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  • Mail Order Orchids: Part 1 - How Healthy is the Plant?

Since this is the first blog for our new website I thought I would start at the beginning of our plant/plant guardian relationship, unpacking your newly arrived treasure! (This is a pic of me - Blaine, CPG (Chief Plant Geek), Orchids for the People.)

A lot of orchid growers just give their new orchids a cursory once over when they arrive, then stick them in the window or greenhouse with all their other plants. Don’t! Fresh out of the box your new orchid can tell you a lot.

Are they healthy and happy or are they like the new boogery kid in the playgroup who will give everyone else cooties?

Let’s go over a few things to look at after unboxing your latest prize to help them thrive in their new home.


Pests

The first thing you should do after unpacking your new plant is to inspect for pests. Look at the top and bottom of the leaves and any flowers for little off white discs (scale bugs) or white fuzzy looking clumps (mealybugs). If you find either on your new acquisition put it back in the box or in a bag and contact the vendor immediately. You do not want this plant! Both scale and mealybugs spread fairly rapidly and are hard to eradicate and can spread viruses. You are better off just ditching the plant.
Next, check for aphids. These pests will usually be little green or black bodied creatures with clear wings. Also, if you see little what appear to be little white bugs keep an eye out for aphids because these are molted shells of growing aphids. If I find aphids I don’t consider it a deal breaker if the plant is something I really want, but it does require some work on your part before joining your collection.

Little factoid, Almost all aphids are female (they can clone themselves by a process called oogenesis) and all females are BORN pregnant!

You can see how one missed aphid can turn into a minor catastrophe pretty quickly. If you do find aphids, don’t burn the plant yet. These little monsters are more toward the harmless end of the bad guy spectrum than just about anything else chewing on your plant. If you want to keep the plant and it looks otherwise healthy, you can get rid of aphids pretty quickly.

If the plant came with flowers on it, snip them off. Sorry but flowers and brand new, soft, growing leaves are these pests preferred forage. Get rid of the flowers and you’ll eliminate almost all of the aphids.

Next, weather permitting, take it outside and vigorously spray off the plant from top to bottom with the hose. This will probably take care take care of the remaining offenders.

For safety sake spray the plant down with some soapy water (use Murphy’s, Ivory, or some other “real” liquid soap) let it sit for awhile out of the sun then rinse again and you should be set.

Remember, it’s still ALWAYS best to segregate new plants for a week to make sure nothing they brought with them spreads to the rest of your collection.


Snails and Slugs

Last on the pest front are snails and slugs. Here’s a little truth bomb, all nurseries have at least a few snails and slugs in their greenhouses. It’s just a fact of life that molluscs love everything about greenhouses and orchids. The greenhouses are temperate, moist and chock full of food. And, orchids are grown in pots with large holes in the bottom and in porous, chunky media that provides lots of places to hide.

Did you know that mollusks travel far and wide to feed at night but almost always return to the same place every morning to bed down?

If you see chewed on leaves, spikes or flowers the best place to start looking for the culprit is the drain holes of nearby pots. If you see a slime trail leading into a drain hole you’ve got ‘em! When using snail bait we prefer using non-metaldehyde formulas. They are generally more effective in wet environments and are pet and people safe.


Disease

Now that you have searched out and destroyed any bugs, look for any fungal or bacterial infections. We’ll just call everything in this category “gunk”. I generally don’t fret over any tiny black dots on the leaves or pseudobulbs. Usually, these are minor freeloaders that really aren’t harming the plant. In reality, the cure (chemicals and repeated application of chemicals), would be worse for you and your plants than the disease.

Black or brown blisters or weeping sores on the leaves or pseudobulbs are concerning. If they are numerous or large you should rebox or bag the plant and contact the seller for a return. This kind of gunk can spread lightning fast (it’s usually waterborne) and can destroy plants in short order. If you HAVE TO keep the plant, remove any pseudobulbs affected by cutting it off at the rhizome with a sharp, clean knife or pair of scissors. If leaves are affected, cut the affected area off at least an inch below the gunk and treat the cut with a paste of cinnamon and water. Cinnamon has great anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties!

Make sure affected areas stay dry until all symptoms are gone.

If you see white filmy gunk (usually fungal mycelium) or even mushrooms popping out of the media, don’t be too alarmed. Most of the time this type of biologic is feeding on the potting media that is decomposing. It does mean you should consider repotting because your media is starting to break down and creating an environment that isn’t optimal for root growth. We’ll go over repotting in an upcoming blog.So that’s pretty much it for things that are trying to murder your plant.

Part 2 of this blog will cover the next thing I do when I unpack a new acquisition.