Q: I have an orchid which has not flowered for several years since I bought in bloom, how can I make it flower again?
A: This is a common problem, especially with the Cymbidium. These orchids are naturally cool growing and when people have them for the first time they tend to keep them too warm. This promotes too much leaf growth and not enough flowers. The best remedy is to place outdoors in the summer and in the coolest, lightest position during the winter. Also do not over-feed as this too will promote leaves. With a Phalaenopsis that is shy flowering, move to a slightly cooler, lighter position for a while and use the high potash, bloom promoting fertiliser to encourage the flowers to come.
Q: Where do I cut my Phalaenopsis stem to make new flowers?
A: Look along the length of the flower stem and you will see small ‘eyes’, each of these is capable of branching out and producing more buds. When the existing flowers are nearly over cut the stem off above one of the higher ‘eyes’ and within a few weeks it should start to shoot out a new stem. If all of the flowers have dropped then the stem may have started to die back and may not branch out. If it dries up then cut it right back to the base and a new stem will grow within a few months.
Q: I have a baby plant growing on my Phalaenopsis stem, what should I do with it?
A: This is known as a ‘keiki’, and often occurs with plants grown in the home. It usually happens purely by accident and is a fun way of obtaining another little plant from your existing orchid. Let the keiki grow until it has several leaves and a good few roots, then it is strong enough to survive on its own. Simply cut the flower stem just under where the plant sprouted so as not to damage it and pot up into a small pot with the usual bark. If the keiki is left on the mother plant it may prevent it from flowering again until it is removed. Having said that we have seen the main plant and keiki both flowering away happily at the same time!
Q: Where do I cut my flower stem off when it finishes flowering?
A: The vast majority of orchid stems will simply die back when the flowers have faded so trim them back to make the plant look tidier. The only orchid that will re-flower from the same stem is the Phalaenopsis, so with these you can trim the stem back to just above one of the eyes along the stem and this eye should soon branch out and produce more buds.
Q: What do I do with my Dendrobium when it finishes flowering?
A: Dendrobiums, especially the 'nobile' type, grow with tall cane-like pseudobulbs with flowers along the length of the canes. When the flowers drop do not cut off this tall cane as it is the food store for the plant and helps it to grow more new canes which flower next year.
Q: How often do orchids flower?
A: Orchids, as with most plants, generally flower once a year when their season comes around. With bulbous orchids, new pseudobulbs need to grow before the next flowers are produced and this is usually an annual cycle. The old pseudobulbs remain on the plant for many years as a food store. With Phalaenopsis, no bulbs are produced so the plants can flower at any time of the year, all year round. These also have the longest lasting flowers.
Q: How often do I water my orchid?
A: Orchids like to dry out in between waterings so you may water once a week or even once every two weeks depending on the time of the year and the individual conditions that you have for your plants. Check 1-2 times per week to see how quickly they are drying out. Always water from the top of the pot and allow to drain through. Never stand the pot in water for a long time.
Q: Should I use rainwater?
A: Orchids do not like the lime in hard water so if you are in a hard water area then it is best to use rainwater. If you have soft water then that is fine but rainwater is always the better option if you can collect it.
Q: How do I feed my orchids?
A: Orchids are not heavy feeders as in the wild they live high in the trees where they only receive extra nutrients from the rain washing over decomposing leaves etc further up the tree. So we give them a weak feed, high in nitrogen whilst they are growing new leaves, roots and pseudobulbs (usually spring and summer); and a high potash feed in the autumn which is good for finishing off the growth and encouraging the flowers. We use and recommend Orchid Focus ‘Grow’ and ‘Bloom’ formulas.
Q: My orchid seems to be losing a lot of leaves, is this correct?
A: There are some deciduous orchids but generally orchids should not lose a lot of leaves all at once. Some leaf loss of old foliage is natural, especially in autumn, but excessive leaf loss will usually indicate that the plant has been kept too wet and/or too cold. Orchids do not like to be kept too wet, should not be allowed to stand in water and should therefore always be watered from the top and left to drain. A plant in this state should be allowed to dry out, all dead foliage removed and encouraged to start growing by being kept warm and humid. Hopefully then new leaves and roots will be produced. Of course in severe cases, over watering will kill the plant.
Q: The flower buds on my cymbidium have suddenly dropped off, why?
A: Cymbidium flower buds develop best in cool, light conditions and if the plant is moved in this state, for example from the cool greenhouse to the warm lounge, the shock of the change in temperature can put the plant under stress and make it abort its flowering. Make sure that the buds are allowed to open fully in a cool, light place before moving the plant.
Q: There is a sticky substance on the leaves beneath my orchid's flowers, what is this?
A: The flowers naturally produce sugary nectar that encourages insects to pollinate the flowers in the wild. Some types make a lot of this, which then can drip onto the leaves. Simply wipe it off with a damp cloth so as not to encourage mildew which can grow on it. This nectar can also encourage aphids to the flowers, which will breed quickly and spread amongst your plants. Wash these off too with slightly soapy water.
Q: I have a tiny, white, fluffy bug on my Phalaenopsis, how can I get rid of it?
A: This is known as mealy bug and is easily killed by dabbing it with a little methylated spirits. This will not harm the orchid so feel free to allow it to run into nooks and crannies where the mealy bugs may be hiding. You will need to repeat this several times to make sure you get rid of all of the pests. They are particularly well camouflaged on the pure white Phalaenopsis flowers and if they get too out of control then it is easiest to just dispose of the flowers, clean the plant and it will soon re-flower. They may be living in the pot so you may need to re-pot the plant into fresh, clean bark compost and even spray with a systemic insecticide.
Q: What do I do with my Cymbidium when it finishes flowering?
A: As the cymbidiums come to the end of their season in the spring, when their flowers have all gone, cut the stem back to the base to make the plant look tidier. At the end of May, or when the frosts have finished, stand them outdoors for the summer months. This will help to encourage the flowers for next year. Feed them through the summer with high nitrogen feed to boost their growth. In autumn bring into a cool room with plenty of light, then change feed to high potash to help the flowers grow.
Q: My orchid's leaves are crinkled, what causes this?
A: When new leaves are growing, if the atmosphere is too dry then the leaves have a tendency to stick together as they grow up. This causes them to grow in a distorted fashion, crinkling like a concertina. Mist the leaves more regularly to give them the lubrication they need and they should not get stuck in future. Unfortunately you cannot get rid of it once it’s there but you can prevent it happening again in the future.
Q: How do I know when my Dendrobium has finished growing?
A: Dendrobiums make tall, cane-like pseudobulbs with leaves all along their length. When the cane has reached its maximum height then it makes a ‘terminal leaf’ at the very end which signals the end to its length. The cane often then still has to swell a bit more and when the sheaths around the cane turn papery then it has done all the swelling it is going to do. This usually happens in autumn and at that point you can start to reduce the watering.
Q: I have some black marks on my orchid’s leaves, what are they?
A: Black marks on leaves can be many things. The marks themselves are caused by a bacterial infection which sets in when the cells die. The breakdown of the cells is usually connected with a cultural problem, most often over-watering or over-feeding. Too much direct sun in summer can scorch the leaves causing a brown and black burn mark. Pests can cause black marks too, cymbidiums are most prone to red spider mite which makes a fine, silvery web on the underside of the leaves and as they eat away at the leaves, the cells will die and cause the spots. Lastly, plant viruses can cause the marks, often in patterns, but this is actually quite rare and growers should not automatically jump to the conclusion that marks are virus related. Badly affected plants should be discarded or at least quarantined to prevent it spreading and cutting tools should be sterilised as a matter of course.
Q: How do I know when my orchid needs re-potting?
A: When the pot is full! With orchids that produce pseudobulbs, they will grow new ones each year and the plant will gradually increase into a large clump. When the bulbs are right to the edge of the pot, it needs a larger pot and new compost. This is usually every 2-3 years. With the Phalaenopsis, these grow upwards and sometimes over the edge of the pot, with many aerial roots. These are not necessarily a sign of needing re-potting, aerial roots means a happy, healthy plant, but there comes a time when the plant is likely to fall over if it is not straightened up and given a slightly larger pot. The Phalaenopsis only need potting every 2-3 years.
Q: What type of potting compost do I use?
A: Orchids like to be in a free-draining material and chipped bark is the best substance. It has plenty of air spaces between the chips which allow the roots to dry out well in between the waterings which is just what the orchids like. As long as the compost contains a high proportion of bark then it should be fine for most orchids.
Q: Do I have to tie the stems upright with canes, I like the natural look?
A: The species that grow in the wild hang their flowers down from the tree tops so it is natural for them to arch over gracefully. Many of the plants that we grow, though, are hybrids, with larger, heavier flowers and will need support, otherwise the stems can break under the weight of the blooms. So, some support is helpful but by all means stake them at an angle, if you wish, to create the desired effect. Train the stem from a young stage otherwise it will be very hard to tie it up without snapping it, especially if it has grown out at right angles towards the light.
Q: Do I have to use transparent flower pots?
A: The clear pots are used mostly with Phalaenopsis and the major continental growers started using them to encourage the plants to grow more roots inside the pot rather than lots of roots outside, so making them easier to pack and transport. Clear pots are not essential, but they are very useful for the amateur grower to keep an eye on the health of the roots. If too much water is given then you can see if the roots are rotting. By all means stand the plant in a more attractive container if you don’t want the roots on show all the time!
Q: What do I do with the aerial roots?
A: Many orchids produce aerial roots outside the pot, this is due to how they grow in the wild, on trees with their roots exposed to the moist atmosphere. If an orchid such as a Phalaenopsis makes lots of aerial roots it is a sign that the plant is happy in its environment and the roots should be sprayed regularly. Healthy roots have a grey covering and often green growing tips at the ends. If the roots turn brown and die it is a sign that the environment may be too dry for the plant. On the other side, it can also mean that the roots inside the pot have rotted if the plant has been overwatered. Check the state of the pot roots to monitor the watering.
Healthy roots = healthy plant!
Q: How do I create humidity in the home?
A: The home can be a dry place with central heating but by growing your orchids over a humidity tray filled with damp pebbles, this will help to raise the humidity around the plants. Make sure the pot is not stood in water or taking it up through the base at all. Also mist the foliage regularly on the bulbous orchids, avoid this with Phalaenopsis, wipe their leaves often to keep dust free. Grow other houseplants alongside your orchids to create a better overall environment.
Q: Can I grow orchids in my conservatory?
A: Conservatories can have extreme environments as they can be very hot in the day and cold at night, this is not ideal for orchids. To make it 'orchid-friendly' shade it and keep well ventilated in summer and provide warmth and insulation for winter.