Orchid Culture - 2021 Questions & Answers
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Little White Bugs
Q. I saw the black junk start to form on this oncidium, so I moved it to my quarantine table and let it go. In less than a week it turned into the hungry little white beast in the second pic. All dead and more than half blew away now.
I used Safer Soap to wipe off the black and Malathion to kill the bugs.
A. I wonder if those white bugs aren't white springtails, perhaps feeding on the sooty mold. I think the original problem is fungal in origin, although the sooty mold suggests some sucking insect so sugar was exuded from the leaf and then the mold formed. If it is fungal, those severely damaged leaves should be removed to remove the source of inoculum, then perhaps a fungicide spray with something for leaf spotting fungi, like Thiomyl. I'm sure the plant will recover. (Dec-21)
Yellow Splotches on Phalaenopsis Leaf
Q. I received a Phalaenopsis from my neighbor, which I repotted and the plant is doing very well, with a new inflorescence.
However, the plant had yellowish blotches on its leaves when I received it, what causes that?
A. Are the yellow splotches sunken in any way, or are they internal to the leaf?
If the blotches are just internal to the leaf, and similar on both the upper and lower leaf surfaces, I would be fearful of virus.
Some people believe that many of the phals offered in commerce are virused. It does not seem to hamper the plant's vigor or flower quality, so if you are comfortable with keeping the plant, just make sure to use extra precaution when handling/repotting it to prevent cross contamination from affecting your other orchids.
Epidendrum Has Brown Leaf Tips
Q. My Epi. cochleatum has 6 leaves like this. Does it not like Epsom salts or is this something else?
A. That looks like Anthracnose, and the brown dots inside the necrotic tissue are the spores that spread the disease. Cut away the damaged tissue to remove the source of inoculum and consider moving the plant to a location where it will get more air movement.
Seed Pod on Epi. nocturnum
Is this a developing seed pod on this Epi. nocturnum? If so, shouldn't I cut if off to conserve plant energy?
Odd thing is the flower never had a chance to open because the petals/sepals were stuck together with honeydew, yet it still got pollinated.
A. It sure looks like a seed pod, I always remove them unless we wielded the toothpick to make a hybrid. Courtney says sometimes he spritzes the buds with water to wash some of the sugar away to help the flowers open. (Nov-21)
Q. My catasetums seem to get rot all times of year, even if they winter under cover dry with no water. Is the rot from the bottom up or the top down, and what causes it?
A. I have had that soft, slowly moving rot in catasetums before. I'm not sure what the causative agent is. I don't think it is Erwinia because Erwinia is a bacteria that moves very quickly. Ditto for the water molds, they are very fast moving. I think it is a fungal rot because it takes so long to move within the pseudobulb. This catasetum is toast, having rotted from the roots/pseudobulb base upward. If you catch it early enough in your other catasetums, cut away all the affected tissue and then drench what is left with one of the fungicides effective for the root, stem and bulb rots, like Pageant. Here's a link to an article about rots in catasetums.
Lower Phal Leaves Dying
Q. This orchid was repotted at your repotting clinic about a month ago. Would you tell me in what way I mistreated it?
A. The plant was placed deeper in the pot so new roots would grow into the mix. Hopefully we told you those two lower leaves were going to yellow and die as the plant gets established. You should start seeing the new roots growing into the mix and the plant will reestablish itself nicely. You haven't mistreated it at all, it is just recovering from the transplant shock and it's going to be fine.
Q. I purchased this dendrochilum 3 weeks ago in full bloom. The blooms are finished and I have a few questions. Should I repot and into what pot/media?
The back bulbs feel a little soft so should I remove them or will they shrivel like a grammatophyllum? Should I be concerned with the one discolored leaf or browning leaf tips? Is this considered a sensitive orchid that should not be treated with copper?
A. I think the most important thing about dendrochilums is that they require very pure water, like rainwater or RO water. I pot mine in shallow clay pots with the bottom half filled with styrofoam and the upper portion in New Zealand long fibered sphagnum moss, which is very very difficult to find now thanks to Covid. They like lots of water so the sphagnum should stay damp, the styrofoam at the bottom will provide the air.
If the back bulbs are brown and soft, I'd remove them, if green I'd probably leave them unless they felt very soft. I'd remove the discolored leaf, probably has fungal spores, but wouldn't worry too much about the browning leaf tips, unless the leaf tips browning has just started in the last three weeks since your purchase. It may be the plant trying to shed salts because your water is insufficiently pure. If you see tiny dots in the brown discolored area, it could be anthracnose rather than salt toxicity, in which case you can remove the leaf tips. I would probably not use copper on this thin leafed orchid. Love the dendrochilums!
Red Splotches on Cattleya lueddemanniana
Q. I have C. lueddemanniana growing under LED lights. The newest growth was fine 2 weeks ago, and suddenly developed these dark splotches all over the new leaf. It tested negative for virus. It hasn't seemed to worsen in the last week.
A. That doesn't look virused, or like a bacterial or fungal infection. It more likely is caused by high light. I sent the pics to Brandon who also grows under lights, his thoughts: It's a well grown plant. I seem to recall lueddemanniana often does this on its new growths in good light, so the anthocyanins build up. There was an AOS webinar on lueddemanniana some time ago that mentioned this very occurrence. This should probably fade by next year.
Too Late to Repot Phal?
Q. One of my orchids needs to be repotted, it has been in the same pot for about 3 years, and the potting mixture is getting mushy. The issue is that the orchid is continually in flower (not a bad problem to have), and the common advice is not to repot a phal when it is in flower.
Would it be bad to repot it at this time of the year -- even if it is in flower?
A. Wowie zowie, that is one happy phal. Go ahead and repot, the roots are more important than anything else. You have lots of aerial roots growing too. I used to think that most phals shouldn't be in pots much larger than 6 inches, but I have hedged my bets when using very large pots by incorporating chunks of styrofoam throughout the mix so there are air pockets for the roots. That may also help with all the aerial roots you have growing. You end up watering a bit more frequently, but that just gives you quality time with your orchid!
Cattleya Leaves Floppy after Repotting
Q. All six divisions I made of Rlc. Volcano Spring have 1 to 3 new leads. What do I do, if anything, with the floppy leaves and shriveled pseudobulbs? I presume they are nourishing the new growth, but not sure.
A. You can stake them or use a wire halo to improve the appearance of the plant. Don't remove the pseudobulbs. If they look dehydrated, they probably are from the disruption to the root system. Use seaweed or root stimulators to get the plant reestablished faster.
Cattleya Flower Blasted
Q. This cattleya only opened a bit more than this a few days ago and now is dying . Do you have any idea what happened?
A. The flower stem looks like it is yellowish and soft rather than firm and green. I'm wondering if the flower sheath was also that sickly yellow, in which case I would guess the flower started rotting in the sheath. When I see a sheath with that coloration, I slit it open so the bud is open to the air. Otherwise, condensation inside the sheath can cause rotting.
Vandaceous Bacterial Blighting
Q. I had this Renanthera coccinea where it gets bright, but not direct sun and every other day misting. What is happening?
A. It looks like crown rot and bacterial blighting on the tender new leaves, particularly if it happened quickly. If the crown of the plant withers, perhaps it will form keikis at the base. I stopped using the overhead misting system in the greenhouse because I had too many rot problems, particularly in the summer. (Sep-21)
Q. I am having some issues and when I think I have things under control, the problems spread. This all started when I cleaned and painted my growing area. The collection was put in the yard and left for weeks until the job was completed. At first I thought it was sunburn. This past weekend I did spray with Aliette.
A. I think you have 3 different things going on. The first one looks like black rot, the summer scourge of cattleyas. You should cut away the infected tissue. It travels rapidly through the rhizome so look at the base of the pseudobulbs for tissue that is creamy colored rather than green. If it has that creamy color, it has already been invaded and will have to be removed. Aliette is a great treatment after you're done cutting. Apply it as a drench through the pot. In fact, summer drenches to all your cattleyas are a good preventative.
The second pic looks like water pooled on the soft tender new leaf and a localized rot followed. Just remove the leaf. Sometimes the pseudobulb sheath acts like a pocket trapping water. Whenever I see water standing, I gently pull down the sheath so water drains freely from the top of the pseudobulb.
The third pic looks like classic sunburn. Sunburn appears on the highest point of the leaf where the sunlight impacts the leaf at the most direct angle. Sometimes secondary infections invade the damaged tissue, in which case you would have to remove the leaf. You may just want to remove it so you don't have to look at it.
Potting a Phalaenopsis Keiki
Q. My phal has a weird keiki that grew from a flower spike. I need to plant it but I’m not sure how to encourage the aerial roots to become terrestrial roots. Any thoughts?
A. Situate the keiki in the pot, sized to fit the roots easily. You may have to wet the roots to make them more pliable and fit it into the pot with a twisting motion. Then, drop in some styrofoam peanuts about 1/4 to 1/3 the way up the pot, and then add a handful of your phal mix to the pot. Continue each week to add a handful of mix to the pot. The roots will ultimately branch and grow into the mix and become acclimated to it that way.
Lush, Weak New Growth
Q. These images showing problematic new growth in my orchids. In each case it appears as if there is not enough structural strength in the orchid growth.
I’m currently using “Bill’s Best” but thinking the orchids may need magnesium such as found in Epsom salts or top dressing with dolomite lime.
A. Lush fast growth is associated with excess nitrogen fertilization particularly when the nitrogen is in the ammonium rather than nitrate form. Soft lush growth is pretty, but is an easy target for pests and diseases as well as structural problems. You want slow, steady, strong growths. I think perhaps you should dial down the amount of fertilizer you use.
Courtney added: "Soft growth is always an indication of too much nitrogen relative to sunlight along with the lack of other nutrients. The balance of nutrients is much more complex than it might seem, so I rotate fertilizers every week. Week one, 10-30-20, week two 20-10-20 and week three 15-5-15 a balanced Cal-Mag fertilizer. Week four is no fertilizer, but a heavy flushing. In addition, if I need to water more often I provide a low dose of potassium silicate with the water. Once a quarter I also provide a low dose of fish emulsion, except in winter. I also add Epsom salts at a ratio of 1/5 to my 10-30-20 fertilizer. Perhaps most important is the concentrations I use, which is always no more than 1/16 tsp per gallon. That is far lower than the recommendation, but my plants grow well and are very strong."
Black Stains on Cattleya Leaf Undersides
Q. I pride myself in having clean leaves but some Cattleya species like violacea or tigrina (and others) seem to get black stains on the undersides of their leaves.
Am I doing something wrong? If not, can it be prevented or is just Mother Nature?
A. That sure looks like fungal spores on the leaf underside. The upper surface of the leaf has chlorotic blotching matching the location of sporing underneath.
There are several leaf spotting fungi that infect cattleyas. When you repot/remount, you can cut away infected tissue. In the meantime, you can spray fungicides like Pageant, Thiomyl/Banrot or Daconil to help prevent the spores from spreading the disease.
How Do You Pot Up Dendrobium Keiki
Q. Can you tell me how to put this dendrobium keiki in another pot?
A. You can cut the cane an inch away from the keikis on either side, soak the roots to soften them and then situate the keiki roots in the pot. You can backfill with potting mix around the roots immediately, or better yet, just add a handful each week so the aerial roots will branch and become acclimated to the mix. It looks like you might have mites on the upper keiki, and the lower keiki may have succumbed to mites, so you'll have to treat for that. The keikis are probably the future of that plant, the mother plant is probably not going to survive.
Divide or Pot Up Cattleya
Q. This is one of my favorite orchids, Blc. Volcano Spring. I want to divide it when it’s finished blooming. It has about 30 pseudobulbs. How many divisions should I try to realize?
A. You could probably get many divisions if you wanted to, but the cattleya has such a short internode distance that you can have many pseudobulbs close together in the pot. You should think about growing it up to specimen size. Select a pot that is an inch or two bigger all around to drop the plant into, once you remove all the decaying old media. If the older leaves were blighted, I'd say cut away the older growths, but those leaves all look pretty good. Unless you want to separate it, think about putting it into a larger pot with fresh potting mix.
Dendrochilum with Brownish Discoloration
Q. This mounted Dendrochilum glumaceum has leaf changes that began about 3 months ago on two leaves which I removed. It is now on older and some younger leaves, mostly the undersides but then progresses to the tops; the pseudobulbs are not affected.
It receives infrequent overhead water, being watered every other day after the moss has dried and has good air circulation. I sprayed with hydrogen peroxide twice early on, but nothing else since.
A. That looks and sounds like a fungal infection, rather than bacterial or viral. It sounds like one of the leaf spotting fungi. There are common fungal leaf-spot diseases in ornamentals from Alternaria, Cercospora,
Septoria, and Phyllosticta. Something like Pageant or Heritage are often recommended for leaf spotting fungi.
It sounds like you are doing everything right culturally. I wonder whether this cultivar is just more susceptible to the fungus. If this is the case, you can accept it, try routine applications of one of the fungicides, or perhaps consider the radical option to completely sanitize the plant. Remove each and every leaf that shows signs of the disease to the top of the pseudobulb. The hope would be to remove all the spores from the area so the fungus is stopped. Then, apply a protective spray on the plant, cross your fingers and hope for new growth and leaves. (May-21)
Black Diamond Shaped Lesion on Vanda
Q. Is this Thai disease on my vanda? Is Physan good for treatment, or is there something better?
A. It looks like the fungal infection Guignardia, or Thai disease. Run your fingers across the lesion and if it feels like sandpaper, that's what it is. If so, maybe invest in some Thiomyl, otherwise known as Cleary's 3336, with the active ingredient Thiophanate Methyl. Monthly preventative sprays are recommended in Motes' vanda book. (May-21)
Green Pointy Bumps on Cattleya Leaf
Q. My catt has some bumps and strange growths, should I be worried?
A. I don't think it's anything to worry about. I've had what looks like extra tissue growing on the upper side of my cattleyas from time to time. I don't think it's edema, which is a blister that forms on a fully developed leaf. This is some sort of mutated tissue that forms as the leaf is developing. Courtney thinks it is a genetic issue, probably triggered by environmental conditions. Hopefully, the next leaf will be normal. (May-21)
White Stuff on Phalaenopsis
Q. I think this damage on my phal is due to mealy bugs but I never see any critters. I see white stuff on the under side of leaves and in crotches. Could it be something else?
A. Those are definitely mealybugs, and your phal has them bad. Drench them with the imidacloprid product, which means pour the solution through the pot to wet the roots, which will take up the chemical and move it to where the mealybugs are feeding. At a concentration of 1.47%, the label rate is 6 teaspoons per gallon, you might even consider using it double strength the first time to knock out the infestation. You might also consider drenching all your surrounding plants in case the mealybugs have moved into them.
Yellow Spots on Cattleya
Q. I have noticed yellowing spots on my cattleya orchids recently along with a few spots on the back of some leaves. Does this look like scale to you?
I have a systemic insect control liquid that I use on other plants with the active ingredient acephate. Can I use this on scale?
A. That is scale alright. Acephate is the active ingredient in Orthene, and can be used on your orchids to control scale. Good luck!
Longitudinal Streaking in Cattleya
Q. These are leaves from a Blc. Lily Marie Almas a bifoliate cattleya. It receives various fungicides throughout the year but I am concerned it is a fungus. The marks are not as dark as they appear in the photos as I was trying to highlight them with back-lighting so you could see the areas better. Please let me know if I should remove any leaves or treat with any chemicals.
A. It's hard to tell, but my best guess would be it is bacterial rather than fungal, particularly if it happened quickly? The longitudinal streaking makes me think of bacterial brown spot, which in younger, tender cattleya leaves looks like that. The back-lit photo really shows the infection well. If you have some copper, you can spray the leaves, although the bacterial problem is inside the leaf. As long as the discoloration doesn't get larger, the leaves will still help support the plant. On the other hand, if you don't want to look at that discoloration anymore, you can remove the leaf. The plant looks nice and healthy, it should be a minor setback.
Droopy Phal Leaves
Q. This is a Phal. Yaphon Green Batman that seems okay except for the drooping. I use reverse osmosis water with Epsom salts when watering. Any suggestions?
A. Perhaps you should knock it out of the pot and take a look at the roots. I'd guess there is a root problem. Norman's Orchids packs the sphagnum very very tight on their phals, so even when the top may feel dryish, the bottom of the pot is still wet, so it is very easy to overwater them. Knock it out of the pot and check the roots, that will guide your course of action.
Q. I am having a problem with the flowers of some of my dendrobiums.
The buds are damaged. They either fall off or if they develop
into flowers the petals are small, deformed and damaged.
I don't really know if it is a fungal disease or caused by pests.
A. Just looking at the flowers, you couldn't rule out bacterial blighting, but my guess would be thrips based on the damage you are seeing on the buds. Thrips are very difficult to control. They crawl into the buds and chew on them long before the flower is ready to open. If this is a persistent problem, you can spray the buds and flowers once or twice a week with Orthene to prevent the damage, or drench the plants every 6 weeks or so with Orthene. There's more information here.
Catasetum Bulb Rotting
Q. I got my first 2 Catasetums last year and am noticing something strange on both. There are dark brown, slightly sunken and a bit sticky, spots on a couple of older pseudobulbs.
This only developed after I stopped watering them for their winter rest so I’m not inclined to think it is rot. The newest bulbs are still quite plump and I have a new growth just starting on one. Should I be concerned about these spots?
A. Yes, it is rot. Feel the bulb, it probably feels pretty soft compared to the one next to it. This is not an aggressive rot like black rot in cattleyas. It is slow moving and you can just cut away the older bulbs when you repot, which you should consider doing now as the new green growth is emerging.
Green Blotches on Phal Leaf
Q. Are the green blotches on the phal leaf something I should be concerned with, they are more pronounced on the keiki than the mother plant. The plants were moved into the greenhouse when cool weather arrived.
A. My best guess would be some cold water damage, either from overnight condensation dripping on the leaves or cold water from the tap. Check the temperature of the water coming out of the hose and see how close to 70F it is, the water should be within 5 to 10 degrees of the air temperature. The keiki leaves are likely more tender than the Mom's leaves, and more sensitive to cold water damage that can cause mesophyll cell collapse.
Pool Algaecide Strengths
Q. I have a question regarding pool algaecide versus Physan. Is the product in the photo appropriate and what rate per gal should I use?
A. Physan, which contains 20% quaternary ammonium compounds, recommends 1 tsp/gal as a spray. Your product appears to contain 30%, so you would use 2/3 strength, or 2/3 tsp/gal.
Leaf Damage on Phalaenopsis
Q. This phal was with all my others on the north face of a wooden fence. Any ideas what caused this damage?
A. My guess would be the new tender leaves were damaged somehow while they were forming and the scars simply enlarged as the leaves got larger. Perhaps it was mechanical damage, or perhaps water in the crown. The other leaves look great. (Feb-21)
Cattleya Flowers Blotchy
Q. One of my Cattleya flowers looks splotchy. It looks questionable to me, could this be because of a virus or disease?
A. That sure looks like color break on that orchid, which would suggest Odontoglossum Ringspot Virus or ORSV. It's a shame, cause it's a beautiful flower otherwise. Kiss it goodbye.
Mottled Cattleya Leaves
Q. I was reading about fungal problems and noticed that many of my cattleyas have leaves that are becoming mottled. I have attached pictures for examples of what I am seeing. I am concerned that most of my cattleya plants are diseased.
A. Leaf mottling is typically caused by one of three things:
1 - Scale, turn the leaf over to make sure you don't have the dreaded boisduval scale on your cattleya.
2 - Fungal Infection, turn the leaf over and see if you see tiny dots or blotches of dots, the spores.
3 - Magnesium deficiency, which is what I suspect you have and what I had for many years.
Our water is very magnesium deficient and most fertilizers do not contain magnesium. Magnesium is an essential component of chlorophyll, that's what turns the leaves green. During extremes of heat and cold, the chlorophyll can degrade and give you that mottled appearance. I add magnesium sulfate, Epsom salts, to my fertilizer solution. Some people apply it in the spring and fall, others apply it monthly. I give mine Epsom salts every time I fertilize, which is every time I water. If you use 1/4 tsp/gal fertilizer, add 1/4 tsp/gal Epsom salts at the same time. The only caveat is you can't mix Epsom salts with a Cal Mag fertilizer, but with a Cal Mag fertilizer you shouldn't have to add supplemental magnesium.
Tiny Castings from Cork Mount
Q. I have a giant Dinema polybulbon mounted on cork. It was outside all summer, but now that it’s in the greenhouse, I realize that the cork is inhabited by something that is creating copious tiny castings. I’ve got a new piece of cork, and I guess I can re-mount the plant, but I’m worried that the critters will move into the new cork with the plant, and also move into my other mounts.
I found info about steaming and baking the cork, but I can’t do that with the plants on it!
A. That looks like frass from dry wood termites. You might try soaking the mount for an hour in a strong solution of imidacloprid, say double strength. That's not the strength they use to treat foundations, etc. for termites, but it's probably as strong as you'd want to try with your orchids. I don't think the termites will go after your plants, but of course you don't really want a colony of termites anywhere close to your house.