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Think orchids are beyond your gardening skill set? Think again! Choose a beginner variety and follow a few simple guidelines, and you could be on the path to blooming bliss.
Moth orchids are the easiest type for beginner orchid growers. They are readily available in many garden centers and home stores.
Michelle Obama accepted the “LC Michelle Obama” orchid from Art Chadwick of Chadwick and Son Orchids at the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk in August 2008.
Associated Press | File 1986
U.S. First Lady Nancy Reagan with an orchid named Denbrobium Nancy Reagan in her honor.
Courtesy of Chadwick and Son Orchids
Art Chadwick presented First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton with the orchid named after her.
Associated Press | File 2003
First Lady Laura Bush with an orchid named Mokara Laura Bush.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
Orchids have always struck me as intimidating plants. Although I admire their beauty, I've never attempted to grow one myself.
I'm aware that there are some varieties that are easy to grow as houseplants and, judging from how often I see them for sale in grocery stores and home centers, those varieties are plentiful. However, my intellect wars with my emotions on this one plant, and I allow myself to be daunted at the idea of growing an orchid.
All that changed recently when I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Art Chadwick of Chadwick & Son Orchids in Richmond. He has convinced me that all indoor gardeners should consider orchids for their homes.
Chadwick, a renowned orchid breeder and grower, will be in Roanoke Sunday to give a talk to the Blue Ridge Orchid Society on First Lady Orchids. As you might guess, these are orchids that are named after the wives of U.S. presidents. Since 1929, every first lady has had a cattleya orchid named after her.
Chadwick told me that orchids have recently become the No. 1 houseplant in the United States, surpassing chrysanthemums, African violets and poinsettias. No doubt, this is at least partially due to their proliferation in chain stores .
I confessed my orchid reluctance and received assurance that there is an orchid for me. Chadwick recommends the phalaenopsis variety, otherwise known as the moth orchid. This is the variety found readily, and is, he assures me, pretty much "idiot proof."
The moth orchid is the easiest orchid to grow and is recommended for beginning orchid growers. Still, if you want your orchid to be happy, there are a few things you'll need to know .
Because steady temperatures and high humidity are needed to grow orchids, the usual home for a potted orchid is on a pebble tray, in indirect light. Good light is essential, but you need to protect the plant from unfiltered sunlight, so choose a north-facing window, or an east- or west-facing window with a sun screen of some sort. Be sure to move the pot away from windows on very cold nights.
Orchids need about 10 to 15 hours of light each day, so in winter, that probably means supplementing the daylight with artificial light.
The color of the foliage can serve as a good indicator of whether or not you're providing the right amount of light. If the leaves are dark green, the orchid is probably not receiving enough light. If the foliage is pale green, it's receiving too much. Medium green leaves indicate a happy orchid.
Orchids don't like hot or stuffy conditions, so give them good ventilation in the winter, but avoid cold drafts, as those can be fatal. Generally, if the temperature is comfortable for you, it's also comfortable for the orchid. If you want to encourage new flowering, give moth orchids a three-week cooling period of 50-degree nights in the fall.
In areas farther south, orchids are grown outdoors, and Chadwick advises that orchids be taken outdoors for the summer in this area, too. Again, protect the orchids from direct sunlight.
Moist air is essential for orchids, so mist the leaves occasionally. Keep plant soil moist, but reduce watering in the winter, and feed your orchids during the summer.
Reblooming an orchid
Orchids bloom for about three months and will rebloom every year at the same time.
As you're learning to care for your orchid, the next milestone is getting the orchid to rebloom . According to Chadwick, if you achieve a rebloom, you can consider yourself a master and move on to other varieties, like the cattleya.
The cattleya orchid is the variety used for corsages, and as we don't see corsages worn often any more, these are the flowers most people covet when they think of growing orchids.
One word of caution: nearly every orchid grower I've talked to considers them very addictive plants. Apparently, once you master the rebloom, it's not unusual to find yourself owning a whole collection.
Purchasing an orchid
If you've ever wondered why orchids are so pricey when you visit a garden center, know that a great deal of effort has gone into the plant before it ever reaches a customer.
Chadwick Orchids has between 20-30 hybrids in production stages at any given time, but it takes seven years before a plant is ready for sale to the public.
When purchasing an orchid, look for a healthy plant. An employee at your local garden center or grocery store may not be an expert when it comes to taking care of specialty plants, so neglect at stores can happen quite often.
Then, seek out other orchid lovers for good advice. Our local Blue Ridge Orchid Society meets in Roanoke the second Sunday of each month, and attracts orchid growers from a wide area. Although there are serious growers in the group, those who are happy growing orchids on their home windowsills are well-represented, too.
The Orchid Society provides an opportunity to connect with other folks interested in growing this exotic beauty.
On the blog
Come join the conversation on my blog at blogs.roanoke.com/downtoearth for more discussion about orchids.
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