Have you noticed that orchids are more and more common on store shelves? And not just nurseries and garden centers!!! I see them in groceries and hardware stores with the prices well below what they were years ago.

          A bouquet of flowers lasts a few days, a potted plant may bloom a week or so but an orchid may last for several months.   People tend to discard them after blooming but you can put them on a shelf in low light, keep them damp, and have a new set of blooms about the same time next year.

          Many people think orchids are too expensive to work with, but as mentioned above, their blooms may last several months.  Most other house plants can’t do that.  They are not hard to grow when you find out their needs in regards to water, food, light, and air are the same as any other plant.  One big difference though, is that many of them do not need soil.  In the wild they cling to rocks and branches up in trees, living on anything that lands on their roots. 

          Soil of any kind is too tight and doesn’t give them the air they need. So I think people have tried just about everything to make them happy. Bark was most popular for a long time, but now you can get coconut fiber, marbles, or just fasten to a piece of bark or cork.  So far I have decided to favor coconut fiber as it holds some water but doesn’t stay soaked if you pour it through. To water I put the pots on the dish draining rack in my sink. You can check for scale and mealy bugs at the same time.  Our Lincoln water contains a good deal of calcium which can build up making them unhappy so I use distilled water some of the time to wash it off their roots and the fibre.

          The most common orchid is probably the Phalaenopsis, also called the Moth Orchid. They grow in the tops of trees but down lower where they do not get as much sun. It is for me the easiest to grow as it doesn’t require bright light. Too much, and the leaves tend to yellow, and too little and they get a darker green. It is listed in one book as the longest blooming, lasting two to three months, if it doesn’t get too warm. 

          When the roots come climbing out of the pot and wander around, it means things are doing well. Do not cut off as they can absorb moisture from the humid air. You can increase the humidity around them by putting gravel and water under the pot, but not high enough for the water to touch the pot. This is called a pebble tray and is very good for most houseplants in our dry homes.

          To stimulate the Moth Orchid to bloom, let them experience a cool period of about 60 degrees F. for three weeks.  They will then bloom about the same time every year.  But be careful as one of mine has a big brown spot on its leaf where it was against the window pane a few nights ago when it got down to 26 degrees F. outside.  They have big fat, long leaves and seem to be tipping out of the pot.  There are orchid fertilizers available but some of my friends use the long lasting Osmocote.

          Last winter my greenhouse heater failed and of course the orchids were the first to drop dead.  They need to be above 50 degrees F. in most cases. However, I am back in business as I have been given several “discards”. Two of them are in bloom right now. One is a white with a brown center and the other is a yellow one with spots.

          Probably my favorite is the Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum). The bloom does look like a slipper for a fat foot.  They also do not require a very bright light as they grow in the decaying leaves and other debris on the jungle floor. They do not like soil as it keeps too much moisture against their roots.  They will survive in the soil that has been loosened with sphagnum moss or fine bark chips. They like high humidity so you can plant them with other plants or on a pebble tray as mentioned above. Make sure you keep the water below where it can enter the orchid pot.  Some of the Paphiopedilum orchids have mottled leaves while others have green ones. The big flowers come in any number of colors and may be striped or spotted and may bend the stems so I like to add a support in the pot. One garden center has small ornamental clothes pins shaped like Butterflies to pin the long orchid stem to a small stake.

          Be careful in watering an orchid or bacterial rot may happen in the leaf axils. After watering, a facial tissue will absorb drops of water that are stuck.  Slipper Orchids cannot store water like some orchids, so do not let them dry out!!! Hot sun will burn their leaves, so an east window will be best.  They will need to be repotted if their media breaks down as it will hold too much water.

          There are some orchids that will grow in soil.  Nebraska has 17 native orchids, most growing in loose soil or leaf litter. The Jewel Orchid (Ludisia discolor) is a soil orchid but is not from Nebraska . I think it as easy to grow as a Geranium. They do not like South windows as their leaves fade, and misting will spot the leaves so be careful in your watering!!!. It has velvet black leaves with red markings, and blooms for me every year in fall or winter, with small white blooms on spikes.  They grow fast so if I break a limb off, I stick it in another pot with ordinary potting soil and soon I have another orchid to give away.  Copyright 2009