Potting Up

Potting Up
by Udo Hirsch

The seedlings will be ready to leave the jars when they are about 5cm (2in) tall and have their own roots. This should be done in the spring when the young plants have the summer growing season ahead of them, and there is less danger from damping off.

Have ready a shallow bowl of slightly tepid water to which you have added a little fungicide. Unscrew the jar and pour some of the water into the jar and swill it around. This may be sufficient to dislodge the seedlings so that they can be poured out. If the agar is too firm, it may need to be broken up and the seedlings carefully removed with tweezers.

Some manufacturers produce two types of orchid fertilizer. The first is a high-nitrogen feed used to promote growth at the start of the growing season. Later, when the growth has matured, this is replaced by a phosphate-based formula to encourage flowering. Whether this system is preferable to giving a balanced feed throughout the year is debatable, but growers can try out which suits their needs and their orchids best. Always follow the manufacturers’ instructions and read the label carefully.

Plant Stuff

Orchids are perennial plants, with a life span of many years. Their rate of growth is slow, and any artificial feeding has to reflect this. The extra nutrients are given not to increase the rate at which orchids grow or to influence their growing cycle, but to maintain a steady momentum and to ensure health and vigor. The first growers to experiment with feeding orchids were those employed by the private estates, whose owners had the best collections at that time.

Work the seedlings in around the pot rim by making holes with a pointed stick and lowering the plants into the holes, pressing the compost gently around their base. Take care that the seedlings are not buried too deeply, which can cause them to rot, or standing proud and loose, in which case they will not root into the compost.

However, the roots were easily burnt by the strong manure and the appearance of virus-like markings on the foliage of cymbidiums and other orchids fueled the fear that became the basis for the non-feeding rule. More recently, as the nutritional needs of orchids have become better understood and modern inorganic compost (growing medium) materials haw increased, feeding orchids has become scientifically based.

Early fertilizers consisted of horn and hoof or bone meal powder, which was mixed with the compost (growing medium) at the time of potting or placed in a large tub of water and allowed to ferment.

If a specific orchid feed is not available you can use any one of the popular brands sold for houseplants, using the fertilizer at half the weaker recommended dose. It is important to remember that orchids are weak feeders.

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