New orchid question

mamasas(MD 7)May 10, 2010

I got an orchid for mothers day, phalanopsis (sp?). It came in a pot that doesnt drain!! It has several blooms on it. Should I repot? I have pine bark nuggets, turface, perlite, sphag peat moss, and maybe something ele in my garage. It also has roots hanging out. Should I cut them?

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You absolutely should get your new phal out of that pot ASAP. It's sad that the distributors of these plants essentially assign them a death warrant with this practice, but luckily you appear to be knowledgeable enough to know it's not right! That's a great first step in your new plant's favor.

Even if the plant looks alright and healthy, I can think of at least two reasons you should go ahead and repot. First, if there are even any roots left, being in a pot without drainage can kill them off very rapidly and the only way you'll know is when the flowers drop and the leaves start to wrinkle up and die. Second, there is a possibility the plant doesn't have any living roots anymore -- better to find out now so you can administer orchid CPR sooner than later.

Under normal circumstances, you really shouldn't ever cut any living roots off an orchid, like a phal. Those roots that are hanging out are aerial roots and they are important for oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange, collecting water and nutrients, and storing nutrition. In home conditions (where humidity may be lacking) it's not uncommon for aerial roots to die off naturally or to be broken off in unfortunate accidents. If the roots die off though, then it's okay to cut them off.

As far as repotting goes, place your plant in a pot that's roughly the same size as whatever its in now. Also, in general it is better to select a pot that is a bit snug than it is to have a pot that is too big. Keep in mind that your phal has been in a pot with no drainage and it may already have dead and broken roots. Those are the roots you want to cut off. Dead roots are brown and mushy (where as live roots are firm and green or whitish depending on age and moisture levels).

I would probably skip the pine bark nuggets in the potting mix, simply because most mixes use fir bark and because in my experience the quality of pine bark nuggets is highly variable. If you get bad quality nuggets they deteriorate so quickly in the pot that you have to repot every few months or so just to keep the roots alive.

My suggestion would be to stick with a mix of primarily long fiber sphagnum moss. You can mix in some perlite for aeration and although I wasn't even sure what turface was until I just looked it up, you may opt to mix some of that in there. Sounds as if the turface might add some weight to the mix to help keep the plant from getting too top heavy.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2010 at 1:04PM
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mamasas(MD 7)

Thank you so much for your reply. Should I cover the arial roots witht he repot? and can I use bark labled for orchids? i used MG orchid potting mix and it killed my previous two orchids, so im not going down that road again. It just colapsed and sufficated them.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2010 at 3:06PM
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You may want to cover the aerial roots, but be gentle with them. If they don't fit easily down into the pot, just leave them be. They snap and break easily, though, so I wouldn't try too hard to force them into a pot.

If I recall correctly, MG orchid mix has a lot of very large chunks of media in there and may not be the best suited mix for phals. You can definitely use bark that's labeled for orchids, but you do need to pick a product size that matches your plant's requirements. Also, if you're using bark, make sure to mix in some sphag moss because it retains the extra moisture and air that phal roots enjoy.

Also, you should consider repotting your plants at least once a year when using organic potting mediums (those that contain bark, moss, etc). They all tend to break down fairly quickly in the warm, humid environment of a pot. You definitely have to keep your eyes on things to make sure that the potting mix hasn't deteriorated, since the decay impedes air flow around the roots, retains too much moisture, and is a breeding ground for pathogenic fungi and bacteria that are normally kept under control when the mix is fresh.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2010 at 4:19PM
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orchid126(z6, NJ)

A suggestion: Try soaking those aerial roots for an hour or more in tepid water. That should make them more pliable and less likely to snap.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2010 at 4:45PM
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And another suggestion, if you find dead or rotting roots while repotting, make sure to use a clean knife or scissors to cut the root off and that you sterilize the blade (with bleach for instance) to prevent spreading any infection to other parts of the plant.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2010 at 5:33PM
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mamasas(MD 7)

As I take a bow for dumby of the year....

The orchid, come to find out, is planted in a clear plastic inner pot that has lots of drainage. So, I pulled it out and the roots are beautiful, green, circling the bottom of the pot and few coming out the drain holes. I put a couple inches of turface on the bottom of the outer container jsut to boost the inner pot up off the solid surface. I can pull it out easily to see periodically what really going on down there. I poked a few holes in the plastic inner pot just so the roots can get plenty of air. I gave him about 2 table spoons of water. I think he will be happy.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2010 at 6:11PM
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orchid126(z6, NJ)

Well done! But don't measure the water by tablespoonsfull. Water the phal well, til it runs out the bottom, then don't water again until it's almost, but not quite, dry. They say you can't water an orchid too much, but you can water too often.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2010 at 2:41PM
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mamasas(MD 7)

I have since seen that you need to water thoughly and then let it dryout (mostly). I have some Dyna gro orchid food on its way. Do I fert while in bloom (hes a phal)? Thanks so much for all this help. I have tried to read as mcuh as I can, but beginner questions keep coming up. I lost two very sentimental orchids to suficating its roots because my "orchid mix" collapsed. I have now, since reading here, found out ath I could a probably saved one...

    Bookmark   May 11, 2010 at 5:37PM
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Several times I've seen tags with care instructions placed in an orchid pot with no drainage holes stating to only give the plant water by the teaspoon. That's mostly because without drainage holes (which is basically a death sentence in and of itself) you have to be very careful not to allow water to collect in the pot. But, as you have already found out, when you have proper potting conditions, then you really should drench the potting mix with water, let it drain completely, and then water again once the mix is back to being barely damp (3 - 5 days in most average home conditions).

Most phals grow year round as long as you grow them in warm conditions, so you'll need to feed lightly year round with no real breaks in that routine. So, yes, it's perfectly fine to fertilize your phal while it is blooming.

Even if the fertilizer is specifically designed for orchids, you probably want to mix the food solution up at about 1/2 to 1/4 of the label directions. Also, all fertilizers contain various salts that will kill orchid roots if they build up in the pot. This is why when you water, you want to make sure to really drench the pot to help leach out excess salts.

Ideally you want to water the plant really well with fresh clean water (to flush the pot), then apply the fertilizer solution after the pot has drained. This might be impractical if you have a lot of orchids, but since you only have one (or at most a few), I'd go that route.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2010 at 7:13PM
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I never fertilize a Phal in bloom. There is no reason to unless it is starting to make new leaves. Fertilizer can change the pH of the water and you could loose your blooms. You just got the plant, enjoy the flowers and take care of your watering. There is probably fertilizer in the mix already.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2010 at 11:51PM
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dragon_kite(z6 NYC)

I also fertilize my orchids when they're in bloom. I use MSU but have used Dyna-gro in the past. Both are good but I prefer the powder to the liquid. I've used 1/4 tps of Dynagro per gallon every other watering for phals.

Although you've lost 2 sentimental orchids, you will have more orchids and new memories, and a great support group right here to share it with you.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2010 at 10:53AM
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I received an Orchid for my birthday. I have read as much as I can about taking care of them.. First my flowers came off, then the leaves started having black spots, I made sure it was watered, then changed out the potting mix, fertilized and everthing, the leaves came off now the roots are black and mushy and my stem is turning brown. Please help

    Bookmark   June 13, 2011 at 11:03AM
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What did you change you potting mix to?

    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 2:16PM
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i bought this little gem at a grocery store for ten bucks. look at those roots, it had a bark substrate, now gone. see how easy that is, no pot, no problem. those roots look over watered and like they went without light. these suckers get to a dry point respirate then kind of drink what they sweat. they require the water to fill their stores kinda like a cactus. fertilize the place around the plant. personally, mine is sitting on a log, that is sitting on a huge bucket of dirt. i water the dirt and mist the plant. but, i could be wrong, sure it might die. however the segmented parts in the roots are from re-potting in orchid substrate, prior to me getting a hold of it, so is the yellow, so if it lives, great, if not, try, try again. lot of heals and breaks in those roots, leaves me wondering why peat or bark chips or pebbles are useful. they are air plants. if you have something i can learn from, great.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2014 at 8:16PM
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just to kind of further mention see those white spots on the green air roots, light helped it to be possible, great. see the yellow? see the breaks? substrate and pot use caused it. pots are great for decor. also the flower on it, is great. got an fyi, send it my way. these plants can live a very very long time.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2014 at 8:33PM
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just to show the flower. someone might have some info on the flower they'd like to share. the stump is pest free.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2014 at 8:43PM
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