Orchids, 101

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Spring’s here! I love warmer weather, wearing brighter clothes, and getting outside. I just got back from spring break in Texas, where things were so much greener than my area. (I’ll share pics)! While everything in New England isn’t yet in full bloom, I’m enjoying indoor blooms, including my favorite, orchids. Mother’s Day is this month – why not give Mom an orchid? While they have a reputation for being “difficult”, with a little care and know-how, orchids are a beautiful, easy and long-lasting houseplant.

I couldn’t wait to go to Texas with my daughter for spring break. Connecticut was damp and unusually cold for much of April. I was so thrilled to see my family! I also was looking forward to seeing green outside, and I wasn’t disappointed! The weather was beautiful. Everything was lush and blooming.

 

Enjoyin' blue skies, green grass and Poochie at my niece's lovely home!

Enjoyin’ blue skies, green grass and Poochie at my niece’s lovely home!

My brother's yard and patio is a beautiful oasis with desert rose...

My brother’s yard and patio is a beautiful oasis with desert rose…

And various species of cacti. The large cactus was transplanted from my dad's ranch.

…and various species of cacti. The large cactus was transplanted from my dad’s hill country ranch.

Nothing beats a Texas sunset!

Nothing beats a Texas sunset! We fed treats to the cows at a relative’s farm.

Check out this shrimp plant growing in my father’s yard. I wish it would grow in my zone!

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While things are starting to bloom, sometimes it seems like forever in Connecticut for things to green. Having houseplants is a must! My favorite orchid on my desk has just bloomed again, and about to bloom more flowers!

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Orchids are unique plants. They make up the largest plant family; in the wild there’s over 28,000 species of orchids, with 90% found in the tropics. Five varieties commonly sold are Spray orchids (Dendrobium), Dancing Ladies (Oncidium), Lady’s Slippers (Paphiopedilum) and Moth orchids (Phalaenopsis). When Moth orchids reach 6 to 7 years old, they bloom almost continually! In between blooms, orchids keep their shiny green leaves that I think are often overlooked as beautiful foliage adding color to a home.

Though this orchid is in between blooms, its foliage looks lovely!

Though this orchid is in between blooms, its foliage looks lovely!

Indoors, orchids love light, even warmth, and high humidity. Humidity’s bad for hair, but great for plants! Most homes are drier than the tropics, so misting with a spray bottle or using humidity trays can help houseplants by increasing the humidity around the plant. Place an orchid on a tray of pebbles or sea glass with a bit of water (add a few grains of activated charcoal to keep the water from turning sour). As the water evaporates, it surrounds the plant with humidity. Just make sure the pot and roots are not sitting in water, but rather on top of the stones.

I repurpose old plates for saucers under plants. When making a humidity tray, make sure the pot sits on top of stones or sea glass, and that the width is bigger than the plant, not just the pot. Evaporation needs to reach the leaves. Grouping plants also aids in humidity needs.

I repurpose old plates for saucers under plants. When making a humidity tray, make sure the pot sits on top of stones or sea glass, and that the width is bigger than the plant, not just the pot. Evaporation needs to reach the leaves. Grouping plants also aids in humidity needs.

Keeping plants in a humid room like a bathroom (as long as there is the right light) can aid humidity, too, but avoid placing orchids in a kitchen. Phalaenopsis are susceptible to ethylene gas emitted from foods like apples and bananas; the blossoms will turn black and drop all at once if too close to ripening fruit.

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As for light, orchids love light! Bright indirect light from a Southern facing window is best, but you can get away with less light with Lady Slipper and Moth varieties.

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Orchids aren’t potted in “soil”, but rather a “medium” of coarsely chopped bark and wood with small amounts of peat moss, perlite and vermiculite mixed in. This allows for quick drainage and air to surround the roots. You can purchase special orchid potting mix (that also works for Bromeliads) at most stores carrying gardening products. (I found mine at Lowes). The medium eventually decomposes, so repotting your orchids every two years is a good idea. Orchids grow “Monopodial” or “upright”, or grow “Sympodial”, creeping. You need to know this when repotting your orchid, and provide it with the right type of pot. It’s recommended to avoid dark-colored pots that can warm roots too quickly, but clay pots are okay…just watch your water. The only water not recommended for orchids is water that comes directly from a water softener. Since I have a well, I use distilled water.

IMG_2866When it comes to houseplants, what causes failure is a “one size fits all” mentality, especially with orchids. This is particularly true when watering. Some orchids have storage organs for water, and will need a rest period. Orchids prefer drying out a bit between waterings; the potting medium should feel dry before adding more water (usually 7 to 10 days, but it depends on your room’s climate and the size of the pot). Orchids probably won’t need water as often as your other houseplants.

Watch your water with orchids. Overwatering is a common cause of orchid death.

Watch your water with orchids. Overwatering is a common cause of orchid death.

There’s a method of watering orchids called the “Ice Method”, where you allow 3 or so ice cubes to melt on top of the medium each week. Research shows that this is not the best method for watering orchids.

As for feeding, I love the saying “Feed them weakly, weekly”! You can use houseplant food that is diluted to ¼ strength. I like easy, so I prefer to use a spray formulated for orchids, and have had wonderful results. Just don’t spray the flowers.

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Orchids are often called “rare” or are pricey in stores. They have both male and female parts fused into one organ, so to be pollinated the right insect must visit. Produced seeds are extremely tiny, and special fungi must be present to grow. Many orchids now are produced using newer methods like tissue culture, so prices aren’t what they used to be. IKEA has good, inexpensive prices on orchids, with a great selection of healthy, beautiful plants. I’ve found orchids at IKEA at half the cost of other places near me.

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Are you an orchid fan, too? Let me know, (or just say hello) in comments! Wishing everyone a Happy Mother’s Day! And be sure to read MaryJane’s article, “Easily Re-Bloom Your Supermarket Orchids,” in the latest issue of MaryJanesFarm, “Blue Moon,” June/July 2017. 

 

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

 

 

Leave a comment 18 Comments

  1. Krista says:

    I love orchids! I have always wanted one but like others I have been intimidated by their special needs. Your break down actually makes me feel like I can keep one alive! Right now I currently have a bamboo plant that is dying. I’m not sure why either. I have had it for 6 years now with no problems, but lately it is dying one stem at a time. So now that I’m in need of a new plant I might try an orchid. My only problem is where to put it. I would have wanted to put it on my kitchen table but now I know that won’t work! Maybe my living room? I’ll have to test it out. Love your blog post.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      <Hi Krista! Without seeing your bamboo plant, it might be waterlogged. I once saved one by taking it out of the container, rinsing the roots and rocks it was planted in and repotting. If the roots and planting material have an "off" smell, that could be the culprit. If it is dying, you have nothing to lose to try. Once you repot it, let it dry out a bit. It might live, or it might be too far gone. Glad you liked the blog…good luck with your beautiful new orchid, and Happy Mother's Day! Farmgirl hugs, Nicole

  2. Denise Ross says:

    Texas in spring looks lovely and those cows and cacti look lovely.
    Your orchids are beautiful. Thank you for the info on them. I have one orchid which I keep in my bathroom and it seems to be ok so far. The flowers finished and the leaves are green. I tend to touch the mix with my finger to check if watering is required.
    I will keep in mind your great info here and treat mine accordingly. I do love plants in my house, they pick me up whenever I look at them.
    To happy spring days for you and autumn days for me and indoor plants that give joy daily.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Denise! So great to hear from you. Your orchid sounds like it is happy, as long as there is a window there and it gets the right light, you should be fine with it in your bathroom. Thank you for the comment. Have a Happy Autumn! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  3. Marilyn says:

    Your Orchids re lovely. Have a Happy Mother’s Day.
    Marilyn

  4. crlagroue says:

    I enjoyed your blog. The picture with you and the loveable Poochie was a good one. Wish y’all were still here! My desert rose is now in full bloom. Wished we had more time.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      I do, too! Time just passed too quickly! Your cacti and plants are awesome. I guess green thumbs run in the family…~Nicole

  5. Rebecca M. says:

    I love orchids and tried for years before I was finally able to get one to bloom. My problem was that I was watering them too often. A little neglect (not really neglect but less watering) worked wonders and now I have several, both at work and at home, that bloom almost continuously. They are fascinating and beautiful plants.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Rebecca, they really do respond well to drying out before watering. A little water goes a long way with orchids. A good way to check if they need water is to dig in a bit to the substrate with your fingertip, about an inch, or one knuckle, down. Congratulations on beautiful, blooming plants! Thanks for sharing! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  6. Joy says:

    I also have orchids in my home and they are my favorite house plant.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Joy, I hear ya! I think they are often overlooked as great houseplants. Thanks for reading and commenting! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  7. Becky Lee says:

    I have several orchids. I love that the blooms last so long. On one I had there were three stems at the same time. Each stem had about 15 flowers. It was beautiful. I’m getting ready to repot my orchids. I’ve already bought the potting soil, the one shown in your blog.
    I hope SPRING gets to you soon. That is one of the nice things about orchids…they can bloom anytime. I enjoy reading your blog.
    Take care,
    Becky

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Becky, Thank you so much! I am so glad you like my work, it means a lot! Sounds like you share a love of orchids and are on your way to beautiful blooms! I’ve found that mine often bloom again shortly after repotting. Spring is ALMOST here..thanks for the warm thoughts! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  8. Beverly Battaglia says:

    Very interesting article, Nicole! I have never tried to grow an orchid and yours are beautiful. I like the way you told how to feed them. Good picture of you and Poochie. I was impressed with pictures of Russell’s cacti. You certainly sound like a Certified Master Gardener!
    Love,
    Mother

  9. Joan says:

    Great help for successfully with Orchids. I love Orchids but in my area it is difficult to keep the humidity proper, so I do my best and when it is time, I buy another. May sound extravagant but what’s a girl to do. We had snow twice in 12 days, so no outside Spring yet. So happy y’all had a fun Spring break, your pic’s are superb. God bless.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Joan! Glad you enjoyed this post. Humidity is a tough one. And sometimes plants just fail…it happens. I always say, “Love your plants, but don’t get too attached!” Thanks for stopping by the blog! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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