Saturday, June 3, 2017

My Mother's Orchid: To Re-pot or Not

In February, I wrote about how the orchid I bought for my mother for Mother's Day last year had started to re-bloom.  This orchid is special to me because it was the last Mother's Day gift I'll ever be able to give to my mother, who died in October 2016. After last summer's blooms faded, I trimmed the bloom spike back to a node, hoping for a re-bloom but nothing happened until winter when buds appeared. By February, a few blooms had begun to open, and this is what it looked like on Mother's Day this year.

One thing I love about orchids is how long the blooms last. While a bouquet of cut flowers might last 2 weeks if you are lucky, the blooms of an orchid can last for months and months. Then (at least in the case of Phalaenopsis type of orchid), you can cut the bloom spike back to a node, and it sometimes produce a secondary (albeit smaller) bloom spike, as this one did. Purchasing an orchid is an inexpensive way to have beautiful flowers around for a very long time. I expect that the blooms on this plant, which began to have blooms in February, will continue to look good for several more weeks.

While I've grown orchids in the past and I know a little about how to care for them, I'm not an orchid expert by any means. I was guessing that the time to re-pot might be immediately following the finish of the bloom period, so I consulted the website of the American Orchid Society and several other places to plan my next steps. Since this orchid is special to me, I'd like to learn how to care for it properly and increase the chances that I'll have it around for as long as possible.

As I suspected, the best time to re-pot is usually just after the plant has finished flowering. For this species of orchid, that is usually in the summer. However, re-potting is not necessarily needed every year. According to the American Orchid Society, there are two important indications that the plant needs to be re-potted: (1) overcrowded roots inside the pot and large numbers outside the pot or (2) the potting medium has begun to break down. 

This orchid definitely has a few roots coming from the growing media that have escaped the pot and it also has a lot of "air" roots that have emerged from the upper stalk of the plant. Since Phalaenopsis are epiphytes, these air roots are normal, as this kind of orchid in nature would use these roots to attach itself to a tree or rock, where it gets its nutrition from rain and air. 

The roots that we are most concerned about being too crowded are the ones inside the pot. We need enough of the roots inside the pot to contact the moisture from the growing media and we don't won't them so crowded that they are not getting enough air. But orchid roots are prone to rot if the pot is too large, so I don't want to increase pot size unnecessarily. Until I remove this orchid from its pot, I'm not sure whether I will need to move it up to a slightly larger pot or simply put in new potting media. 

Most orchids are potted in a mixture that is either bark or peat-based. This one is potted in mostly bark, and the mix still looks pretty good so I might be able to wait a bit before I would need to re-pot based on the soil mixture. Again, it is hard to tell until I remove the orchid from its pot and examine it more closely.

So my plan is to wait until the current blooms finish, and then remove the plant from its pot so that I can inspect the roots. As you can see below, one of the bloom spikes has turned brown and is ready to be cut off. But when I took this picture today, I noticed that the spike that still has blooms on it is showing signs of putting out additional flowers.

Look for the new growth in these pictures. It appears that bloom spikes might be branching out here:

and here:

So while I'm waiting for the current blooms to fall, I'll keep my eye on what happens with this new growth. These blooms will not be as showy as the blooms on a new bloom spike that would emerge from the plant if I cut this existing spike completely off. So it looks like I might have a choice to make. I can either continue to enjoy a few blooms on this old bloom spike or I can cut the spike off at the base and let the plant direct all its energy toward a larger display in the early spring. I'll keep you updated on what happens. 

Advice/recommendations are welcomed.

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