Let these flower? Sphag and bag? Something else?

greentoe357August 3, 2013

EDIT: this is an old thread, so no need to read too closely and advise - but there are several progress pictures there, so the thread is now more of a case study. The experience turned out into a good confidence builder for me and provided many good learning experiences, but I would advise people to start with healthy blooming or spiking plants rather than trying to "save" those in bad shape like I tried to do. This was too much damn anguish and waiting around! :-)

As of yesterday, my toe is officially in with a couple of new orchids I bought for the first time ever. I'd been reading about them and looking at orchid porn :-) online but hesitant to get any because I was afraid to kill them and because they are not cheap. Yesterday I got two little sickly ones in the same pot at a big box store nearby at 50% off.

Looks like they recently finished flowering. There was one flower stalk definitely dry - I cut it off. Apart from that, the 2-leaf plant has a flower stalk with 2 tiny bulbs at the every end and the 4-leaf plant has 2 non-dry flower stalks - one has been broken or cut off 3-4 nodes in and the other has a tiny bulb at the very end.

Both plants had extensive root problems - very rigid dry wiry center in each root covered with an empty shell with no meaty tissue in-between - I cut all of those off and the picture shows what little good roots remain.

The leaves are a bit droopy and wrinkly, but far from dead.

As much as I'd love to get these to flower just to see what those flowers look like, I strongly suspect I need to cut all the flower stalks to the very bottom in order to let the plants rest and regenerate healthy roots in order to survive into the next year. My priority is 60% long term survival of the plants but also 40% seeing the flowers ASAP - so if the plants are not likely to be hurt too much further by flowering now (and if that is even likely with these tiny roots), then I might let them try.

Another question is whether my plants are good candidates for the "sphag and bag" technique (shown here for example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVuIStLxFrI) to help phals grow new roots. Are they?

Very broadly, what would you do with these if you were me? I look at these as good learning opportunities - which is to say I might choose the more difficult or labor-intensive route if I am likely to learn from the experience, even if I kill one or both in the process.

This post was edited by greentoe357 on Sun, Oct 26, 14 at 11:48

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For now, I repotted them into separate pots into my own mix consisting of 3 parts pine bark (>3/8ths, what was too big for gritty mix), 1 part coarse perlite (>1/8th) and 1 part chilean sphagnum moss).

I keep reading about fir bark for phalaenopsis - is it a problem that I used pine bark?

    Bookmark   August 3, 2013 at 1:23AM
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arthurm(Sydney, NSW AUST)

Fir Bark was wonderful, but it has not been available in Australia for a long time. Replaced by cheaper treated Radiata Pine Bark.
Good luck in the adventure with the Phals.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2013 at 6:09AM
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James AKA lumpy_j

I would cut off the spikes and keep them someplace warm (70 to 80 degrees) and out of direct light.

The only thing I was ever able to grow with the sphag and bag method was mold.

How much were they at 50% off? You can buy seedling size plans online for $5-$10 and have a much more rewarding experience. In the time it will take those plants to recover (if they ever do) you could get a large seedling to maturity with much less effort.

Don't get discouraged if they die, it is difficult for anyone to get a sick plant back to health.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2013 at 4:07PM
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love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)

Lowes frequently marks down phals that have finished blooming to $1-$3 US ($1.12 - $3.37 AU).

    Bookmark   August 5, 2013 at 4:17PM
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I agree with lumpy, but if you have the patience and energy. here's what I would do.

I grew orchids in NY for many years. You are in Brooklyn and its still summer. Your challenge will be getting them to make it through winter in a chilly house.

For now, keep them warm. Forget sphag and bag, as lumpy said, its a waste of time. Get a root hormone and put some on the roots. Cut the spikes off all the way down. Forget flowers at this point, you want roots and some leaf growth. Water when the mix is just slightly damp. I would soak the bark for a few hours or overnight to get it to hold water.

Put the plants in a bright area near a window. No direct sunlight but you need bright light and warmth to stimulate root growth.

This winter the plants will still need light and warmth. Don't worry about a cool down as the plants do not have enough roots to flower. Find the warmest spot in your house to carry them over the winter. If you have a floor lamp or clamp light, you can supplement light. Don't get water in the crown.

The positive you have going is the leaves. They appear healthy and with bright light they should carry the plant and get the roots growing.

The plant on my right does not look good. But with warmth, light and some rooting hormone, you might get them going.

Good luck, and please post back,


    Bookmark   August 5, 2013 at 11:56PM
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>> The only thing I was ever able to grow with the sphag and bag method was mold.
haha. Skipping that idea then.

>> How much were they at 50% off?
$12.50 for both. Perhaps not a deep bargain I was hoping for with these roots. I did unpot them at the store, but did not want to be obnoxious and make a huge mess by actually bare-rooting them there.

Love_the_yard, I had never seen phals on sale here, or any plants on sale really, especially not at a buck or three, no matter how bad their condition was - and often it is really bad. I've read somewhere here that big box stores have negotiated buy-back deals with their plant suppliers for unsold plants, so there is no incentive for them to drop the price, apparently. I bought these at Lowes.

Jane, root hormone! How did I not think of that! I cut the flower stalks now, put cinnamon on the scars and rooting hormone on the whole underground part and stuck them back into the medium.

Two days ago I had already bagged them both, as one leaf started yellowing pretty badly (see pic), and I thought that would help. Should I cut off that leaf, or let it die away naturally? I think while it's at least partially green, it's doing some fo the job it needs to be doing for the plant - is that a good assumption?

I put them back into the plastic bag on the window sill. No direct light there ever. While they are in the bag, I assume misting is better than watering?

I had soaked the pots with the medium, so the bark is probably saturated.

Temps are probably OK for the rest of the summer, and in the mean time I might buy a propagating pad for these and some other plants.

Any other wisdom from the crowd?

Thanks, all.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2013 at 3:14AM
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The yellowing of the leaf from the base outward isn't a good sign. Yes, the plant has no roots, so the leaf can't take in moisture or nutrients, but it can also be a sign that the core, or base of the plant may well be suffering from a slow, bacterial or fungal infection (rot). The leaf will eventually fall off anyway. But if more leaves begin to yellow, then the plant maybe a gonner. The "sphag and bag" method of reviving plants is better suited to propagating cattleya backbulbs (and with cattleyas, a rooting hormone/powder is usually applied to the base of rhizome and eyes). Small plants such as these I've potted up in sphagnum moss in small clay pots. A problem with may orchids, especially phalaenopsis is the tendency to overpot the plant. The larger the pot, the more moisture it holds, especially in the center. Often, for an epiphyte, allowing the roots to dry out between watering helps promote stronger root growth. In the wild, phalaenopsis species grow in the canopy of trees (Philippines and southeast Asia).

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 3:38AM
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Here is an update. The leaf yellowed and I ripped it off. No yellowing of other leaves, which is encouraging.

I would open the bag every few days to air it out and check on the plants. The was a slight moldy smell like a week ago, so I removed the bag for now. The mix, esp. peat moss, felt very moist at the time, so I hope no bag is ok for now.

I got a big grow light the other day and just set them both under it today.

Exploring heating pads next.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2013 at 1:17AM
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i am in brooklyn to bought one from lowes and tried the same thing with the bag and the plant died my sister bought me two from some market place in PH for $2.50 each and they are doing fine

    Bookmark   August 23, 2013 at 6:15AM
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The phals never went back into the plastic humidity bag - they and their mix looked OK without and I never phalt (HAHA!) that they needed it.

Today at watering I saw tiny leaves coming out of both orchid's crowns! (barely seen in the picture here.) To me it means definitely no crown rot (phew!) AND that roots may already be regrowing. Let's just say as a first time ever orchid grower, I am VERY happy.

Once I saw the leaves, I gave them fertilizer for the first time (Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 at half strength, like I give most of my other plants). I intend to continue at every watering unless you guys have better ideas.

Also, I am conducting a little experiment and had set one of the plants under a light fixture and the other on the shelf below, so in lower light. The result is also visible on this picture taken today - the one subjected to more light (top right) is getting a purple tint all over its leaves. The other one has just a bit of that purple color, mostly under one leaf, but the leaves are otherwise green. I intend to continue placing them on these different shelves just to see how different light levels affect plants in similar conditions (observing growth rate difference would be interesting) - unless you tell me something here looks unhealthy and I should change. I've read online that just a slight purple tinge marks the top level of light intensity phals should be given - so I may be overdoing it on the top shelf - wonder what knowledgeable people think.

I've been watering when the medium (the moss really) feels like it's just about to dry out completely, which has been a little more often for the plant directly under lights, compared to the other one, as expected. The mix feels really good, chunky and airy to me.

Thanks again to all for sharing your wisdom and experience.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2013 at 11:55PM
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Looks great!


    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 2:22PM
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i am happy u were able to save yours

    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 8:25PM
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UPDATE TIME! ('cause I can't hold it in, you know!)

I did not go digging around for root growth deliberately, but while watering today, the mix shifted and I noticed this. YAY!

    Bookmark   September 14, 2013 at 9:27PM
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What a thrill. Congrats!


    Bookmark   September 16, 2013 at 10:20PM
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And isn't this a happy one! Both twins set two spikes each! I am a very proud orchid papa!

This was too much damn anguish and waiting around though! :-) I would advice to just start with a healthy plant or two instead of trying to be a hero to some half-dead ones.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2014 at 11:57AM
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But it is a great reward! The more difficult the more rewarding you'd feel!



    Bookmark   October 26, 2014 at 9:28PM
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You are a great gardener! You might be a beginner orchid grower, but you are definitely an excellent grower. You have gardening instincts.'

I bet you are an avid 'dirt' gardener. You've got the 'feel.'

You have done a marvelous job. As Tannie said, there is nothing more rewarding than turning a plant around and see it thrive.

You had some things going for you when you bought the plants. This does not diminish anything you did, but it is worth noting for the future rescue plants you will now be looking at.

1. You got the plants during the summer.
2 Both plants had some viable roots.
3. They looked fairly healthy.

Phals like warmth. Most Phals of this type, bloom in the winter and make leaf and root growth over summer. You had enough healthy leaf to get roots going. You gave them light and the warmth to jump start what should have started in Spring.

Now, your trick will be to 'not overwater!' When we lived in NYC, the most problems came up over winter. If the plants do not have enough light and warmth, you can overwater. They did better when grown under lights over the winter.

Phals red/purple tinting to the spikes and leaves are most likely purple/ red flowers. Yours looks great.

Now its time to get some healthy ones. They will naturally spike during this period so the stores should be filled with fresh, healthy plants.

Also, look for a local orchid club near you. Not sure about Brooklyn, but I would bet they do. They usually meet once a month and have a speaker and auction plants. You learn much more about growing in your area by joining a club. Lots of free advice from local growers. You can get great plants at good prices and can get divisions for free vs stores. You can't miss the prices for potting supplies.

These are winter bloomers grown when we lived in NY. This room was a sunroom but not heated. These Phals were not grown in there except summer. They spent the fall under lights to increase the spikes and to shape the buds. I moved them in there for the photo. These plants would hold their flowers until June. Then I cut them down to the bottom.

Again, you did a great job! Be aware, orchids are addictive. You might have 2 now, but we'd like to hear back from you in a year to see how you are holding up. We have some links to 12-step programs or you can just visit here and get free therapy. Just let us know! :-))


    Bookmark   October 26, 2014 at 11:54PM
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Thank you, Tanie and Jane!

> The more difficult the more rewarding you'd feel!

Yeah, that's for sure. I wish that for the next 18 years I could go "I was in labor with you for 14 months, and THIS is how you repay me!?!?!" lol

> You are a great gardener!

Thank you, Jane, for these kind words and others! I am totally humble-bragging about these spikes to everybody I know. :-)

> You had some things going for you when you bought the plants.

Good points! I would have had a much more difficult time resuscitating them in the winter. I grow under lights, but there are still environmental clues for them to slow down and be lazy.

> When we lived in NYC, the most problems came up over winter. [...] They did better when grown under lights over the winter.

Yeah, I had an expectation last winter (which was my first winter growing lots of plants under lights) that everything will basically stand still, but some of them did grow. Slower than in the summer, of course, but they did. Lights add a lot of goodness - especially considering that my windows are really dark. Exposure does not even matter when you are on the first floor surrounded by trees and 23-story buildings.

> Phals red/purple tinting to the spikes and leaves are most likely purple/ red flowers.

Oh, I thought that was just because of the good light! Some culture guides say to give Phals enough light to just turn the leaf undersides slightly purple tinged, but not much more, so that was the look I was going for. There is a comparative photo a few screens above - I experimented putting one twin closer to the lights and the other farther.

Maybe the purple spike is the indication of flower color? I have no idea about that - but I did read about purple leaves being light-related.

By the way, I have no clue what the flower colors are going to be, but I am DYING to know, of course, so I appreciate your mentioning this indicator.

> Now its time to get some healthy ones. They will naturally spike during this period so the stores should be filled with fresh, healthy plants.

Yeah, the stores here are indeed full of them - not that they are a deficit at other times... I think I narrowed down the color combo I particularly like, and now it's a matter of catching a good one.

> Also, look for a local orchid club near you.

I am past that stage. I joined Manhattan Orchid Society 6-7 months ago. Then completely by accident I found out the President of Staten Island OS lives in my building in Brooklyn! (How's that for a coincidence in a 12 million population city?!?!) I joined that Society as well - he and his wife drive every month, and I do not have a car, so this was really convenient. They've become good friends, actually. There is also a third OS in NYC (can you believe that!? Three in one city!), but that one meets in the Bronx, which is just too far for where I live.

I've become a huge fan of an idea of plant societies and these Societies in particular (and there's another "Indoor Gardening" one that I belong to, but that one is general, not just for orchids). Just like you said, Jane, they are an absolutely indispensable source of good LOCAL growing info and cheap or even free plants. Highly recommended for anyone interested in plants.

> Be aware, orchids are addictive. You might have 2 now [...]

Oh, I am WELL past that also. :-) Going to these Society meetings, having access to plants raffled, auctioned, sold or simply given away, making new plant nut friends - there was no chance I would stay with just those 2 Phals. I have 3-4 Oncidium types (one with a spike with 50+ buds, going to start opening any day now), a Dendrobium, a Miltoniopsis (that is also in spike! in my care!), 2-3 Cattleyas (my most favorite flower genus!), an Aerangis, a Tolumnia, a Ludisia, a Bryobium (ugh, that thing is a major Princess!) and a couple of Paphs.

So, yeah, addictive they definitely ARE! :-)

That is a great picture of your orchids! Many people here are an inspiration and a lot of help, so THANK YOU!

    Bookmark   October 27, 2014 at 2:05AM
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Wow, sounds like you've got everything going great! Having the President of an Orchid Society as a neighbor... can't get better than that. Plus a ride to Staten Island, Lucky!

We lived in Westchester County and I was a member of the Greater Westchester OS. I grew all my orchids under CFL's in the winter. I had huge windows so my rooms were very bright. My plants went out in summer. I mainly used the light to finish off spikes and any new growths. It worked well, but summering outdoors really did the trick.

The problems I had over winter was 'temps.' My house was cool and drafty and I could get rot. Phals were difficult and I got crown , root rot occasionally. I had trouble with many of my warm growers and finally dedicated a small, dark, warm room for those plants. I had to ramp up the lights.

Yes, your reddish tint is do to higher light, but the purplish color suggests the flowers will be some shade of red/purple. Time will tell!

Again, you are doing great job, congrats!!


    Bookmark   October 28, 2014 at 1:18PM
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xmpraedicta(3b Saskatoon)

Good job - love hearing a good success story!

    Bookmark   November 1, 2014 at 2:21PM
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