Saturday, October 25, 2014

Which are the hardiest orchids: Darwinian orchid care, part 2

The hardy survivors: primarily phalaenopsis and paphiopedilums

Over a year has managed to pass since I've last written an update in this blog. In the past 1.5 years, I ended a long-term relationship, and started a new one.  I moved a total of 5 times, learning first-hand the particular misery of finding pet-friendly housing in NYC on a grad student budget.  I broadened my social engagements, and at the same time dived into my work, often spending 7 days a week at the lab, with 2-3 hours of commuting each day in the process.  

The time I had used to dedicate to this hobby disappeared.  Gone was the daily ritual of checking each plant for minute changes in growth.  Gone were the regular photography sessions.  No more checking media moisture levels of each pot every single day, for optimal watering frequency.  In fact, I only checked in on my orchids for a brief watering session every two weeks.  The plants lived in a state of semi-constant drought. My orchids spent the last Winter holidays in a giant garbage bag in a dark room, because I was in the middle of moving between apartments.

Here is the body count:

Of the 27 orchids I owned when I wrote the last post 1.5 years ago, I am currently left with 12. Thus, slightly over half my collection perished from long-term negligence.  

Which orchids survived?

4 phals (including my little old noid, and 2 baby keikis from the big white noid.)  The surviving named phal was "Gold Tris-Desk Pot".  Always a strong grower, this little guy showed almost no damage the entire time.

4 paphs: My red noid, The two paph seedlings from Hausermann, and my paph sanderianum.

Both my potted cattleyas survived.  I lost one of the Cattleya cernuas that I had mounted, but the other currently lives happily donated to my mother's collection of windowsill orchids.

Surprisingly, my large and healthy Psychopsis Mendenhall quickly perished, but the sickly Psychopsis Mariposa is still hanging on, and even managed to produce a new growth.

Finally, the only dendrobium I owned at the time (Den Burana Sundae), is still alive, and faring relatively well.

The orchids that fared the worst after a year of insufficient watering: mounted orchids, my tolumnias (which have small pots that dry out very quickly), oncidiums, and many of my fancier phal hybrids.

Bottom line: At least when it comes to hardiness against dehydration, the cannonical 'beginner orchids' such as phals and paphs really are the best survivors.  Surprisingly, even smaller seedlings of this type survived better than large, established, but water-demanding plants like the oncidiums.

Flowering orchids:

Base survival is not the final measure of orchid growing success however.  At the height of my orchid-growing hobby, I had 29 plants, and at least 1 would be in bloom at any given point of time.  

When I stopped caring diligently for my orchids, they also stopped flowering.  Even though 12 of the orchids survived, not a single orchid has flowered for me in the past 1.5 years. 

Since mid-August, I've picked up a more consistent regime of orchid care, and almost immediately, one of my phals started shooting up a spike.  This just goes to show how critical consistent watering technique is for getting orchid to flower.