Feb 13, 2012

Orchids, Again and Again


My moth orchid is blooming. This is the second year in a row that it has re-flowered since my boys gave it as a present at the opening for a painting exhibit on November 2009. I sometimes wonder if plants flourish better or we care for them better if they carry sentimental value. It is wonderful to have this beautiful plant flower and,  as I say to my boys, it is blooming because it is happy.

Success at getting orchids to re-flower has not been great in the past. I finally threw out a speckled, chocolate-scented Oncidium Sharry Baby that I picked up a few years ago after the annual Orchid Show at NYBG; a light green Dendrobium that I found on a hillside in Maui and a large white Phalaenopsis orchid, all after years of waiting and hoping to get a single re-bloom. When I first got that lost Phalaenopsis it was a lovely specimen with three huge, healthy stems and multiple blossoms that lasted several months. Back then I thought that the sturdy plant would be with me forever. It sat on a north-facing windowsill nestled between my ten year-old Hoya bella and the coral-flowered Christmas cactus that my mom gave me many years ago. The large, plump green leaves gave me hope that a new flower stem would appear any day. I waited and waited and finally gave it away just days before I took a tropical plant class that provided instruction on orchid care. Ugh!

I've learned a bit about Phalaenopsis over the years. Houseplants do well if the environments created in the home replicates those of the environments where they are found growing naturally. Ideally, Phalaenopsis like warm days and cooler nights with bright to moderate indirect light and some air circulation. Re-blooming requires a daily drop in temperature of about 15 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit which coincides with fall temperatures. Winter months can be detrimental to houseplants not only because of the shorter days but because of the heat, dry air and lack of circulation that go with indoor heating and closed windows. The air in my apartment is dry in winter and I tend to lower the heat at bedtime and bump it up upon waking. Just as skin, hair and nostrils dry out during winter, houseplants suffer from decreased humidity. My plants sit on a tray lined with moist rocks to increase the much needed humidity, especially during the winter months.

                                      Phalaenopsis at the Enid Haupt Conservatory at NYBG

Home depot regularly stocks Phalaenopsis orchids in a variety of colors and at reasonable prices. Inspect and select the healthiest looking plants with firm leaves and multiple buds. Be fearless. Buy one or two to add drama and elegance to your home or office. Water sparingly during bloom time. When the last flower is spent, place in a sunny windowsill and water when potting mix is dry.  Fertilize at half-strength every two weeks as summer comes to an end. Re-pot plants every two years with a mixture of bark, charcoal and peat moss. Phalaenopsis are epiphytic plants which means they require little nourishment from the soil. Their roots are used to trap moisture from the air and act as anchors to hold them in place in natural habitats of forest floors and tree trunks. Wet peat moss can also be used to top dress pots, increasing humidity. This may also regulate overall moisture levels. Orchids should never have consistently wet roots. Where possible regulate temperature to accommodate cooler nights and use a fan in lieu of open windows. Temperature drops below 55 degrees Fahrenheit can cause buds to drop so beware of drafts. Be patient. Look for signs of a new flower stalk emerging a few weeks into fall or winter.  In winter or spring all your hard work and waiting will be rewarded with strikingly beautiful and exotic flowers for months to come like mine, nestled between my Hoya bella and the coral-flowered Christmas cactus that my mom gave me many years ago.

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