Do you walk past the colorful orchids in the grocery store because you think they’re too hard to grow? If so, you’re missing out on an easy-care houseplant that can make quite an impression.
All they need is the right light exposure, moderate temperatures and a good dowsing every week to 10 days.
When it comes to houseplants, I’m known in gardening circles as the “plant murderer.” For years, friends have given me houseplants, thinking I have an invincible green thumb for all things growing.
Not so. Bless the hearts of the unsuspecting houseplants that come to Rose Lane. Within months, they’ll curl up and die – except for two standouts: Christmas cactuses and orchids.
Because 2023 is the official Year of the Orchid, as declared by the National Garden Bureau, I’m highlighting this beautiful plant and de-mystifying its secrets. And now through April 9, the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Midtown campus’ Orchid Daze showcases one of the world’s largest collections of orchids in the Fuqua Orchid Center. They’re in full bloom now, creating a breathtaking display with hundreds of species.
Orchids as houseplants
Those grocery-store varieties are most likely phalaenopsis, known as one of the more reliable orchid rebloomers for orchid novices. Available in a wide assortment of colors from white to purple, yellow to green, the showy bloom sprays can add elegance to any room.
Start with a larger plant and pick out one with a strong bloom stem with at least a few buds that are only partially open. This will extend your enjoyment as the plant becomes acclimated to its new environment.
Examine the leaves for bruising, damage or brown places, looking for a healthy plant with several green leaves in various stages of growth. A good choice will also have several air roots protruding from the pot, usually a nice silver gray. This means that the plant is actively growing and is not dormant.
Your orchid will most likely be potted in a clear container tucked inside a ceramic pot. Gently remove the inner pot and examine the roots to ensure that the lower roots look healthy and a bit plump.
That’s the one you take home.
Formula for success
Once you get it home, give the orchid a good dowsing of tepid water from the tap. Allow it to absorb the water for about an hour, then dump out the excess from the outer pot before moving it to its new home.
Orchids rely on long periods of indirect light – usually 10 to 16 hours. East-facing windows are best and that’s how I keep mine in some state of bloom most of the year.
Place the plant close to a big window, then just leave it alone. It’s probably potted in growing medium, such as bark and perhaps a bit of sphagnum moss. Leave the air roots alone; do not tuck them into the pot or trim them.
Orchids like moderate temperatures, just a bit cooler than we humans, but they will survive just fine between 65 and 75 degrees indoors.
Water the plant about every 10 days by showering it with a sink sprayer, letting it drain, dumping out the excess water in the outer container, then returning it to its place beside the window.
You can also dump some tepid water directly onto the plant from a watering can; just be sure that it’s not sitting in water. Wet roots encourage rot, a sure-fire way to kill the plant.
Grooming and feeding
Your orchid will show it’s healthy three ways: it will grow new air roots; it will grow new leaves; and it will put out bloom spikes. Many people confuse the air roots with bloom spikes. Here’s how to tell the difference: the air roots are typically gray-ish and a little lumpy. Bloom spikes pop out nearer the top leaves of the plant and are dark green.
The roots will grow sideways or downward. The bloom spikes will turn upward and point toward the light source. As the bloom spike grows, use a small stake and a loose twist tie to guide its path. Soon you’ll have tiny buds developing along the spike that will reward you with stunning long-lasting blossoms.
A spike of phalaenopsis blooms can last several months with buds opening all the way to the tip of the spike.
As the blooms fade, pinch them off. However, don’t cut the bloom stalk back until all the blooms have died. If the spike is still green, it means that your plant potentially has the energy to push out a new flowering spike from the current spike. It speeds up the process of re-blooming to simply cut the spike back one inch above the highest node, or bump, on the spike.
If the spikes are completely brown, cut them back to the base of the plant.
About every three months, mix up some Peters Orchid water soluble fertilizer and water the plants. This will help replenish nutrients. Just be sure to avoid wet feet, so dump out the excess from the pot.
For more information about caring for orchids, visit www.ngb.org/year-of-the-orchid/. The National Garden Bureau offers a free downloadable book about orchids and their care.