Deflasking the Firetail Way

At Firetail Orchids we adopt a somewhat different approach to growing young plants straight from the flask.

The traditional approach involves planting many plants together in a “community pot”.  We plant them individually.  This involves slightly more effort up front, but allows plants better access to water, fertiliser, air movement and light, and allows the larger plants to be potted-on when they are ready, without disturbing those that are growing a little more slowly.

Obviously we start with a flask from the laboratory.  For those who have not seen a flask, the photo alongside shows an unopened flask, ready for opening (click on the image to enlarge it).

Here is a photo showing the roots coming through the underside of the growing medium in the bottom of the flask.  The first task is to remove the plants from the container and wash as much of the growing medium as possible from the roots.  We discard any plants that are too small.

The plants are then placed in a container with about 2cm depth of a solution of Fongarid.  This systemic fungicide is absorbed by the roots of the plants, providing protection against fungal attack during the first, most vulnerable, weeks out of the flask.  Of course a label is essential.

We commence deflasking the afternoon before commencing potting.  This gives the plants ample opportunity to draw on the Fongarid solution.  The plants have not shown any ill effect from being left in this condition for several days if we miscalculate and deflask too many at once.

For potting we use 40-cell trays and matching 40mm x 88mm crackpot liners supplied by Garden City Plastics.  These products were created for use by the forestry industry.  Note that the plants are placed against the side of the crackpot for easy filling with composted pine bark fines.

When potting we add 8-10 prills of a 9-month slow release fertiliser near the top of the crackpot.  The plant in the photo alongside has not had any other fertiliser, and at about one year out of the flask, is more than ready for potting into a larger pot.  The plant will be hard to remove from the crackpot if it is dry – freshly watered it will come out easily.

An advantage of the clear crackpot is that the roots can be clearly seen to be in good condition.  If the trays are placed on a mesh bench, when the roots reach the bottom of the crackpot they either “air-prune” or turn upwards back into the growing medium.

Here are two photos of thousands of small cymbidium plants growing in individual pots.  Most of the area is covered by 70% shade-cloth, while a small area has an additional 50% cover for plants just out of the flask.