The cure for spring fever this second week of February is to take home Hawaii. Creating your own indoor, tropical paradise has never been easier thanks to new advances in orchid breeding that make growing orchids as houseplants as simple as falling off a surf board. (I've done both.)
We recently took a group of garden lovers to the Big Island of Hawaii and there at the Sheraton resort near Kona we were greeted with a warm aloha along with orchid and bromeliad plants in the lobby. We also stopped at an orchid farm and greenhouse and talked to some down-to-earth growers about how we could make tropical plants happy in our dark and dreary winter homes.
The easy answer is to choose a phalaenopsis orchid, the variety with the flatter face, also called the moth orchid. You may think of phalaenopsis orchids as only blooming in white, but you can now buy them in multiple shades of pink, purple yellow and there are even phalaenopsis orchids with polka dots. No room for house plants? In small areas you can grow the adorable mini-orchids.
The new tetra-ploid hybrid orchids will now thrive in low indoor light. In other words, you don’t need a greenhouse to grow phalaenopsis orchids – but you do need a bright window to keep any orchid happy during our dark winter months.
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There’s more good news if you thought orchids were expensive plants. The price of orchid plants has dropped dramatically over the last ten years, making orchids very affordable as winter-blooming houseplants.
But I know the fear. Nobody wants to kill off a plant as lovely and beautiful as an orchid.
So here’s the secrets to success and How Not to Kill Your Orchid Plant
Drowning: Don’t let your orchid sit in water. Phalaenopsis orchids need moist soil and high humidity – so set your plant onto a tray or deep dish filled with pebbles – but make sure the bottom of the pot is not in standing water.
Thirst: Don’t let your orchid dry out. The potted plant you buy will be growing in either bark, moss or perlite. This is because the thick roots need lots of air. But these soil-free mixes dry out quickly. Feel the top and water just before it becomes dry to the touch.. Each home is different so there is no set time about how often to water. Water more often when the orchid is in bloom but don’t get the leaves or flowers wet as this encourages disease.
Starvation and obesity: Don’t over feed your orchid – or forget to feed. Your orchid will turn brown with leaf burn if given too much fertilizer. Dilute liquid fertilizer to half-strength or use a slow-release plant food such as Osmocote, following instructions on the label. Don’t fertilize a blooming orchid.
Depression: Don’t place the plant in a dark corner. The best part about the new phalaenopsis orchids are that they will bloom in lower light. But they still need a bright window when grown indoors. In our climate, during the dark winter months this means less than one foot away from a window that faces South or West.
Good genes, tough plants: Buy a healthy plant. Always buy an orchid in bloom or bud. The flowers can last up to 3 months in a cool room so be sure the blooming stem has at least a few unopened buds for a long bloom time. Once your orchid is done blooming let it rest a few months in a cool room. When it notices a drop in day temperature in the autumn months your orchid plant will send up a new spike of blooms.
Tropical plants that bloom in the winter is just what we all need if Hawaii isn’t on the agenda.
Congratulations. You not only didn’t kill your orchid, you got it to bloom again.
Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her Web site at www.binettigarden.com.