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  • Writer's pictureOrchid Muse

Deflasking Orchids

My first flask!

(Photo from Carter & Holmes.)

I’ve been wanting to try my hand at deflasking orchid seedlings for a few years. For those unaware, orchid flasks are one of the most reliable ways for growing orchids from their dust-sized seeds in a sterile environment. The flask contains agar—a dark jelly made of algae containing the nutrients orchid seeds need in the first months (to years) of life.

But several issues initially held me back from trying to grow orchids from flask— a) deflasking has a reputation for being fiddly and only for professionals, b) it’s somewhat risky monetarily and would be a waste of time and space if things go south, and c) since I’m just a home grower, what the heck am I going to do with dozens of the same orchid?

I recently got over (a) and (b). I’m game for fiddly, and a lot of stuff that has a reputation of being hard in orchidlandia isn’t actually, especially if you just pay attention to your plants. What really kicked me over into thinking that deflasking and "potting on" baby orchids would be a good idea, however, is that for the past few years I’ve attended several orchid society orchid sales as a hobby vendor—selling my orchid divisions and ones I didn’t have room for any more--and basically sold out of everything I had each time. There’s nothing like a little orchid money coming in to make you want to grow and sell MORE ORCHIDS!

The trigger was finally pulled when Carter & Holmes emailed me their orchid flask listings. They had phalaenopsis primary hybrid flasks, and the price didn’t seem steep. They promised 12-15 orchids in the flask. It was summer, and I had a bit more time to play with orchids, so why not try it? I bought a flask of Phalaenopsis Corning-Cervi, primary hybrid of Phalaenopsis corningiana x P. cornu-cervi. It should be fragrant, and the flowers are just so cool.

(Photo from Carter & Holmes.)

My preparation for the task was as follows: I had seen a few American Orchid Society webinars that talked about the process, I read Carter & Holmes directions for deflasking, watched a few YouTube videos (Here...but Not's vlog on deflasking is great), and read a few other articles. I’m no professional, but I’m a thorough researcher. I felt ready to give it a shot.

The flask arrives!

The flask arrived in the mail a bit jumbled but seemingly none the worse for wear. My tools are: newspaper to cover the workspace and for sorting orchids, bowl of lukewarm water, bowl of half-strength Physan solution (1/2 t per gallon), a long sterile hook for coaxing the orchids out of the Erlenmeyer flask, shallow plastic pots of various sizes, large perlite, good quality long-fiber sphagnum moss.

Coaxing the phals out of the flask.

Washing off the agar.

Rinse in a half-strength solution of Physan-20 (1/2 t per gallon of water).

Sooooo, as you can see, there was A LOT more than 15 orchids in this flask. About 15 were a really nice size, but there were more than 30 more that I needed to make a decision about. I capped myself at three pots’ full—one for the biggest seven orchids, one for the medium ones, and one for the teensies, on the theory that orchids of the relatively same root size and leaf size will require the same amount of water. And compots (community pots) are where it’s at for little guys, as they all help regulate moisture, etc, together.

Organizing the orchids by size was really satisfying.

And the roots are just luscious!

I put a layer of large perlite in the bottom of each pot, then a layer of sphagnum, then positioned the orchids, then covered the orchid roots with sphagnum. The biggest pot seems like it’s ready to jump to life! These are slightly smaller than phalaenopsis keikis that I’ve separated from their moms in recent years. The difference is that the flask babies have been living in a sterile, 100% humid home since germination. The transition to the big, bad world of microbes and low humidity can be challenging for them, and therein lies the challenge for the orchid grower.

The medium sized cuties.

"The smallest of the small ones." --Skippyjon Jones

OK, so this third pot of teensy ones was indeed fiddly. I wonder if I should even keep these of this size. And will they ever catch up to the others? No real loss if not.

For the first few weeks, the humidity needs to be kept very high and the light low--we are hardening off these plants just like any seedling we might send out into the world! Gradually up the light levels and peel back the plastic to lower the humidity. If you choose, you can lightly water with a dilute SuperThrive once, but don't fertilize for at least a month.

I ended up tossing many of the smallest orchids. About 16 months on, I split up the compots into ten smaller compots, and again orchids were placed together by size. At my orchid society's sale I sold many of them, recouping more money than I spent originally on the flask. I kept four of the orchids for myself and gave away a few others to friends.

Above are the four orchids I've kept for myself, 16 months out of flask. I chose them because they have slightly different leaf shapes and coloring and are all very vigorous. What will their flowers be like?

I've finally started this adventure, and I don't know where it'll go. For now I just want these babies to thrive!


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