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De Flasking Orchid Seedlings

What do I do with the flask?
Orchid de flasking in the home can be fun. We've already mentioned in the buying guide that purchasing flasks of either seedlings or mericloned orchids is an excellent way of increasing your collection with a minimum of cost. The only snag with this route is the delay you are going to encounter before seeing your first orchid blooms, this is well worth the wait though as there's nothing better than the anticipation of seeing what you've got from your flasks.
Now you have an idea of what to expect, it's time to look at what else is involved once you have made your purchase. Some orchids are better than other for beginner and these include Phalaenopsis (moth orchids), Cattleyas (chocolate box orchids) and some Paphiopedilums (slipper orchids).

Removal Process

The basic principle for de-flasking is provided here with any deviations from it being given with each genus shown below.
Young plants are no different from anything else that is young in that they require a little more attention than the adult equivalents but will reward you as a result. The process for de-flasking your plants involves CAREFULLY removing your babies from their protective environment by firstly standing the container in warm water - NOT HOT! - this will help loosen the nutrient jelly that they are growing in. After standing your flasks in warm water for between 10 - 15 minutes the gel will have become soft and if the jar or container is tilted often they will simply slide out. If you have plants which refuse to come from the containers then it may become necessary to give the jar a sharp knock on a hard surface covered in something soft like a towel, this will cause the jelly to break in to small sections and they will then slide out much easier. Sometimes they are so tight in the flask hat it may be necessary to CAREFULLY break the jar to remove the plants, if this is the case then wrap the flask in thick paper or cloth and firmly but using control hit the jar around the bottom edge hard enough to break it but not so hard as to cause the hammer to continue the motion and flatten your precious plants!.
Whichever method you use to extract the plants they should be placed in a shallow dish containing tepid clean water, this will help you to separate the roots without breaking them. Once you have the plants out of their flask and the roots are separated they should be washed with a fungicide such as Captan which is effective but not harsh on the young plants. Do not use a systemic type fungicide as this will be too strong for the tiny plants and may cause them to die. Any dead or damaged roots should be removed at this stage to prevent rotting and possible infection which can also kill your plants.

Potting Process

Newly de-flasked plants should be planted in to communal trays as this will help keep the atmosphere around them more buoyant that it would be if planted in to individual pots, it will also help keep the compost evenly moist and less prone to drying out. You should use a fine grade compost or a special seedling compost to start off your plants by making shallow depressions in to the surface of the compost just deep enough to take the roots without having to bend them which could cause them to break. The aim is to have the finished planted seedling with the base of the stem or first bulb sitting in the surface of the compost, do NOT allow the bases of the stems or bulbs to be buried otherwise rotting may occur. After gently watering in your seedlings they will need to be kept in a higher than normal humidity and temperature to allow the young plants to acclimatize to their new surroundings. You can achieve this higher humidity by placing the tray in to a propagator, these can be bought from most garden centres for just a few pounds. After 3 to 4 weeks you should see new signs of growth either in new root formation or top growth. If at any time you see that there are plants that have died or that show signs of disease they should be removed IMMEDIATELY to prevent the problem spreading to the healthy plants.
After 18 to 26 weeks your plants should be established sufficiently to be planted out in to their own pots and once again kept is a shady humid conditions for a couple of weeks. If you are growing epiphytic (grow in trees) or lithophytic (grow on rocks) plants then this is a good time to mount them on whatever you have chosen by placing them on a bed of moss or other moisture retentive material such as rockwool. These plants will quickly establish a root system to anchor themselves to their new support.
Your new plants will now take between 12 months and 4 years to reach a flowering size, this is dependant on the genus you have chosen.

Phalaenopsis

 2000 Orchid-Guide.com Phalaenopsis are by far the easiest orchid for the beginner to start with as they grow rapidly from seedlings or mericlones in to flowering sized plants, this process can be as short as 12 to 15 months with some varieties although most will flower after 18 months from being de-flasked.

Phalaenopsis seedlings like higher than normal humidity and temperatures for a few weeks after de-flasking and provided you can provide these conditions you can expect a very high degree of success.

The flask opposite contains a single young Phalaenopsis plant ready for de-flasking.

Odontoglossum's and types

Odontoglossum's and their related species and hybrids are another good orchid for the beginner to attempt.

These plants grown rapidly and the standard process described above can be followed, it should be noted though that although they grow well you should expect quite a few not to survive. This is not really a problem as most types are sold with flasks that contain quite a few seedlings more than the normal and so this loss is reflected in the quantity within the flask. - see opposite.

You should still bear this in mind though otherwise you may be disheartened seeing them die so readily.

 2000 Orchid-Guide.com

Paphiopedilums

Another good starter plant that can easily be grown on to flowering size within about 3 years. Although the plant is quite easy to grow on from the flask and the standard de-flasking process can be performed, they do tend to be slow at getting going once potted in to communal trays. These plants may seem to have stopped growing for anything up to 5 months after replanting, but be patient as they WILL start growing.

Cattleyas and Laelias

These plants are usually sold in flasks of 4 to 8 plants and are very tough little cookies! Follow the standard process as described above and you can expect these to flower after 3 years depending on variety or species chosen.

Here's a De Flasking session with some Cattleya jenmanii seedlings

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