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How I became a serial orchid killer

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Avatar for fantagira
Written by   149
2 months ago

Thursday, 22nd of July 2021

Do you see that gorgeous orchid in the lead image of this article? Yep... it's one of my many victims.

No, I don't kill orchids for pleasure. Mostly I kill them with too much love. Occasionally I kill them, because I'm not around to see that they're struggling.

I used to kick myself for the latter too, but that's just taking the antagonism to an unnecessary level. Some things are just out of our control and we can not take the blame for everything unpleasant that ever happens around us.

You know it, I know it, everybody knows it, just not many people want to talk about it. Failure is an inherent part of every success. It is failure that taught me how to care better for these beautiful Gaia creatures.

Repotting orchids in winter is not a good idea!

One of the first things I learned is that orchids are quite tough, but there are things that they don’t like. Repotting is one of those things. Repotting out of the growing season is even worse. Once they are happy in their pots, they don't want to be disturbed, but every so often they do need to be re-potted, as the organic media most people grow them in starts to break down and will eventually cause the orchid to die. Ideal time to do this is when orchids are in their growing season (best in spring or autumn), as new roots will help it get accustomed to the new media much quicker. It's also the time when we fertilise the most, so the orchid has plenty of energy to grow into the new house.

Of course to make it more tricky, not all orchids will react the same way. Cold loving orchids like most Masdevallias are best re-potted in the cold months, as they despise the warmth and repotting them in summer is almost sure to kill them.

Cool growing Masdevallia orchid - still alive!

Common Phalaenopsis however pretty much stops growing during the winter. Provided it’s not wet it is even safe to leave it unattended for a few months. Repotting at that time is just a no no. But how do I know this? Well, I killed at least 5 doing just that. Firstly I just thought I was unlucky or that they didn’t like their new homes. I tried giving them more water. I did all I was NOT supposed to do!

My ever first Phalaenopsis orchid - now deceased.

Only after I killed my first ever orchid (I’ve had it for 4 years), after repotting it in the middle of winter together with 2 other Phals, I started researching the subject and realised my mistakes. It was too late for some of my babies, but at least one of those three I re-potted, not only survived, but also won an award at my local orchid society meeting some years later.

My mini Phalaenopsis that won an award. Sadly no longer with me.

Overwatering and weak genes.

That was one of the interesting parts. How is it possible that I re-potted 3 orchids at the same time in exactly the same way and 2 of them were even purchased from the same place at the same time. Upon closer introspection I realised the one which survived had the smallest pot, therefore I was not able to overwater it as much as the others.

Most people think that orchids (as well as other plants) need a lot of water to survive. And yes, in hot weather they love a good soak and/or daily spraying, but unless you’re growing them hydroponically, they do not like to stand in water as this causes the media they grow in to become acidic and as a result rots their roots and causes them to die. Yes, I did that many times before I knew any better. From my friends' cases I can also tell that overwatering is the most common cause of death for orchids.

Orchid grown in semi-hydroponics don’t need to be repotted, as clay pebbles don’t break down.

Phalaenopsis roots are thick, just like succulents leaves and they can store a lot of water. That makes it easy for them to go days/weeks/months (depending on the weather) without water. If we leave them standing in water they begin to rot and are no longer able to hydrate the plant. As people start noticing that their orchid is becoming weak, they water it more and… kill them with too much love.

Another thing is that similarly to a weak puppy in almost every litter, there are weak orchids from each seed pod. I had many cases of 2 or more orchids from the same source, where one did better than the others despite receiving the same care.

Burrageara Nelly Isler didn’t like being in semi-hydro.


Can semi-hydro solve my serial killing issues?

Once I started seriously educating myself about the orchids and their needs, I found out about asemi-hydroponic method of growing them. It sounded like my dream came true - no more repotting, so naturally less deaths I thought. I converted a few Phals and they all seem to love it. I converted some more, left them all standing in water for 16 days in the middle of a hot summer and once I came back, it turned out that all those in semi-hydro did really well, while others struggled with dehydration. That's when I decided I have found my holy grail and this will be now the only media I grow orchids with.

They did mention that some Oncidium type orchids don't like it much and soak a bit longer after converting them, but I was going to take my chances! That's how I managed to kill not one, but 2 of those beautiful Nelly Isler orchids above. I had to count my losses and give up on Nelly's for the sake of continuing to grow my collection in semi-hydro only. There were a few other fatalities, but most of my orchids seem to like this method and I was happy.

Still not the last killed orchid

I was happy until I had to leave the house for another extended period of time, but this time in winter. Turned out that what saved my orchids in the summer, killed most of them in winter. Even in semi-hydro, water and cold are just not a combination for warmth loving orchids. I lost many at that time. I cried a lot, but it was yet another lesson for me.

Like the title says, I became a serial orchid killer. Even once I found my holy grail and learned how to wield it wisely... there were still more dead orchids! This one in the picture above, flowered and multiplied itself to death! First, I bloomed and bloomed in this manner from every single possible place, including the crown itself. This is called terminal spike and once this happens, it's basically a death sentence, as the orchid has no more room to grow new leaves. What did it do? It started producing masses of little babies (keiki's) from every place possible. I gave one to my mum, to Tina, to Crystal and even sent one to Scotland to my other orchid friend and of course I kept a couple for myself. After removing the last baby, all her leaves started yellowing and dropping and she died in peace, after living her best life for quite a few years. All this for £3!

I thought I've seen it all and learned it all and before I went away again in winter time, I thought I had it all under control for the 2 months I was planning to be away. But then the borders were closed and 2 months changed into 4 and... you guessed it, I came back to a few more corpses.

I would like to say that these were my last victims, but I guess time will tell. For now I am just happy that some of my rare orchids are still alive and I am not planning to buy any more for now. I still have around 40 of them and that's a manageable size of collection.

Prosthechea cochleata (Clamshell orchid)

Until next time 💙

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Comments

We learn from our mistakes. Today you know quite a bit about treating orchids, they are so wonderful and it is no easy task to keep them well all the time. There will always be lessons to learn. I will wish you the best.

$ 0.05
1 month ago

Thanks Jesse. Yes, we’re forever a work in progress 💙

$ 0.00
1 month ago

Orchid serial killer but with 40 collections? That's a lot to kill! :D Kidding aside, sometimes it takes pain and heartache for us to learn. Too much of anything or lack thereof is deadly as what you experienced. Just like how the flowers have grown, you also have grown along with it, wiser and better.

$ 0.05
2 months ago

Thank you Lee, that is very true, I learned a lot through the many failures. My collection would probably be around 60-70 had I not killed and given away some of my orchids, but it is more manageable now 💙

$ 0.01
2 months ago

You are certified plant parent :D

$ 0.00
2 months ago

You do have a big heart for orchids and love them much that you have had your chances with them for years, and then now having 40, wow! That's a sizable collection!❣ I only have one🤣

$ 0.03
2 months ago

It would be around 60 if I didn’t kill or gave away some of them, but all is a learning curve. I love them a lot and I get super excited when I see a flower spike growing 🥰

$ 0.00
2 months ago

Considering you have had failed attempts in the past and now having 40 of them is amazing. It really show your love for them.❣

$ 0.00
2 months ago

Interesting story...

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2 months ago

This topic draws my attention I taught you do kill the orchid to manufacture perfume or scent, now I get your interpretations of it

$ 0.03
2 months ago

Bless you. No, I don’t kill them on purpose, just learning how to grow them and sometimes failing 🙈💙

$ 0.00
2 months ago

They are so lovely Orchids! You did well-taking care of them. I have learned about orchids, thanks! We also have orchids here as my mother loves it. I don't know the names but we have this Common Phalaenopsis, too. :)

$ 0.03
2 months ago

Share some pictures from your mum’s collection please, I’d love to see them 💙

$ 0.00
2 months ago

Gosh, now I know why my mother gets mad if i go near to her orchids , reading this knowing the struggle to take care of the plants but all the struggle of taking care of it , nourishing it all those will have bloom by a beautiful flower that calms the mind and pleases the eye.

$ 0.03
2 months ago

Yes, I understand her well! Some of my recent losses were due to my friends overwatering them last winter, but some of them needed it and survived, so I’m grateful nonetheless.

Has your mum got nice orchid collection? I’d love to see some pictures 💙

$ 0.00
2 months ago

Yeah she has the last time I got home .. ill ask for some pic of collection... but apparently it might not be in a pot .. she might have it wrapped coconut husk .. tied in an old bamboo shoots

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2 months ago

That’s even more interesting! I would love to see how people in other sides of the world grow them. Naturally they grow on trees with their roots exposed.

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2 months ago

true she lets the grow freely sometimes the roots just hangs out of the husk like a vine which is mom is more cautious evertime I go there .. she actually line it up by 2 coloms of 5.. if I can recall

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2 months ago

Sounds interesting. I’d love to see that one day 💙

$ 0.00
2 months ago

They are so beautiful.. At least I know about it now.. My mom loves orchids too 🙂

$ 0.03
2 months ago

Does she have a nice collection of them? I’d love to see some pictures 💙

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2 months ago

At home.. Im working abroad 😅

$ 0.00
2 months ago

Maybe next time you visit ☺️

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2 months ago

Orchid are the most beautiful flowers after roses 😍😉

$ 0.01
2 months ago

They are lovely, although much more tricky to grow 💙

$ 0.00
2 months ago

This is such a wide range of collection you've got. It's not easy doing away or letting such attractive and beautiful flowers go.

My grandma is an orchid lover, they all died when she died cos there was no one to monitor it.

$ 0.03
2 months ago

Ahh, bless your grandma and sorry for your loss. I would take the orchids with my arms wide open. They are not easy plants to care for, but I think I got the care under my belt now 😉

$ 0.00
2 months ago

Loved your orchids. Thanks for the presentation, I didn't know they can live for so long or have so many variations. Very interested to know if each type needs different care, like more sun or more water. If you can give us some directions. I love plants but I failed previously with one that was gifted to me and I'm afraid to have new ones.

$ 0.05
1 month ago

The care will be different depending on the environment you’re living in. Where are you from? Do you know what was the name of the orchid you had?

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1 month ago

I have learned something here too. Too much of potting can kill orchid. Look at how beautiful they are. One would feel sad just like you seeing such cute and attractive flowers dying. I hope the remaining ones will be alive and seeing that you already understood how to manage them to avoid any mistake in the future.

$ 0.03
2 months ago

Let’s hope I won’t go crazy once orchid society meetings and shows are back on 🙈 If I get an orchid I don’t know yet, I might need some further learning!

Thank you for stopping by Princess 💙

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2 months ago

Hehehe I think that will be good so as to know more about orchid You are welcome always.

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2 months ago

Killing plants in your article reminded me that I'm also a killer and my gun is full watering can. I pour and they have to drink. That's terrible. The only way out is to learn which likes to drink and who doesn't. I like the beautiful pictures in your article.

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2 months ago

OMG! You have a huge collection, Monika! I'm jealous haha. I love orchids too, but I only got dendrobiums. Only I can afford it! Lovely photos! Thank you for sharing them :)

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2 months ago

I bet you can grow these outside in the garden! I’d love to be able to do this 💙

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1 month ago

Your babies are so beautiful! Planting ornamental plants is kinda cathartic too

$ 0.03
2 months ago

You have such lovely orchids, such huge collections. I have a few in my garden and planted them in dead logs. They thrive well under the heat of the sun with occasional rain showers. So far I have not killed an orchid yet. 😁

$ 0.05
2 months ago

Yes, naturally they grow on trees. Not much can be done wrong in your climate, as this is where some of them thrive. Trying to replicate your climate in my house is not easy 🙈

$ 0.01
1 month ago

So many lessons here!!! Trial and error are better than no trying. And too much love...well... Doesn't work sometimes 😂🙈❤️❤️

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2 months ago

Clearly not in all cases, but that’s how we learn 💙

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1 month ago

I've been trying and struggling too to grow an orchid but unforrunately non of it lived.. I'll take note of your ideas and ways the next time i'll have one.. Thanks

$ 0.03
2 months ago

Thank you for stopping by. Care will differ depending on where you live and what is your climate. I wish you all the luck next time 💙

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1 month ago

40 orchids in your collection for an orchid serial killer isn't bad at all. I've only had one orchid in my life, a long time ago. I remember it was yellow, and it lasted about two years. But one day, it just died. I've never tried to have another. Here, even though there are many varieties of orchids, they are very expensive in the plant's nurseries. But I love them, and maybe the time has come to have one again.

$ 0.05
2 months ago

Where you live you might even be able to grow them outside. They don’t need much care once attached to the trees where they grow naturally. Here they wouldn’t stand a winter outside, so making conditions right for them indoors is not easy 💙

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1 month ago

They do very well outside here. Orchid is the national flower of Venezuela. But I don't have a garden :( So if I have one must be indoors.

But seeing at yours so beautiful, I think I can encourage myself to have one at home again. ♡

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1 month ago

I see. Then I'm looking forward to see some pictures of your new baby 💙

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1 month ago

Kill them with tender love and care LOL. We lived in 2 season no winter so I seen some flower of orchid all around the year in our neighborhood but the thing I interested much is that cloning them with artificial agars. I see you orchid but never seen them personally here.. Nice collection BTW

$ 0.03
2 months ago

I’d love to be able to grow them in my garden, but winter here would kill them.

I tried cloning them too, until I learned that it can mess them up and I stopped. Some orchids naturally grow many keiki’s, so I have had many orchid babies to share with my friends and family.

Thank you for stopping by 💙

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2 months ago