Last year, I received a blue ribbon at an orchid show for my Oncidium that had 9 spikes covered with flowers. This year, the plant only has 2 spikes yet the foliage looks very healthy. Is this normal? Sara N
Lower your expectations! There is a 'trap' associated with witnessing a spectacular blooming. Just because the plant is capable of such a display doesn't mean it will happen every time or ever again.
The plant may have had a 'once-in-a-lifetime' flowering in that all the pseudo-bulbs grew to perfection and matured simultaneously - a rarity by all accounts. What usually happens with specimen size plants is that the bulbs grow to various sizes and mature at different rates. The result is a lot of foliage and not many flowers at any one time.
Since many orchids, including oncidiums, only bloom on their newest growth, the existing foliage, no matter how impressive, will not produce any new flowers. It is usually recommended that big plants get split into pieces so they can grow and bloom at their own pace. The like-minded divisions that mature in tandem next year can then be arranged together for that highly sought after 'over-the-top' effect.
The lovely blue ribbon is a testament to your growing ability and a constant reminder of what is possible, not probable, with orchids.

I noticed that some of the roots on my Phalaenopsis are sprouting from between the leaves and growing straight up in the air. Should I bury the roots when I repot it? Pat R.
One of the peculiarities of raising moth orchids in pots is that the lower leaves have to be periodically removed or the new roots cannot reach the media below.
The roots will continue to grow and 'search' for moisture but get caught in the broad fleshy leaves and inevitably 'dry up' without daily spritzing. Along the way, the roots can travel horizontally, vertically, and any direction in between while reaching lengths of a foot or more. Occasionally, an overly optimistic owner will 'stake up' an errant root thinking it is a new flower stem. This misdiagnosis makes for a slightly embarrassing situation when the truth is revealed, hopefully in private!

Aerial roots do not contribute much to the general health of Phalaenopsis so, at first opportunity and when out of bloom, repot the plant and tuck the roots back into the media. Shortly before re-potting, spray the hard white roots with water so they are malleable and more easily curled into a pot. Gently strip the lower leaves off the plant (only four are needed anyway) so that the 'future' roots will actually have a future.

Following up on the 'dish garden' question from last month, I have a large bowl with four Phalaenopsis in bloom that was given to me as a gift. Is this also a 'recipe for disaster'? Myra W.
Temporary display of blooming plants together in a grandiose container is certainly permissible without adverse affects to the plants and regularly done in the floral world. The key is to not let them stay there long or rotting could set in. Once the flowers start folding, it is time to dismantle this work of art.
First, cut off the flower spikes (Any good ones can be further enjoyed in a vase for a few weeks.) Remove the top covering if any (usually Spanish moss) and inspect the contents of the cachepot. Most likely, the individual plants are packed together. Carefully remove each, repot as needed, and cultivate separately until they bloom again. If the timing cooperates, all attendees can be reunited next year. If the timing does not, last minute substitutes can be added with little cause for suspicion.

Thursday, March 1, 2007 - 18:00