, which still leaves the roots exposed to the air, but also retains a higher local humidity around the roots.

     I am not sure what the optimal watering frequency for my angcm leonis should be.  Unlike my potted orchids, I can't really water it too frequently.  Up until now I have been watering every 2-3 days, and the plant has fared well and grown a multitude of new root tips since summer.  However, the old leaves on the orchid have wrinkled dramatically.  This wrinkling has particularly worsened after my winter holiday trip when the orchid had only one watering over a 15 day period.  

     Since coming back from the holidays I've started watering my angcm leonis daily, in the hopes of reducing some of the wrinkling on the leaves.  In part, I don't find the wrinkled leaves to be aesthetically pleasing, but another motivation for the increased watering is that I want the plant to have greater reserves to draw upon next time I go away on a multi-week trip.  

     Will increased watering undo the wrinkling on these leaves?  Even if the old leaves are irreversibly wrinkled, I hope to prevent it in the newest leaf that is growing now. 


Friday, January 6, 2012

How long can orchids survive without watering?

     Yesterday I came back home after a two week absence.  Although I had someone water my orchids one week ago, they received no care for the last week that I was away.  Most of my orchids looked perfectly  fine, if a little dried out when I got home.  The phal in the top left picture had a few droopy leaves, and the oncidium on the right was perhaps more wrinkled than when I had left (it's roots had grown, however).

     Meanwhile, many orchids showed signs of great growth.  The phal in the middle picture has added at least half an inch of length to its roots, as did my angraecum leonis (whose leaves became slightly more wrinkled, but with no other sign of dehydration).  The keikis on the big phal have grown bigger than ever.  For others of my orchids, there was barely any change at all, except for slightly droopier leaves.  This includes my paphs, oncidiums and the cattleya.  Even the paph sanderianum (my most expensive, and supposedly delicate orchid) weathered the dryness without any sign of trouble.

     I did notice that my slc scheherezade had lost a root over these last two weeks.  However, since orchids usually lose roots due to overwatering, I don't have an explanation for why this one rotted away during a dry period.  Perhaps the watering it received a week ago was too soon for its needs, or perhaps the random loss of a root is not something I can ever find a reason for.  The leaves and pseudobulbs on the cattleya look fine as ever, so I'm not overly concerned.

     The one orchid that really did suffer from the dryness seems to be my dendrobium victoria reginae.  This is a wet-growing orchid, which I ordinarily water every couple of days.  It is one of the few orchids whose media I never allow to fully dry out.  I found that 3 leaves on the dendrobium's newest growth had dried out.  Also the lowest leaf on the old growth looks like it's about to fall as well.

     The discoloration and visible veins on this leaf indicate that it has started an irreversible dying process.  At the same time, even though lost leaves are never pleasant, I am not too concerned about the survival of the plant just yet.  Leaves can always grow back.

     Ultimately, my regular houseplants showed far greater signs of stress than any of my orchids did.  If ever I need a reminder that orchids don't need to stay wet, this is it. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

On Benign Neglect

I left my orchids at home without care when I left for winter break.  And while I am concerned about what I will find when I come home in a couple days, I expect the orchids to fare a week+ of benign neglect without any trouble.  

To help reduce dehydration in the plants, I turned down the heating in the apartment, and had someone water them for me one week after I left.  This hasn't stopped my sleeping brain from coming up with fantastical scenarios of what I may find upon my return.  Only a few more days before I can see for myself how the plants fared after my two week absence.