Orchids, mysterious and romantic, are simply irresistible. There are more than 25,000 species of orchids, which makes them one of the largest plant families in nature. Orchids were once only grown and enjoyed by the very rich with their own specialty growers and orchid houses. Now, with central heating and air conditioning as well as greater availability, these stunning blooms can be enjoyed by all. It’s hard to imagine not seeing a big beautiful display of orchids in the grocery store today, but 30 years ago it was truly a rare occurrence. Orchids can be found at specialist nurseries, such as Carter and Holmes in Newberry, S.C., garden centers and nurseries, and even most grocery stores here in the Midlands.
My love affair with exotic orchids started soon after I was married. I begrudgingly bought two $10 raffle tickets for $200 worth of groceries from the Kroger on Forest Drive and was utterly shocked when I won! I enthusiastically went straight to the Kroger floral department to buy two giant pots of cymbidium orchids.
Orchids have a lingering reputation as being difficult to grow and maintain. In reality, they are very easy to grow and will re-bloom if they are placed in the right spot in the house or garden and are given the correct amount of fertilizer, water and light. Just as with any garden plant or houseplant, if planted in the correct place, it should thrive.
Most Common Types of Orchids
Phalaenopsis – The Moth Orchid: Phalaenopsis originate in tropical Asia with a main concentration in the Philippines. They are commonly referred to as moth orchids because their exotic saucer-shaped blooms extend from the arching branches and flit like moths if there is any sort of breeze. These beauties are the easiest orchids to grow and are a perfect choice for the beginner orchid grower.
Cymbidium: Cymbidium orchids are different from most common orchids in that they have long, strap-like leaves. The blooms are large and waxy and can last up to six to eight weeks. These very recognizable blooms are commonly used as corsages and are readily available for Easter and Mother’s Day. Cymbidium orchids are the orchids that stole my heart that fateful day in Kroger! These are large plants that make a fabulous interior statement if placed in a large blue and white cachepot.
Cambria: Cambrias are recognizable by the large egg-shaped pseudo bulbs that are found at the base of their stems. Cambrias come in a wide range of dazzling colors and color-combinations often with spots, stripes and unusual patterns. These are smaller plants and make a dramatic statement if used in large groups as a centerpiece or arrangement in the entrance hall. Choose a large container, arrange the orchids in the container (still in their original pots) and cover with Spanish moss. Instant drama.
These lovely orchids are commonly knows as bamboo orchids. The blossoms are lily-like and bloom at the top of a tall stem with short strappy leaves at the bottom. They are usually bi-colored with the petals being one color and the throat being another color. This species is very popular to use in cut arrangements because the blooms are tough and will last a relatively long time in a vase with clean water.
There are some key things to remember when choosing an orchid plant from a grower or the grocery store. Choose a healthy looking plant with dark green leaves and a few open blooms so that you know exactly what color and variety of orchid you are buying. It’s important to reject plants that look stressed or injured because it is difficult to rehabilitate a sick orchid.
Look for plants with some unopened buds at the tip of the flower. This usually indicates that the plant has not been sitting on the shelf for too long, and you’ll get the added bonus of additional blooms in the days to come. Take a look at the roots. You may have to gently lift the orchid out of its decorative pot. Most orchids are planted in clear plastic containers so that the roots are visible for inspection. Beware of plants that have been over-watered. Orchids grow in a special planting medium that retains just the right amount of water after a thorough drenching. Look for thick silvery roots with green or reddish-green tips. Many times the roots will begin to grow out of the pot. This is completely normal and can be another sign that the orchid is healthy.
Caring for Orchids
The four orchids listed under Most Common Types of Orchids tend to like the same tender loving care.
All green plants need sufficient light to survive but not scorching light that will burn their leaves and blossoms. The orchids listed will not tolerate the harsh light of a south-facing window. Orchids originated in the rainforest and thrive in dappled light, so it is best to imitate that light in the home. These orchids thrive best if placed in an east-facing window that gets plenty of morning light or the late evening light of a west-facing window. Sometimes a north-facing window can provide sufficient light during the hot, bright summer months. It is best to experiment and decide which spot is best for your orchid in your house. Many orchid lovers place their plants out in the garden during the summer months. This adds an exotic, tropical accent to the garden. The orchids can be placed in the crotch of a tree or even in the ‘boot’ of a windmill palm. Just be sure that the orchids are not exposed to any direct, harsh sunlight.
Most orchids prefer warm growing conditions. For best results, these more common orchids prefer minimum temperature of 64 degrees and a maximum of 80 degrees. However, I have seen orchids that do survive our hot summers as long as they are in a shady location and receive regular watering and misting. During the cooler fall and winter months, these orchids survive beautifully indoors if placed in a bright east-facing window. My schedule has been to put my orchids outside in the garden around May 15 and bring them back inside to their favorite windowsill around Oct. 1.
Because orchids originated in the rainforest, they do prefer a humid environment. During the winter months, the air inside can become dry due to central heating. This can be easily remedied by placing the orchids on a tray filled with gravel and water. Every now and then, it is a good idea to move them to a bathroom and let them enjoy a day or two of steam from the shower. An easy way to do this is to gather all of the plants and place them on the bathroom floor near the shower. Turn on just hot water in the shower. Let it get good and steamy and leave the orchids until the steam dissipates. This is the closest way to replicate the rain forest in the home.
If you are lucky enough to have a south-facing window in your bathroom, place the orchids there, and they’ll thrive in the wonderful morning light and the humidity of the shower and bath. Some orchid growers mist their plants. If you do this, I recommend moving the plants to the kitchen sink and let them drip dry before moving back to their windowsill home. During the summer months, make sure that the plants are not sprinkled by the irrigation. They do not thrive with that kind of watering. They prefer one good dousing per week and then drying out before the next watering. The blooms do not last as long if they are constantly wet.
Maintaining a healthy root system is the key to success with orchids. Healthy roots lead to healthy plants that lead to beautiful blooms, which is the goal of every orchid grower. The most common cause of death for orchids is probably over-watering. When in doubt — do not water! Most orchids will thrive if watered once a week. While the orchids are living in the house, the best method to water them is to gather all the plants in the kitchen sink and water with a watering can.
It is recommended not to get the leaves wet if possible. Soak the potting medium and let it drain until no water is flowing from the bottom of the pot. Use a damp rag to wipe the leaves to keep them clean and to give them some moisture. Make sure no water has collected in the crown of the plant; if so, dry with paper towels. During the summer months, I gather all of my orchid plants onto my outdoor dining table. I water with a watering can and leave the plants on the table until all the water has drained from the pots. I then place them back into their summer homes under windmill palm trees. I try to water early before the sun reaches our backyard.
Orchids are not heavy feeders. Any flowering water-soluble fertilizer is suitable for fertilizing orchids. However, use a very diluted solution, usually one quarter the recommended strength. There are many specific orchid fertilizers on the market and they also work well. Carefully follow the directions on the container. Salt can build up in the potting medium, so it is a good idea to soak the plants thoroughly every three to four weeks to dissolve the unwanted salts. Try to avoid getting the fertilizer on the leaves or blooms. It can cause brown spots or yellowing.
Warning: Growing and collecting orchids can definitely become an obsession. They are easy, they are gorgeous and they are readily available. Follow these steps for successful orchid growing. Choose one of the above listed orchids. Buy a healthy looking specimen. Place it in a windowsill with morning light. Water once a week and enjoy six to eight weeks of beautiful blooms. It really is as simple as that!
What’s Blooming Now
Ageratum, Begonia, Begonia grandis, Salvia, Chrysanthemum, Cosmos, Dahlia, Impatiens, Lantana, Phlos, Plumbago, Portulaca, Rudbeckia, Sedum, Butterfly Bush, Cassia, Tea Olive
October Chores for the Gardener
Fall is for planting, so get out in the garden and start planting.
• October is the perfect month to plant perennials, shrubs and trees.
• Divide any perennials that have over grown their spot in the garden. Find another compatible spot or share with your gardening friends.
• Sow wildflowers this month for a beautiful display next spring.
• Start planning your bulb planting and order daffodils, tulips and other spring flowering bulbs.
• Prune long irregular shoots on evergreen shrubs.
• Spray to control scale on camellias and holly.
• If a green lawn is desired all winter, over-seed the lawn with annual rye seed and water in.
• Add mulch in areas where it has become broken down and thin.
• Take orchids in for the cooler months ahead.
• Take other houseplants in. Make sure you check for bugs first.
• Go on a mini leaf tour in your neighborhood. Pay attention to different trees and the beautiful fall colors. Choose your favorite and add that tree to your landscape. It’s amazing how beautiful crape myrtle leaves can be in the fall.
• Take a few cuttings of geraniums. Try rooting them for an early display of blossoms next spring.
Styled by Mary T. Dial