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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Buying Your First Orchid

Things to Know Before Orchid Fever Turns Into Orchid Panic 

Try to walk past a florist's shop window full of orchids without turning your head. Go on, I dare you! How could you not pause to look at something so exquisite in beauty and complexity? There is an undeniable star quality present in orchids that sets them apart from garden-variety geraniums and pansies. Many a wallflower has been left behind in the orchid's rise in popularity over the years to its current status as one of the most popular flowering plants sold the world over.

Now, before you rush out and buy the first orchid that catches your fancy, you might want to pause for a moment to get better acquainted. For starters, you should ask how long the blooms last. Will it bloom again and is there anything you should do to help it along? Do you plan on keeping this plant for a few years, or will you simply discard it once its blooms have faded?

Most orchid flowers should last somewhere between two and six weeks in the home. For a much longer bloom period, choose phalaenopsis orchids, which can last anywhere from one to four months or more in bright, indirect light. Since the great majority of orchids sold every year are phalaenopsis, commonly called moth orchids, chances are this is the variety that you are most familiar with.

Moth orchid blooms can measure anywhere from 2-4" in diameter and are mostly found in white or shades of purple. For an interesting variation, look for striped or spotted moth orchids. Among my personal favorites are the white Harlequin-style varieties bearing spots in shades of burgundy and purple. Also of note are the harder to find, but spectacular-looking, yellow moth orchid cultivars with red stripes. Miniature moth orchids are also available in diminutive 1" diameter blooms and can be found in a wide range of colors.

If your conditions tend to be a bit on the shady side, try the very exotic-looking paphiopedilums, also called lady slipper orchids. You might also have success growing Ludisia discolor, the jewel orchid, which has wonderful blackish-brown leaves with reddish-brown stripes and bears tiny columnar clusters of white flowers.

For a sunny window try oncidiums, a large group of orchids commonly referred to as ‘dancing ladies,’ so called because their large sprays of blooms appear to dance in the wind. You might also look at cattleyas, a particularly showy, colorful, and often deliciously fragrant group of orchids.

A few other things to take note of when shopping for orchids are an equal mix of buds and open blooms, healthy looking green leaves free of spots or abrasions, and a vigorous root system. Buying an orchid with around three-quarters of its blooms already open will ensure greater longevity and enjoyment of your orchid flowers.

Black, brown, or yellow spotting on an orchid's leaves or roots could be a sign that improper watering, extreme temperatures, or a fungal problem may exist, and these plants are better off avoided altogether.

Healthy orchid roots are thick and white or greenish-white, and they may be growing so vigorously that they've escaped from their containers entirely and are hanging over the sides. This is an indication of good health, as orchids grown in their native rainforest environment like to have their roots dangling in the tree canopy to catch run-off from moisture and nutrients. You should saturate all of an orchid's roots every time you water to prevent dieback of either roots or foliage.

Following these steps will ensure months or even years of satisfaction from your new orchid, as well as a refreshing taste of the tropics indoors to enjoy year-round.

More information about the author and celebrated New York City landscape designer Amber Freda can be found on her website,

1 comment:

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