Orchid Whisperer

Posted By on Nov 10, 2016 | 0 comments


The oldest orchid in my collection is approximately 4-5 years old. A few months ago I noticed these weird white spots growing in the roots, and white bugs on the leaves, spikes (stems) and flowers on most of the plants, so I started a household treatment of diluted dishwashing liquid in a spray bottle. This seemed to do the trick on some of the plants in getting rid of the bugs but the issue of the roots was still not resolved.

A few weekends back I turned to this wonderful thing called The Internet to try and find out what the problem could be and how best to sort it out. It turns out that I’ve been less than stellar with my orchid care!

Did you know you should repot your orchid every year? Uhm…I must have missed this memo when I was given my first orchid about 4 years ago! It’s no wonder that the plant has been upset and giving me problems.

Before visiting the nursery to buy orchid potting mix and new plastic pots, I schooled myself with the help of a few YouTube videos. I watched this lady effortlessly remove her orchid from the plastic pot, soak the roots to make them more pliable to avoid breakage, remove leftover bark chips etc, and then repot. All in the matter of about 5-10 minutes. So of course I thought, “How hard can this be? She’s done it and it’s so super easy. Let’s give it a try…”

So the Sunday morning arrives and I decide I’m going to visit the closest nursery and buy the necessary things. I get home and get my little patio ready for this “easy” task.

Let me tell you something… When they say you should repot every year, they’re right on the button. Because if you don’t repot every year and wait four years to figure this out, you’ll end up having to cut your orchid out of the pot since the plant doesn’t just “twist out” of the pot. You’ll start off being super careful with the roots with gentle tugs, and quickly move on to wrestling with the plant and the pot trying to disentangle the roots from their death grip on the pot. You’ll be forced to cut the entire pot off but leave the bottom on, then soak the roots for a while longer, then work like a surgeon cutting pieces of the pot away until finally extricating all the roots. A ten minute job, my butt!

To treat the white spots surrounding the roots and make them pliable, I soaked the roots in an aphicide diluted in water. Once the roots had soaked long enough I was then able to remove all the “hangers-on” in terms of old bark chips, sponge (??), etc.

Then I disentangled the roots, placed the plant in the new pot and then held it still while filling with the orchid potting mix. The potting mix has some rather large bark chips so I some of these I had to break into smaller pieces. Before finishing, I used an old stake to “jimmy” around the edges to make sure the potting mix secured the roots as much as possible (adding more bark chips if necessary).

In total I think it took me about an hour to do this one plant. The other few plants I chose to repot thereafter were a little quicker (now I knew what I was doing and the roots hadn’t wormed their way through all the drainage holes). And this past weekend I repotted the last handful of orchids which took me no time at all. I suppose practice does make perfect! Plus the others have only been with me for about a year or less so the roots weren’t holding onto the pot for dear life.

I’ve learnt a few things from my up close and personal relationship with orchids and their roots…

  1. When you buy orchids from stores such as Woolies, you’ll need to repot them as soon as possible as their roots are packed with a sawdust type material and sometimes pieces of sponge. This material soaks up water and the plant ends up drowning and dying because the roots are too wet. Great for the retailers because you end up buying more plants. Bad for you because you think you don’t have green-fingers…
  2. Make sure the orchid is in a pot with drainage holes on the bottom so the water can drain properly when you water it. If you get a plant in a fancy pot, remove all the moss and fancy packaging and see whether it is potted in a separate pot that you can then take out when it comes time to water.
  3. Orchids like warm environments so plastic pots are best as they keep the roots warmer than a ceramic pot. You can still keep the plastic-potted orchid in a decorative ceramic pot but not directly in a ceramic pot.
  4. Water your orchids once a week in summer and once every two weeks in winter. Place them over a sink or in the bath so that the water can drain away. Put them back in their decorative pots only once all the water has drained away.
  5. Repot your orchid before they spike (send out a stem) or are in flower as this is less traumatic for the plant. If you’ve just bought an orchid which is generally in flower because they look prettier (see point 1) then you’ll need to go a bit more gently. Start by removing the stake and then removing the plant from the pot. Keep the stems supported as much as you can while removing the excess potting material, when soaking the roots, and when repotting.
  6. Feed them with orchid care every second week to make sure they are healthy and can bloom again. I also believe that orchids like friends as my oldest plant only bloomed again once I brought in other orchids.
  7. When buying or receiving a new orchid, quarantine them for a few weeks. This will allow you to see if this new plant comes with any new bugs or pests so you can treat it separately before introducing it to the rest of your collection.

If you’re keen to learn more about repotting, be sure to watch this video which is one I found to be most useful.

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