What is 'too dead to recover'?

richardol(Santa Royale CA)January 5, 2008

Picture this plant without the keiki.

That's what I had to work with for this nice Dendrobium kingianum hybrid. Leafless, rootless canes whose only virtue was that they were green, not brown.

This one is not somebody else's fault, it was mine. I have had this plant for 5 years and did not pay close enough attention to getting it dry between waterings. I have a few Dendrobiums and I have finally got them all into a dry area of the greenhouse where the watering system doesn't go.

I stuck it into a pot with a few rocks to keep it from tipping over and set it aside. It took quite a while for the keiki to develop but I was in no hurry. It looks as if the plant is not going to recover, but I will remove the keiki and pot it up.

Even though I am not giving up on this plant, I am also not getting any more Dendrobiums. My conditions are not great for them. It is generally too wet and so they have to be hand watered and are confined to a fairly small area.

There are so many orchids that DO grow well in my greenhouse that I am not too worried about being less successful with Dens.

And you know what? The rest of the plant is going back under the bench. The canes are still green. Nothing more may happen, but with orchids you never know. Orchids are survivors.

When the canes turn brown is when I'll decide that the plant is too dead to recover.

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Hi Richard -
Dend. kingianum is a tough little plant; bonus: they can produce flowers when they are just little sprouts.
Once I tossed a deceased oncidium (one of those turtle-shell p'bulb ones) into my bin of cork mounts. Figured I'd sterilize and re-use the cork. More than a year later, I discovered a tiny little keiki with roots on it. Fooled me. Then it fooled me again by turning really dead.
Regarding Dendrobium species, I am growing quite a few of them in my intensely wet climate (south Louisiana), and I grow them pretty much exclusively on mounts, usually grapevine. Plants can survive 3 months of 3" rain/day on a mount, where one in a pot would liquefy in a few weeks.
If you are attracted to one, I'd suggest giving it a try with a different medium than a pot.
Regards - Nancy

    Bookmark   January 5, 2008 at 11:46AM
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irishpat(Idaho Z6)

Too dead to recover is leaving one to freeze in the back seat of your car in Idaho in the winter.

My conditions for dens aren't great either, probably opposite of yours, but I love the blooms, so I keep on.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2008 at 12:01PM
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mehitabel(z6 MO)

Hey, richard. Your pictures of the rewards of patience in allowing orchids to revive themselves always make me smile. You have certainly succeeded with some that looked like gonners.

We sometimes really have to work at dimping them, don't we?

    Bookmark   January 5, 2008 at 12:18PM
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No roots, no leaves, only 2 shriveled sticks - dead as a door-nail - I thought?? Took it for free at HD for the pot.This is what appeared 4 months later having been tossed outside left to its own devices...

Two growths and a spike - I don't even want it, but how can I ignore this. Amazingly tough plants...

Cut those sticks up and you'll get a bunch of plants. You've got a pretty flower, Richard-


    Bookmark   January 5, 2008 at 1:46PM
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richardol(Santa Royale CA)

Congratulations Jane. Yes, they are VERY tough. Gives the term "hot house flower" new meaning.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2008 at 2:01PM
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This is a great question.
I'm afraid I'm a sucker for orchids in distress so I was constantly bringing home orchids that probably should have been tossed. This is the orchid that slowed me down on these mercy purchases. I think it's an Onc and I purchased it from a big box home center in this condition minus the new growth. (look closely - two sprouts at the bottom of one) They spent a month in moss and every week during that time they would be fed a high energy soak of 2 parts sugar to 1 part drinking alcohol. Dash of epson salt and a drop of dish soap. It is a formula I found on line for distressed orchids. The article said after a certain point they need energy before they can use water.
Well, it's now seven months later and they are still alive. The sprouts haven't shown growth in months. They just appeared and than sat dormant. The second orchid doesn't have any new growth but it did send up a spike with two flowers on it. (Their spikes should have dozens on blooms on them.)
I now know my limit is a PSB that has shrunk no further than half it's size. Does anyone have any advice on turning around orchids that have been severely neglected? This thread at least tells me to be patient and they may yet come around on their own.

Here is a link that might be useful: Not too dead - yet.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2008 at 5:14PM
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arthurm(Sydney, NSW AUST)

The orchid pictured in the first rescue is a typical Australian Native Dendrobium Hybrid and the flower shape shows the influence of Dendrobium tetragonum. Though one of the ancestors is probably D. kingianum.

As for the oncidium, heaven knows. Though at one point i struggled with some of those Oncidium Intergenerics because i tried to grow them in too arid a mix. The one in the picture will probably just pine away and die unless you do something that will revive it, such as upping the light, potting it in a smaller pot in a moisture retaining mixture. Or???????

You read about all these successful rescues and i think the person doing the rescuing has great conditions in which the rescue is performed. I cringe when i read about new growers starting their orchid growing career with a stack of half dead rescues.

My wife is under instructions not to rescue any Phals from florist shops unless the leaves are in great shape and the price is right.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2008 at 5:43PM
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They are in a moss mixture that holds moisture pretty well. They are in such a big pot because they had a pretty big root ball - mostly dead - but still large. I didn't want to trim something that they might still be using so I left them as is. I'll re-pot them again and take another look at what's going on down there. Also, a smaller pot certainly couldn't hurt at this point.
I purchased a phal that had leaves so soft that they drapped the pot like fabric. The roots were still pretty good, though. There were several roots that were plump and green so I brought it home and gave it's roots the sugar bath mentioned above. After a good rinse it went into the same moss medium that the Onc's are in. The leaves started firming almost instantly but it took a week for them to get back to what a healthy phal should look like. (The lowest leaf out of 6 firmed a little but it doesn't look like it will hang on too lone.)

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 2:29PM
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tee530(z6a MA)


Thanks for posting this case study; your recent "seminars" on reviving sure goners have been very practical and helpful and are just the things that only experience (or generous growers like youself) teaches.

(Trying to keep up with my new year's resolution to offer more positive commentary in all interactions :-)

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 4:26PM
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Claire, I agree with Arthur. It looks way too wet. Repot small and let it dry out. I would mix some bark or CHC into the sphag to loosen it up. Give it lots of light - really boost the light - and it might start to go. Worth a shot.....


    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 12:24AM
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cjwatson(Z8 FL)

What is 'too dead to recover'?

1. Plants which I am not overly fond of to begin with.
2. Plants which I am fond of but can easily replace.

However, for a Dendrobium near death experience, I had tossed a few shrivelled yellowed canes into the compost bucket where they lay for a long time with dirt and plant material tossed over them. Months later, I was digging some compost to repot garden plants in and there were the shrivelled Den canes with half a dozen snow white new grows (no sunlight) with roots. My soft inner core couldn't let them die after that! I took them out, laid them on wet paper towels and gradually increased their light from extremely dim to partial shade over a 3-4 week period, and when they were reasonably green, stuck them in with my other Den hybrids. They are still alive and blooming.

It has been my observation that plants will recover if you don't really want them, but the ones you really want will croak permanently.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 8:43AM
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mehitabel(z6 MO)

LOL, CJ. Too true about self-selection in the recovery vs dimping.

Well I've grown some tiny potatoes and red cabbages in my compost, but never orchid babies :)

But my most uplifting orchid recovery story was a C bowringiana that lost its roots in an episode I won't detail (but it involved clorox). Chadwick says bowringiana is tough enough to withstand being trampled and eaten by cattle.

Well, it can withstand clorox, too. (Not recommending it, of course). Sure enough, big clay pot with a few lava rocks in the bottom and a couple of threads of sphag, in mostly shade, and it grew new roots. Went on to bloom with several clusters that very fall.

But I agree with Tee, these posts on recovery have been fun and inspiring. Thanks, richard.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 10:50AM
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hello, Claire, I tried the link you posted and did not get anywhere. please give me more details re your sugar solution: is there any water in it? the drinking alcohol.. what alcohol content? and can one use cooking alcohol? or any other details which would be helpful. I have a few that certainly can do with such a boost. thanks.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2008 at 5:47PM
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Here's what is a hopeful recovery of my Laelia dayana semi-alba!

The death spiral began sometime back in Oct and I had very little hope for it.
Some filthy scale had come in with an order and before I knew what was happening, this was in big trouble.
After a massive eradication project and some major gnashing of teeth, I just put it off to the side.
I stuck it in with some Bulbos and ignored it.

After this, I think that I'll go back to ignoring it and hope for actual root growth.
This is a good sign, regardless!
It was an unusual one and I paid somewhere around $130 for it, so...
I really didn't want to lose it to neglect!
Very relieved!!

    Bookmark   January 8, 2008 at 7:09PM
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hello, Scott, here's hope that your laela will recover well. did you use rooting gel as was suggested on another thread?

    Bookmark   January 9, 2008 at 10:08AM
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richardol(Santa Royale CA)

Scott, you may have hit on another key to orchid recovery: give it half a chance and let it alone to get its act together. Good work (or in this case, non-work).

I always like to remember how orchids came to Europe. They were used as packing material for tropical plants. Someone noticed a sprout and just for fun, tried to grow it. The rest is history.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2008 at 11:50AM
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I love these threads Richard! I hope you will keep them coming! These were three old b-bulbs someone whacked off their oncid, completely rootless. It now has two strong growths and a lots of roots.

This one, well, my sister tried to teach it to swim. Completely rootless, pbulbs in bad shape. All my little tricks didn't work out so well with this one however. Yesterday I noticed the little spike. It's last effort, the death spike.......;0((..................

    Bookmark   January 9, 2008 at 4:06PM
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I did nothing other than spray with Bayer and scrub the bugs off with a toothbrush.
(Not mine! I used someone elses!)
Although I have lost orchids to not doing enough, I've had more problems from smothering them.

Now I have had them send out new grow after new grow w/o attempting any roots...to eventually give up and die.
Sometimes, I've had to tweek the conditions just a bit to get something to fully pull through.
Sometimes, it's just getting the right balance of moisture, light, temp, etc can let it take charge of its own recovery.

This is what my Bulbo. macrobulbum 'Magnifico'CHM/AOS used to look like back in '06!
(Just ignore the snake!)

I've lost all the leaves, but for one and lost every new growth attempt.
It's tried to bloom twice and I've lost those! :~(

Finally...The growths are stickin' around!

I've also had things that were determined to die, regardless.
Nothing could really be done.
A really good stomping it into green pulp always releases a lot of stress!! :~)

    Bookmark   January 9, 2008 at 5:21PM
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Hi Sue,

I'm sorry for the delay in responding to your inquiry. The site was down last night when I went online. Below is the web site that posted the sugar solution. It said that any drinking alcohol would do. I use sherry because that's what's in the frig. When you follow the instructions to the letter it comes out a very thick paste. I've used it that way but I've also added water to thin it down a bit. When I used it on a rescued phal two weeks ago I watered it down a bit and the phal turned around within days. (It soaked in the solution for a couple of hours before the roots were rinsed off.) When I used it on the above mentioned Onc, is was as written and very thick. Maybe I'll try it again with the watered down version. I can't really say that one way is better than the other but you would think it would be easier to take in if it was more fluid in consistency.

Here is a link that might be useful: Orchid growing tip #6

    Bookmark   January 10, 2008 at 9:30PM
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hello, Claire, that is a great site!! I couldn't stop reading it from one section to the next. thanks so much.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2008 at 10:41AM
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CATTLEYA recovery. I, a neophyte with plants, recently purchased six of these plants for $2.00 each at Lowe's. They had a price tag of $36.00 each - I have no idea if that is high or low.

Anyway they appeared to be in severe condition. I repotted them, two each, in Orchid bark chips in cornucopia shaped hanging wicker baskets. They have very good drainage and dry out between waterings. They hang in a sunny window. After about one month I fed them with Miracle Grow 15-30-15. These plants live in SC.

Their condition appears the same after several months, brown/green/yellow leaves, no flowers. Leaves on some
of the plants continuing to turn yellow and die.

Is this correct so far? Is their anything else I should do?

Thanks for the help. Chaz.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2008 at 6:54PM
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richardol(Santa Royale CA)

What you are doing sounds ok, with the exception that I wouldn't bother feeding them until new growth starts. They MAY be over potted, it is hard to tell from your description. Give the plants time and they will come back.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 1:21AM
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orchid126(z6, NJ)

Chazn, are we to understand that you put two different plants in each cornucopia? This may become a problem down the line. Even though they are all cattleyas, some may require slightly different culture. With the exception of two to a basket, what you've done so far sounds okay. If the plants were, as you describe, in severe condition, they may still be suffering the trauma of what they endured before you bought them. Be patient.

Did you soak the bark well before repotting? If not, be sure to soak the bark well each time you water. The saying is that you can't water an orchid enough, but you can water too often. Also, many cattleyas bloom only once a year or on each new matured bulb. This may not be the time of year for them or a new bulb may not have matured yet. Again, be patient.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 4:20PM
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mehitabel(z6 MO)

Chaz, your catts will not put out new roots or leaves or flowers on the old pseudobulbs. They still need those old pbs for energy for the plant, so keep them.

But your catts will not show any progress or beauty until a new growth starts. New catt growths start from a growing point at the bottom of the newest pb. You can usually see it if you look carefully, usually a little triangle shaped thing at the bottom of the pb, just where it starts to curve.

There's nothing wrong with just waiting til the catt's growth starts on its own. As you can see, lots of people do that.

However, I found that you can speed the process up by painting the growing eyes on the catt with a gel rooting hormone. This stimulates a new growth to start sooner. Once the new growth is a certain size, new roots will begin to form off of it, and your catt has a new start.

I also found that putting some lava rock in the bottom of a clay pot, covered with a thin layer of sphagnum moss, and then placing the catt *on* that (not burying it, just putting it on top) ... the clay pot/sphag worked for me to bring new growth along faster. It seems to give the plant the right level of moisture/humidity to help it get started.

Give it pretty good light, and moisten the pot/rock/sphag when the sphag gets dry and crispy. Be sure to check the shriveling and yellowing leaves carefully for pests. I have found scale love to feast on compromised plants.

I have found this hormone + sphag/clay process to speed up the new growths considerably. Why speed it up? Just that I don't like the half-dead look on my plants, and don't have any good places to hide them from sight while they take their time reviving like greenhouse people do.

Just offering this as an alternative to patient endurance of shriveling leaves in your window. It has worked many times for me.

Good luck. BTW, $35 should buy you a nice sized, named and awarded catt at a good vendor, so it's not the highest price ever paid, but still not the cheapest either.

Good luck whatever you choose to do.

Here is a link that might be useful: Canadian Orchid Congress, culture notes

    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 6:25PM
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whitecat8(z4 MN)

Richard, your Den doesn't sound too dead, and you seem to be giving it an appropriate amount of neglect. :)

Long-term, though, maybe you're right - they're not worth the extra effort and special placement in your GH.

If you're nuts about Dens, could you grow them in the house or somewhere besides the GH?


    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 8:37PM
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richardol(Santa Royale CA)

No, that just it, I'm not that nuts for Dens. I gave them a try, but started having more success in other areas.

Two years ago at POE I bought a specimen Dendrobium lindley. I started to divide it and, like the old joke about shortening the legs on a table, found myself with about 30 divisions. These included some single pseudobulbs.

Now I have 20 which are small but large enough to possibly bloom and are getting a dry rest. I am going to have to get rid of most of these when new growth starts.

I have some other Dens that I am still playing with but I can see phasing them out over the next year or two.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 9:03AM
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whitecat8(z4 MN)

Richard, my least favorite orchids are the ones that don't bloom. :) Next are those that bloom but are too labor-intensive.

If any of your other Dens stay small, I'd be interested in seeing a list when your phasing out begins.

Scott, that's one cool Bulbo bloom. Maybe it'll hang in there this time. Great idea about squishy green pulp.


    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 8:41PM
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