Frequently Asked Questions
My orchid won't bloom! What's wrong?
How often should I water my orchid?
What do the hieroglyphics on your plant tags mean?
How do I get rid of mealy bugs, mites, or scale without nasty, stinky, toxic systemics?
Do I need to repot?
What size pot should I repot in?
Can I divide my plant?
What's the best way to sterilize pots? Cutting tools?
Are orchids parasites?
Do slipper orchids eat bugs?
Can we use tidbits from your web site for our orchid society newsletter?
Do you offer orchid lectures?
My orchid won't bloom! What's wrong?           to top
First, is it mature enough to bloom? If you got it in bloom or it has bloomed for you before, then it's old enough. Second, does it have good general health? That is a nice root system, no bugs or diseases, etc. Once a plant is mature and healthy, our top two reasons they don't bloom are 1) not enough light and 2) no diurnal temperature change.
Light is usually pretty easy to adjust, use a light meter to determine intensity and match to the requirements of the species/hybrids you have. If you increase light intensity, do it slowly over days or weeks and be sure the temperature doesn't get too hot as not to burn your plants!
Almost all plants experience a temperature change from day to night in nature. If you can give one to four weeks of nights that are 10-20 F degrees cooler at night, your chances of blooming your plants will skyrocket. Be sure not to go lower than the plant's minimum nighttime low temperature preference though! A pretty safe range for most popular orchids is 60-65 at night and 80-85 during the day. See our cultural information on light and temperature for more details. Nutrition can also play a part in blooming, but without good general health, age, and proper light and temperature, fertilizer probably won't bail you out.
How often should I water my orchid?           to top
Loaded question and darn near impossible to answer as a plant might require water at different intervals under various conditions. Water when the plant needs it! No joke. Some orchids like to dry out briefly between drenchings, others like to approach dryness, other like to stay moist. Know your plant's needs. Beyond that, how fast a plant dries out is affected by humidity, the type of pot, temperature, the size of the pot, the type of mix you're using, the age of the mix, air movement, how many roots and growths the plant has, the time of year, etc. In general, as a starting point, water plants in pots 4-6" about once per week. Smaller pots about twice a week. Adjust as necessary. See our cultural information on watering for more information.
I got some plants from you and noticed some weird hieroglyphics on the name tag. What do they mean?           to top
Simply, they refer to the plants supplementation preference, bloom season, and growing temperature.
Some terrestrial epiphytes occur in areas with lots of calcium and magnesium, Ca and Mg respectively, in the substrate. These plants are termed calcicolous. Some growers like to supplement Ca and Mg for these plants. We use the code "Ca" for species that occur in association with these substrates or hybrids composed exclusively of species that do. "PCa" is used to denote species that are variably calcicolous or hybrids composed of some calcicolous parents and some non-calcicolous parents. What does this mean to you? Maybe nothing if the water you use has Ca and Mg in it or if your fertilizer has these elements. If you use some sort of purified water in conjunction with fertilizer lacking Ca and Mg, you might consider some sort of supplementation. See the Ca/Mg supplemenatation section on our culture page.
You'll also see codes on our tags for growing temperature and bloom season. Growing temperatures are W- warm, I- intermediate, C- cool. Bloom seasons are as follows: Sp- spring, Su- summer, Wi- winter, Fa- fall. These are our best guesses for each plant we offer, so don't get upset if your plant doesn't read the tag! See more information about growing temperature codes on our cultural page.
You gave an enjoyable talk about growing under lights to our orchid society and told us not to spray toxic chemicals in our house. How do I get rid of mealy bugs, mites, or scale without nasty, stinky, toxic systemics?           to top
Diligence! Milder controls like insecticidal soaps, oils, extracts, etc WILL work when *used properly*. Mealy bugs and scale are harder for most people to get rid of because they hide well and protect themselves very efficiently. They aren't stupid enough to stick to yellow traps and don't hop around in broad daylight for all to see. Make sure you wet the entire plant with the control AND apply repeat applications to take care of the adults you missed the first time and the eggs that have since hatched out. You may need to do three or more applications 4-10 days apart (read the label) to knock down these critters. If that doesn't work, switch controls and start again. Remember that an ounce of prevention is more valuable than a pound of cure! Also, no bug is immune to squishing! See more information on pest control here.
My moth orchid (Phalaenopsis, Doritis, Doritaenopsis, etc) is crawling out of the pot. Do I need to repot?     to top
If the mix is not terribly broken down *and* there are healthy roots in the pot, probably not. Lots of orchids grow naturally on trees. They constantly send out roots to attach themselves and find nutrients and water. This looks weird and unruly, but is natural. Most bark mixes will last one to three years before the mix will need replaced. If the plant is not growing well, it's possible the roots in the pot are rotted, possibly due to decayed potting mix, in which case it is advisable to repot the plant. See more information on repotting here.
What size pot should I repot in?           to top
Match the new pot to the roots of the plant. Paphiopedilums do well in pots just a touch bigger than a pot that would hold the root system tightly. Phals and Cattleyas should be put into pots big enough to allow a couple year's growth before repotting. See more information on repotting here.
Can I divide my plant?           to top
We try not to divide unless we need to or the plant does it on its own. Chunky specimen plants will give a nicer show when they bloom and it's fewer pots to worry about! If you wish to divide a sympodial orchid (slippers, Cattleyas, Dendrobiums, Cymbidiums, Zygopetalums...), allow at least three healthy, rooted growths per division.
What's the best way to sterilize pots? Cutting tools?
For pots, we first soak them in warm, soapy water then scrub clean with a brush. Once clean, we soak them overnight in a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach: 9 parts water). Be sure they aren't nested too tightly as to prevent total contact with the bleach solution- spread the stack apart a little. If your pots have a little white crud on them, try soaking them in 20% vinegar solution overnight then scrubbing again before the bleaching step. Wear disposable gloves during all this cleaning- disease can hitchhike back to your plants on your skin and under your nails.
We use a saturated trisodium phosphate (TSP) solution for cutting tools. To prepare this solution, add TSP powder to warm water bit by bit until it no longer dissolves (you'll create a sort of snow globe). Leave the excess solid in the container. The solution can be reused until it becomes discolored. Cover and label the container and keep it out of the reach of kids and pets! Real TSP is getting harder and harder to find. Read the label carefully. We offer true trisodium phosphate in our catalog in the supplies section. A 10% bleach solution will work, BUT remember a *20 minute* contact time is required for proper sterilization with bleach. Some folks use disposable blades just once; effective and safe. A flame from a propane or butane torch works too. BernzOmatic makes several inexpensive models available at your local hardware store for about $20. A candle flame is nowhere near hot enough to kill viruses and some fungal spores.
Are orchids parasites?           to top
Nope. Orchids grow on and around other plants, but they don't suck nutrients or energy from their hosts. They just use them for support and as climbing posts. Some orchids are truely epiphytic, growing attached to trees. Others are humus epiphytes, growing on forest floors but with their roots rambling in leaf litter. Still others are true terrestrials with their roots embedded in the soil.
Do slipper orchids eat bugs?           to top
Nope. Even though the pouch looks like a pitcher for catching insects, it is actually used for polination. Insect pollinators are attracted to the shield-like staminode in the dead center of most slipper orchid flowers. They bonk their head on it, and fall into the pouch (actually a modified lip). The pouch is too small inside for the insect to stretch its wings, and most of the interior surface is slippery. The only way out is up a ladder of hairs on the back side of the pouch interior. At the top of the ladder, the bug has to squeeze by the cloumn either picking up or depositing pollinia. Ingenious! Tear apart the next fading slipper flower in your collection and look for the hair ladder.
Can we use tidbits from your web site for our orchid society newsletter?           to top
Certainly!!! As long as you cite us as the source and prominently display our web site with the extracted information. We appreciate getting a digital copy of the newsletter too, but that's not required.
Do you offer orchid lectures?           to top
Yes we do! Ernie travels extensively visiting orchid societies and garden clubs. See our speaking engagements page for more information.
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