I’ve become rather orchid obsessed of late…

It started back in 2011, when a friend bought me an Mini Phalaenopsis Orchid as a housewarming present (20/8/2011)… You can see it here in the background of one of  my profile photos on Facebook.

I didn’t really hold out much hope for it; because of my hectic lifestyle, I tend to forget to water plants, and generally neglect them.

However, given that “general day-to-day ignoring” is pretty much what orchids like (to a certain extent) the little fella not only survived, but thrived.

About 4 months later, Lydia was then bought an orchid as a work leaving present. That ended up living on the kitchen windowsill  as well.

And so they sat for about 18 months. I didn’t fertilise at all (Although I bought the stuff required, I didn’t actually open it until about 5 months ago!), and watered them both about once a fortnight, if I remembered!

That was fine until summer ’13 – the windowsill is above my sink, which gives the needed humidity and the window is east-facing and mostly tree shaded, so they lots of light but only get about 2 hours of direct sunlight every day. So, the happy orchids dropped their blooms slowly as would be expected, with the spikes dying off in late autumn and then new spikes growing up to rebloom in late winter/ early spring.

I think that this was all very much “by accident” – I discovered much later than the main key to orchids re-spiking is a regular ~10C drop in temperature day-to-day. And so, my opening the kitchen window when cooking of an evening, especially in the winter, is enough of a temperature delta to encourage new spikes.

I did notice however that Lydia’s orchid was getting a little root-bound in its pot (which orchids like, up to a point), and my little orchid started to look a bit sorry for itself, and although it was still growing blooms on its spike, the blooms below the new ones were dropping off more quickly than expected.

At this point I started doing a little internet research and discovered that Orchids need re-potting every year or so; the media in which they sit breaks down and becomes acidic, which harms the roots. Both my orchids had been in their original media for at least 2 years at this point. So, I started to think about re-potting them, and when Matthew asked me what I wanted for my birthday, orchid re-potting kits was the request made.

However, Matthew is really not the most organised of chaps and I finally got my kits in February.

Before that however, I did some TLC on my little orchid, as it was starting to look really really unhappy. It was supporting its spindly flower spike, but had dropped a couple of leaves over summer. It put out a new leaf to compensate for the losses it has suffered, but the lower leaves were puckered, leather like and turning red/yellow. The medium it was sitting in was looking blackened, there was what looked like a white fungal bloom on the media surface and it smelled bad/moldy as well. It had been originally potted into very tightly packed sphagnum moss  and a very small pot. This over-packing is common in shop orchid, it means that they move less in transit, but it’s terrible for their long term health!

So, as a “short term temporary fix” whilst I waited for new pots, I eased it out of  the pot and broke up/away as much of the bad moss media as I could easily peel off, without taking away too much as I had nothing to replace it with. Then I plopped it back into the pot, but didn’t press it in at all firmly, leaving a big gap under it to the base of the pot, making sure the roots were not squashed any more.  I suspect this is what actually saved it, as when I did get to re-potting it properly, my little orchid had very much developed root rot.

So, when my kits finally did arrive, I fetched myself over to  YouTube, where there are many good videos on orchid re-potting.

It’s really rather easy to re-pot an orchid, healthy or sick, so being suitably informed, and armed with new 15cm pots and a bark based media,  I started the process.

I did Lydia’s orchid first as I thought it would be the easier of the two to do. I had slight misgivings about re-potting at that point, as it was later in the life-cycle than ideal, and it had a very healthy flower spike going on, with lots of blooms. However, from what I could see from the outside it had fat & healthy roots so, given what I’d seen on YouTube, I wasn’t too worried I was going to cause harm.

All in all, it was a bit of an operation – the roots had grown so tightly around themselves and the sides of the pot that they were actually cracking the pot due to sheer volume pressure! Getting it out of the pot and getting it to let go of all its old media (thankfully bark & perlite based, hence the healthy roots) was a trick and a half. I ended up breaking the pot in two (Which given it was actually a good quality pot was rather difficult!) and poking through the gaps in the roots at the old media it with a Japanese chopstick to get most of it off and out! Once done however, I settled it into its new pot with little difficulty as it could support itself easily.

My little orchid though, a different matter…. This YouTube video on re-potting an orchid with rotten roots pretty much sums up the bad state that the roots were in: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbXQIsNKysk (Although I didn’t actually find/watch this one until about 2 months ago)

It had been in its flimsy pot packed tight for so long that, even though I’d been consciously only sparingly watering it for a while, all the roots from the underside of the orchid were black/dead and squishy/slimy. I think bar one long & skinny sub-surface root hanging in there, it just had a few sickly, straggly air roots left. So, I cut off the flower spike and popped it in a glass of water (Which hindsight now says I should have done when I stripped out the rotten media a few months before), cut away as much dead root stuff as possible, then rinsed the roots well, buried all of them in bark mix and hoped.

I also started using the fertiliser I’d bought in 2011, I’d soaked the potting medium in fertilised water before potting up, and then I started checking the pots and watering with fertiliser regularly,  & generally “clucking” over both of them.

It was at this point that my current obsession started to actually kick in. I watched more Orchid Videos. I “fell down the YouTube Hole” and started to learn about optimum conditions, and also that I’d used pots that were actually too big. Orchids like to be snug in their pots, and 15cm for both of them was really too big. So, about a month after the first re-potting, I moved my little orchid over into a 9cm pot. It’s not ideal to re-pot that often, but it definitely looks happier for a smaller pot.

I also learned about nodes and bracts and about encouraging spike branching and also the phenomenon of natural cloning – keiki (The Hawaiian word for baby)

It was looking at all these videos that made me notice that the node below the flowers on the flower spike on Lydia’s orchid had swelled a touch and was poking out of its bract. So, I thought I might try encouraging it to branch. At a basic level, this involves giving it hormones in the form of what is called “Keiki paste” – The plant hormone “cytokinin” with some vitamins mixed into lanolin.

So, I found a UK supplier, bought some, cut back the bract carefully as instructed, applied it and waited.

Keiki paste applied to potential stem bud - it grew a little, but not that much!
Keiki paste applied to potential stem bud – it definitely grew a little, but not enough to become a branch!

So, my experiment sort of had an effect, but not much. I didn’t fuss overly, and I suspect looking back on things, I applied the paste a touch later than I potentially should have done for a successful branch, as about two weeks later the spike changed from vibrant green to a darker shade and and started the slow process of dropping its blooms, and about a week for that that the plant then put up a new spike.

Lydia's orchid - one spike waning, the other waxing! Full bloom striped orchid flowers

So, as I was gently cooing over this new growth, and happy that I’d obviously done the right things when potting on both of them – As well as the above, the little orchid started growing new roots and another new leaf almost immediately!

My original orchid - healthy new air roots and leaves.
My original orchid – healthy new air roots and leaves.

Meanwhile,  spring started properly happening – and that means orchids in bloom start being sold. Looking at all the pretty blooms as one shops does not make not buying more easy, however, their prices do!

Orchids are not mega-expensive, but they aren’t really cheap.   So, I was happy to admire the pretties as I bought my lunch foods without getting my wallet out. Mostly…

At the end of May I bought my third orchid. Lydia wasn’t really surprised at me. She’s been expecting me to buy another one given the amount of YouTube watching I’d been doing and the amount of cooing over my current two I’d been doing.. However, it wasn’t a conventional purchase. I’d been looking at a particularly fine “Ceramic Gift Orchid” specimen for about 10 days or so, so I was rather shocked and sad one lunchtime when I walked up to the orchid shelf for my usual longing resistive admire and noticed that it looked “the wrong shape”- So, I looked properly and  some rotten sod had broken both of its spikes!

Just as I was looking at it, the Grocery manager also spotted it. A quick conversation later about orchid loving later and I got it for £4 rather than £12!

I took it home, quickly consulted YouTube about the best way to cut the spikes to maybe encourage a re-branch, snipped off the spikes about 2cm above the second node and and stuck them both in a glass of water to enjoy whilst they lasted and re-potted my new orchid.

My third orchid, adopted 6 weeks ago because its flower spike has been broken off in the shop and the manager let me have it cheap!
My third orchid, adopted 6 weeks ago because its flower spike has been broken off in the shop and the manager let me have it cheap!

I then had the somewhat mad idea about the potential of growing keikis from the cut stems, as the repotme.com article I referenced above said was possible. After all, not really much to lose eh!

So, I peeled back the bottom bract and stuck a good coating of paste on. Within a few days the nodes on both started to swell.

Cut stem keikis - again from my third orchid
Cut stem keikis – fingers crossed they actually grow!

I’m hopeful that they will survive, I’m changing the water about once a week to ensure oxygenation and giving them a drop of fertiliser. Given the various articles and forum posts I’ve found on cut-stems growing a keiki on the internet I’m crossing my fingers, but if they die, they die.

Going back to the plant itself, I left it sitting on the window sill for a month to settle in. The cut spikes stayed green and healthy, but showed no hint of node swelling for a branch, so I thought what the heck, peeled back the bracts, slapped on keiki paste and hoped for either new branch activity on one or both spikes or maybe a keiki on one of them if I was very lucky.

Looks like I got my orchid pregnant with twins,  I’ve a keiki growing on both spikes!

Playing with keiki paste on my third orchid - I got my orchid "pregnant"! Playing with keiki paste on my third orchid - I got my orchid "pregnant"!

If all of them survive, then I’ll have 4 new independent orchid plants in about 2 years.

So, by now my kitchen windowsill was looking rather full – but when this beauty with absolutely nothing wrong with it had a “reduced to £3.60” sticker slapped on it, again from £12, it also had to come home with me.

My newest lovely - Can't believe this was very reduced in price!Blooms on my 4th orchid - very much reduced in price by the shop, but really not at all devalued!


I’ve not re-potted this one, the media it’s on looks good, so I’ll wait until it’s done blooming.

So, this is now what my kitchen windowsill looks like.

Windowsill of Orchids

So, I’ve 3 yellow & pink flower orchids… I keep lusting over the purple flowered orchids, but I know I’ve really no more space!

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