New orchids. Help me not kill them.

crazytboneDecember 3, 2011

I've wanted to grow orchids for quite some time. I could just never bring myself to pay $15-$20 for one. (I'm a teacher. Money isn't exactly in abundant supply :)

Well, today was my lucky day! On the clearance rack of a big box store (not sure if it's kosher to say, but it rhymes with "Bows") I found some beautiful plants marked $1!!!!!

I got 2.

This isn't my first try at orchids. I had this little one for about a year. It did NOTHING. No new growth. No nothing. Then it suddenly turned black and died.

I don't want to kill these new ones. I'm pretty confused and intimidated by orchids. The first one is labeled "Dendrobium Orchid" and the second is simply labeled "Orchids". Here's a close look at their soil. Looks like all moss to me. It's currently somewhat damp.

The pots have no drainage holes and are plastic. From my experience with plants (which I would say is moderate. I'm a disciple of Al and his Gritty Mix) I think that these orchids are not in good conditions for survival. I also don't want to panic and do too much and stress them to death.

How do I not kill them? I have a bag of orchid bark in the basement. The chunks of bark are pretty big. Should I mix some of the moss with the bark?

Thank you in advance :)


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arthurm(Sydney, NSW AUST)

if you want help you need to give information and the most important bit is where you live in the USA? Frozen North? Florida?

Orchid Number 1 is a hard-cane Dendrobium. I'm just about to go down to a glass-house to divide and repot a dozen or so of them. Generally, never had a great deal of success with them.

Orchid Number 2 is maybe a Coelogyne of some sort, easy here in a shade-house at latitude 34S. Where you are and in your conditions?

Orchid Number 3 is a "Cattleya" hybrid. Your description of its death suggest not enough light and over-watering.

The potting material is "spag" it can be a good material in some conditions, especially so if you can get the watering right, but an orchid with constant cold-wetness around the roots is in danger of drying from root rot.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2011 at 4:56PM
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I live in Massachusetts. Not a terribly warm place. I put them on top of a tv in a room that can get a touch chilly, but should rarely drop below 60. I'm not sure what else you would want to know.

Thanks for the help.


    Bookmark   December 3, 2011 at 4:59PM
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arthurm(Sydney, NSW AUST)

I've got no idea how to grow orchids in those climates but 60F minimum is not really a problem provided you get a daytime rise in temp....
How much air movement??
Can you put them somewhere outside in summer?
What aspect do the plants have? South east in the Northern Hemisphere would be good i imagine.
Fill in the data a bit and i'm sure you will get better help from the locals.
Welcome to the wonderful world of orchid growing.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2011 at 5:49PM
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I'm a New Hampshire teacher and have grown similar Dends as yours. Since it's from Loews, it's probably a D. phalenopsis. I suggest moving it to plastic net pot or a clay orchid pot with side holes. Remove some of the sphagnum moss so that the crown of the plant is visible. Yours seem planted way too deep. Water the plant only when the sphag is mostly dry. Are they in flower? -can't see the flowers but only a stalk. If they're done flowering (hence on sale) they will go into a resting period - if so, water sparsely, letting the plant dry out well. Don't fertilize or only once a month. Since you're in MA, they could go on a morning sun window sill (on a gravel pan to increase local humidity) with some decent air movement and allowing a night-time dip in temp. If and when you see some new growth (of new roots or new stalks (pseudobulbs) I would transplant (into med or large orchid bark, semi-hydro, or even a mount depending on how fancy you want to go) then fertilize weekly weakly. The important thing now in keeping them alive is to remember that these are epiphytes and not plants in soil. Let them dry out fully before watering again. Hope this helps and good luck!

    Bookmark   December 3, 2011 at 8:13PM
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They are not in flower. That's why I got them for a dollar. I only have one location that is safe from a plant-eating kitten, which is in a room that gets bright indirect daylight. What degree of air movement are you talking about? Should I put a fan in the room or something? I don't have any pots available, but I did remove some moss from the tops of the plants. I do not know what the crown looks like. The moss seems very tightly packed. This worries me.
Here's a picture:

My biggest worry is that they are epiphytes and that the moss is so tightly packed that it is very much like soil.

Thank you for the advice.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2011 at 11:50PM
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Their roots need air. Put them in pots with drainage holes. Give them lots of light and only water when dry. They don't need a fan now unless your room is very still. Most homes have some air movement. They will do fine. Put them outside in summer.


    Bookmark   December 4, 2011 at 12:40AM
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Should I loosen the moss around the roots?

    Bookmark   December 4, 2011 at 4:34PM
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I would definitely loosen the moss around the roots. On second thought, if they were mine, I would repot in bark mix, and ditch the moss. For me personally, Sphagnum moss stays wet too long, inviting root rot.

Second orchid looks like Oncidium to me, BTW, more common in a big box store than a Coelogyne here, I would think.


    Bookmark   December 4, 2011 at 6:30PM
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Since both plants (yes I think the other is an Oncidium as well) could be rested now, just let the sphagnum dry out and water only occasionally. If you sparsely water the sphag from the bottom (using a pot with holes and a saucer) it won't get too water-logged, which would suffocate the roots. You could take the chance to repot now into bark, but try not to disturb the roots as much as possible and let them rest and recover for a couple of weeks before watering again. Bright indirect light away from kitty is fine. Acclimating them to more light in the spring will help them energize for reflowering. I'd take a little more sphag out of the Dendrobium, but the Onc looks good as I can see a couple of roots. Good luck again.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2011 at 7:12PM
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Ok, how's this for a plan?
I'm going to leave the sphag for a little while (after taking more out of the dendrobium). I discovered that the pots do have holes in the bottom after all, so I'll water sparsely with a saucer. In maybe Feb or March, I'll transplant to bark, and when new growth starts I'll decide whether to stick with bark or be fancy pants and mount them.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2011 at 9:10PM
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    Bookmark   December 5, 2011 at 10:24PM
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This is the plant when transplanting.

Post transplant

Post transplant

    Bookmark   December 6, 2011 at 3:59PM
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That's a handsome plant. :D

Any tips for transplanting?

    Bookmark   December 6, 2011 at 5:48PM
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What a find! I would have gotten more then two....

Anyway, when you transplant, you need to cut any dead roots off. They will just rot and can rot the plant. Look at the picture that chiefscotsman posted - those roots are healthy and alive. Dead roots are brown and shriveled. Get them wet, and the live ones will turn greenish. Any orchids from one of the big box stores probably haven't been cared for properly and will have some dead roots. It happens even if they've had pretty good care.

If you haven't grown orchids before, I suggest repotting them rather than mounting them. They'll be easier to take care of. It's too easy to let them dry out too much if they're mounted, and most do better potted.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2011 at 10:07PM
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So despite my best defensive efforts, kitty managed to have a little orchid hord d'ouvres. I don't think it's anything fatal, but I came home a few days ago to find the dendrobium on the floor with some nibbles in most of the leaves.

I've decided to bring both orchids into my classroom to join my menagerie of window plants. My classroom should be both better lit and warmer.

Will the damage to the leaves be fatal to my orchid? It's just a little nibbling at the tips. I can supply a pic if needed.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 7:15AM
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Update time:

Both orchids are still alive. The Coelogyne is looking great, and has a new bit of growth with some healthy looking roots. The other isn't looking quite so great, but definitely isn't dead.

I'm thinking of repotting soon using some bagged orchid mix from lowes. I can't remember if it's medium or large bits at the moment. Is it as simple as a repot and root prune job, or is there something more I need to look for?
How do my watering habits need to change with the new mix? Should I keep a little of the spag. moss for some water retention?

    Bookmark   March 8, 2012 at 11:51AM
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So after seeing the roots on my orchids, I can understand why people criticize the big box stores. Healthy roots were few and far between with substantial root rot in both plants. I repotted with Better Gro Special Orchid Mix (no size listed). Is there anything I can do to encourage more root growth?

    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 8:31AM
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i'm terrible at dends, though mine is still alive, it's not great, i'm learning, but the other plant, which i also believe is and oncid of some sort, those are easy. I don't know how you get more root growth besides not overwatering. by now there should be aerial roots (above the potting mix) forming, at least with the oncid. if there's new growth then theres new roots, though my dend put out new growths to make new roots because the old ones had rotted away at the store. just water regularly and lots of sunlight. that worked for me!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 7:43PM
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