We would like to thank Tony Lowe for the wonderful write up about our deflasking process and Peter Denning for taking the time to come out and take photographs. The article, first published in the ANOS Newcastle November 2016 Bulletin, was so good we decided to publish it as our official guide to deflasking.

Update on Deflasking with Colin Fitzsimmons

By this time of year most orchid enthusiasts are fairly busy. If not, you may be thinking of investing some time into your passion, a flask of something special might be on your mind.

For the hobbyist, deflasking can conjure up many fears:

  • What is the right time of year?
  • When are plants ready to deflask?
  • How do I go about it?
  • What do I need to provide by way of extra care?

Many of us will be familiar with the ‘ice cream container’ method, an age old, proven method of seedling removal and ‘conditioning’ for around 24 hours before potting. Most probably still all well and good, but if you are in the business of producing seedlings, then the old ice cream bucket method could become a little cumbersome.

At the suggestion of Peter Denning, we thought it would be opportune to visit Col Fitzsimmons to see what adjustments could be made to these existing practices.

Healthy flask
Flask selection. Always choose a flask where the health and vigour of the plant can be seen. There is even growth amongst seedlings, with good root development.

When is the right time? In Colin’s words, almost any time is suitable for deflasking, but he prefaces that statement by insisting the plants be acclimatised prior to deflasking. By this he suggests the flask should be placed in an area in close proximity to where they will be eventually benched. This gives the plants a chance to adjust to the light and temperature of its intended surrounds. A typical period of 2 months would not be unusual.

There are temperatures which are not ideal for deflasking, typically those below 18ºC or above 35ºC.

Choosing a flask, not an overly a difficult task, could be as simple as finding a plant of your choice. In the Newcastle area there are a number of reputable sources, to name a couple, Fitzsimmons Orchids and Down Under Native Orchids, plus any number of breeders attending the various shows.

In finding the plant of your choice, look into the flask noting the health and vigour of the plants. Also be mindful of any nasties that may be developing such as mould, this could be contamination in the flask.

Removing the protocorm
Protocorm removal. The indicated structure is the plant protocorm and if left will eventually die and rot away.

Check the root system amongst the agar in the base of the jar, if the roots are feeding normally you should be able to notice where the agar has been consumed. Depending on the amount of agar in the base of the flask, you may be able to let the plants grow on to a time of your choosing for deflasking. Alternatively, if all the agar has been consumed it may be advisable to remove the plants sooner.

Removing your plant. At first glance, this may appear awkward, but if the plants are ready, gently bump the base of the jar sufficiently to dislodge the agar. Cup your hand over the opening of the jar and bump the jar into your hand. Hopefully without too much force you should be in possession of your newest plants.

Before potting up, there are a couple of tasks to be performed. Each plant needs to be teased out from the group and rinsed in water to remove any remnants of the agar and put to one side.

At this stage, it is advisable to remove any debris from the earlier stages of growth, typically old or dying leaves, leaves that have grown below the root level along with any part of the protocorm still attached to the plant. Once this is achieved your seedlings are ready for potting.

Potting medium: A course mix some would argue, but provides excellent drainage.

  • 5 parts bark 9mm-12mm
  • 5 parts bark 12mm-18mm
  • 1 part jumbo perlite.

Community Planting. When it comes to potting up, Col’s method again makes things simple, while avoiding damage to the seedlings.

To prevent damage while planting, seedlings are planted in layers and each layer is separated by potting medium. Completely filling the pot with layers is unnecessary, and difficult.
Finished community pot
A completed and labelled community pot, only requires fertilisation and watering.

A 100mm pot is partially filled with the medium to one side, pot slightly inclined, as shown above. A row of plants is placed across the surface of the medium, following this a small amount of the mix is sprinkled over the seedling’s roots. This process is repeated until all seedlings are in place.

Col suggests not trying to fill the entire pot to the brim with plants, as it proves difficult, plus a 100mm pot will comfortably hold the contents of most flasks.

Carefully back fill the pot and label appropriately. When labelling include all relevant information such as name, source and date. The plants are then given a small sprinkle of blood ‘n’ bone (complete with potash), before having a drenching of water. Finally the plants are sprinkled with granulated fungicide and placed on a bench.

To provide maximum sun protection in the summer months, these seedlings would be placed on a bench covered by three layers of shade cloth, being 75% / 50% / 50%. Apart from regular watering these seedlings will be fertilised 3 times a year, once again with the blood ‘n’ bone.

Certainly if there are any questions concerning his practices I am sure Colin would be only too happy to provide some answers and I thank Col for allowing the visit and sharing some of his knowledge.

As mentioned by Tony in the article, we would be happy to answer any questions. Col’s contact details can be found below.