Erratic Blooming

Question:

We were given a lady slipper orchid in 2000 as a sympathy gift. It did not bloom again for 5 years. Since then, it has bloomed every spring and, just recently, it made 5 blooms! My husband has quite the green thumb but he can’t explain this luck. Any ideas? Rebecca R.

Answer:

It seems like feast or famine with this plant! It skips many blooming seasons then rewards the frustrated grower with a bounty. This erratic botanical behavior is not typical of the orchid family in any way! These days, the public is well versed in orchids and has come to expect relative blooming regularity sometime in the ‘calendar’ year.

This particular Paphiopedilum, which withheld blooms for so long, must have been given slightly inferior conditions which were later corrected. Ladyslippers are excellent companion plants for the popular Phalaenopsis in that they both prefer low light, frequent watering, and good air movement. However, Paphs are notorious for having sensitive roots and heavy fertilization can actually prevent them from blooming. Timely re-potting is also essential for proper Lady Slipper health. Within six months of receiving new media, most plants produce a lush new foliar growth capable of sprouting a flower bud.

The grand finale of five blossoms at once can only be achieved on older specimens that are allowed to get large or ‘clumpy’ - and not split into many smaller plantlets. Wonderful gains will also be made in the leaf spans of the marbled foliage which could reach a foot or more. In all cases, it helps to have a patient horticulturalist in the household who thinks nothing of waiting a decade for success…

 

Question:

I have a problem with my oldest Cattleya of 28 years. About a month ago, several leaves turned yellow and fell off. Now, it has lost 8 leaves with more on the way. I keep it in the same spot it has always been – next to our bathtub. What can I do to save the plant? Kim M.

Answer:

It is rare for a reliable orchid of nearly three decades to make such a rapid decline. Cattleyas, with their thick leaves, are one of the toughest orchids known to exist. Yet, they are susceptible to a disease called black rot which travels along the rhizome and systematically kills each pseudo-bulb from the base. By the time the grower spots a yellow leaf, the entire bulb below is already dead.

The causes of black rot are varied. Warm night temperatures combined with wet leaves and stagnant air foster an environment that encourages fungi. The spores travel through standing water and burrow into the plant. Once a bulb is infected, the rot spreads like wildfire and can only be stopped by cutting the rhizome beyond the point of infection. Sprinkling the cut with a natural fungicide such as powdered cinnamon (from the kitchen) helps to seal the wound. Immediate action is required by the grower! Always segregate the suspect plants since this condition is highly contagious.

Question:

I sometimes see orchids for sale at my local grocery store. What does one look for when selecting a healthy plant? Kirsten E.

Answer:

Shopping for healthy orchids these days can be challenging given the sometimes non-conventional outlets in which they seasonally appear. The key is to look past the beauty of the flowers (which will fade) and closely inspect the foliage. Leaves must be perky and plump with a rich green hue. Verify the media is not bone dry which could stress the plant. Like forging long term relationships, it’s what’s inside that counts! 

Date: 
Thursday, April 1, 2010 - 17:30