Deflasking Phalaenopsis Seedlings: How to / First Time An ongoing observation of two orchid flasks

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Background: September 2017 I finally did it—I ordered and deflasked my very first batch of orchid seedlings! I couldn’t decide between two different phalaenopsis hybrids, so I got both. Each flask had around 40+ orchids of varying sizes. I also ordered a small compot of 6 seedlings but I’ll be tracking those in a different post.

If you’re a Canadian interested in getting your own flask, I got mine from Kingfisher Orchids in BC (thanks Pat!). I warn you it’s hard to pick just one flask.

2018 News: this year, I made my own hybrid! I pollinated the flowers and flasked the seeds. If you want to see what I did, then check out this other post, How to Breed & Flask Phals (Steps for Dry Seeds & Green Pod Propagation Methods)

About this post: you don’t have to read it ALLLL…

This is a “journal-like” entry, written in sequential order of my deflasking experience, events and updates. If you don’t want to read it all, click below to jump to the associated section.

 

This is what I ordered

 

Back on Topic – Deflasking Phalaenopsis Seedlings

Method: I researched a bunch of options for deflasking phalaenopsis seedlings and found the information available is geared toward people with greenhouses and/or those who live in tropical conditions (go figure—it’s the story of my Canadian windowsill-growing life!). I posted on the Orchiholics FB group and queried members there who offered some good suggestions.

The takeaways from my research on deflasking phalaenopsis seedlings is as follows:

  • Seedling phalaenopsis out of flask need a long time to adjust to non-flask conditions (going from 100% humidity and no pathogens, to the outside environment with all the pathogens)
  • A ‘grow chamber‘ can help keep the humidity up and give the seedlings a chance to establish more size to better weather dehydration later in life.
  • Some people had varying levels of success with the chamber method, as bacteria and fungus often grew and killed the entire batch of plants. YIKES!
  • Norman Fang (of orchids.com) let me know that what I have done below is good, but that Physan 20 should be used to keep rot at bay. “Physan at low rate of 1 teaspoon per gallon instead of 1 tablespoon per gallon will be safe and you can just do a foliage spray.”

Decision Made: Transfer Newly-Deflasked Seedlings to a Grow Chamber

I moved forward with the grow chamber because I ultimately felt like I had no other option (dry climate==desiccated plants *sad face*). I live in a condo, so a greenhouse is out of the question (for now), I’ve contemplated an indoor tent but it take up too much space and I didn’t want to spend $300+ in grow lights to put the seedlings off-window under LEDs. So I was kind of stuck with this grow chamber option…that or chance the seedlings to the open air.

NOTE: I was hesitant about this Grow Chamber because…

  1. I questioned how necessary this transition period from flask to “house humidity” was. I’ve received plants from Asia that are ‘seedling size’ (see my phal bastianii and phal mariae) and I gave them no special treatment—they do very well, grow vigorously, and don’t need additional care beyond what I do for my other orchids. The problem is, I didn’t want to lose the plants (especially the big ones that I thought had the best chance to grow big and strong); I didn’t want to risk killing the best plants in the event my assumption was wrong…but I worried I might kill them following “best practices”. I decided to keep one plant out of the chamber in its own pot, but I put an inverted pot over it to keep the humidity in a bit.
  2. I don’t have access to antifungus/bacterial chemicals as they appear to be widely banned in Canada. I managed to get Physan 20, but I’ve also heard it can retard plant growth. I applied Norman’s recommendation of Physan application only to the smallest seedlings which seemed the most likely to be overtaken by fungus. If the larger plants started to show signs of infection, I decided I would just pot them outside the Tupperware and take the risk at open exposure in my home.

 

Phalaenopsis Seedling Deflasking Setup

My goal was to try a couple things and see what works best. I used three setups (outlined below). I filled the bottom of the pots with Styrofoam because it’s intended to hold the growing medium up in the pot and not allow it to sit in any water that condenses to the bottom of the pot. Plus, Styrofoam is inert so it doesn’t promote bacterial growth.

Setup 1 – Sphagnum Moss
Setup 2 – Compots w/ equal parts orchiata bark, perlite, and charcoal
Setup 3 – Single plant potted up in it’s own pot with a cup flipped on top of the substrate to hold in moisture (using a blend of potting medium from setup 1 and 2). The lone plant I used for this experiment had MASSIVE roots–they were as thick as my adult-sized phal roots, so I figured it would be best-able to handle drought. Who knows though, it could just be a defect within the plant.

Steps to Phalaenopsis Seedling Deflasking

  1. Fill a bowl with tepid/luke-warm water
    *After speaking with Pat from Kingfisher Orchids, this may have not been the best method; as he puts it — if any of the seedlings have a virus, then all seedlings are potentially now infected as they absorb the water from the other seedlings as they soak. “I do not worry about pulling them apart, even if a few roots get damaged in the process.  That is what the drying process takes care of”.
  2. Open the flask
  3. Put seedlings into water
  4. Gently manipulate seedlings apart, being careful not to break any leaves or roots while doing so (this is stressful — but overall they’re pretty durable — I didn’t break a single leaf or root)
  5. Place individual seedlings on paper towel and allow to air-dry
  6. Place orchids on top of medium and lightly put a small amount of mix over the roots (less than you would for a standard potting)
  7. Prepare Tupperware for orchid seedlings (wash out, prop up a bottom layer to hold any medium off the floor of the chamber (or use perlite on the bottom of the Tupperware)
  8. Place seedlings and medium into Tupperware and place lid on top
  9. Slightly open the lid to allow for some air flow

 

Photos: Deflasking Phalaenopsis Seedlings

September 10, 2017

Watering Deflasked Phalenopsis Seedlings

My understanding is that you need to water the seedlings with 1/4 strength fertilizer; the problem is, in the humidity chamber, the water is recycled so it doesn’t “get dry” like it would on my windowsill. I think I might force drying once every week by taking the top off (or off-setting it by 30%) to allow the substrate to dry out before my standard Saturday watering. I will revisit this and revise as I get better understanding into the process. The trick is to find a way to water regularly but avoid introducing a bunch of pathogens — at least if the substrate dries out every week, that will be less of a problem — I just don’t know if the seedling leaves can handle a full drying out.

Regarding Physan 20

I’ve heard from a few sources that Physan is potentially detrimental to plant growth (including from Pat from Kingfisher Orchids). Instead, it’s recommended to find a product specifically for damp off at a good hydroponic shop.  Good air circulation works almost as well.

 

Deflasking Phalaenopsis Orchid Seedlings Without Grow Chamber

September 19, 2017

This weekend I saw 2 seedlings that started to turn translucent from rot. I decided to stop the experiment with the “grow chamber” because it was going against every fiber of my intuition on this. I grow all my orchids on an exposed window and for some reason decided that growing these ones in an enclosed box was a good idea. Now that the seedlings are no longer in a high-humid environment, I decided to add a light dressing of sphagnum moss around all of the roots ensuring that moss was making contact with each root. I mist 2x per day with a diluted fertilizer and tap water combo. I mist heavily in the morning, soaking the moss, and lightly in the evening to increase general humidity. The seedlings are under 2 9watt LED lights which appear to be too strong (pale-green leaves vs the old dark leaves), so I’ve shut off one of the lights for the short term.

September 16-18th Update Photos


 

Deflasking Phalaenopsis Seedlings Without Grow Chamber

September 24, 2017

This weekend I watered the seedlings the same way I water my adult phals (details on my standard phal care outlined here); I soaked the sphagnum moss and sprayed all seedlings liberally. I’ve seen 2 new roots growing now, and after this watering they both took a substantial jump forward in growth. Many of the seedlings are growing new leaves as well. I’ve lost a couple of the smallest seedlings that started to suffer rot from the grow chamber, but otherwise, the rest of the seedlings look very healthy. The seedlings under the red/purple 200watt LED are darker and seem to be growing better than the seedlings under the 9watt grow LED. The plants under the 9w look a bit washed out, so they may be stressed. I will monitor and adjust if they don’t start improving overall.

 

pH Adjusting – Kombucha for Orchids

I have gotten into a few arguments on the groups and forums about other’s perceived understanding (and intense conviction) about the need for a plant’s need for a pH of exactly 5.8 which allegedly improves nutrient uptake in hydroponic plants. I don’t believe this applies universally to all plants (especially outside of cannabis) including orchids as they all come from variable environments, but rather than argue with people I’ve decided to use a small subsection of the seedlings to test this on. Again, I don’t pH adjust the rest of my orchids *EDIT [2018/11/01 – I have since started pH-adjusting all of my epiphytic orchids, phals included – here’s why] and they’re doing very well, but I’d like to know if they could be doing better. With this experiment, I’ve started 2 sample groups (one from each flask batch) to test “the ideal pH of 5.8”. For a pH-down buffer, I’ve started using a Kombucha mix that I had fermented for so long that it’s acidity is under 3 pH (silly, I know…but really not much different than bacteria on trees fermenting old dead leaves). I can add about 1/8th of it to a pitcher of water with fertilizer and it will adjust my tap water pH down to 5.8 from about 7.8.

I have chosen to use the kombucha because It’s basically just black tea, sugar and water. The sugar is converted to amino acids through a process of interaction between yeast and bacteria. I have read that acetic acid (found in vinegar) can be bad for plants, but I’ve also read that many people have used it successfully to buffer water for plants. Kombucha has acetic acid and gluconic acid (which apparently promotes plant growth) as well as whatever minerals and nutrients are left over from the bacteria and yeast interaction. I assume (and possibly incorrectly) that this reaction would also occur in nature as leaves and fruit break down on the forest floor and in the trees after rains…so in theory, it should be good for the plants. Regardless, the amount being added is relatively low, and the sugars are nearly fully consumed by the time I add it. I’ll also be flushing the water through with tap water whenever I see fit.

I’ve been using this same method on Miracle berry (Synsepalum dulcificum) seedlings which require a pH of 4 to grow well and allegedly have a very low germination rate. Of the 2 seeds I had, both have germinated…so I’m optimistic about this “DIY method” of pH buffering for the orchids as it appears to be working for the Miracle Berries.

Update [November 24, 2017]: I’ve abandoned this experiment on the orchids. It halted root growth and just generally didn’t look good on the orchids I applied it to. I will continue using it on the Miracle Berry and Sour Sop seedlings as it appears to be very effective for them.

 

No Complaints or Issues

October 31, 2017

This is just a general update as it’s been about 5 weeks since I last updated. I’ve been adjusting the seedlings here and there–mainly light. I have also adjusted the watering routine to match what I do for my blooming-sized phals. The seedlings get watered 2-3 times per week. I take them to the sink and fertilize them with a heavy drench of a “weak solution”. They sit and absorb water for about 4 minutes and then I do an additional fertilizer drench. And I finalize the watering with a tap water rinse.

I’m very happy with the progress to this point and a little surprised that the seedlings are doing so well with the house humidity being so low (yesterday, the humidity was down to 12%).

The “bigger group” – the seedlings under the 200w “pink LEDs” were the larger plants of both flasks. I have moved them closer to the LED grow light; about 24″ under it. They receive direct sun in the morning until about 11:30 (winter days are shorter now), and the LED timer kicks in at 12:30pm till 4:30. Most of the seedlings at this point have new roots growing and about half are working on a new leaf as well. The Phal Lyndon Bullions ‘Emerald Frost’ AM/AOS x Phal Zheng Min Muscadine ‘Mituo #1’ (LBxZMM) seedlings have much more vigor than the Phal Summer Dance Queen (SDQ) seedlings; and while it took them bit longer to start growing, the LBxZMM roots have out-paced the SDQ by about 2x the growth.

Phal Summer Dance Queen – seedlings after being deflasked for 2 months
Orchid Seedlings after 2 months (Phal Lyndon Bullions x Phal Zheng Min Muscadine – 2 pots on the left) (Phal Summer Dance Queen – two pots and container on the right)

The “smaller group” – the seedlings under the 9w LEDs were not showing the same vigor the bigger plants were, so I moved them to the front South-facing windows. They are behind a sheer curtain and get about a full 8 hours of direct (but filtered) light. This helped a lot and they have all started to pop out new roots and leaves, just like the bigger plants in the other compots. This past weekend, I combine a couple of the smaller compots to save space. All of the smaller group now fit on one tray, where they were on two before.

 

9 Months After Deflasking

June 27, 2018

Wow! It’s already been 9 months—every time I water the seedlings, I feel like they’re SOOOO SLOW, but when I look back through this log, I can’t believe how much they’ve grown! Some of the seedlings are getting so large that their leaf span is now bigger than the original flask container they came in. Based on my observations with the compot, I expect some of the seedlings from the flasks will likely bloom next spring or summer. Just over a year and a half to blooming isn’t bad (assuming my guess is accurate); they do make remarkable growth increases when they’re under ideal conditions.

The Summer Dance Queen (SDQ) seedlings are slower growing and less resilient compared to the other hybrid I deflasked—I expect I should get about 20 adults in the end barring any major issues with the smaller seedlings. I had tried to keep the protcorm like bodies alive that were in flask (and a few did grow bigger leaves), but most just eventually desiccated.

The Zheng Min Muscadine x Lyndon Bullions (ZMMLB) cross is extremely resilient and fast growing. Some of the smallest seedlings in the little pots from September have caught up to the larger seedlings which were outpacing them in size up until spring. It may not be that the cross is stronger, but rather it’s better able to manage my “cooler” home conditions (18-22C) compared to the SDQ

The Kingfisher’s Kiaulani King (compot) I ordered has progressed well, but is overall slower. I suspect it might be because I used too much sphagnum moss (50%+ as a ratio to bar) and the wetness as the medium compacts has been keeping the roots wet too long. I repotted the smaller seedling pot tonight and as suspected a root or two had rotted. Regardless of all that, the biggest plant of the six has a spike!

General assessment after 9 months of growing these seedlings: I’ve started pH adjusting my weekly watering to 5.8 by adding Phosphoric acid (purchased from a hydroponic shop). I still flush with tap water (7.5pH) at every watering, but when they’re watered with fertilizer water, the pH is 5.8. I only started this recently (last month)—because I noticed a few of the seedlings in brighter light were getting chlorosis (yellowing) between the leaf veins. I have noticed minor improvements in some of the seedlings, and that yellowing has gone. Again a condition that only a few were suffering from, and that I feel is because I was growing them at high speed under bright light. If you run your computer hot, you need more fans. If you run your plants hot, you need more nutrients. (is how I see it at any rate).

Another challenge I’ve been facing is hydration and watering. The seedling pots don’t dry consistently. Sometimes they can dry out in as little as two days, and other times it can take a whole week. The variability means I need to check it often and regularly, but i’ve managed this okay so far. I’m supposed to be going away fro 10 days in July…I’m nervous about how this will go with the seedlings, but I plan to put them into a humidity dome one day after I water to help slow evaporation.

Otherwise things with the seedlings are going really well. I’m elated that I didn’t kill them so far and I’m looking forward to seeing some of them bloom. I do plan on eventually selling some to friends/orchid peeps; but I really want to see what the flowers look like before I start offloading the seedlings. My goal is to get a couple really great award-worthy plants, and not keep the rest…but because they’re complex hybrids, I don’t want to give away the diamond in the rough…if that’s what ends up happening.

Photos from June 27th

Note: The group of 7 pots on the right are the ZMMLB hybrid. The group of 7 on the front right are the SDQ phals (the pot in the very front is the empty flask they came in (for size comparison); and the two pots back-left are the Kingfisher’s King (red phals). Lookin’ good, eh?!

 

Post Vacation Update

July 17, 2018

Well the last 10 days was nice; but I admittedly was stressing a bit about what I would return home to. Because I’d been watering the seedlings every 2-3 days, I wasn’t sure if they could last a whole 10 days. I purchased two large domes and I put the seedlings into that the day before we left, but 12-hours after my last watering. The good news is everything in the domes was good. I had a couple orchids suffering from dehydration that weren’t part of these seedlings, but they will be fine.

 

1-Year After Deflasking

Sept 12th, 2018

Well it’s been a year since I started this whole project and I’m happy to report that it wasn’t a failure. In fact it was a really rewarding and cool experience. I’ve started repotting and separating the largest seedlings of the LBZMM cross as they were starting to overshadow one another. I was getting tired of watering many plants multiple times per week, so I’ve started potting them into a new mix that’s more water retentive while still being airy. This new media takes a full 7 days to dry out and it seems to be more uniformly moist (so the roots love it).

Repotting + New Orchid Mix / Seedling Media

  • 50% large Orchiata
  • 50% Pumice
  • A handful of peatmoss in a gallon of the above mix
  • 1/4 tsp Organic fert (4-4-4)
  • Top dressing of sphagnum moss

Mites (here then gone) I saw some pitting on the leaves and I believe this was from mites—so I started adding a bit of Dr. Bronner’s spearmint soap to my fertilizer water. When I water, I spray the leaves extra liberally. It seems to have knocked them back and the plants have picked up growth rate.

 

A SPIKE!?! (2 Actually)

Oct 13th, 2018

Well, I knew they’d be coming soon, but I didn’t think I’d be seeing spikes only 13 months out of fask but I spotted my first spike on the largest of the seedlings—the LBZMM cross. I had been cool-cycling my home for the winter blooming phals and I think the very small percentage of manii (a cool spiking species) in this hybrid may have influenced the flowering trigger. All of my winter bloomers now have 1 or two spikes—including this one. Normally I wouldn’t make such an assumption, but as I poked around in the other seedlings, I actually found a second plant spiking too! So 2 of the LBZMM are spiking.

What might the Lyndon Bullions x Zheng Min Muscadine flowers look like?

I had done a lot of digging and this is what I think each hybrid could look like—I may be wrong because it really comes down to the plants used to make the cross—but I think it’s a good and hopeful target. Time will tell if my “guess” is accurate (which is 95% of the excitement factor that drives raising your own seedlings)…

Remembering the parents

Maybe these are what they will look like…

What about the Summer Dance Queen Seedlings?

The larger plants of SDQ are doing very well. They’ve nearly caught up to the largest of the LBZMM seedlings—the smaller sized plants (the ones that likely were too small to be deflasked) are still struggling. They don’t seem to have put on any size and they may just fizzle out with time.

Photo of the largest seedlings:

What Might the Phal Summer Dance Queen look like?

*photo from Tita Beth*

 

Chlorosis Issue in Plants growing under LEDs?

Oct 19th, 2018

Some of my plants – these seedling phals and one Phrag kovachii hybrid are getting a faint patchiness of chartreuse in the leaves. I’ve been recommended to use CalMag for the chance it’s a magnesium deficiency. Last night I watered the affected plants with Epsom salts and water at a ratio of 1/4 tsp per gallon (4L) of water. Those plants don’t seem harmed by the potential nutrient issue—and a good part of me thinks it’s just due to the lights being so bright, but I’ll try the magnesium dosing and see if it changes.

Photo Update – Things are good

December 17, 2018

I’m happy to report that I have no real profound updates. It’s winter now, so the sun is lower in the sky – as a result many of the seedlings in the living room are getting direct sun for a portion of the day. Good news is – this has increased the growth rate. Bad news is – I’m seriously realizing that I’m going to have a space issue pretty damn quickly. The new medium that I mentioned in the September post, has had good affect…many of the larger seedlings have started to drop new roots that are reaching down into the media. The spikes are slowly developing and fingers crossed I’ll start to see buds in the next few weeks.

Phalaenopsis Seedling Photos
~15 Months Out of Flask

 

Photo Update – Looking back over the last 10 months

January 25, 2019

New year, new blooms, right?! Just a quick update. The one seedling that was in spike aborted it’s first bloom. I am sad, but the spike is still good and I suspect as temps return to warm, the flowers will commence. I did a quick edit looking back at some of the seedlings and it’s pretty crazy to see how much growth has happened…check it out:

I just realized I got the dates (2018-2019) wrong on the graphic…****DAMN!!!****

That covers my deflasking experience to date.

I’ll continue tracking the seedlings and update this post as time goes on; if you want to know how to cross and flask your own orchid seeds, check out this post I wrote on how to sow and flask orchid seeds

 

Deflasking Take Aways…

  • Don’t deflask seedlings into a big bucket of water. Just work the seedlings apart with your hands and leave whatever agar intact with the roots. In other words deflask dry, let the seedling dry out a bit, then transfer the seedling and some agar into their new pots (this gives them better nutrients as they start growing out of flask and prevents potential viral contamination if one seedling is infected–or so I was told).
  • You don’t HAVE to use a “grow chamber.” The stagnant conditions that exist in a grow chamber are a recipe for fungal and bacterial growth IF you it doesn’t dry enough between watering. If you’re growing in the grow chamber, make sure there’s air flow (vents) or allow the seedlings to dry slightly (12-24h) before you put the lid on (after every watering). In my opinion and based on my experience, you’re better to let the seedlings grow on their own “exposed” and water often as they approach dryness. Some very small seedlings will do better with higher humidity, but most of the ones I had that were over 1″ in leaf length, did fine in my low-humidity (25-40% on average).

 

More Detailed Accounts of Deflasking Orchids According to Other Growers

 

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