Orchid flasking and how to propage orchids from seed in the home.
Flasks are a sterile way we are able to propagate orchid seeds and are basically a jar with the correct growing medium(agar) which contains all the nutrients the seedlings will need to give them the best possible start in life.
Flasks seem a daunting prospect for most it seems, you have these delicate seedlings nicely tucked away in there consistent little micro climate. So it is understandable why some are daunted by going down this route or if you want instant results then obviously this isn’t for you as you will need patience.
When the seedlings are at the stage when they are pretty much out growing their space(flask), then it is time to remove them from the flask and pot them in community pots or trays. More often than not you have to prematurely remove them from the flask as the agar can become contaminated or very disturbed on their journey. Both have happened to me, but I still managed to get a very good number of survivors to flowering size. These are with Masdevallia species, I haven’t tried any other genera yet but would say if you grow your chosen genera well then you shouldn’t have too many problems growing seedlings on.
This is how I received flasks.
Deflasked in to tray
The process of de-flasking is in fact very easy and here is how to go about it, firstly have the community pot or tray ready for the seedlings. I have had really good success with small shallow propagator trays with a clear lid and vent, filled with sphagnum moss. Other potting mixes can be used like small grade bark, perlite and sphagnum moss but this mix dried too quickly for me. Sphagnum moss is readily available and works well on its own so this is the choice for me for now. You can also make your own propagator out of two litre clear pop bottles by cutting about 3 ” from the bottom to make the pot (don’t forget drainage holes), then cut the top half back a bit to make it not so tall. The top part should slide in to the bottom (pot) to make it complete and easy to access the seedlings, the lid should also be left off for ventilation. Lightly water the potting mix, I find that a small spray bottle is best for this and for future watering as you can control the amount of water better.
So you have your propagator ready now it is time for the seedling to make their exit!
I have two small bowls filled with luke warm water not cold and add a couple of drops of physan in each, or bleach or another fungicide bacteriacide can be used. I used one bowl for soaking and one for rinsing. Open the flask and put the contents in to one of the bowls for soaking, hopefully the seedlings will slide out with most of the agar intact; if not add some of the water to the flask to loosen them up.
Leave them to soak for 15-20 minutes and in between gently agitate the agar to try and separate the seedlings.
After this time the seedlings should be easy to handle, either gently with your finger tips or tweezers. I have had no trouble using the fingers just don’t squeeze too tightly and bruise the seedlings.
Pick up each seedling from the soak and rinse, then place them lined up on a piece of kitchen towel to slightly dry.
Now it is time to place them in their community trays simply by making a hole in the potting mix, pop the seedling in place and move the potting mix back up to the seedling. Don’t pot the seedlings too deep or compact the potting mix down.
This tray is holding three different Masdevallia species so from three different flasks.
Deflasked into tray, don’t they look better.
Place the propagator lid on with the vent closed and place in a light but shaded spot definately away from direct sun!. You shouldn’t need to water again for a couple of weeks as the enviroment inside the propagator is humid, but if you do then lightly spray or soak the tray from the bottom. It is a good idea every other day to remove the condensation from the lid and let fresh air to the seedlings. Over the next week monitor condensation, humidity and open the vent in the day and close at night if necessary. Week two the vent can be left open for longer periods until completely left open by week three. By week four I would be looking to remove the lid all together. I start to feed after about 4-6 weeks by foliar spraying at about half my normal feeding regime ( see my other articles) at this point the lid can be removed, after a few months the seedlings will be started on my normal feeding regime.
If any seedlings rot or mould growth appears then remove the infected seedling and a spray with a fungicide may be beneficial, I have lost seedlings, but not had mould problems.
When the seedlings have progressed and are competing for space at this point they can be potted in to individual pots with a potting mix to suit.