Saturday, January 22, 2011

How I Got My First Orchid and Now Have 80

 I'm an orchid hobbyist or as my husband would say, a fanatic. I'm not a fanatic.  Ever read The Orchid Thief? Fanatic.  But, how did I become enamored, enthralled with growing orchids?  I blame a friend who graciously gave me a Phalaenopsis (moth) orchid.  They're the ones you see most frequently in grocery stores and nurseries.  The reason is that they are both beautiful and easy to grow.  Unfortunately most people, once the blooms have fallen off,  don't have a clue what to do with it and therefore, dump it.  How sad. I'm not a dumper when it comes to plants.  So, I went to the official site for the American Orchid Society ( and looked up the care needed to keep a Phalaenopsis alive. Read more...
Really not that much to it:  moderate light, water every 5-7 days and keep it  at a relatively comfortable  temperature.  Most of these orchids are re-planted while blooming so that the wholesaler can put it in a nice pot or ceramic pot to make it look prettier. Normally, this will kill the plant.  Some of the containers have no holes at the bottom to let the water out when you water the plant.  That will also kill the plant.  So, if you receive a plant that is in a container that has no drainage hole, check to see if maybe the orchid is in a plastic pot that has been set into the decorative one.  If so, you're OK.  Otherwise, water the orchid sparingly until the blooms fall off, then you can cut off the "spike" (the stem the flowers were on) and then re pot. I can't tell you how many orchids I have bought from nurseries that put the "spent" orchids on a discount table.  They look so sad but a winner for me!  What was once $45 is now $5.  I can tell by look of the plant as to what species it is.  If there are no insects and it shows some sign of new growth, I buy that baby and then nourish it to see what I will get when it blooms.  I am always rewarded.  Most orchids sold today in stores are easy to grow.  I've gotten into some exotics where you really have to have the correct lighting, the correct temps and the correct humidity to get them to bloom.  And blooming is really what it's all about.   So, let's talk how really easy it is to grow and get an orchid to bloom.  Remember, most orchids only bloom once a year but the blooms may stay on for MONTHS.  The easiest orchids to grow in a regular home are the Phalaenopsis (the moth orchid), the Cattleya (used in all those prom corsages), Dendrobiums (all over the tables in Hawaii), the Oncidium (sold in most nurseries) and the Cymbidium (those big orchid plants you see in grocery stores).  I want to keep your interest, so I'm not going to go through each plants particular needs.  That you can find at the site or any orchid site.  What I do want to tell you is some things I've learned over the years:

Don't over water.  Check the site for particulars for each plant.  I think this is a mistake most people make.  I need to water this thing.  No.  No, you don't.  Especially in the winter when most orchids are gathering strength to begin growing and blooming season.  Ease up on the water in the winter.

Humidity.  How do you keep things humid in houses that are heated and air conditioned?  Well, you can get a small mister (I'm not talking Tom Cruise. Hairball, that's a very bad joke) and mist once a day, or as most sites will tell you, simply put the pot on top of some small pebbles in a small dish or tray and keep water in the tray.  Orchids don't like wet "feet" so don't let the water go higher than the bottom of the pot. In the southeast, our summers are very humid.  So, out the door all of my orchids go into shaded or dappled light.  The only problem here is you had better check for insects before bringing them inside.  Fuzzy scale can kill a plant in days.  I hate those things.

Fertilizer.  A local grower turned me on to this and I'm sure a purist would have a fit but the answer is time released fertilizer granules, like Osmocote.  Put a little pinch on top of your growing medium and every time you water, some fertilizer is released.

Keep away from your pets!  Orchids are not poisonous but many of their leaves are delectable munchies for your pets.  My cats love to eat the leaves which does not make for a beautiful display. 

Light.  Check with the aos on each orchids lighting needs.  Most will grow perfectly in an east window or shaded southwest window.  Phalaenopsis need lots less light than a cattleya.  And if you don't have the right light, they will not bloom.  But never, ever, ever, put an orchid in direct sunlight.  My husband, dear sweet man that he is, while staining the deck, took all of my phalaenopsis and put them in the direct sun.  They literally turned to mush.

Where to buy.  All over the US there are wholesalers.  In the Atlanta area I know of a few but in the SE, particularly Florida, there are a zillion.  Well, maybe not a zillion, but many.  Find a good local grower.  You can save some good bucks by doing so and they like to take the time to show you their gorgeous babies.  The only issue is that they may not be close in.  The two I visit are out in "the country" and back roads are necessary.  But as I tell my husband, if I went to the PGA store for an hour, I could do some serious damage.  But if I go to a grower and spend an hour, I can come out with 4-5 plants for under a $100 and would have learned a great deal more about the "hobby" of growing orchids and have a few more babies to occupy my time.

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