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Orchid Cultivation: Growing Orchids from Flasks

Timing of the removal of the plantlets from the flask

Removal need not be carried out immediately; as long as there is room in the jar, the deflasking can be deferred for a few weeks. The ideal time to remove the plantlets will vary according to species; as a general rule it is best to deflask when mature plants of that particular species are in growth rather than dormant so that ‘synchronisation’ can occur. In practice, this will normally indicate Spring or Autumn as the best times.

Compost & Pots

It is essential that the compost used remains well aerated and free-draining.

For most hardy or Mediterranean orchids we would recommend 1 part John Innes No.1 to 4 parts of inorganic material (such as fine grit, coarse sand, perlite). The major exception to this rule of thumb is dactylorhiza, where a mix of 3 parts peat to 1 part perlite is not unusual.

On the nursery use small plastic pots which reduce the risk of overwatering.

If you are deflasking hardy or Mediterranean orchids at home you might consider larger pots with several plantlets in each (community pots); this system provides a more stable environment and gives you a little more forgiveness in watering/inspection frequency. Community pots can also be used for the smaller intermediate/houseplant seedlings

Potting procedure

Have on hand: some kitchen paper and a pencil.

Prepare your compost; it should be moist, not sodden. If using a sphagnum mix, you need rainwater. Unscrew the lid and ease the contents out onto the kitchen paper. Ease the plants apart as gently as you can and clean off as much of the gel as you can without damage.

For single planting, take an empty pot and position the plant so that the junction of root and shoot is just below the rim. Loosely fill the pot with moist compost, firming gently with your fingers.

For community planting, fill the large pot with compost and use the pencil to dib holes around the perimeter, placing a single plant in each. Lightly firm.

Stand the pots in an area where they can be given a drenching of mild fungicide and drain well.


Being quite young and tender and needing fairly humid conditions, the newly-potted plants are ideally sited in a propagator or frame. They need to be kept safe from high light levels and extremes of temperature and draughts; comfortably warm is fine.

Most importantly, they should not be allowed to dry out completely.

Begin watering after a couple of weeks but only if the compost is nearly dry. Check daily if possible for any sign of fungus; remove any infected plant with a little of the surrounding compost. If several plants have been affected, remove them and re-apply a mild fungicide drench.

After a couple of months the plants should have established a root system; include fertiliser in three out of four waterings. No feed is necessary for hardy and Mediterranean orchids for up to one year.

For the first couple of weeks no ventilation is necessary; thereafter progressively increase ventilation round the plants.

After about 6 months your plants should be ready for re-potting in fresh compost and progressive introduction to the environmental regime of the more senior plants of the species.

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