General Orchid Tips

Clay Pots

CS Would you like to reuse your old clay pots and have them look brand new again? Here's how. First you need a pressure washer. Use it to clean off those old pots. It will take off all the old roots and discoloration. Then run them through the dishwasher and you are all set to use them again.

JO Want to reuse a clay or plastic pot but afraid of transmitting viruses and other cooties? First scrub the crud off the pot with a coarse plastic pot scrubber (like scotchbrite) then either:

Cutting Up Safely

CS We've all heard that good hygiene is important in orchid growing. This practice inhibits the spread of viruses and bacterial diseases. We are advised to "flame" our tools when cutting into plants. Many of the propane torches are large and heavy when the liter tank is attached. I personally use what is called a micro torch. It is a very small, lightweight torch that fits easily into your hand. It is filled with butane so there is no heavy tank. The butane fillers are a small aerosol can normally used for butane lighters. Albertsons and Rite Aid carry them. The torches can be found at Harbor Freight in Salinas for $5.00 each.

CS Recently, I found really nice small torches. They are culinary torches used for desserts like creme broulet and such. They can be purchased at Sur La Table in the Carmel Plaza. What a wonderful kitchen store. They had several nice dishes that could be used as decorative humidity trays as well.

JO Harry Philips (co-owner of Andy's Orchids) recommends ditching the torch and using disposable razor blades, they are cheap and there is no chance of passing viruses on to the next plant since you just toss them after working on a plant. You can find them in the paint department of Home Depot.

Orchid Names

CS Are you confused by all those abbreviations you see on orchid tags these days? There are so many intergeneric orchids with two or more genera in their breeding. Many times the orchid name sounds entirely different from the genera that go into its makeup. There is a website that lists the hundreds of abbreviations and multi genera it for which it stands. The site is

CS We also have an extensive list of hybrid names in the Reference Section of this web site.

Hang your Orchid

CS Here is a great way to display orchids that are on mounts in a greenhouse. You can make rounds out of half inch wire mesh. Wire the two ends together forming a cylinder. The key is to use a deep sea fishing hook with the ball bearings inside. This way when you hang the round from the roof, it will spin easily for watering etc.


CS Remember slugs, snails, fungus and bacteria are thriving this time of year. So be vigilant with the bait and keeping your plants extra clean. Remember those orchids that are planted in sphagnum moss need very little water now. That moss stays wet for a very long time--three weeks in a larger pot. If your plants have moss coating the top, it is probably thriving too. This helps hold in the excess moisture . I will gently pull the moss away from the base of the plant when I can. Sometimes it appears that the moss takes over, and the orchid may die. Remember if your cym spikes are mature, protect the plant from direct rainfall. You will keep the flowers from brown spotting that way.

Where to Buy Orchids

CS Tropical Orchid Farm in Maui, Hawaii is having their fall sale. You can email them off their website to request their sales catalog. I got mine in just a few days and they have great prices and some unusual orchids. Their phone is 866-572-8569. Their website is

CS Another good sale is from J & L Orchids in Connecticut. They have an online catalog and sales flyer at 20% savings. Their website is Both of these orchid companies are very well respected and you may trust their plants. They carry orchids you will not find in the grocery store!

JO Go to a show! Talk to the vendor, who grew the plant you are looking at, they should be able to tell you about it's eventual size and it's cultural requirements.


CS Rather recently Bill Hale has started saving many of the backbulbs he used to throw away when he was repotting all kinds of different orchids. He will place them in a small pot with pure long fiber sphagnum moss. This moss can hold the moisture necessary to sprout these bulbs, and you should see all his little babies! Soak the moss in a bowl of water for a couple of minutes and wring it out slightly. Pack it loosely in the pot leaving a little air pocket at the bottom or put in a couple styrofoam peanuts. That will work just as well. You can order this high quality moss from CalWest orchid suppliers in So. California.


CS We have often heard from orchid growers about water quality in relation to successful orchid cultivation. If you have a small collection inside your home and you don't want to get too fancy get a Brita or similar filter. Use this filtered water to care for those windowsill plants. They will appreciate it with healthier green growth and blooms.

CS All this wonderful rain water is great for your orchids. Collect it while it is still available. Those orchids planted in sphagnum moss and those that normally live at higher elevation appreciate it the most.

JO How to improve your water starts with what is in your tap water. If you get your water from California American Water your water quality report is here notice "total dissolved solids" on page 5 and calcium, sodium, and total hardness on page 6. The bottom line, this water is hard! Ideally you should collect rain water, buy an RO system, or buy RO water at the supermarket. If you must use tap water, be sure to thoroughly flush your pots when watering to avoid the salt buildup, and avoid plants that are touchy about their water.


CS Most of our orchids love higher humidity levels that range between 60 and 80%. Our homes experience lowered humidity during the winter, caused by artificial heating and those cold sunny days when humidity is very low. You still can bring cymbidiums inside to enjoy their blooms. I just take them back outside every few days to get lots of fresh air.

CS There are lots of creative ways to provide extra humidity. Water containers in whatever form will do the trick. I even use a bundt cake pan for an extra special plant. That way the orchid is surrounded by a moat! Some of us have continued to keep our masdevallias and zygos outside, even during the cold spell. I tried taking some back into the greenhouse and they started dropping leaves. They really thrive on the constant fresh air movement and don't seem to mind the cold.

Potting Mix

CS Be sure to soak your bark mix for a few hours before repotting your orchids. This will hydrate the bark and it will hold water more effectively.

CS Most of the orchids we cultivate are epiphytes or lithophytes, meaning they grow hanging onto tree limbs or on the surface of rocks. The potting mix is really just anchoring the roots in place, not feeding the plant like soil does for terrestrial plants. Quality fir bark is getting more expensive and harder to find, so some of us are experimenting with mixes that use little or no bark. Such products include perlite, charcoal, small lava rock, horticultural rock wool, tree fern fiber, coconut husks, Dyno-Rock that comes from riverbeds in Australia and other man-made ceramic rock materials. These products do not breakdown like bark does and help oxygen and moisture surround an orchid's root structure. New Zealand sphagnum moss is another popular medium for orchids that like moisture, but it must be kept fresh as it will eventually go stale. Some orchids love this moss like phalinopsis, draculas and masdevallias. They show their preference for this mix in robust root growth.

JO Coconut husks are an attractive alternative to bark, they are more environmentally friendly and hold more water than bark. But careful, too much coconut husk in a mix results in a very heavy wet mix that will rot the roots right off your plants. So mix with charcoal, or clay pellets (like aroflore) to lighten it up.


CS October and November are two of the best months to repot Cattleya type orchids. New roots have usually emerged from the new growths and may be two or three inches long. In their natural habitat, they emerge to take advantage of the coming rainy season. These roots will go down into your new mix and your orchid has a better chance of success. Keep that cattleya mix really open with medium bark, maybe a little perlite and a little horticultural charcoal will keep the water sweeter as it absorbs toxins.

JO The repotting rule of thumb, only repot a plant when it is starting active growth. Early summer for Phalaopsis, winter for Plurothallids, fall for Cattleyas, spring for Lycastes, etc. The exception is if a plant is in distress and it appears that the mix is rotting then an immediate repotting will give the plant it's best chance for success.

Winter Rest

CS It is almost Halloween. This is the time when you give some orchids their winter rest period with little or no water. Some of these orchids may include barkeria, catasetum, cynoches, cynodes and nobile type dendrobiums. There are many orchids who in their natural habitat enjoy a bright sunny, dry winter. For many orchids you can resume watering around Valentines Day or when buds appear in the case of those dendrobiums.

CS How to remember which ones need a rest? One suggestion is to simply turn the pot on its side so when you water others in the greenhouse they don't get watered or move them to one section or place a color coded tag in the pot to jog your memory.

Yellow Leaves

CS Are your leaves looking a little yellow? Try watering your plants using some epsom salts at the rate of one teaspoon to the gallon. Your plants may be experiencing a magnesium defiiciency rather than an iron deficiency. This process can be repeated every few months.

CS I want to highlight a couple tips given to us by Derik Wenzler. This time of year we tend to get more yellowing leaves and black spots on our orchids as the cool, moist conditions foster bacterial and fungal infections on orchid leaves. Derek suggested including some soft soap like Ivory liquid in your watering solution. If you use a fertilizer proportioner, he suggested one half cup in your five gallon bucket. This application will keep your plants clean, and keep those black spots from developing so easily. Remember to cut back on any fertilizer and water in general this time of year. Water in the morning only to avoid condensation of your plants when the temperature drops after sunset.

Green Tea

CS This next tip is for plants in general, not just orchids. I went into a small shop at the Crossroads and was immediately drawn to a beautiful, large springerli fern. For many of us, this is a difficult fern to keep alive and beautiful over time. The shopkeeper got his tip from a little old lady. He gives his plants a cup of cold green tea each week. He swore to its effectiveness for maintaining healthy plants.


CS When you read about orchids that are lithophytes, it means they grow on rocks. Since we are not growing them that way, you can add a little dolomite lime to your mix and they would like it. Paphs like a little lime also.

New Growth

CS You can encourage multiple new growths on orchids such as cattleys. The pseudobulbs have two dormant eyes at the base, but usually only the eyes on the last new growth sprout the next growths. You can take a sterilized tool and partially cut through the rhizome between the various pseudobulbs. This procedure may activate some of those dormant eyes.


Mealy Bug

CS I have noticed that fall is a particularly bad time for mealy bug. They are hiding in those places you can't always notice. When you bring blooming plants inside the house from the greenhouse or outside, they multiply that much faster. I still use straight isopropyl alcohol either in a spray bottle, Q-tip or syringe to control them. Don't spray your blooms. Carefully use a Q-tip, or you will damage the flower. Sharon Ashton suggests using a syringe to apply the alcohol deep inside the leaves. Great idea!

Pest Control

CS In my greenhouse I am hunting down those pesky mealybugs, and I am not being organic about it either! They seem to be pretty immune to all the non-toxic remedies. I did take the lazy way out though. Since Malathion is the least toxic to humans, I bought the concentrate in the bottle that attaches directly to the end of your hose. No mixing, no fuss. I plan to repeat the application two more times at ten day intervals. I did find a good, five-page article on pest control at the Canadian Orchid Congress.

CS Try Orange Guard for safe and effective pest control. It's active ingredient is the extract or the orange rind and is safe to use in the kitchen. However dilute the solution to one part Orange Guard to three parts water. Careful with the blooms as this is still a solvent!

Snails & Slugs

CS Here is a tip from Ida Hale. Pretty soon those cattleyas will be blooming en masse. If your growing area is subject to slugs and snails, place a cotton ball on the stem below the first flower. Wrap it there so it stays. Those critters won't crawl over it to munch on your hard earned flowers.

CS Most cymbidiums have a slug or two living deep within the pot feeding on the new root tips. They typically crawl up through the drainage holes. When you repot this spring, consider lining the bottom portion of the pot with fiberglass window screening to effectively protect the drainage holes from slug incursions. You may find this window screening at Orchard Supply Hardware by the foot or in prepackaged rolls.

CS You can bring your cymbidiums that are in bud or bloom inside the house to enjoy. There is usually a slug or two inside the mix, and they will sometimes go exploring during the night hours. One trick I learned by accident is to spray the top mix in the pot with Raid a day or so before you bring the cym inside. When the slug comes into contact with the Raid residue they die. They did that once all over my family room floor---very messy, so outside is best!

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