Sunday, February 27, 2011

Repotting an Orchid in a Hurry

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I used to love growing orchids, watching them come back into bloom season after season, in spite of being under-watered and under-fertilized. That’s right – I’m not a good orchid mom. My 36 plants are under lights in the basement, and sometimes I can almost hear them screaming out for water. I feel guilty about the half-assed care they get during the winter. All summer long, they’re out on the deck, getting watered pretty much every day and fertilized now and then. And until a few years ago, I used to be diligent about their care while in the basement. But I lost my enthusiasm a few summers ago, when the plants came back into the house in October with an entomologist’s dream assortment of bugs.

First, of course, there were tons of spiders of all types and sizes (and I don’t like spiders). I even brought a few huge orb weavers in. Then the phalaenopsis orchids were full of mealy bugs, which I can’t stand, because they’re very difficult to get rid of without strong chemicals. Next came the aphids on about half of the orchids (not on the phals). And this year, we have a new problem – scale insects. And they do like the phalaenopsis.

Well, the other night, I decided to water the orchids. It had been over a week since I’d watered them. One pot was so incredibly heavy every time I carried it to the sink for water that I dreaded picking it up. I knew that the pot itself was too deep and too thick, which made it heavy. But I also suspected that the orchid bark had long ago broken down into rich compost. (Yes, it had been years since I’d repotted that plant. I already told you I’m an orchid abuser!)

Anyway, I couldn’t take its suffering any longer, so I decided – at 1:30 AM to repot that orchid before watering the rest of them. I was tired, and I just wanted to get the orchid out of the pot to see what was going on. And what a mess it was. The roots were just sitting on top of old orchid bark that had almost completely broken down. I had to either use most of my supply of new bark to fill that big pot or find something to take up space in the bottom of it.

Since I’d bought orchids that had those styrofoam packing “popcorns” at the bottom of the pots, I figured I’d take some out of the boxes I’d received in the mail and use them to fill up that too-deep pot. And I thought I was SO clever! I covered the popcorns with orchid bark, buried the roots and watered the plant. To my amazement, when I lifted the pot out of the sink, there was all this white goo floating around the drain. For an instant, I was puzzled . . . and disgusted at the sight of it. But within seconds, I realized that I’d used those environmentally-friendly popcorn things, and they disintegrate when wet.

So now my plant is slowly sinking in the pot, as the white slime slips out the bottom, into the saucer. And I have to repot the damned thing again, only the right way this time. Anyone want some buggy orchids?



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