Orchids are easier than you think

Phaelaonopsis orchids are offered at many grocery outlets.

I am sure that gardeners reading this might be a bit skeptical of orchids being easy. Full disclosure, some are very fussy, but even the easy ones can be killed if not properly tended. Grocery stores often feature orchids in their flower offerings and they are so gorgeous it is hard to resist buying one. They are cheaper to buy alive than the artificial silk one often offered in many stores and online. Although silk ones are definitely hard to kill, the living ones are preferred if you are a gardener.

Orchids are a large family of 22,000 or 110,000 species depending on your source, but there are a lot of them and many hybrids as well. Hence, there is no end of possibilities for the avid collector and I suspect that orchid collecting can be addictive for the orchid enthusiast. If you are an enthusiast, you can join others; see the San Joaquin Orchid Society on Facebook. I have yielded several times to their beauty, but unfortunately my few orchids all succumbed last winter because I failed to protect from freeze damage following my downsizing move.

Recently, the Linden Garden Club had a guess speaker on orchids and I learned more about caring for orchids. Our speaker, from Modesto, was the president of the International Orchid Society, so definitely an expert. One thing I learned was to keep most orchids out of direct sun. The orchid that we see for sale at stores is Phalaenopsis or hybrids thereof. This is a long blooming orchid which is best kept in bright shade as one would do with African violets. Another thing she addressed was the use of ice cubes to slowly water orchids. Orchids are mostly tropical plants so ice watering is a very bad idea.

In nature, orchids don’t grow in soil, but are epiphytes that live in rain forest trees. You can replicate this kind of environment by using orchid bark or a moss potting mix. Orchid bark potting material or moss based material is readily purchased at nurseries. The orchid bark contains fir bark and charcoal. The orchids you purchase are often planted in a moss mixture.

Either of these materials will provide the quick drainage and plentiful air pockets that orchid roots require. In the case of Phalaenopsis, it is best to use a medium coarse bark mix if available. Orchid bark decomposes within 18 months to 2 years, depending on watering and fertilizing practices (wetter and more fertilizer means shorter bark life). Repotting should be done before major decomposition creates anaerobic conditions causing root rot.

Phalaenopsisis a long bloomer and after blooming it is time to get it ready for a new season of blooms by repotting to give the

Phaelaonosis orchid I recently purchased with 3 stems of flowers, a good find.

roots room to grow. Often the ones purchased are crowded into a small plastic pot inside a terra cotta or ceramic pot. The orchid should be gently removed from the plastic pot and any brown-colored, dead roots removed by cutting with scissors or pruners along with the dead bloom stem. Soaking the roots in water can help remove old potting material.  If roots were crowded go to a larger pot, but not more than 2 inches larger than the current one. Do not tightly pack the potting material because an orchid’s roots need breathing room. Repotting should be done every 2-3 years and best to stick to plastic or terra cotta pots with drainage holes.

What other conditions will be optimal for my orchid?  Keep the orchid in a spot that gets a lot of light but is out of direct sunlight. If the orchid isn’t getting enough light, it may not bloom again. Warmer temperatures are best from 70 to 85 F. Humidity is often hard to control in the home. You can either use a humidifier in the orchid room or place the plant on a saucer filled with pebbles and water (with the pot’s bottom not in the water). The evaporation will add moisture to the air. You can also mist-spray the plant’s leaves a couple of times a week. For more good information on orchids: http://www.aboutorchids.com/.

Water deeply until excess water runs out of the drainage holes. Phalaenopsis should be watered thoroughly about once every 14-20 days; more than that could be too much. Allow the potting medium to dry out between watering to avoid root rot and killing the orchid. Balanced commercial orchid fertilizers (20-20-20) will keep your plant growing. Eventually, after new leaves have grown in, a stem will start to grow and as it elongates, be sure to tie it gently to a stake you stick into the pot. You can save the bamboo stake and ties your orchid came with and use them again— so enjoy happy orchid growing.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website:  http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/

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    Lee Miller

    Lee Miller is a University of Delaware graduate and retired fisheries biologist, he gardens on 10 acres and makes wine each year with the help of a cadre of friends. However, his first love is gardening and he grows various fruit trees, heirloom ... Read Full

    Marcy Sousa

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