‘Main cause of death’ in orchids that ‘causes root rot’ – how to avoid

Alan Titchmarsh details method for keeping orchids flowering

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Orchids have quite a reputation for being fussy houseplants and difficult to grow indoors. In the wild, orchids require little more than a tree to grow on and regular rainfall and humidity. In their native environment, thriving orchids can produce thousands of flowers in their lifetime. Inside a home, they require considerably more effort to encourage those wonderful blooms. If you have decided to undertake growing orchids in your home, there are a few important factors to consider, and implement. Caring for these plants indoors requires attentiveness and plenty of patience.

Melissa Strauss, gardening expert, has shared her top tips for growing beautiful orchids indoors to avoid plant death.

Maintain the right temperature

Orchids are sensitive to temperature shifts. This is a factor that makes them good houseplants, as most homes do not experience vast shifts in temperature from daytime to night. Temperature shifts should be accounted for with plants that live outside most of the year.

Melissa said: “If you keep your plants outdoors in the warm seasons, be sure to bring them inside during times of extreme temperature shifts, and if the temperature drops below four degrees. 

“If you can identify the region where your orchid grows naturally, it should be fairly simple to determine its temperature needs.

“Orchids are classified as cool-intermediate and warm-growing depending on their needs. Most orchids in all categories tolerate high heat in the summer, in temperatures of 37 degrees and higher, they will need more shade and more water to keep from burning or drying out.” 

Avoid overwatering

Orchids have somewhat specific watering needs when kept as houseplants. The gardening pro cautioned: “The main cause of plant death for indoor plants is overwatering. Overwatering causes root rot and encourages the growth of fungus and bacteria around the foundation of the houseplant.

“If their roots are kept damp or soggy, they will weaken and eventually rot. If you notice your orchid’s leaves turning yellow, there is a good chance you are giving it more water than it needs.”

According to Melissa, a good rule of thumb for watering is to water once per week through the dormant months and allowing the potting medium to dry completely between waterings.

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During the blooming season, it’s ok to water twice per week, because the blooms will last longer if they have an adequate supply of clean water.

Avoid underwatering

Underwatering, likewise, “can kill an orchid”, says the gardening pro. Melissa explained: “Orchids do a good job of getting what they need from the air around them, but if the humidity isn’t quite right and their roots are deprived of water for too long, they will use up their reserves and the leaves will crinkle and dry out.

“It is easier to revive a dry plant than one with root rot, so I try to err on the side of watering less and misting more, but typically, indoor plants a good soaking once per week, with the opportunity for potting medium to dry out between waterings.”

If you keep your orchids outdoors during the warm months, they will need to be watered more frequently. The expert shared that her outdoor orchids like to be watered every two to three days.

Fertilise them

Fertiliser is important to the growth of any houseplant, particularly orchids. Melissa said: “Indoor orchids need to be fertilised regularly to perform at their peak flower production. 

“Fertiliser specific to the species is commercially available, but a balanced fertiliser can be diluted to about half its strength and will work just fine if you have that on hand.

“During their blooming season, they like to be fertilised about once every two weeks, so every second time you water, you should fertilise. While dormant, you can reduce the frequency of fertilising by half, cutting down to once per month.”

Inspect for disease and pests

Plant owners should try to make a habit of inspecting for pests and diseases when they water them. The gardening guru shared: “The best defences against pests and diseases are early diagnosis and swift treatment. If you know what healthy growth looks like, it is easier to recognise when something is wrong, so familiarise yourself with what your orchid should look like, in optimal conditions.

“Most of the diseases that cause damage and death are fungus related. A majority of these issues become noticeable first on the leaves of the plant. Brown spots, or general yellowing of the leaves are strong indicators of root and leaf rot.”

Treatment for fungal infections involves cutting away the damaged roots and tissue, treating for fungus and repotting in uninfected potting medium. Powdered sulphur makes a great treatment for treating freshly cut roots and other plant parts.

There are several insects that enjoy feeding on orchids. Scale, mealybugs, mites, and aphids are among the most common. 

Signs of an insect infestation manifest as damaged and destroyed blooms, as well as pitting and faded spots on leaves. These pests can be taken care of by wiping leaves and stems with isopropyl alcohol on a cotton swab.

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