Seedlings out of flask

The flasks arrive

Well, you've finally got your hot little hands on that hard to get orchid at long last. Only trouble is, it's in a bottle, and how do you get it out of that and flowering in a six inch pot?? Not so easily as you would hope.

Typical flask and Sterile tube The little babies are fragile and delicate, so check the bottle to see if they are big enough to come out. If not, place the flask in a well lighted area, near a southern or northern window, but out of direct sunlight which will cook the seedlings.

It is important that you DO NOT deflask seedlings too quickly after you receive flasks. The flasks should be allowed to acclimatise and the seedlings grow.

If flasks arrive shaken up, gently tap the flask until the seedlings are sitting on top of the media, then allow the flask some time to acclimatise and the seedlings will continue to grow. Even flasks badly shaken should be gently tapped to get seedlings on top and left alone until seedlings start growing again.

There is usually no need to deflask immediately, and seedlings are best left to stabilise and usually will continue to grow.

Harden off and prepare

When the seedlings are large enough for you to handle, harden them off by placing the flask under about 90% shade, DRY, for several days. Again, closer to a window for the extra light will do.

Prepare your work area with a sheet of clean newspaper on the bench. Make sure the pot is clean, and the potting media is sterile.

Which mix?

A mixture of fine bark and shredded polystyrene(isolite), 4 parts bark to 3 parts polystyrene has given excellent results. If your conditions are dry, add half a part shredded spaghnam moss or perlite to the mix.

Spaghnam moss is used by a lot of experienced growers, but locally (Townsville, Nth.QLD.), it tends to break down rapidly. Peat moss should be sterilised wet in an oven bag, 10 minutes in the microwave, if perlite and peat moss is your choice.

The biggest danger to flask seedlings is soil and water borne pathogens, so keep everything clean.

Deflasking method

Remove the seedlings from the bottle, either by washing them out or breaking the bottle. Wash the seedlings in warm water, not cold, so that all agar gel is removed.

Place the seedlings on a clean sheet of newspaper and allow to dry to dampness. With a small pot well crocked, ( we use 80mm basket pots), pot the seedlings together into a community pot.

They like to be together, and will do better this way than potted singly. About an inch of potting media is all that is required.

Initial care

Water the pot well, and allow to drain. There is a product called "Envy", which can then be sprayed onto the seedlings. This coats the leaves and helps prevent the seedlings drying out. It is an aid, not an essential. To protect the seedlings, it is a good idea to use a humidity crib. A coolite box with two inches of wet sand in the bottom and a sheet of glass over the top will do, sit the pot of seedlings on the wet sand. Cling wrap can also be used, with a few holes punched in it to allow air movement. If a sheet of glass is used, ensure it is not sealing the top of the box, as some ventilation is needed. A few notches cut into the box will allow air in.

Most seedlings die from Too Much Water. For the next few days, very lightly mist the leaves. Keep the seedlings in heavy shade.Frequent light misting will prevent dehydration and encourage new root growth, without keeping the media wet. After a few days, the cover can be partly removed and the seedlings watered so that they are just damp but not wet. Hormone formula and very weak fertiliser can then be used, and as the seedlings establish, the cover can be removed altogether.

The importance of ventilation

For the first couple of weeks, fungicides should not be used on the seedlings, as a growth inhibiting effect can be caused by fungicides. If there is a problem with fungus or mould, it means the conditions are too wet, so cut water, ensure ventilation is sufficient, and let the seedlings dry out a bit. In fact, most fungus problems in an orchid house can be fixed by reducing water and increasing ventilation.

Growing on

Once the seedlings are established and grown to their second lead or new larger leaf, they can be potted singly into small pots. One local orchid grower whom I wont mention, leaves several seedlings in the one pot (or basket), and when Alf Steel's Barkerias flower, there is an instant specimen display.

Growing seedlings from flask is a techinique to be learned,and once mastered, can be very rewarding, especially when YOUR babies start to flower.

Text by Ian Walters.
May be reproduced provided source acknowledged.

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