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  • How to grow and bloom Phalanopsis Bellina (var. Sarawak)

    A prologue: I remember when I was first captured by orchids. I was 18, passing by a florist shop in a nearby town, when I noticed these huge cymbidiums with cascading leaves and huge spikes full of blooms...However their pricetag was my weekly allowance. A few years later, I decided to buy my first phals from a german big box store in Athens. They were a couple of noids, one white, one pink. I bought them because I enjoyed their oriental minimalistic look and thought they would stay like that if I followed the instructions on the plastic tag. That didn't go very well, which is why I still have them but I could classify them as bonsai phals Then, fortunately, I stumbled upon this forum. Reading through the topics was a real eye opener: I was doing EVERYTHING wrong! So I should dedicate this article to all of you, thank you for making me a better orchid grower!

    I already had 10 phals in my collection when I decided to buy a bellina. So last year I made the common mistake of buying a flask from an asian online seller which I overpaid, since I also had to pay for phytosanitary documents. When the flask arrived, some 3 weeks later, the agar was badly shaken and the seedlings had black rot. Still they could be saved, but it was beyond my skills at that time. I compotted them and killed them all within 2-3 days. Another 6 months passed until I decided I would give the warm growing bellinas another chance. This time I bought a healthy seedling from a german nursery, tagged as "Sarawak" variety, which has thin blade-like curving sepals.The seedling, bought in August, carried 6 medium sized leaves, very light green in colour, shiny and fairly rigid, planted in a 10cm/4'' transparent plastic pot in pine/fir bark.

    It arrived in excellent health so I left it undisturbed in its original medium and pot. I placed it near a southern big window and watered it more frequently than my other phals, using the dunk-in-a-bowl watering technique, as I had noticed that the top roots were drying up very fast. At that time, the weather was hot (20-35C/68-95F) which resulted in accelerated water evaporation, both in the medium but from the plant as well. By September, some surface roots had cracked velamen and their tips were dry as a twig.

    I still didn't want to repot as the rest of the plant looked very healthy although somewhat dormant. There was some growth of the newest top leaf but no signs of active new growth. Then I decided to provide more humidity to promote new root growth from the crown. I decided not to water it more frequently, as the bottom roots always seemed to be moist, so I covered the whole plant in a freezer bag with the opening facing downwards. That seemed to work, as almost immediately the leaves became even more rigid and the medium was moist, so watering was less frequent. At night I would place it on the window ledge without the bag and get it back inside by morning. By November, there was still no new growth for two straight months, not even a root tip. Something was holding the plant in dormancy and I was scratching my head to figure out what that was. By then I had moved the plant indoors on the ledge of the same window over a radiator which kept it nice and warm, at about 18-24C (64-75F). However as winter approched I noticed that the natural light wasn't sufficient for the bellina and placed it on a library shelf under a 22W cfl lamp of 4500K within 15cm/6'', still covered in a plastic bag. Then mid November I decided to pot it in s/h : I used a 14 cm/5,5" glass bowl that was smaller at the base and approximately 20cm/8" high.So within 3 months the plant had gone through several changes: increased moisture, a night temp fluctuation in September, higher light levels, higher temps and new growing medium. I wasn't expecting it to bloom any time soon, I only wanted it to get accustomed to s/h and grow some roots. I must admit that looking back, I was shocking it over and over again with all those changes! However by December, the bellina was showing active root growth from the crown and the existing root tips and took that as a sign that finally, I was doing something right.

    The roots were plump and fat, but only if the plant was kept neatly moist and under the bag. When I removed the bag, within 2-3 hours all the moisture would quickly evaporate and the top of the medium would be dry as a bone. By January the roots were growing like crazy and I was satisfied with the fact that it overpassed its stage of dormancy. I kept it moist, warm and gave it plenty of artificial light. I used a different watering technique since I repotted in s/h: I would fill the entire bowl with water, mild blooming fertilizer and a droplet of superthrive and drain the bowl the following day.

    In mid January I noticed sth that didn't look like a root, it was a spike!

    I was very excited, however the spike grew soooo slowly...I maintained the same temps (18-24C), watered it when necessary, fertilized it every time, and when the natural light was getting stronger by March, I moved it out of the shelf and on the window ledge again. It was a very long wait. The spike became visible by January 15th and the first bud opened in May 5th!

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