What's wrong with my orchid?
February 8, 2013 4:29 PM   Subscribe

My mother managed to keep this orchid alive for years, but now it looks like it's sick. Help! http://t.co/FHtd0Ke Happy to provide more pics and info.
posted by ApathyGirl to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
Response by poster: That's what I get for posting from my phone.
The orchid.
It lives in a cool area of the house that gets no direct light.
posted by ApathyGirl at 4:31 PM on February 8, 2013

Looks like the bottom part has died off. The good news is there's a nice healthy root (the gray-green horizontal pencil-looking thing) growing out of the top cluster of leaves. She can trim off the old stem and repot.

One thing though, the sphagnum moss in the pot looks dry as a bone. Orchids don't want their roots smothered (hence planting in moss in ventilated pots) or drowned but they like to stay moist. To fix that, soak the pot and moss overnight in a bowl of water (demineralized, if possible: R/O, distilled, the stuff that comes out of Glacier vending machines) before repotting and going forward, mist on regular basis: don't let the moss dry out but it shouldn't be dripping wet either.
posted by jamaro at 5:11 PM on February 8, 2013

Agree that the moss looks way too dry and will add that it appears there's not enough of it--if you buy more fill it up to the top of the pot and the roots will have a little more coverage. I would also move it to an area with more sun (lots of indirect light if you can--do not put it in strong direct light as the leaves can burn and definitely not if you're misting them--one of my first orchids threat in strong sun and then the leaves got wet and they do NOT like that--that one did not recover). Would also suggest rather than misting that you keep that little dish filled with water--an orchid ninja told me to do this and mine have been much better for it (i think it has to do with orchids coming from humid environments and it has something to do with the water evaporating). Not quite sure why but it works.
posted by lovableiago at 7:13 PM on February 8, 2013

The bottom plant is unhappy. Either due to its unhappiness (and desire to procreate before dying) or due to former glory (abundant resources, desire to procreate) it pupped. The pup looks happier than the mother at this point.

If you've never changed the substrate regardless of what the substrate is in several years, the plant will become unhappy as salts and minerals accumulate and burn the roots and nutrients decline and the substrate breaks down leaving less air pockets for roots to use/grow into. Sphagnum moss deteriorates faster than most other substrates, and when allowed to dry too much becomes hard like a brick and then water sheens off of it without absorbing. Usually this happens to the outer shell while the interior is still damp and rotting the roots.

I'd suggest repotting it in a loose orchid bark, after you unpot and cut off any rotten roots. You can definitely tell which ones are rotten when you unpot. Also, to unpot most easily soak the whole root ball/moss in water then gently untangle the moist moss from the roots.

Feel free to ask more/memail me.
posted by vegartanipla at 7:33 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

The loss of leaves, the lack of new growths both point to over-watering.

The store-bought generic orchids I've ever observed like warm and humid. Water in soil, not so much.

Spritz with water, not soak the moss-filled pot (although you want some moisture in the mossball).
posted by porpoise at 7:42 PM on February 8, 2013

So I am a reluctant hobbyist and have a few of these (phalaeonopsis) in my kitchen window. Remarkably, mine (nine in number) are all setting spikes/blooming right now (not usually the case, maybe 2/5 will at this season on any given year) so Yay, Me!
Anyway, what I think I see in your pic is a plant in a pot that is trying like hell to save itself by spreading. The plant in the pot threw a spike (the stalk-thing that usually has the flowers on it) that actually grew a NEW plant (leaves, a root) at the terminal end rather than flowers. Maybe an attempt to leave the pot entirely (?).
I have never seen this happen, but am not shocked, these plants are tough and resourceful!
My BFF is more than a hobbyist and has a greenhouse with many species of this family, she has placated me more than once when a bad event (hailstorm when plants were outside, etc) has badly damaged the plants, i.e. "what do you think happens in Nature?"
So. If this were my plant I would get another pot and make two plants. I would cut off the spike just after the 3rd node (joint) and place the entirety of it in a new pot with fresh media, and I would re-pot the original (mother) plant as well. No promises on how they turn out but that's what I would do.
The media you use, and the light/humidity, etc, will dictate water needs. I use "gorrilla hair" which is a nickname for a loosely shredded cedar, but you can use moss/other, just don't use "dirt", or even premium potting soil (not great for most orchid types, esp. yours). Water only in the AM. Feed a weak orchid fertilizer weekly. Visit AOS webpage to learn more about orchid care.
Good luck, I think your plant has a good chance to gratify you with awesome-ness if you let it become two (as it already essentially has).
posted by bebrave! at 7:51 PM on February 8, 2013

One more thing: cannot tell what's up with the shed(ed) leaves, but,
The health of the newest leaf on these plants will dictate it's future. If the newest leaf is mortally wounded/can't recover from whatever, the plant is essentially dead (even if in full bloom at the time).
Leaves are healthy when green and turgid.
posted by bebrave! at 8:05 PM on February 8, 2013

I have no great expertise, but when I inherited an orchid from an officemate and brought it to a garden shop, they put it in a special "orchid pot" (which has big holes on the sides and drains very well) for me, filled with, essentially, bark as the potting medium. They told me to completely soak leaves, roots and the bark to water it.

The pot I have is like the first set (terra cotta) on this website. (That site was just the first with a good picture of the kind of pot I have, but it looks like it may have some good information, too.)

My orchid's been pretty happy like this.
posted by spbmp at 8:47 PM on February 8, 2013

Years ago someone told us to get a small rimmed tray, fill tray with gravel, and then water, and set the orchid pot on top of the gravel, topping up the water as necessary. So the plant is not sitting in water, but the humidity level of the air right under the plant is increased. Our orchids have been much happier since. Also, bright indirect light, like a north facing window.
posted by ambrosia at 1:52 PM on February 9, 2013

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