Or­chid ob­ses­sion

Tips for grow­ing the king of house­plants

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - By Jen­nifer Fong

SO beau­ti­ful and so ex­otic-looking. It’s easy to as­sume that or­chids are dif­fi­cult to grow. But or­chid ex­perts say they’re sur­pris­ingly tough — es­pe­cially the pha­laenop­sis, a par­tic­u­larly hardy va­ri­ety.

I would call those the king of the house­plants, says Lynne Copeland, past-pres­i­dent of the Or­chid So­ci­ety of Al­berta (OSA). I don’t think there is any other house­plant that you can grow that has as much to of­fer as those plants do. It’s easy. Any­one can do it.

Copeland, who has been grow­ing or­chids for 11 years, cur­rently main­tains 250 plants in her South­ern Al­berta home of In­n­is­fail. Once you’ve grown or­chids, you never grow other house­plants again, she says. They’re very, very ad­dic­tive, and they’re just so much more in­ter­est­ing and so much more re­ward­ing, I think.

In search of the se­cret to grow­ing fab­u­lous or­chids, we asked Copeland to share her top tips. Choose the right or­chid I think the No. 1 thing is to choose a plant that’s ap­pro­pri­ate to your en­vi­ron­ment, and to choose one that’s ap­pro­pri­ate to your ex­pe­ri­ence, too, says Copeland.

For most win­dowsill grow­ers in Al­berta, that means an or­chid that’s been bred for low hu­mid­ity and low light lev­els. Many peo­ple are spell­bound by spec­tac­u­lar blooms seen at shows, says Copeland, but if you don’t do your re­search, you could very well end up with a plant that re­quires a rain­for­est cli­mate you can’t cre­ate at home.

If you try to grow some­thing like that in your apart­ment, it’s go­ing to die, she warns.

It’s very easy to for­get that when you see all the beau­ti­ful types that are out there. Ex­pe­ri­enced grow­ers do it all the time.

For the begin­ner green thumb, Copeland rec­om­mends the pha­laenop­sis. They come in just a ter­rific va­ri­ety of sizes, and colours and flower forms.

Next, opt for an or­chid that’s got an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion tag. If you ever get to a point with the plant where you’re do­ing re­ally well with it and you’re get­ting a lit­tle more in­volved in the hobby and you want to put it in a show, you can’t get a rib­bon or an award on an anony­mous plant, Copeland warns.

It has to have an ID tag to have any kind of stand­ing in the or­chid world, oth­er­wise, it’s just a name­less plant and it’s re­ally not el­i­gi­ble for any­thing.

The or­chid you buy should be in moist — not soggy or bonedry — sphag­num moss or bark chips with roots that are firm and whitish green.

Gen­tly lift the whole plant out of the pot and make sure you ac­tu­ally have healthy roots, Copeland ad­vises. Place your plant in an or­chid-friendly area Keep con­di­tions tem­per­ate by plac­ing your or­chid away from cold drafts or hot-air fur­naces and strong, di­rect sun­light.

What they like gen­er­ally is bright, in­di­rect light, says Copeland, so east or west win­dows usu­ally work well. You don’t need to be park­ing them in a south win­dow and let­ting them re­ally cook.

While or­chids like hu­mid­ity, it’s not a re­quire­ment. If you have an ap­pro­pri­ate spot near a kitchen sink or a bath­room, it helps. Make sure to main­tain or­chid care To keep your or­chid happy, start a Weekly Weakly pro­gram: Use a weak fer­til­izer so­lu­tion and feed at half-strength once a week. Once you’ve got that down, just be care­ful not to over­wa­ter, which Copeland says is of­ten the big­gest mis­take new­bies make.

Typ­i­cally, plants should be wa­tered once a week, if they’re grow­ing in moss, and two or three times a week, if they’re grow­ing in bark chips. Moss should be changed once a year be­fore it rots.

To get your or­chids bloom­ing year af­ter year, be sure to give your plant a tem­per­a­ture drop of about 5 C nightly for about three weeks in the fall.

If you’re a typ­i­cal home­owner in Al­berta and you turn your ther­mo­stat down at night a few de­grees, you’re go­ing to get that drop any­way, and that’s all you’re go­ing to have to do, Copeland says. That’s re­ally what trig­gers flow­er­ing in those plants.

She guar­an­tees you’ll start see­ing new flower spikes by Jan­uary, and they’ll be bloom­ing by March. Put enough love into it, and you’ll have an or­chid that will love you back for decades.

I cer­tainly know peo­ple in the so­ci­ety who have plants that they’ve been grow­ing for 25 to 30 years, Copeland says.

And the nice thing about them is that, as they get older, they tend to get bet­ter. As it ages, it will put out more and more flower spikes, and a lot of those be­come ever-bloom­ing.

— Canwest News Ser­vice

Or­chids look amaz­ing, but de­spite their beauty, they’re ac­tu­ally pretty hardy, enough to sur­vive all but the brownest of

thumbs.

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