Sunday, January 19, 2014

Phalaenopsis Orchids

I’m being honest here….You should know that I am not always successful with the houseplants that come into my life.   Like most of my gardening friends,  I do love flowering houseplants and  know that they add psychological and physical comfort to our lives during the short winter days.  However,  I’m picky on the ones that I choose and I don’t spend my “plant allowance” on finicky plants.

I tried orchids a couple of times but quite honestly, I had no luck and swore off buying them until last summer, when I was browsing for a replacement gas grille in Home Depot.  The grills were located next to the houseplant section where a group of “mini” phalaenopsis orchids (moth orchids) had just been put out.  I’d never seen these lovely little orchids before but I liked their petite size and price ($6.99) so I thought I would try one for the summer and give it a review of sorts.

Mini-phalaenopsis orchids are diminutive versions of their flashy big sisters and they max out height-wise at about 8 inches tall with the  flowers being about 1 and 1/2 inches across.  They come in all the same big orchid colors and patterns including stripes, spots and bi-colors.  By comparison, the one that I bought is rather plain.  It has cream and white flowers but they’re perfumed and I liked that because it’s so unusual for orchids to be pleasantly scented.  Very few are.

I knew from past failure, that the best way to pick an orchid is not by the flowers alone.  Though that’s what draws us in when we see them.  Multiple flower spikes and unopened buds insure a long bloom time (if they don’t fall off).  However,  if you aren’t going to toss the plant after it’s finished blooming, look for a plant with  fat green roots sticking out of the pot and fat plump leaves that tell you it’s healthy and has been carefully handled.  Never buy a plant with even ONE (1) yellow leaf—this can signify crown rot which is fatal unless you have a LOT of experience growing orchids and even experienced orchid growers lose 95% of plants that have crown rot.

My little orchid spent the summer months on the porch. When I brought it home it had two  flower spikes with some buds still unopened.  I enjoyed the several months of blooms that followed.

I did some research online and found that it’s possible to get a second bloom by trimming the flower stalk about a third to a half after blooming.   The theory behind this is that the orchid gets fooled into thinking that the first flush of flowers failed and sends out another stalk to replace it--a plants whole purpose in life is to make seeds so it will continue to try until it is successful or dies trying.

After Labor Day, I cut both stalks back by 1/3 and waited.   I let my plant dry out a bit to simulate a “rest” period and when I returned to watering once a week, I  added some diluted orchid food to tepid water.   I also read that you should not feed orchids while they are in flower.   Only feed between blooming.
The way I’ve been watering  is to fill the orchids little clay pot with the food mixture and let it set in the pot for about 30 minutes before draining the pot.  You also don’t need to put orchids on a gravel tray filled with water to provide humidity.  Just misting once a day is enough.  

Around Thanksgiving, I noticed new growth just above where I trimmed the old flower stalk (only one of the two stalks re-bloomed) and there are now 4/5 flower buds that are getting bigger every day.  I’m being cautiously optimistic that the buds will open in the next couple of weeks  and won’t be knocked off by my cat before then. 

So if you decide to bring home a phalaenopsis orchid this winter to brighten up the indoors and I think you should--I’ve listed some tips that I’ve learned below.  They can be found in almost any retail store that sells house plants and the prices I’ve seen range from $6.99 for the mini’s to $42.99 for the big girls with an average price of $19.99.
  • Don’t buy a plant that has been placed in the coldest part of the supermarket (like the freezer section).   I guarantee there will be a problem with that plant later on.  Ask me how I know this?
  • Normal bloom time for tropical orchids is our winter = their southern hemisphere summer. 
  • Orchids can rest up to 18 months between blooming cycles so don’t give up.   The flower stalk is formed when the plant has three green leaves.  It appears between the second and third leaf.  If your plant is healthy and growing new leaves—it will flower eventually. 
  • Whole Foods sells an organic orchid spray that helps to feed and stimulate flowering.  It’s called “OrchidMyst”  Spray only on leaves and roots.  Provides nutrients, pest control, plant tonic and growth enhancer.  I am testing this product out now.
  • Look for fat green roots (sticking out of the pot is good. This doesn’t mean the plant needs to be repotted) and fat green leaves mean the plant has been well-hydrated.  
  • Don’t buy a plant with even ONE (1) yellow leaf—could be a symptom of fatal crown rot.
  • Look for multiple stems with some buds still unopened to insure a long bloom period. 
  • Make sure the planting medium is fresh-looking.  Usually it’s bark chunks for large orchids, sphagnum moss for the mini’s
  • Discard any directions that tell you to put an ice cube in the pot once a week or a measured cup of water—NO! NO! NO!  Orchids grow in trees in the rain forest,  they get drenched by downpours and then the water drains off the branches where they grow.  That is how they should be watered.  Remember—drench and drain!
  • Bet you didn’t know that some tree orchids(like phalaenopsis) grow upside down in the wild!

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