Orchid Culture - 2020 Questions & Answers
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Email us with any orchid question, if we can't answer it we'll find someone who can! Send photographs too!
Sediment Grains on Wooden Basket
Q. Do you know what could be producing the sediment looking grains you see in the picture? I have found them in and around the roots of a few of my more established mounted plants. I went after them with the hose but saw they reappeared after a couple of weeks.
A. That looks like frass from dry wood termites. Take a hose and water blast all the loose stuff away and look for little pinholes in the wood, they are the holes the termites make to push the frass out.
There are plenty of chemicals to kill termites, but the strength recommended for termites is at least 20 times stronger than that which is recommended for orchids. For example, the 21.4% imidacloprid product is used at a rate of about 0.5 mL/gal for orchids and 8 to 16 mL/gal for treating foundations for termites. Perhaps a better plan is to pretreat wooden mounts/baskets for termites prior to use. Alternatively, try soaking the mounts in a strong imidacloprid solution for an hour.
Dark Spots on Cattleya Leaf
Q. This cattleya hybrid has some dark spots but it seems to be just a discoloration? They are flat, part of the leaf, you can’t feel anything to the touch. It does not seem to hurt the plant.
Any idea what it is?
A. That looks like some bacterial blighting that occurred as the leaf was forming. I'm guessing water was cupped by the papery sheath around the emerging leaves and bacteria attacked the soft new leaf tissue. You can try to gently pull down the sheathing so water can drain freely to prevent it from happening in the future.
Was Dendrobium Over-watered?
Q. I repotted. this Dendrobium about a year ago. Someone commented that Dendrobiums like a lot of water, so I watered it often. This past spring it appeared to have developed a new cane with little green leaves at the base which shriveled and disappeared.
On one of the remaining viable canes there are two keikis which looked robust when they first appeared maybe a couple of months ago that are now turning brown.
Have I killed this plant by over watering?
A. Perhaps. When they told you Dendrobiums like lots of water, they should have also told you they like to be potted in extremely small pots. The canes grow so closely together, they can happily grow in a seemingly too small pot for many years. So, if you had used a small pot with maybe an inch or so to grow new canes, you could have watered it a lot and still the roots would have had enough air around them to grow happily. It was the combination of a too large pot and the copious watering that may have done your dendrobium in. Whether the keikis were a normal growth pattern or perhaps the plant's last gasp at survival is anyone's guess. It is quite possible the keikis were trying to grow even though the main plant was doomed. I am guessing that had the plant been potted in a pot half the size it was, it would still be growing happily today.
Phal Root or Spike?
Q. My orchid has been growing many new roots and leaves, but recently this has been growing. I can’t tell if it is a new spike, or if it is just a root that has grown in strangely.
A. I would guess that is a root that has gotten turned around and
is growing back on itself. I would be inclined to let it just
sort its way out. It is very easy to break if you try to guide it
out of its confusion.
Bottom Leaves Have White Silvery Look
Q. The bottom
leaves of this phal have a white silvery look and a couple leaves also have black on them. What should I do to keep this alive?
A. Whoops, I think you have an infestation of mealy bugs, they're all over the plant. Remove and discard the bottom leaf and then spray isopropyl alcohol on all leaf surfaces upper and lower. Knock it out of the pot and see if they are on the roots. I would leave it out of the pot for a week and spray with alcohol every day to treat those that hide in all the crevices. Alternatively, one of the 3 in 1 products containing the active ingredient imidacloprid could be used, 3 drenches 1 week apart. Mealybugs are very difficult to get rid of, and this plant has it bad.
Spots on Petals
Q. What are these spots?
A. That looks like soft brown scale. The flowers on that phal are about done, so I think I'd cut the stem at the base. Then start looking for more scale, in the leaf crevices and the roots. You can spray the plant with isopropyl alcohol, and do it weekly for say a month getting all the aerial parts of the plant wet. I think I'd also knock it out of the pot to take a peek at the roots, hopefully they aren't there but just to make sure. (Nov-20)
Male and Female Flowers on Catasetum
Q. Does the amount of sunlight exposure dictate frequency of male/female flowers on Catasetum plants? And, is it common to have both sex flowers on one flower stalk?
A. Many commercial growers insist that female flowers are produced because of high light conditions. Fred Clarke has a more nuanced opinion, he says the the most vigorously growing plants (which of course require good bright light) are the ones that have female flowers because the plant has to be very healthy to be able to produce seeds during the dormancy period. Taxonomist Francisco Miranda suggests that early in the season, light levels are higher as the tree hosts may not be fully leafed out and the catasetum leaves are not fully formed so they are not shading the plant. You would also think early season female flowers would have greater evolutionary success because they have more of the active growing season to form the seed pods. My experience is that many of the catasetinae form female flowers on the first flowering of the season with more male flowers later in the summer. Is this because I have both time release and Purely O mixed in with the sphagnum moss, so there are lots of nutrients in the early season (which is also the season of the most direct sunlight) and then the fertilizer gets consumed so later in the season (as the sun intensity diminishes) the flowers tend to be more male? In the in-between period, I get both male and female flowers. My experience suggests it's plant vigor plus seasonal bright light that sets the stage for female flowers. It may not be the norm to have both male and female flowers on the same inflorescence, but it is certainly not uncommon.
White Sticky Stuff on Root
Q. As I was enjoying my Vanda plants this weekend, I noticed some of the roots has this white fuzzy looking thing. Not sure what it is, mealybugs maybe? I used a Q-tip dipped in isopropyl alcohol and tried to rub them off. It seems to be attached pretty good so I used a little more effort. The root tip skin came off but the fuzzy stuff is on the skin that came off real tight. Some of the ones attached itself to the other side of another root. It is not easy to scrape them off.
A. This one was over my pay grade, so I turned to the good Dr. Hackney for his thoughts: "It looks like an attempt by the root to attach to something. Not sure exactly what it is called, but epiphytic orchid roots produce a substance which glues them to objects. I suspect this is what it looks like, but I seldom see it in the pot. When I detach some roots from a clay pot they actually pull some of the clay material off. That is what it looks like to me, which fits her description when she tried to remove it."
Black Leaf Tips
Q. This plant of mine has leaves that keep getting yellow from the tip. I removed the affected tips many times but the issue is not solved. Is it because of some micro-nutrient deficiencies?
A. Nutrient deficiencies are hard to diagnosis, but I don't think that is what is happening. It could be a fungal problem like anthracnose, but if it were anthracnose, you'd see lots of tiny spots (spores) in the dead tissue. My best guess is that it is salt toxicity, and the plant is trying to shed salts from the tissue. Looks like it's potted in coconut husks, and they can be loaded with salt unless you give it three 24 hour soaks and drain the water in between to remove the salts. Some even treat the coco with calcium nitrate to replace the sodium with calcium.
Blotches on New Phal Leaf
Q. I repotted this orchid about a month ago. A new leaf formed but had these spots on it. Medium brown in appearance and perfectly smooth. Any idea what it is?
A. From the description, you might think some sort of bacterial infection if water sat on the leaf, but the blemishes would be sunken. We asked for a picture of the whole plant and the top leaf underside, and you can see the plant looks great. Just some purple pigmentation on the tender new leaf. Don't change a thing!
Basal Keikis Form on Phalaenopsis
Q. I thought you might like to see how I made a division of this phalaenopsis?
A. One of our newsletter subscribers sent us a series of photographs showing how he got vegetative divisions of his phalaenopsis to form. First, he cut the top the healthy part of the phalaenopsis away from the lower stem, so the leaves and newly forming roots could be repotted into fresh mix. This left the older part of the phal with intact healthy roots in the old pot and mix. He did not disturb the older part of the plant while waiting for the basal keikis to form. You can see where the basal keikis form from the old stem and then grow into small plantlets in the final photographs.
Q. What shall I do with this problem vanda. Do I throw it all out, take the keikis off or leave it alone?
A. The bottom part of the plant is the future of your vanda. If all those roots are from the keikis rather than the mother plant, you could actually just cut out the top of the plant and toss it. If that seems too harsh, you can wait until new roots start along the stem and then separate the two halves. You can see that the top part of the plant is a little tired, with some sunburn and fungal issues, while the bottom part is so young and healthy. Think of all the blooms you'll get from all those keikis!
Black Rotting Spots on Cattleya
Q. This came on suddenly, at first I thought maybe sunburn but didn’t really think so based on its location in the pergola. Yesterday I moved it to isolation, and noted that the black areas are the same under the leaves. Today I saw the start of weeping. Is it a goner?
A. That is some sort of rot, either black rot from the water molds or more likely rot from a bacterial infection. It happens during hot, humid weather when there is excessive leaf wetness from daily rains. You can either move your plants under cover to protect them during rainy weather or spray the leaves before and after rain events with something like Copper, Hydrogen Peroxide or Physan. Cut away all the infected tissue from the quick moving rot.
Pest Eating Wasps
Q. This hornet looking insect visited me, so I did a video for my grandson who adores insects. When I later identified it, it turned out not to be a hornet or yellow jacket (I hadn’t seen a stinger), but a beneficial insect that preys on thrips and aphids, called a Virginia Hover fly! This is why I don’t like using insecticides unless it’s absolutely necessary.
A. You learn something new every day! Here is Nancy Morrison's video
to help you identify it! (Aug-20)
Dendrobium Leaf Spotting
Q. This Dendrobium Fire Wings has a problem, any ideas?
A. That looks like one of the Cercospora fungi that readily infests Dendrobiums. The sad thing is you really have to sanitize the plant, which means removing all the infected leaves, thank goodness Dendrobiums are so resilient. Try to improve air movement, and consider protective fungicidal sprays. This article on growing dendrobiums
from the University of Hawaii has a section on Cercospora.
Spots on Vanda Flower
Q. I recently purchased some more orchids (a recurrent problem) and one was a blooming vanda that had questionable spots on the flowers. I wasn’t going to buy it as I was worried about Botrytis but I broke down and bought it anyway.
A. I think what you are seeing is edema on the flowers, in which the spots are raised and look a little corky. Edema is like a blister when the plant absorbs more water than can be shed through transpiration, so it blisters. It happens more on leaves than flowers. It happens when you water late in the day and the nights turn cool or when you water on a gray rainy day. It doesn't really harm the plant.
Q. This explains my dead Cattleya! And we aren’t even in the rainy season! Lesson learned…just because the water is running out of the clay orchid pot, it doesn’t mean that it’s draining. I suppose the remedy is to use clay pellets or sponge rock in combo with the power plus?
A. Looks like a nasty case of snow mold. The SAOS cattleya mix is something like 30% clay pellets, 30% coarse Orchiata bark, 30% sponge rock and 10% charcoal. Even so, occasionally you'll get snow mold after several years in the pot and it will smother the roots. Good that you found it, you can just remove all the bark from around the roots and repot.
Q. Is the stem of this orchid rotting? If not, should I put it into the medium?
A couple of spikes are growing, but she dropped two leaves last few days. I repotted her about 2 to 3 weeks ago after I noticed that one of the leaves was turning yellow and the sphagnum moss was turning black. If the stem is rotting, I wonder if I should cut portion of the stem and/or spikes to save this orchid. Please advise.
A. Phalaenopsis are monopodial, which means that they grow up on a vertical stem, getting new leaves at the top and losing leaves at the bottom. With the new leaves and stem, come new roots growing from the new stem. With the losing leaves at the bottom, the stem becomes woody and the bottom stem and roots ultimately die. Some repot phals every year, some every 2nd or 3rd year, depending on the condition of the potting mix and how far out of the pot the plant has grown.
If it were my plant, I would get some root stimulator, some long fibered New Zealand sphagnum moss and an empty pot. Cut the stem below the last aerial root and also cut the two flower spikes off. Spray the stem and the roots with the root stimulator. Then, wrap the stem with some good sphagnum moss, and drop the plant into the pot, placing an inch or two of styrofoam peanuts at the bottom and leave the rest of the aerial roots open to the air in the pot. You can mist, water the plant every other day or so while you are waiting for new roots to branch from the aerial roots and new roots to form from the upper part of the stem. You can then start backfilling the pot, a handful at a time, with your phal mix of choice.
Lower Part of Paph Unhappy
Q. I have several paphs that are doing well except for a few.
The upper plant seems healthy but the lower part had some past problems.
Should I cut off weak leaves and plant deeper in the pot?
A. Follow your instincts. The older part of the plant looks tired, cut away damaged leaves and degraded roots below the soil line, and repot it, and yes deeper in the pot. Clean up the plant, spray the stem with a root stimulator, let it dry and then repot. Think about your potting mix, are all your paphs in the same mix and if not, do some do better in one mix or another? Jim Krull at Krull Smith told me to add like 5% Pro-mix into the mix for more water retention. Courtney also top dresses with Dolomite.
Orange Crawling Creatures
Q. Do these little orange crawling creatures look familiar? They are an infestation.
A. Those are aphids. I get them on my garden plants, particularly the milkweed. In the garden I would just knock them off with a spray from the hose, but on my orchids I'd be tempted to spray with isopropyl alcohol or one of the pesticides. The problem with aphids is that they can have broods of 60 to 100 offspring every day, so they can be present in enormous numbers. I would suspect that there is some plant in your garden that is infested, and some have just moved over to the tender new growth on the catasetum. Search out the mother lode and destroy!
Q. I made this basket to repot my stanhopea, and I was thinking metal baskets may be a better (and cheaper) alternative to the usual wood baskets for my other basketed orchids, with a liner for containing the medium, of course. Is there any downside to doing that?
A. If there is a problem, I don't know about it. That is what I use for stanhopeas. I put the stanhopeas on a thin layer of sphagnum moss with no liner. If you use a coarse media, you can use a thin layer of coconut fiber, but be careful using the coconut liners they sell for wire baskets cause there is a thin layer of plastic in the middle that will prevent the blooms from emerging through the bottom of the basket. Barney Greer's book The Astonishing Stanhopeas says some of the Aussie growers even use four sheets of newspaper as the liner.
Phal Leaf Yellowing
Q. The leaves on my phals are suddenly turning yellow starting at the outer edges, what gives?
A. It looks like you are getting some sun bleaching, is that getting more light than it used to, with the longer days and increasing sun angle? And is it getting enough water and magnesium?
Ursula responded saying that the changing sun angle was causing the yellowing, problem solved! (May-20)
White Cottony Stuff on Vanda
Q. Could this be scale on my vanda?
A. That looks a lot like the tent caterpillars we get in our trees. The caterpillars weave a silken tent around them to protect them from bird predators while they devour surrounding leaves. I suppose it is just one of the hazards of growing plants outdoors. You should remove and destroy the nest and give the vanda a good wash with your hose end sprayer, and perhaps spray it with isopropyl alcohol. That is one healthy vanda you have! (May-20)
Q. This Clowesia is way in need of moving on to a bigger pot. Should I get rid of some of the old roots or just break them apart a bit?
A. Those roots look past their prime. I would cut them all away and then repot. Fill the bottom third of the pot with styrofoam and then interlayer time release fertilizer with your potting media. Don't water until the new roots reach the bottom of the pot and the top growth is about 5 inches tall and unfurled. (May-20)
Sunken Spots on Dendrobium Leaves
Q. My dendrobium has developed spots on the leaves and I'm unable to identify the cause. I have been spraying with a systemic fungicide.
A. I would say that is bacterial rather than fungal, particularly if it happened pretty quickly. Copper is a very effective bactericide but of course you can't use it on dendrobiums because they are so sensitive to it. You can pour or spray the leaves with a fresh bottle of hydrogen peroxide. There are not many great options for dendrobiums. The systemics you are using are good fungicides for the leaf spotting fungi, but not for bacterial infections.
The question is, how did the bacteria get a stronghold in the plant. Low air movement and excess leaf moisture are conditions conducive to bacterial blighting, particularly if you are growing outdoors where the plants are watered by Mother Nature, so the leaves are wet at night.
Center of Cymbidium is Dead
Q. I am located in Melbourne, Australia. When my orchids bloom mainly in our winter, I get a healthy number from each. However, there are a large amount number of dead looking growths in my pots. Should I be re-potting to remove them or leave things as they are?
A. Harry, the Cymbidium Man, advised Nigel to repot: If cymbidiums are not repotted every 3 or 4 years, the center part does tend to die and should be discarded when repotted. Potting media tends to break down and decay over time and encourages rotting of the plants as well.
Remove all rotten material
including roots. Pots should just large enough to allow for 2 years growth.
I like to divide my plants when I repot and pot two or three
good growths and a nice firm back bulb. Two years growth for a division is 2 inches between the plant and pot rim all the way around.
Not sure what material they use for potting in Oz but fine bark should be good, like the Pinus radiata bark from New Zealand.
Some of the Australian growers I know have mentioned that they use it.
Black Streaks in Flower
Q. What is causing this flower blighting? The white cattleya flower opened in perfect condition and developed the black streaks after a few days, and the pink cattleya is starting to show some streaking. These plants are being boarded and are now in a more humid environment.
A. When you get that necrotic streaking in the flower about a week after it opens, and if it seems to follow the veining in the flower, I would be very very afraid that it is virused. If it is, I would suspect it is brown necrotic streak which some believe is caused by a strain of Cymbidium Mosaic Virus and others believe is from a dual infection of CymMV and Odontoglossum Ringspot Virus. The white cattleya is almost certainly virused. The pink cattleya may just have some bacterial blighting, but if in a few days that necrotic streaking appears through the midribs, then you would be afraid of virus. Do you have any test strips to verify whether or not they are virused?
What to Do with Aerial Roots
Q. I have a small potted Vanda that I hung on the east side gutter outside in a basket about 2 months ago. When I watered her this morning, I noticed all of these tiny black spots all over her leaves. She's been getting rain water and lots of breeze. Is this fungal, bacteria, virus, or something else?
A. Those spots are pigmentation from the vanda getting nice bright light, sort of like freckles from being in the sun. The spots should be reddish purple rather than black, and they should not be raised or sunken. I think it looks great, and should be a very interesting hybrid whenever it blooms!
Ground Orchid in Container
Q. I have recently bought a ground orchid on-line which came in a small plastic pot, which after I transferred it in to a bigger pot. Is it absolutely necessary to plant a ground orchid in to ground only and not in the pot?
A. I don't think terrestrials have to be planted in the ground, but I think they should be potted in a peat based mix rather the coarse mix you would put an epiphyte in.
Pod with Coco Coir
Q. My phal has fungus gnats so I removed some of the media and found a bunch of mushy gunk inside the pot. There as a sort of pod filled with coco coir which seems to be contributing to the mushy gunk.
What should I do?
A. When the bark rots like that, it will also rot the roots. If it were my plant, I would get a hose end sprayer and set it on jet, turn the pot upside holding the phal in and jet away as much of the potting mix as possible, all the mix that comes away without too much pressure. Jill wrote back that she jetted all the material away and found the 'pod'. Apparently, when the growers first potted up the phal, they put the seedling in a little plastic pot filled with oasis or coconut and when the plant got larger, they just slip potted it by dropping it into a bigger pot and backfilled with bark. The inside pot will always stay too wet if you water the bark the way bark should be watered, and root rot is the inevitable result. After Jill removed it and jetted away the rest of the potting mix, she added fresh mix with a minimum of disruption to the roots.
Phal Leaf Detached from Stem
Q. I was away for the weekend, and upon my return found a very sad white Phal. She had 2 very long leaves. As I was taking the pics, one just detached seemingly from the crown. Help!
A. That looks like Collar Rot, also known as Southern Blight, one of the devastating stem rots. You can see the fungal bodies on the close up of the stem. Scroll down the SAOS website Disease page
to the Collar Rot section to read about it.
The plant is probably beyond saving.
Your only possible hope, and a slim one, is to drench the pot with some fresh hydrogen peroxide (unless you have something like Pageant) and then keep the plant on the dry side and see if a basal keiki appears. However, the tissue from which the basal keiki would grow is what is infected with the fungus, so if it were my plant, I would discard it and remove the source of inoculum from the growing area.
New Growth at Top of Pseudobulb on Miltassia
Q. This Mtssa. Chas. Marden Fitch looked like it was going to be a spike, but instead of flowers it looks like a new growth. The top of the pseudobulb also looks like it is sprouting another new growth. Any ideas?
A. I have had oncidium alliance plants form keikis from the top of the pseudobulb on some occasions, but don't believe I've ever seen one form at the end of the flower spike like yours has and like often happens with Phalaenopsis orchids. It sounds like a teenager hopped up on hormones!
Leaf Damage on Dendrobium
Q. Does the mini-dendrobium have thrips effects on it? Do I remove the infected stalks with deformed leaves and treat the rest of the plant? There are new leaves on the plant.
A. The dendrobium looks like it has mite damage, not thrips, although it is hard to tell without seeing a close up of the upper and lower leaves. The new leaves look like they are being affected by mites too, so I would say the mites are still active. They seem to affect dendrobiums and thin leaved orchids much more than they do the thick leaved orchids like cattleyas. They also thrive in dry environments, so many indoor growers have to learn how to cope with them. You first have to kill the mites on this and possibly other plants. For starters, take them to the kitchen sink and spray them with a mixture of isopropyl alcohol and dish soap, lather 'em up and wash the leaves. Then get a spray bottle of isopropyl alcohol and spray the leaf surfaces top and bottom. Make it a weekly event, perhaps part of your watering routine. You might consider treating with one of the three in one insect, disease and mite control products containing the active ingredients Imidacloprid, Tau-Fluvalinate and Tebuconazole. (Feb-20)
Maxillaria tenuifolia Bulbs are Wrinkled
Q. My Maxillaria has some new growths and roots but the pseudobulbs are wrinkled, should I leave her alone or repot?
A. That looks like it would benefit from being repotted. The mix looks worn out and the pseudobulbs are probably dehydrated from the moss breaking down. You can safely repot now because new roots are forming. Keep it in a smallish pot, it will tend to grow up and out. A basket would be great.
White Spots on Leaf
Q. What is this bug and how do I get rid of it?
A. I couldn't tell what the problem was from the pic of the top of the leaf, so I asked Humberto to send a pic of the leaf underside. The scale infestation is clearly visible on the bottom of the leaf. The first step was to spray the obvious scale with alcohol and follow up with a drench of one of the Bayer Three in One products containing imidacloprid as one of the active ingredients.
Phalaenopsis Leaf Blemish
Q. I was given a Phalaenopsis in rotting, moldy bark medium. I removed all the medium, perched it on a plastic bottle I've punched full of holes, and it's been growing in 'air' for four or five months now. I spray it twice a day with spring water, and also spray with fertilized water. The roots are NOT sitting in water. It seems healthy enough -- new roots and a leaf are emerging, and the old leaves do not look like they are yellowing. That top big leaf grew while it was with me. While it was still in bark medium, one leaf developed these mark, but they have not enlarged. Should I trim the leaf?
A. Whatever you are doing, don't change a thing! Do not worry about the bottom leaf blemish, eventually your plant will shed the leaf and you won't have to look at it anymore. It looks like something happened to it when the leaf was originally forming, but there is no active infection. Good growing!