An Orchid Buyer's Guide for Beginners
User Name

Registration is FREE. Click to become a member of OrchidBoard community
(You're NOT logged in)

menu menu

Donate Now
and become
Forum Supporter.

An Orchid Buyer's Guide for Beginners
Many perks!



Fauna Top Sites
Old 05-24-2014, 11:41 AM
King_of_orchid_growing:)'s Avatar
King_of_orchid_growing:) King_of_orchid_growing:) is offline
Senior Member

Join Date: Apr 2008
Zone: 9a
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 9,281
Default An Orchid Buyer's Guide for Beginners

Hi guys, I decided to post this thread to discuss the critical importance of fostering the habit of inspecting any orchid upon purchase. Learning this habit early during the beginning of picking up the hobby will usually lead to:

1. A better understanding of where the plant you decided to put money on is currently at health-wise.

2. Sometimes be able to make visual comparisons of your newly acquired plant's current state of health to those of other plants that other people on the web have been able to successfully grow for years. This will allow you to understand just how bad the situation is.

3. Help you determine the correct course of action to circumvent any problems that may have arisen during the inspection.

4. Should you not know what to do, you can now take prompt action to ask any forum members from any forum out there on the web regarding how to now proceed in taking care of your orchid, and hopefully get a prompt enough response to make proper corrections in orchid culture.

5. Far fewer losses of plants.


*** Note: I wanted to make absolutely clear that an orchid's flowers are the plant's genitalia and reproductive organs.

Flowers = Plant Genitalia and Reproductive Organs

This is why, inspecting flowers alone is worthless in determining an orchid's overall heatlh.

Q: What am I looking for when I purchase an orchid? Where should I look?

These are often the questions people might have running in their heads.

Here's where, (and I'm going to list where to look according to the order of critical importance first):

1. Roots. (This is your top, #1 priority, always)

* You are looking for any rotting material or dead roots. If there are a lot of dead roots, but still some that are alive, it is suggested to remove the roots and clean the orchid up as best as you can.

If the roots are all dead, what can be done is, leave the dead roots on the plant and use it as a way to anchor your plant into the pot or onto a mount, (whichever method you choose to grow the orchid with).

2. Stem. (A plant's true stem, not the plant's inflorescence, this can often be confusing for those looking at a Phalaenopsis for the first time. A plant's true stem will have the leaves attached to it via the plant's petiole.)

* Make sure it is not rotten, (soft, watery, and mushy), or blemished. These are a sign of disease, and could easily mean that the orchid is on its way out.

* There is a visual difference between natural pigmentation and spotting as a result of an immune response from the plant towards a pathogen. Make sure that the spotting is not coming from an immune response.

* Make sure there are no bleached or yellowing areas. There are a number of causes for this.

a) Sunburn. (bleaching or patches of dried scorch marks, sometimes black patches)
b) Natural old age.
c) Over exposure to light. (yellowing)
d) Disease.

It is usually difficult for newbies to visually be able to tell the difference between the causes, but eventually, with time, people can get somewhat decent at being able to discern the subtle differences.

3. Leaves.

* You're looking for the same thing as for the stem.

* Make sure there is as little mechanical damage done as possible.

4. Inflorescence (aka "spike").

* Look for the same thing as for the stem.

5. Buds.

* Make sure they're intact and not about to prematurely yellow or dry out. This is a sign that the plant has been stressed in some way. The kinds of stress are numerous.

6. Flowers. (This is dead last in priority folks, not your first!.)

* Same as buds.

* Also look for any unusual markings on the petals and sepals, as this could tip you off as to whether or not there could be a viral problem with the orchid.

There you guys go. I wanted to let you guys see a stand alone posting that dealt only with this particular piece of advice to let you guys understand that determining the health of an orchid goes FAR BEYOND just inspecting for flowers.

*** Special note: No matter what your current level of experience is, nobody can circumvent this routine. I just recently had to do this for all my newly acquired purchases.

In fact, the story goes, I just purchased what was sold to me/labeled as a Warscewiczella discolor x self from an online vendor. When I received it, most of the plant's leaves were mush, but the plant was still alive and recoverable. Initially, I thought that it might have had something to do with being delivered in the heat, because the roots on the top portion of the plant above the potting media looked good. I also had suspicions that there might also be a problem going on with the roots because the potting media was looking really old (the wood chips were black).

Here's the kicker, though…

I also purchased other closely related orchids at the same time, and had received them at roughly the same time, during our short heat wave, and they came in without brown mushy leaves or brown mushy spotting.

But when the Warscewiczella discolor x self was kept in intermediate temperatures for nearly a week, and things continued to slowly get worse, I had to look at the roots.

When I knocked the entire orchid out of the pot, sure enough, the potting media had broken down so badly, that it was starting to become dirt. Although the roots didn't look all that bad at first, this would've caused a huge problem because of sanitation.

Luckily I caught the problem in just a nick of time before the point of no return, and corrected the issue ASAP. Hopefully it will recover nicely.

Like this story is indirectly saying, always make visual inspections of the ENTIRE plant. Not just flowers.

Here's the photo of the Warscewiczella discolor x self all cleaned up. You can still see the damage though. In hindsight, I should've sucked it up and took photos of the entire process from beginning to end, (I was exhausted yesterday).

Next best thing…

Got a photo of the trash with the amount of damaged leaves I removed from the plant. This'll give you an idea of just how bad it was.

Btw, Warscewiczella discolor = Cochleanthes discolor.
Attached Thumbnails
An Orchid Buyer's Guide for Beginners-warscewiczella-discolor-self-damaged-jpg   An Orchid Buyer's Guide for Beginners-warscewiczella-discolor-self-removed-dead-leaves-jpg  

Last edited by King_of_orchid_growing:); 05-24-2014 at 06:27 PM..
Reply With Quote
Post Thanks / Like - 32 Likes
Old 05-24-2014, 03:25 PM
Paul Paul is offline
Senior Member

Join Date: Jul 2006
Zone: 5b
Location: Michigan
Posts: 3,077
An Orchid Buyer's Guide for Beginners Male

Very good idea for a thread. I wonder if a more suitable title -- particularly if this thread should get "stickied" would be "An Orchid Buyer's Guide for Beginners"? With the intent of the thread being compromised only of general guidelines applicable to acquisition in general (as you have already done KoOG). Suggestion as to which orchids to buy should not be requested or present herein.

I believe it may behoove us to "flesh" the topic out a bit more -- even if a few suggestions are not as snug a fit.

If attending a show, nursery, or even one's local BBS/market, make your inspections BEFORE purchasing.
I know this may seem like a "no brainer" but you'd be surprised how many folks do not think to do so. (KoOG, while I have no doubt this was intended in your "thesis statement", just rather struck me the way the post was written that the focus seemed to be after the orchid was home. )

Inspect for pests.
  • If at a show/nursery/store make your inspection right then and there.
  • If an online purchase, do this IMMEDIATELY upon unpacking.
Failure to do so can lead to a trip through the orchid version of Dante's Inferno .... layers of hellish misery and angst.
ISOLATE YOUR NEW PLANT. No matter how carefully you look, there is always the possibility that you will miss some vicious little vermin. A new plant should always be isolated from the rest of you plants for at least a few weeks if not a month or two. This provides time for any minute pests to grow up and be seen as well as any eggs to hatch out. You then have a chance to wipe them out before they can spread.

Inspect the media
KoOG touched on this but I'd like to see it taken further.
  • If the sphagnum moss is "crunchy", then it needs to be replaced. Such a condition indicates possible mineral build up or moss break down.
  • If the moss is slimy, smells sour, smells mildew, or dark brown/black, then it has broken down an needs replaced pronto.
  • If the bark is soft or easily torn apart, or if it smells mildewy then it has broken down and needs replaced.

Repot into the media that works for YOU.
This is easier once you get a few plants successful growing under your belt. If you have a couple catts growing well for you in bark and you receive a new catt that is potted in sphag, by all means repot it bark before it starts to decline. Now this is not to say that you can't be free to experiment and try a different media. Some types of orchids may actually require that you use something different or you may find a media that works even better for you. BUT, such experiments often require changes in your culture and careful attention to how the plant is doing.

If ordering online:
If you are the type of person who can get carried away at an auction, do NOT use eBay. For that matter, anyone using eBay should first determine what is the most they feel the orchid is worth. Do not allow yourself to go any higher than that, period. (Research can be invaluable in this regard.) This may seem obvious, but I've seen many a plant sell for far more than it is worth because folks get carried away.

Making a thorough inspection is also important with regards to one's communication with the vendor. If an orchid arrives in unexpectedly poor condition, and you wait weeks to notify the vendor, do not be surprised if they make little to no effort to make amends. Any contact should take place promptly within the first day or two of arrival. Send photos of the plant to illustrate the area(s) of concern whenever possible.

If using eBay or a "classified ad", ask for photos of the actual plant for sale. If the seller can provide you with such, it may avert potential disappointments between what you thought you were getting and what you actually do.

Be realistic in your expectations.
  • If obtaining a plant from a hobbyist, don't be surprised if the plant is not in immaculate condition. Many hobbyists do not use the more potentially hazardous pesticides and fungicides used by large scale producers. Also accidents like a plant having been knocked off a shelf by a pet/child is more likely with a home growing hobbyist, so some minor mechanical damage may be present.
  • If an eBay deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

The role of research:
Especially when shopping online, RESEARCH BEFORE YOU BUY! I think most of us have been guilty at one time or other of not taking this most elementary step. However, it can save you untold grief/disappointment. There are always gorgeous orchids to be found that simply will not do well or even survive in one's particular growing environment. Find out BEFORE you buy.

If mature plant size is important to you (for example, I personally try to stay focused on plants that are true mini's -- under 6"/15cm tall -- when mature), ask the seller before hand. Many vendors play "footloose and fancy free" with what they consider "mini".

"Rare" or "hard to find" are additional terms that have become so overused on eBay that they have become meaningless. Doing some research can help you avoid falling for those lines.

SHOP AROUND! Especially with eBay, it is often possible to find the same plants for less elsewhere (even in other eBay postings) IF one is willing to take the time to do a bit of research.

Reply With Quote
Post Thanks / Like - 26 Likes
Old 05-24-2014, 03:42 PM
AnonYMouse AnonYMouse is offline
Senior Member

Join Date: Jun 2012
Zone: 9b
Location: SF Bay Area, CA
Posts: 2,318

This is GREAT!!!

Having said that, there is still people "rescuing" marginal plants. (BTW, its not a bargain if it dies or at the very least takes a toll on your time and resources.)
Reply With Quote
Post Thanks / Like - 8 Likes
Old 05-24-2014, 04:56 PM
RandomGemini RandomGemini is offline
Senior Member

Join Date: Jul 2013
Zone: 5b
Location: Spokane, WA
Posts: 2,436
An Orchid Buyer's Guide for Beginners Female

I would argue, that "rescuing" when you are learning, saves you time and money in the long run, because if you can save a 7$ plant from a hardware store, the skills you acquire in doing so, will be priceless when it comes time to save several 30$ + species orchids.
Reply With Quote
Post Thanks / Like - 28 Likes
Old 05-24-2014, 05:57 PM
lexusnexus lexusnexus is offline
Senior Member

Join Date: Mar 2014
Zone: 7a
Location: MD Suburbs of DC
Posts: 167
An Orchid Buyer's Guide for Beginners Male

This is a great thread. I needed some information prior to buying another orchid that I want and found this site for some explanations: About Orchids: Basic Orchid Care for Beginners - Identifying Orchids
Reply With Quote
Post Thanks / Like - 9 Likes
Old 05-24-2014, 06:28 PM
King_of_orchid_growing:)'s Avatar
King_of_orchid_growing:) King_of_orchid_growing:) is offline
Senior Member

Join Date: Apr 2008
Zone: 9a
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 9,281

@Paul: I liked the idea of making it a bit broader. Thank you for the input.

I changed the title to what was suggested.
Reply With Quote
Post Thanks / Like - 1 Likes
Likes mimigirl liked this post
Old 05-24-2014, 06:41 PM
kindrag23 kindrag23 is offline
Senior Member

Join Date: Jul 2013
Zone: 8a
Location: Texas
Age: 34
Posts: 2,966
An Orchid Buyer's Guide for Beginners Female

I agree with to do research when shopping online and if you have the option ask another more experienced grower how "rare" the plant is. They can also help you see if the price is worth it or not. A fellow OB member helped me just the other day on a price I was suspicious of.

Last edited by kindrag23; 05-24-2014 at 06:45 PM..
Reply With Quote
Post Thanks / Like - 3 Likes
Likes mimigirl, Nana Trish, Orchidheart liked this post
Old 05-24-2014, 11:03 PM
King_of_orchid_growing:)'s Avatar
King_of_orchid_growing:) King_of_orchid_growing:) is offline
Senior Member

Join Date: Apr 2008
Zone: 9a
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 9,281

I forgot…

Do not automatically assume that the sellers have the orchids you buy growing in the correct potting media.

Sometimes they:

1) Don't know any better.

2) Only flip plants to make a quick profit.

3) Don't have the same kinds of resources, nor the time.

4) Don't have the same growing conditions as you.

This piece of advice is often one of the most difficult ones to believe, but it is true.

Last edited by King_of_orchid_growing:); 05-24-2014 at 11:05 PM..
Reply With Quote
Post Thanks / Like - 13 Likes
Old 05-25-2014, 02:38 AM
lotis146 lotis146 is offline
Senior Member

Join Date: Mar 2014
Zone: 6a
Location: Midwest USA
Posts: 1,647
An Orchid Buyer's Guide for Beginners Female

Awesome thread, thank you!

Paul I want to second your advice on asking about details such as what size the plant is and the estimated time until blooming. As a beginner it is all too easy to overlook that "near blooming size" means the plant won't be blooming for probably more than a year. Orchid growing takes patience. Are you ready to wait a year or years to even see a flower? Do you understand that your plant may only flower once a year, so if something happens and the flowers die you have to be patient?? Or what about the fact that many orchids only bloom off of new growths, that the old ones won't flower again?

And too Paul I want to come back to size especially as you focus on minis. I've learned the hard way, with happy results that some minis are WHOA super tiny and compact does not mean mini.

Thank you KoOG & Paul & others for sharing all of this with us and taking the time to do so.
Reply With Quote
Post Thanks / Like - 6 Likes
Old 05-25-2014, 03:36 AM
King_of_orchid_growing:)'s Avatar
King_of_orchid_growing:) King_of_orchid_growing:) is offline
Senior Member

Join Date: Apr 2008
Zone: 9a
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 9,281

Regarding some potting media issues. As was mentioned, it is highly recommended to inspect for the quality of the potting media as well as inspect for the health of the plant.

The following will discuss certain commonly used potting materials and describe what to look for in fresh potting media versus decomposed/decomposing potting materials that need to be changed out to ensure proper orchid health.


There are really two kinds of bark that appears in the orchid hobby.

1) Fir bark. (aka orchid bark)

This is the most commonly used bark for orchid growing. It is a versatile potting media for use for epiphytic and terrestrial orchids.

As we all know, fir bark does degrade.

Paul had mentioned what some of the characteristics of degradation are. As I described briefly in the first post here in this thread, another characteristic of decomposed fir bark that needs to be replaced is if the pieces are black and they start to produce fine silt-like particles. This is extremely bad for many epiphytic orchids because it can suffocate the roots, and it is highly unsanitary for epiphytic orchids. At this point, it should really be thrown out and never re-used again.

2) Cypress bark.

I have personally never used Cypress bark for growing epiphytic orchids, but have found them to work just fine as part of a mix or as a top dressing for terrestrial orchids. I don't really know how to proceed with advising on the use of Cypress bark with epiphytic orchids, so I will describe how Cypress bark looks when it has started to decompose.

Fresh Cypress bark is light beige in color, and smells sharp, (I don't know how to describe it).

Cypress bark can decay. When it starts to break down, it will get darker and darker in color. The wood also gets softer and softer. The characteristic odor it has has faded out.

Last edited by King_of_orchid_growing:); 05-25-2014 at 03:41 AM..
Reply With Quote
Post Thanks / Like - 4 Likes


flowers, orchid, plant, plants, roots, beginners, guide, buyers

Currently Active Users Viewing This Thread: 1 (0 members and 1 guests)
Thread Tools
Display Modes Rate This Thread
Rate This Thread:

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Sources of Orchid Seed s1214215 Propagation 8 05-13-2021 10:25 AM
Ebook called "Orchid Care Expert - A Practical Guide to Orchid Care" KCR Beginner Discussion 9 02-11-2018 07:48 PM
Beginner Needs Help With Unknown Orchid Kearneyweard Beginner Discussion 12 06-17-2014 09:00 PM
Central Florida Orchid Society Show (April 5-6) FSUOrchids Orchid Show Announcements 1 04-06-2014 06:27 PM

All times are GMT -4. The time now is 01:31 PM.

© 2007
Search Engine Optimisation provided by DragonByte SEO v2.0.37 (Lite) - vBulletin Mods & Addons Copyright © 2023 DragonByte Technologies Ltd.
Feedback Buttons provided by Advanced Post Thanks / Like (Lite) - vBulletin Mods & Addons Copyright © 2023 DragonByte Technologies Ltd.

Clubs vBulletin Plugins by Drive Thru Online, Inc.