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One of the most valuable plants in the home is the orchid plant. Yet, the most cultivated orchids you find grow in tropical and sub-tropical environments. The other fantastic thing is that you can propagate orchids using division, cuttings, or plant seeds.
Still, many gardeners would tell you that seed planting takes time and that using the division or cuttings works best. But today, we want to share with you how you can grow orchid seeds to make them worth your while.
While growing orchids from seed are delicate as it needs a highly sterile environment, it remains something that can be gratifying in the end.
Ways to Germinate an Orchid Seed
Before we can start to plant orchid seeds, it helps to understand the germination techniques of the orchid.
Growing Orchids With Symbiotic Germination
When it comes to orchid seed germination, it can happen in two ways. First, it can occur in nature. This is when the orchid seeds drop into the soil. But compared to other outdoor plants, the seed does not store any nutrients.
Hence, the seed cannot survive as it needs an external source of nutrients. Thus, to compensate for lacking nutrients, it forms a symbiotic relationship with fungi. One of these fungi is mycorrhizal fungi, as it can absorb nutrients.
The fungi will attach to the seed capsule to help promote germination, and the growing orchids will use photosynthesis to generate food from those nutrients. In nature, the seed lands on the soil to attach to the fungi.
There are times that the fungi would decompose the seed until it dies. While in other cases, the orchid seeds feed off the fungi’s nutrients until they die. After that, the seed dies as it lacks other nutrients.
But in minor cases, when the fungus attacks the seed capsules, the seed degrades and then consumes the fungi emerging into an orchid plant. You find symbiotic germination in laboratories to mimic the happening in nature. It is a complex process done by trained botanists.
Growing Orchid Plant Using Asymbiotic Germination
Asymbiotic germinating seeds known as flashing are when you use an agar medium. It is a jelly-like substance with growth hormones and nutrients.
It is a popular method to grow orchids from seeds in the comfort of your home. It is also a fast, simpler, and reliable technique.
As the method is more straightforward, we will concentrate on symbiotic germination instead of the symbiotic approach.
Gather the Things You Need to Grow Your Orchids
Growing orchids from seed, you do need specific things as follows:
Orchid seed pods that are unripe
Bleach for Sterilization
A sterile environment like a glove box
Scalpel and beaker to sow the seeds in
Eyedropper, clean syringes, agar medium
Ideal Environment To Grow Orchid Seeds
Growing an orchid seed pod is delicate, and the environment you grow the seed must be right. So, the temperature needs to be a minimum of 50°F (10°C) with a max of 86°F (30°C). Also, depending on the orchid species you grow, the light can vary as some prefer sunlight while others don’t.
We recommend filtered sunlight for most types. Furthermore, good drainage is of importance, and using rainwater is best. Compared to other plants, orchids thrive in a tropical environment, and you should not overfeed them. Lastly, fresh moving air without strong winds is best.
To Grow Orchids from Seed, You Need Seed Capsules
An orchid seed pod has thousands of seeds, and more than one seed is tiny. The reason is that these seeds blow with the wind, making sourcing them difficult.
Another thing is that the seeds are very susceptible to infections like bacterial and fungal infections. So if you handle the seeds poorly, they will not grow. Where possible, do not buy the seed just from anyone or harvest the orchid seeds from the mother plant.
To harvest the seed, you must place the seed capsules in a sterilized empty bottle. Then add some bleach to that bottle and give it a shake leaving it to sit for 15-minutes. Then, with the tweezers, you can remove the seed capsules and place them on paper towels.
Also, make sure to sterilize the scalpel and tweezers before using them. With the scalpel, cut the capsule open and scrape the seeds into the small bottle.
Clean and Store the Orchid Seeds
If you buy the orchid seeds, we recommend cleaning them. The seeds look like specks of dust and are best done without moving air around and blowing them away. Instead, with your sterilized scalpel, you can cut the seed capsules open and scrape the seeds out.
Then use 3% hydrogen peroxide to help clean them. You can do this by adding it to the seeds in a flask. Then transfer it to a small bottle and give it a good shake with a closed lid. Leave it to rest, and once it becomes exposed to light, it will decompose, forming oxygen and water.
Use a clean container or an Eppendorf tube to store your sterile orchid seeds. Please keep it in a dry place away from light, and never keep it in a fridge as the moisture condensation will encourage mold growth.
You can store seeds for months or years but using them immediately leads to successful germination. We recommend keeping the container with seeds in some oven-dried rice.
Prepare Your Agar Medium
The key to successful germination is the orchid agar medium you use.
Magnesium and Manganese Sulfate
Monopotassium Dihydrogen Phosphate
Or you can invest in a complete seed sowing kit with all the media, including the agar to charcoal, tissue culture, and seed germination. When at room temperature, the final pH level of the agar must be between 4.8 and 5.2. So, you will need agar powder with hot water.
First, add 3.4 ounces of boiling water into a beaker and slowly add 0.8 ounces of agar into the water while stirring. Then once mixed, add the remaining water to make up the rest of the 33.814 ounces.
Create a Sterile Environment
The orchid germinations’ biggest enemies are bacteria, algae, and fungi. Hence, you need to create a sterile environment to work in. We recommend taking your beakers, flasks, and tweezers and placing them in an oven on 356°F (180°C).
You can leave them in the oven for about ten minutes and let the flasks cool before you place the lids on them. Take some bleach and clean all working surfaces in the room you plan to work. If you can get a glove box, you can create a secure yet sterile workplace.
Time to Sow The Seeds
Place all your equipment from the flasks, tweezers, and the eyedropper with agar medium inside the sterile glovebox, including your spray bottle with bleach. If there is a fan and filter, then switch it on.
Put on your gloves and spray the inside using bleach. Next, wash your gloved hands to your forearms with bleach. Leave the bleach to do its work for a few minutes. Then get your container with seeds and the eyedropper ready.
Dip the eyedropper in some hydrogen peroxide around 0.10z (3ml) and drop the liquid into a 3.4oz (100ml) agar nutrient mix inside the flask. Immediately close the flask and spray your ziplock bags inside and out with the bleach.
Use transparent bags as the seeds need light to germinate. Place the flask inside a bag and label it with the name and date of the orchid species. Once you are done with flashing, place your bags near a window with direct sunlight on a clean surface.
Next, please clean up the whole work surface to remove any lost seeds to prevent mixing them later with a new batch.
The Process of Germination
The seeds will start to swell, and some orchid types may form chlorophyll at the points. Then, the embryo swells and will burst out of the seed coat. So, a spherical or cone-shaped seedling emerges (protocorm stage).
On the seed’s upper face, you will see signs of leaves forming a slight bulge. While the lower section will appear like hairs and become more expansive. Soon after, you notice new leaves with the first roots.
Maintaining The New Orchid Roots
Depending on the orchid species, some seeds will germinate fast, and others can take months. The important thing is to leave those flasks undisturbed and only check the progress. Once you spot new roots forming, you can fertilize your seedlings.
The process is slow, and the agar will start looking as if it is cracked as there is water loss. If signs of dehydration are present in the flask, use the same process previously to transplant the orchid to a new flask.
But first, wipe the exterior of the old flask with paper dipped in 80% alcohol or bleach before opening it. New orchid seedlings can take up to eight weeks to develop a robust root system for transplanting.
We recommend removing the orchid from the first flask with your starting agar and placing it in a container with maintenance agar.
Deflasking Your Orchid Seedlings
As your young plants grow, you will have to move them to a planting pot with coarse fir bark and other materials. You can do this once the roots are visible and your orchid is big enough. Remove the agar medium by washing it off in distilled water. Follow these steps to prevent your orchids from drying up:
First, transfer your orchids to a plastic container.
Start by adding sphagnum moss or paper to the box and place the orchid on it and spray it with water.
Place the container in a shaded spot outdoors.
Now that you have deflasked the orchids, you must pot your plants.
First, water your plants to ensure the root system is wet without any medium attached and works well with epiphytic orchids or terrestrial orchids.
Sterilize a planting pot and use one with enough drainage holes. Fill it up with fir bark about two inches from the top. Next, add some redwood shavings, dolomitic limestone, and horn meal.
Take a cooking pot, heat it with water up to 96°F, and submerge the orchid pot to soften the agar for about half an hour to an hour.
Gently pull the plant out of the pot to take care of the damaged root. Wash it under lukewarm water as described at the beginning to remove the agar.
Plant them in pots filled with the bark two inches apart. You can use small trays and place some pebbles inside.
Pour water into the tray and place the pot on top of the pebble tray to evaporate slowly to provide humidity.
Place the container in a warm sunny spot and spray the orchids with water a few times during the day.
As your young orchids grow, you can practice the division method to propagate your orchids to bigger containers.
It is essential to know if you have monopodial or sympodial orchids. Your sympodial orchid will grow horizontally and vertical if monopodial. So, instead of growing orchids from seed, you will multiply using the mother plant.
You can do this when your plant is ready to repot as it has outgrown the container. For dividing a sympodial orchid, use a sterilized scalpel to cut through the rhizome. Then, obtain one with some leafy growth and remove damaged roots or cluttered pseudobulbs.
Then pot each section into the right potting mix. When dividing monopodial orchids, you need to cut the top section of your plant as it becomes leafless at the bottom when mature. You can cut below a node on the stem and also check if it has a well-developed root system.
Plant that section into the potting medium.
Growing the Orchid Roots
If you notice your orchid withering or root rot, you can bring your orchid back to health when focusing on the roots.
Wash the medium off the roots to clean it up using distilled water.
Now give the roots a dosage of hydrogen peroxide.
Leave the bare root to stand in lukewarm water overnight.
The following day boils some distilled water with a tea bag inside to capture the tannin in the leaves.
Leave the water to cool down, and add a few drops of fresh lemon.
Then use a rooting hormone that you can insert the roots in and soak it in the concentrate for an hour.
Then transplant the plant to an empty potting container and close with a Ziploc bag.
Leave it to stand overnight, and in the morning, you will see dry roots.
Then plant them in a smaller pot with some moist moss on the outside of the pot in a Ziploc bag.
Blow some air into the bag to add carbon dioxide with moisture and zip it up.
You can leave the pot for a week and keep preparing the process until the second week as the roots will grow stronger and be ready for transplanting.
Why Does My Orchid Not Germinate, Grow, or Bloom
There are different reasons why this can happen, and here are some of the common causes:
Root damage can happen when your transplant your orchid and only do this when new roots grow.
Another concern is root suffocation, known as root rot, and best to provide your plants with ventilated containers and potting medium creating loads of air pockets.
When algae are present, you will need to use a new pot or flask.
Another concern is organic and salt buildup resulting from certain water types. So, again, using clean, fresh water is best, and avoid using organic fertilizers.
Even the lack of nutrients can result in poor growth, and best to use a processed fertilizer to give your plant calcium.
Even too much sun or hot sun exposure can result in poor growth.
Lastly, temperature swings can also create problems with orchids.
Tips for Proper Germination
The orchid seed capsule is unique, and for germination, it needs the correct development from the agar medium, fertilizer mixtures, and growing climates. Still, it requires many requirements from:
Sterilization from the seed handling to the growing process.
The seed needs enough light even when standing in shaded areas.
Use a coarse potting medium with enough holes in the pot, allowing water drainage to air movement.
The agar used during germination needs to be acidic.
How Do You Know What Orchid You Have
You can find different species of orchids, each with specific needs for germination, growing, and blooming. If you decide to harvest orchid seed capsules, then we recommend checking your plant’s tag to make a note of it when bought.
If you cannot make out the tag, you can consult a specialist like a botanist to identify the abbreviations on the label. Another easy way to look at the flower’s shape, color, patterns, size, and more is if no tag is present.
When the orchid blooms, you can check the roots, leaves, and plant traits.
Growing Orchid Seedlings in Bottles
You can grow your young plants using bottles like whisky flasks, baby food jars, and mason jars. These are standard containers to germinate the seeds or keep seedlings. Still, your orchid will outgrow the container and end up in a pot.
Caring For Your Sick Orchid
As orchids grow, they need little care, but the majority of species you need not water every day. The best part is that you can go on vacation for a short while without worrying about your plant. But as with most other plants, your orchid can become the home of algae, bacteria, and fungi.
Some tell-tale signs that your plant is sick include rotting roots or leaves looking discolored. If you notice this in your plant, you can do the following:
Wrinkly or droopy leaves are a sign that your plant is dehydrated. Yet, if you find the stems and roots are still strong, then all you need to do is increase the watering.
When you notice an increase in leaves shedding, it can be root rot, stress, or dehydration. First, check for dead roots and if your plant needs division. More growing space in a bigger pot can help relieve plant stress.
Even a depleted growing medium can make your orchid sick. You can provide your plants with a new potting medium to help rejuvenate them.
Growing orchids from seed might seem a bit complicated when you start. But it remains a fun and satisfying hobby. The best is to harvest seeds from your other plants. Or you can buy the orchid seed from a reputable place online like Plantly.
Always keep your place where you work with seed germination sterilized and clean. Importantly consider where you place the orchid seed before you start with the germination. For this reason, it helps to know the type of orchid plant you have.