Growing Orchids from Seed- 10 Tips for Success

Growing Orchids from Seed

Thinking of starting a new venture on the horticultural plane?

Trying to prove your mettle as a gardener?

Looking to earn bragging rights over your pompous next-door neighbor who is always showing off her new fancy plants?

Growing an orchid from seed just might be the challenge for you and this article will provide you with multiple tips for success.

Orchid Growing Success

400;”>Orchids are one of the most popular flowering plants the world over. Their popularity is certainly not unconnected to their eminently beautiful blooms, exotic appearance and the wide spectrum of fragrances they give off.

With over 30000 species and a possible 200000 plus number of hybrids, the inherent diversity of orchids cannot be questioned.

As a matter of fact, orchids species outnumber bird species at a ratio of over two to one.

With such large numbers, it is therefore not surprising that orchids have been found naturally growing in almost all possible habitats known to man including the tropics, temperate zones and even parts of the Arctic circle.

The greater proportion of orchids though are found growing in the tropics. Again, with such large numbers, there is certainly an orchid suitable for every collector, whether beginner or expert, and for every location, whether indoors on a window sill or outdoors in a garden.

To further underscore the availability of an orchid plant for every flower-loving person, they can be purchased for as little as $15. Popular orchid species include Phalaenopsis (which is arguably the most popular), Cattleya, Oncidium, Dendrobium, Vanda, Vanilla, Brassavola, Cymbidium, Miltonia and a host of others.

Varied Species

The many species, hybrids, and clones of orchids share certain features that identify them as being members of the same family. These features are chiefly structural or morphological and relate solely to their flowers.

They include the production of resupinate flowers, that is flowers that are in a twisted position when they emerge (the flowers can twist as much as 180 degrees); bilaterally symmetrical or zygomorphic flowers, that is flowers which can be divided into two mirror halves by a plane; fused stamens and carpels which are the male and female reproductive parts of the flowers and; very small seeds lacking an endosperm which is a tissue which is meant to provide nutrition for the embryo within the seed. 

Considering that the essence of this article is the propagation of orchids from seed, it is imperative that there is a complete understanding of the structure and growth patterns of orchids. 

Lifespan

Orchids are perennial herbaceous plants. This means that they have the ability to live for more than two years.

This is in distinction to annuals and biennials which cannot live for more than a year and two years respectively.

The perennial feature of orchid guarantees that if you do succeed in growing orchid from seed, your hard work will be evident for nothing less than two years, all things being equal.

Being a perennial and depending on the particular species, an orchid could be either deciduous thus having the ability to shed leaves on an annual basis or evergreen without the ability to shed its leaves at intervals.

In addition to this, orchids are mostly polycarpic, that is they have the ability to flower and produce seed multiple times. This is in distinction to monocarpic plants that bloom and produce seed just once before dying off.

Growth Patterns

As to the growth patterns of orchids, they could either be epiphytic or terrestrial. Epiphytic plants generally grow on other plants.

In the case of orchids, the preferred substrate is the bark of trees or other woody plants. Epiphytes rely on their substrates for support and structure as they do not have any contact with the ground.

By virtue of their positioning, epiphytes enjoy great access to sunlight. They also possess the ability to absorb needed nutrients and moisture from organic materials that collect on the surface of their host and rainfall.

With particular respect to orchids, their status as epiphytes ensures that they have preferential access to sunlight. Also, their highly modified network of aerial roots, which grow up to a few meters, are covered with a spongy mass of dead cells called the velamen.

The velamen aids the orchid in adhering to its host as well as absorbing required nutrients and moisture. Similar to epiphytes are lithophytes which are plays that grow on the surface of rocks.

Quite a few orchids are lithophytic in their natural habitats. Terrestrial orchids are those which grow on or from the ground. This set of orchids have an actual connection to the ground and derive their nutrients from the soil from which they grow.

On a number scale, there are more epiphytic orchids than there are terrestrial orchids. In fact, terrestrial orchids make up less than one percent of the total global orchid population and as such may not be quite as popular as their epiphytic siblings.

Orchid plants can also display either monopodial or sympodial growth. Monopodial growth in orchids entails that the orchid plant grows vertically from a single stem.

In a monopodial growth, new leaves emerge equally on alternate sides of the stem starting from the apex and continue this way until the plant attains maturity. At this point, the plant could be quite a few meters tall.

Vanda, Vanilla and Phalaenopsis are examples of orchid species that are monopodial in their growth patterns. Sympodial growth, on the other hand, is one in which the orchid plant grows horizontally.

In this case, a common rhizomatous base produces engorged stems known as pseudobulbs from which leaves, in turn, grow out of. These pseudobulbs store moisture and other nutrients for the plants use during periods where climatic conditions are unsuitable for the plant.

New pseudobulbs and extensions of the basal rhizome are developed at the base of older pseudobulbs. Also attached to the rhizomatous base are the plant’s roots. Cymbidium, Cattleya, Oncidium, and Dendrobium are a few examples of orchids that display sympodial growth patterns.

Having dealt with all of this preliminary information, we can now delve into growing orchids from seed.

How To Grow An Orchid From Seed

First, it should be understood that propagating orchids from seed isn’t quite an easy task. In clearer terms, growing orchid from seed is a difficult task.

As a matter of fact, the chances of success are quite reduced due to the peculiarity of orchid seeds.

As earlier mentioned, orchids produce very many small seeds. These seeds are typically microscopic and could number in the millions. These seeds do not also possess an endosperm unlike most other plants.

As a result of this, the seeds cannot grow unless they land on a surface where a certain group of root fungi known as the mycorrhizal fungi is present.

These fungi grow into the roots of the orchid and act as a source of nutrients for the orchid at the point of propagation. This peculiarity of orchids is one reason why most persons would rather propagate orchids from cuttings or just purchase an already grown plant. 

To propagate orchids from their seeds, botanists have come up with two different germination techniques.

These techniques are symbiotic germination and asymbiotic germination.

The symbiotic germination technique is a complex process that involves the use of the mycorrhizal fungi described above.

This technique requires some levels of expertise to be done properly and achieve expected results. The asymbiotic germination technique is more popular, reliable, quicker and more likely to yield results.

It requires little or no expertise and is the technique that will be described in succeeding paragraphs of this article. It involves the germination of seeds in vitro that is in a controlled environment outside of a living organism.

Under this technique, a gel-like medium called agar is used to imitate the role of the mycorrhizal fungi.

Agar is a jelly-like substance derived from the cell walls of certain red algae and is mostly used as a culture medium in petri dishes for growing microorganisms.

Without it, growing orchids from seed at home might just be impossible. The asymbiotic germination technique is the best for growing orchids from seed at home and is what will be employed in this article. 

Seeing how you’re intent on growing orchids from seed, here are ten tips to help you in doing so.

1. Obtain relevant materials

The first step in growing orchid from seed will be sourcing and having at the ready all materials that will be required in the propagation process.

This includes all of the following:

  • Unripe orchid seed capsule which can be purchased or obtained from an already owned orchid plant
  • Orchid gelling medium with agar which can also be bought or made at home
  • Distilled water
  • Cooking pot
  • Spoon
  • Oven-safe glass or polypropylene containers with lids
  • Sealable bags
  • Aluminum foil
  • Grill section
  • Rubber gloves
  • Paper towels
  • Tweezers or forceps
  • 70 percent ethanol
  • Bleach
  • Scalpel or sharp knife
  • Planting pot
  • Orchid compost
  • Length of wire metal
  • Plastic spray bottle.

2. Prepare agar medium

The agar medium is meant to imitate the function that the mycorrhizal fungi would perform on the orchid seed.

The agar medium consists of a mixture of orchid gelling medium and distilled water. Orchid gelling medium can be purchased from stores or could be homemade.

The homemade variety is the result of mixing water, gelatin, sugar, and beef bouillon cubes or granules together and bringing to boil in a saucepan.

To avoid the risks of contamination, the store-bought variety is preferred.

To prepare the medium, mix equal parts of orchid gelling medium with distilled water in a cooking pot.

Place the pot on a stove and bring the mixture to boil for while stirring continuously for two minutes.

Pour the mixture into the lidded glass or propylene containers while ensuring not to fill the containers above 20 percent of their volume.

Loosely replace the lids to the containers. Sterilize the containers by heating them up in a microwave oven for between 2 to 3 minutes.

The essence of sterilization is to provide an environment free of unwanted bacteria or fungi which might disrupt the orchid’s growth.

Spray 70 percent ethanol into a sealable bag to create a sterile environment. Transfer the heated containers into the sealable bag.

Allow the containers to cool a bit before tightening their lids and then sealing the bag. Leave the containers to stand for a few days until the mixture solidifies.

3. Prepare seed capsule and work surface

Place an open pot of water on a stove and bring to boil. Place a grill section over the pot to be used as a work surface.

This will ensure that any equipment placed on the grill is constantly sterilized by the steam being produced by the boiling water.

Put on rubber gloves and sterilize the grill, forceps, and scalpel with 70 percent ethanol.

Insert the seed capsule into a lidded container filled with bleach for about fifteen minutes.

Sterilize seed capsule again with 70 percent ethanol and place on grill.

Using the sterilized scalpel, cut open the seed capsule to reveal the seeds. Using a scalpel or sharp knife, scrape out the seeds from the capsule unto an ethanol soaked paper towel. 

4. Flasking of the seed

Take out the lidded containers holding the agar medium. Over the steam, open up the containers and transfer seeds from the ethanol soaked paper towel into the individual containers using the sterilized forceps.

The amount of seeds/seed capsules will determine the number of containers required.  Replace the lid of the containers (covering them with the aluminum or tin foil) and place them in a window that receives indirect sunlight.

In the alternative, the containers can be placed under an artificial grow light with the timer set such that at least 14 hours of light is provided daily.

5. Wait and exercise patience

All that can be done at this point is to wait until the seeds germinate. The amount of time that this might take varies and is dependent on the particular species.

Generally, the time can range from a few months to a few years. During this period of waiting, ensure the containers are free from contamination to ensure that germination is not disrupted.

6. Emergence of protocorms

Protocorms are tuber-shaped bodies with rhizoids that are produced by the young seedlings of various orchids. Protocorms represent the embryonic form of the orchid plant. Their emergence after the period of waiting at an affirmation that everything in the propagation process is on track. 

7. Transflask orchid seedlings

Upon the emergence of the protocorms, consistently observe the growth of the seedlings. At the point when the seedlings appear to overcrowd the flask, transflasking should be carried out, typically within 30 and 60 days.

This is done by removing individual seedlings using sterilized tweezers from the original containers and placing them in new containers also filled, in a proportion similar to the original, with agar medium.

8. Transplant seedlings into planting pots

On the presumption that there are no disruptions to the plant growth, the seedlings will eventually outgrow the containers.

At this point, they are to be transplanted into planting pots. A good rule of thumb to determine when they are ready to be transplanted is when the seedlings have developed roots that have grown up to the length of one-quarter of an inch.

To transplant, prepare a planting pot or other container for receiving the seedling by majorly filling it up with coarse fir bark and possibly some slightly moist orchid compost mixture containing perlite, fine charcoal, redwood bark shavings, etc.

To extract the seedlings, submerge the containers housing them in a pot of water heated to about 96 degrees Fahrenheit. This should be done for at least 45 minutes to help soften the agar and make it easier to pull out the individual seedlings.

Once the agar medium is softened, twist a piece of metal to form a loop and in turn, use it to carefully pull out the seedlings from the container. The seedlings can be further rinsed in lukewarm water to remove any excess agar mixture still stuck to them.

Following this, the seedlings can now be planted into the prepared pot with at least two inches of space between each individual seedling.

9. Positioning the orchid

The seedling once fully transplanted should be placed in a location that is warm and sunny, where it has access to sunlight.

The choice as to whether the plant should be exposed to full sun or in direct sunlight will be dependent on the particular orchid specie.

In the case of artificial grow light usage, the orchid should receive at least 12 hours of light.

10. Subsequent care of the plant

After the first week, the seedling can be misted several times a day and watered just once a week.

A guide in watering the plant will be using the dryness of the fir back that is, water the plant until the fir back is completely moistened and wait till they are completely dried out before watering again.

Fertilizers should not be added until a few weeks after transplanting when roots have properly emerged. Once the plant becomes too big for the pot, repotting can take place. 

If followed appropriately, the above steps will certainly aid you in growing an orchid from seed.

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