Monday, September 28, 2009

They're Not My Kids, They're Orchids

Lately I’ve been trying to grow orchids. It’s not as if I’m an expert at growing house plants. I’ve actually killed dozens unintentionally, out of ignorance. When I worked full time I starved my house plants, forgetting to water them until they shriveled and turned to dust. When I left my job to raise children full time, I started over watering them until they all drowned to death. About a year ago I decided to start taking better care of my house plants, since they make the house a healthier and more aesthetically pleasing environment.

When my oldest son was recovering from pneumonia, I started researching the health benefits of keeping house plants, and found out that some of the best plants to keep inside are also some of the ugliest and easiest to care for. I went online with a list of the names of plants in my house that had not yet succumbed to my ineptness at indoor gardening and found out within seconds what makes each one of them happy. Soon I was dividing my spider plants and re-potting their children. My ivies were flourishing and I had enough bamboo plants throughout the house to hide a platoon of soldiers. I learned that ivy, bamboo, and spider plants are very easy to keep, and they don’t mind low light. I was ready to move on to harder types.

Feeling a bit impatient, and over ambitious, as is my nature, I bought a more difficult kind of plant that I had killed several times before. This one was so beautiful that I actually felt really sad when I burnt it to a crisp in a spot that was a wee bit too sunny. It had the most stunning flowers because it was an orchid. I consider the orchid to be a very tricky houseplant, but well worth the trouble.

My grandmother has several growing in her kitchen window, and they are stunning. She gave me a magazine stocked with helpful articles on different species of orchids, and information on how to grow them. I went out and bought another from my local grocery store, and then grandma sent me a nice baby orchid she ordered from a nursery in Chicago. I did some research on them and fell in love. These plants are so cool looking, and exotic. I’ve been keeping orchids for about six weeks now, and they are all currently still thriving.

If you understand this plant, you don’t have to be a green thumb to enjoy it in your home for years. Orchids grow naturally in rain forests in the Philippines, Hawaii, and Africa. They are either epiphytic, (growing on trees), or lithophytic, (growing on stones). Both ways they are very cool! The easiest types of orchids to keep in the house are Phalaenopsis, Paphiopedilum, Dendrobium, and Oncidium. All three of mine are types of Phalaenopsis, and it seems that all the stores that carry orchids have this species available. The others that I mentioned may be easier to grow, but they are hard to find in the store. You may have to order them from an orchid nursery.

In general, the leaves of your orchid should be lime green; lemon yellow means too much sun exposure, while cucumber green leaves indicate that a plant is not receiving enough light. Your plant should have 4-5 leaves at all times, and as new leaves sprout, old ones will wilt and fall off. Each species of orchid has specific likes and dislikes when it comes to water, light and plant food, (and you thought your kids were picky).

Phalaenopsis likes water once a week. It does not like “wet feet,” so water just enough to keep the potting medium moist just below the surface. My grandmother shared with me her trick of testing the dampness of the pot. Use a long wooden skewer and press it down into the bark. If it comes up dry, water the plant. You should use a high nitrate fertilizer every time you water the plant, but do not exceed one teaspoon per month. The best type of food is one that is specifically made for orchids, but I have been too lazy to get that, and I’ve been using Miracle Grow. It seems to work.

Phalaenopsis like bright light, but not direct sun. An east window is best. The temperature of the room should not fall below sixty degrees at night, and make sure there is not a cold draft near the plant. Low temperatures can cause a plant to stop blooming, but expect no flowers for whole seasons. When the blooms have faded, you can cut the spike above the highest node and you’ll get a new bud. The types of Phalaenopsis orchids that I have bloom spring through fall, and go dormant in the winter months. Species that bloom in winter are readily available at orchid nurseries.

Some roots hang out over the pot; that’s what they like to do. Those are called “air roots.” Most orchids are potted in bark, but some types are mounted on wood. It’s good to be able to see the roots, so pick a plant in a clear pot. One of the orchids that I bought at the grocery store had some moldy roots. I took the plant out of the decorative pot and just let it sit in a sunny spot in the clear plastic inner container. A few days later the mold was gone. If your plant starts to smell, then you should re-pot it right away because that means the mold is killing it.

In short, growing orchids, like raising kids, may be difficult at times, but when they bloom, they are such a wonderful blessing well worth the attention. There is a lesson in this endeavor: patience. Orchids look so beautiful when they flower, and the color variations are surprising. Let me know if you grow orchids, and please send me tips so I can continue to keep mine alive at the Christie house!

Pictures are from my orchid collection at home. This post is also published on Mom Writer's Literary Magazine Blog today.


rhymeswithplague said...

This post is a Godsend as Mrs. RWP and I were recently given a beautiful orchid plant (Phalaenopsis, I think) by some dinner guests and we didn't have a clue how to care for it. Thank you!

Loren Christie said...

Thanks, I'm glad it was useful to you!

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

Plants are so complex and interesting! You could really devote your life to raising houseplants if you wanted to. I don't know if I'm ready for orchids. Maybe I can take home one of your spider babies and I'll give you one of my angel plant babies and we'll see if they survive in each other's homes!

Loren Christie said...

That sounds great Elizabeth, I'll trade.

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Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.


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