Orchid Care by MGV Ann Marie Ott
With winter apparently continuing without end, you may be tempted to bring a bit of the tropics into your home by purchasing an orchid. An easy to maintain variety is Phalaenopsis, also called the moth orchid because of the shape of its flowers. Choose a specimen that is in proportion with its container, has visible roots and without any spots or other blemishes on the leaves. Avoid those with wrinkled or leathery leaves as this may indicate that the orchid has lost its roots due to overwatering. Always choose a plant that has several buds remaining on the flower spike to ensure the longest bloom time. The color variety is endless so you will find numerous options to coordinate with your home décor. You can expect a Phalaenopsis to bloom from one to four months which offers a great return on your investment, even before you consider that you can expect it to re-bloom in the future!
Place the orchid in a south or east facing window and keep it from touching the windowpane in cold weather, because the leaves could freeze. Watch how the light changes over time to ensure that the plant does not get sunburned from too much sun. Move it, if needed or protect it with a sheer window covering. Leaves that are a light to medium, grassy green color indicate that the orchid is receiving the proper amount of light.
Like many other houseplants, over-watering is the most common reason for losing an orchid. Orchids are typically kept in plastic pots in either a bark or moss growing medium. It is better for the plant to dry out than to water too frequently. Constant watering can cause the roots to rot. Put your finger in the pot and if it feels dry, then water. Avoid use of salt softened or distilled water. Never let the pot stand in water, but rather place on a tray with pebbles which will increase the humidity around the plant, especially if your home is very warm or has low humidity.
The American Orchid Society suggests fertilizing orchids “weakly, weekly.” Dilute a fertilizer specifically labeled for orchids or a 20-20-20 mix by one fourth strength. As with watering, the orchid will do much better with under- rather than over-fertilizing.
When the last bloom dries and falls from the spike, you have several options to consider for bringing the plant to bloom again. Phalaenopsis will re-bloom from the old spike. Leave the stem and it may grow additional buds, however these will be smaller than the original flowers and the stem may become overly long and difficult to stake. Instead, cut off the stem at the base, where it comes out of the leaves and wait for it to bloom in several months. A final option is cut off the stem below the first flower that appeared on the spike. Leave two nodes and it may re-bloom in eight to 12 weeks.
Don’t be discouraged if your orchid does not re-bloom using the options described above. Some plants may be too young or weak to re-bloom or the variety is not genetically capable of flower reproduction. Use a sterile razor blade or knife to cut spikes to prevent viruses from attacking your orchid.
For more information and beautiful pictures of Phalaenopsis and other orchid varieties visit the American Orchid Society’s website: http://www.aos.org
Read about the “Lady of the Night” orchid on the Wisconsin Master Gardener website: http://wimastergardener.org/?q=Brassavola_nodosa