All you need to know about the Dark side

Step 0. Prevention is better than cure.

Step 0, that's a little awkward I know, but preventative measures don't hurt and would most likely result in you not needing

Prevention methods of fungal and bacterial infections :

  • Spend a little time with your orchids each day or second day. Some of the infestations we might experience can happen overnight and spotting it earlier rather than later would be crucial to your success in resolving it.
  • Prevent water droplets from standing on foliage.
  • Maintain air movement/circulation around your orchids.
  • Sanitise tools before use.
  • Isolate infected orchids from others.
  • Sanitise orchids as a precaution; since pathogens prefer warm, humid environments, spray plants with hydrogen peroxide as summer approaches and once it peaks.

Before we jump into the thick of things, let's talk about hydrogen peroxide. Although many of us see it as a miracle in a bottle, there are a few things you should know about it and steps you should take to ensure safe usage.

Before use, bear in mind :
  • Hydrogen peroxide possesses corrosive qualities.
  • Always use the 3% hydrogen peroxide solution.
  • Use plastic or silicone gloves when using it.
  • Use a plastic spray bottle for controlled use.
  • Store hydrogen peroxide away from heat sources.
  • Keep out of reach from children.
  • Finally, always check the expiration date before using.
So to get back to the "miracle in a bottle", a.k.a. Hydrogen peroxide. What makes it so useful is that it acts as an antiseptic and preventative measure to keep your plant free from pests or diseases. My recommendation is to spray your plants once each season. PLEASE REMEMBERthat your orchids would need enough time to dry as the hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) will become water (H2O) in a few minutes once the unstable oxygen molecule decides to part ways. Another preventative method would arise when repotting an orchid. After rinsing your roots, you can spray them with Hydrogen peroxide, let it stand for 3-5 minutes and commence potting. If you really must, you could even pour some through your potting medium. However, I must add that I have not done it with orchids planted in moss alone. I'm not sure if I'll be able to handle all that fizzing?

Step 1.Common cultural problems you might face.

As someone new to this hobby (haha, I chuckle every time I call it a hobby, obsession is more like it), it's so difficult to distinguish between a disease and a cultural problem. To top it all off, most of us start with Phal's, and they certainly don't help our cause. Issues like crown rot, sensitivity to light, overwatering, etc. are all unknowingly waiting for us to slip up.

I thought it best to get this part out of the way first, but if you clearly notice a bad smell coming from your medium, white webs under your leaves, a plague of insects, a black crown, black spots, small white/brown scale-like spots or indented black/brown markings I suggest you jump straight past this section to diseases below.

If you haven't seen my piece on General Care, I'd strongly suggest you pop over there for more in-depth information. I will, however, give short overviews below regarding each common issue and if you think the shoe fits, be sure to have a look at the relevant section. If it was not helpful you can always come back and investigate further.

  1. High light or direct sunlight exposure

    Most commonly cultivated orchids can't tolerate direct sunlight for long periods. Some, like Phal's, don't do well with high levels of light, not to mention the devastating effect sunlight will have on them. Yellowing leaves or burn spots (big round soft yellowing spots) which can result in leaf loss are some of the symptoms you can expect if your orchid is overexposed.

  2. Over watering

    For many orchid species, overwatering results in root rot which leads to a dehydrated plant and without action most certainly death. Tell tail signs include brown/black soft roots, wilting foliage, excessively shrivelled pseudobulbs/canes and discolouring leaves.

  3. Humidity levels

    Many orchids need humidity levels ranging between 40% - 70% and most parts of our country simply don't fall in that range. Don't get me wrong though, many other orchids can do well below those levels, but choosing the wrong species would stunt growth and may result in the plant dying. Some places sell orchids that might even do well in lower humidity levels, but the trick would be to reduce humidity levels gradually so that the plant can "harden" to the new conditions. Low humidity levels increase transpiration and brown tipped leaves, which, if left as is, might result in the loss of leaves and dehydration.

  4. Wrong potting medium

    Most orchids are either epiphytic or lithophytic which means they either live in trees or on rock. Growing an orchid which has adapted to live without soil in soil would spell disaster. Most don't want to be overwatered or be in a medium that retains water for long periods. Orchids, instead, prefer to be watered once a day in the morning and have their roots dry during the day. In summer, many orchids get watered several times a day depending on their medium. These are not regular plants, and they demand much more attention.

Step 2. Investigating the possible infestation.


Crown rot

Crown rot

Fungal infection

Fungal infection

Erwinia bacreria infection

Erwinia bacreria

Botrytis fungal infection

Botrytis fungal


Although pests, fungal or bacterial diseases are things we try and avoid at all costs, it does, unfortunately, poke its head out every now and then. The key is to spot it and react as soon as possible to prevent it from either spreading and infecting any other plants or resulting in the orchid's death.

In many cases, pests are more of a nuisance and aesthetically unpleasing than a threat, but if left untreated, they can easily grow in numbers, overcome a plant and drain it of valuable nutrients which could result in death. These would include the likes of aphids, snails, slugs, mealy bugs, scale and fungus gnats to name a few. Keep in mind that bacterial infections mostly infiltrate plants through wounds or even their teeny tiny stomata (breathing holes). With that said, pests feeding off your orchids will increase the chances of infection, so it is always a good idea to keep them in check.

Fungal or bacterial diseases, on the other hand, are real buggers. In so many cases you end up having to cut off foliage/infected areas or risk losing your orchid. My first Masdevallia fell victim to what felt like and looked like the black plague. Within days it was reduced to an 8th of its original size. Diseases really do strike hard and fast.

Bacterial Infection

Although there are many types of bacterial infections like Brown Spot, Soft Rot and Brown Rot to name a few, spotting the differences between the lot can be quite challenging. In many cases, bacterial infections would leave indentations of black dead sections on leaves or waterlike marks accompanied by the yellowing of the leaf. Perhaps explaining the way many bacteria attack plants will help in identifying it.

Once the bacteria enters the organic tissue it releases enzymes that break down the cell walls of the plant structure. This can lead to the waterlike marks on (actually within) the leaves. Another side effect of bacteria, as well as fungal infections, is to clog the plant's veins. This prevents the delivery of water and nutrients to the rest of the plant. My solution to most diseases are the same and is as follows:
(I'll add more answers in the coming website updates)

  1. Sanitise the cutting tool you are planning to use.
  2. Cut off the infected foliage. If, as an example, your Phalaenopsis' one leaf is only partially affected closer to the tip, you don't have to cut off the entire leaf. Cut +-1.5cm away from the affected area and discard the infected section immediately.
  3. Spray orchid with hydrogen peroxide.
  4. Apply cinnamon powder to the wound. Try and avoid messing excess powder as it will dry out roots.
  5. Let the plant dry properly.

Fungal Infection

Many fungal infections look much like bacterial infections, but tend to spread much slower and don't always cause the same amount of devastation as bacteria. My solution to most diseases are the same and is as follows:
(I'll add more answers in the coming website updates)

  1. Sanitise the cutting tool you are planning to use.
  2. Cut off the infected foliage. If, as an example, your Phalaenopsis' one leaf is only partially affected closer to the tip, you don't have to cut off the entire leaf. Cut +-1.5cm away from the affected area and discard the infected section immediately.
  3. Spray orchid with hydrogen peroxide.
  4. Apply cinnamon powder to the wound. Try and avoid messing excess powder as it will dry out roots.
  5. Let the plant dry properly.


Aphid infection

Aphid

Scale infection

Scale

Mealy bug infection

Mealy bug

Snail infection

Snail


Pest Infestations

Lets have a look at the possible pest infestations you might have and likely ways in dealing with these fella's.
(I'll add more answers in the coming website updates)
Pests on your plant/foliage :

  1. Spray with either rubbing alcohol or a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water. Prevent spilling on roots.
    An alternative to spraying would be to use a q-tip/earbud/cotton ball and dab the affected areas.
  2. Leave for 3-5min.
  3. Either wipe off remaining pests with q-tip/earbud/cotton ball or in the case of scale use a toothbrush to remove.
  4. Rinse with water.
  5. Let the plant dry properly.
  6. Repeat the process once within 7-10 days as a prevention method.
Pests within the medium :
  1. Fill a container big enough to submerge the pot with 3% hydrogen peroxide solution.
  2. Submerge entire pot and leave for 3-5min.
  3. Let the plant dry properly.
  4. Repeat the process once within 7-10 days as a prevention method.