help! my gf's phal orchid is dying!

nightrider97November 28, 2010

Guys, and gals, I really need some help here. I bought my girlfriend a Purple Phal Orchid for a housewarming gift when she moved away to college this year. Well its life in my/her care has gone like this, bloomed for 3 weeks, got very sick and we struggled with getting it back to health again, I took it to my old boss and we re-potted it and kept it in a greenhouse for 2 weeks and it grew 3 inches and started blooming like crazy, I took it back to my GF, the blooms kept getting bigger and bigger but never bloomed, then it got sick again, and now its dying. 3 or 4 leaves have died and fallen off, and 2 more feel loose at the base. The leaves that are left are yellow, have holes in them and a nasty looking whitish haze on them. The stems are like 2.5ft tall and have 2-4 blooms on each of them.

I'm no expert with plants but worked for a greenhouse for 5 years when it was a teenager. Give me something mechanical and I can fix it or make it run better, faster and more reliably. But plants are a different story. My thoughts on the sickly leaves, with the white haze giving me the clue, is that the college does chlorine treatments in their water supply and thats why it would do great for several weeks and then all of a sudden get sick. Just my thoughts.

PLEASE HELP! She loves this plant like its our first child, I can't fathom it dying.

Here's the details of her care.

Watered only when it almost completely dried out.

Fertilized every other watering.

Kept under grow lamps and in a window (northern facing, but some light reflected into it).

Room temp was about 72*.

Not sure what else to say.

Please help!

I can get a pic if you want.


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You might be right - the water. Tell her to use bottled water. Without photos, it impossible to tell what is happening. Have you taken a look at the roots? How long has it been since leaving the greenhouse?

More info needed,


    Bookmark   November 28, 2010 at 10:37PM
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Here are a couple pics of it.



She brought it back to me this weekend to see if I could save it. So currently its in my house, I am using a grow lamp/bulb on it because we aren't having many great sunny days lately. I also watered it with a good dose of professional orchid fertilizer. She'd just watered it last week on thursday but the roots felt dry so I figured I couldn't hurt it anymore than it already is.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2010 at 11:27PM
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Oh yea, its been probably 4 or 5 weeks since I picked it up from the greenhouse.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2010 at 11:29PM
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cody_mi(z5 MI)

to me it looks like it's not taking in enough water. this is what i would do.
1. cut off the spikes about 1/8-1/4 inch from the base of the plant, cut it on an angle.
2. take the plant out of the pot and take a pic of the roots. i'm going to assume they're brown and hollow. cut those off and the strings that are inside them, all of them. healthy roots are gray/white with green tips and are firm.
3. remove the bottom two leaves. the yellow one and the really limp green one. it'll help it to stop losing water.
4. dust all of you cut surfaces with a fungicide or cinnamon.
5. it's possible that it's in too big of a pot, especially if it has very few roots. it looks like the mix is only bark/charcoal right? i'd mix in a little bit of chopped sphagnum for water retension. make sure to soak the mix.
6. after it's repotted, set it where it gets decent light. when it's recovering, it won't want very bright light and never put it in direct sun.
7. increase the humidity around the plant. if you don't have a humidifier, then you can set the pot on a tray of gravel and then fill the tray with water. as it evaporates it'll raise the humidity.
8. only water it every 10-14 days with really good water. when you do water it, make sure you water it really well, the bark needs to take up water. you can set the plant in a bowl of water for 10 minutes or so. water in early morning and try not to get any water in the crown of the plant or in the leaf bracts. this can cause problem with rot. if you do you can dry it with a qtip.
9. you should start seeing new root growth several weeks.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2010 at 3:21PM
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I could not get the photos. I do not recommend putting cinnamon on roots.


    Bookmark   November 29, 2010 at 8:33PM
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I wish I could post pics on here with html code, thats what the img brackets are for, it should just show the pics but its not.
I'll try posting them as links.
Thanks for the advice guys! Believe it or not in just one day it looks like its getting better. Probably because of that Orchid Food I gave it.

Here's the links. I'll cross my fingers.

Alright someone is going to have to walk me through posting pics on this type of a forum.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2010 at 8:53PM
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On Photobucket, copy the html code under the photo and paste it here on the body of your post. Very simple. When you click on your photo, the box with all the codes appear and just right-click the html. Come here and past it in your post.

Your plant looks dehydrated. It could be the roots are gone or its underwatered. I would try to peek at the roots. If they look alive and firm, soak the pot in some water until the bark gets hydrated (could take a few hours). Keep the plant warm and in a bright window.


    Bookmark   November 29, 2010 at 11:00PM
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Its got bugs! NOOOOOOOO! :( Thats pretty much a death sentence for it.

I don't know what kind of bugs they are but they are TINY. Little gray buggers.

Now its got me wondering if it hasn't had these bugs the whole time I've had it. They are so small she would have never seen them. That would explain the holes in the leaves. The two loose leaves fell off today and inside the stem were those bugs.
This is so sad. I can't imagine telling my GF that her baby is facing certain death now.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2010 at 9:58PM
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Well, you could do the 'replacing the dead goldfish' routine...

    Bookmark   November 30, 2010 at 10:44PM
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arthurm(Sydney, NSW AUST)

The bugs might be fungus nats which are harmless because they feed on decaying matter in the mix. i agree with the other posters in that your plant is dehydrated.

The easy road might be to buy a replacement because recovery might be a long and difficult process.

How did it get that way? probably covered in the posts above, take into account what is said there and find some complete culture notes on the net relating to phalaenopsis culture in Climate zones similar to where you live.

I do not think Phalaenopsis are all that easy.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2010 at 11:00PM
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cody_mi(z5 MI)

do you have pics of the bugs or can you describe them further?
or you can do a google image search for the most common pests
mealy bugs
aphids (several colors)
fungus gnats

    Bookmark   November 30, 2010 at 11:33PM
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To answer the bug question, I'll list what you posted with a yes/maybe/no.
mealy bugs Maybe
aphids (several colors) No
scale No
fungus gnats No
earwigs No
spidermites Maybe

These bugs are so small I can barely see them. They fly too if that helps. The ones I've said no to are definite no's.

Update though. I pulled the plant from the pot, only one of them has green roots, and even that one doesn't have many. The others are all limp brown and thin. The one with the biggest flowering buds has the worst looking roots.

The media is damp where most of the roots reside. I don't understand how its so damp but the plant isn't getting any water.

Here are several more pics. What do I need to do with it, cut roots? Leave it out of the pot for a couple hours so the roots arent so damp? Allow the media to dry out?

    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 12:23AM
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westoh Z6

Hate to be a naysayer, but....

I'd trash those 3 and buy the GF a new one. The media looks a little broken down to me, thus it stayed wet/damp too long causing the roots to rot and not be able to take up water. I don't see many (if any) good roots. If I were to venture a guess, I'd say at least 2-3 years (if you are lucky and good) to get the one with 1 leaf to come back, the other 2 are finished IMO.

Were all three plants in one pot when you purchased?

Good luck.


    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 6:44AM
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Yep they came all in that very pot. They were in normal plant mix though when we got them, so I had to have them repotted in the bark.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 8:06AM
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cody_mi(z5 MI)

i agree with bob. after seeing the roots, it's better to just replace it. do a websearch for orchid societies in your area. dec thru feb are when most orchid shows take place and you'll find 100's of blooming plants. it might be a fun date for you and your girlfriend to go pick out a new one. don't feel bad at all, i killed my first 5 orchids within months of getting them. then after i got the hang of them and acquired around 500 plants, i lost all but three in a greenhouse freeze. they're not difficult once you figure out what makes them happy.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 12:20PM
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Its Holiday Time! Buy her a nice pretty orchid. Add to the package a book "All About Orchids" by Ortho. Inexpensive, lots of photos and they sell it at all the big, box stores or Amazon.


    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 3:16PM
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This is just so sad. If I'm sad, I know for sure she'll be sad. I'll see what shows are around here. Thanks guys for trying to help.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 8:28PM
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whitecat8(z4 MN)

Sean, a belated welcome,

A couple of my earlier messages to you haven't posted here.

You have my sympathy and empathy with your orchid loss, especially because it was a thoughtful and special gift for your GF, and she's loved it so. You've gone to great lengths to save this plant. Not many folks would have done that. Kudos to you.

Dunno if this will help ease the loss for the two of you, but the beloved Phal could have been doomed before you got it because of the no drainage factor. The only retailers who raise orchids to last beyond that one (unnatural) flowering are the smaller commercial orchid growers, and some of those mistreat their plants, so you end up with poor quality too.

You're in good company: virtually every orchid hobbyist lost at least a few of their first orchids.

After you and your GF have had a chance to talk, & if you decide to get another orchid, I have two suggestions that will increase chances the new orchid will thrive and bloom again (no guarantees, unfortunately - we're talking orchids. :)).

First, as Jane said, get Ortho's All About Orchids by Elvin McDonald; Meredith Books, 1999. It's a paperback, and Amazon's got them new for $2.79! Then there's shipping from their vendor, but the book was about $20 @ Home Depot a couple of years ago.

The Ortho book's only 96 pages long and has guided tons of folks to success. After the two of you have skimmed through the book...

Second suggestion - order a Phal from a grower who sells online. Picking out the new Phal together could help brighten your moods.

There are lots of good growers who sell online, and folks here will suggest solid growers, if you decide to go that route. We can also tell you which Phals might be easier than others.

One drawback is a new plant may not arrive in spike (have a "stem" maybe long enough to have buds on it already), or in bloom (flowers open). That's because the orchid's environment hasn't been messed with to force it to bloom way out of its natural cycle, like orchids you find in stores, even garden centers. This process could have compromised your orchid's health, too.

But, you're in luck - this is the time of year lots of Phals are in spike.

I live in Minneapolis, MN and see you're in SE Nebraska. We're geographically challenged in the orchid world. There may be small commercial growers kinda near you or your GF's school, but none that sell online as far as I know.

Also, the only show around here where you can buy orchids is in conjunction with the St. Paul Winter Carnival in January, and only a few vendors attend. It's the absolute worst time to buy an orchid cuz of its exposure to cold temps.

People in Chicago, S CA, FL, and farther up the E coast live in paradise re: lots of good growers and big shows throughout the year.

I'll be thinking about you two. Please let us know how it's going.


Here is a link that might be useful: Ortho's All About Orchids,

    Bookmark   December 3, 2010 at 4:47AM
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westoh Z6



    Bookmark   December 3, 2010 at 6:57AM
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whitecat8(z4 MN)

Bob - what'cha smilin' about over there in Ohio land? WC8

    Bookmark   December 3, 2010 at 3:45PM
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westoh Z6


Just thought it was an excellent post :-)


    Bookmark   December 6, 2010 at 7:01AM
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whitecat8(z4 MN)

Gee thanks. Blushing

    Bookmark   December 6, 2010 at 9:42AM
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Hello ! I am sorry to hear about your orchid.
I don't post often but you could try putting some really damp spagnum moss in a plastic bag and put the plant in there. I did that on a plant that looked just like yours and it worked ! It provides the orchid with the humidity it needs to grow new roots. I had mine under a grow light too. It will take a long time but it's worth a try. In the meantime, buy a new one. I brought a new one too because I am an orchid pig LOL !

    Bookmark   December 6, 2010 at 7:29PM
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