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I have a handful of phalaenopsis about the house, and three of them have just begun to shoot up a bloom spike that, once in bloom (probably still about a month away), will bloom for months, if I keep them out of direct sunlight. One plant is like 10 fresh cut bouquets, and they are so delicately lovely you just can’t beat them as a nice Valentine gesture.
The phalaenopsis, or butterfly orchid, is a Valentine’s favorite because it keeps on giving (and will do so annually). This orchid is considered an epiphyte, or air plant, so it is accustomed to absorbing nutrients and moisture from the air. The loosely packed growing medium of bark mimics this environment by allowing good air circulation and drainage. Good drainage is extremely important.
For most indoor environments, watering once a week will do. Allow the bark to dry out before you water again. I have found that the surest way to kill a phalaenopsis is by over-watering. The mantra for orchid growers is “water weakly, weekly.” Once a month you should water with a diluted solution of fertilizer.
Another lovely and easy orchid that has a long lasting bloom is the lady slipper. Phaphiopedilum species, which are generally found at local nurseries and florists, can be put in two different categories. Those with mottled foliage are typically considered warm season orchids that prefer nighttime temperature above 60 degrees; those with green foliage are considered cool season lovers that prefer above 50 degrees at night. This is an important distinction if you will be summering your orchids outdoors. Bring them in accordingly, as night time temperatures drop in the fall.
Lady slippers bloom in the winter. They prefer lower light levels as they grow in the shade; a fine to medium bark potting mixture is best because it will help to maintain a more consistent moisture level. Lady slippers are harder to kill from over-watering, because they actually like more even moisture. Use a diluted solution of fertilizer every couple of weeks and you should have winter bloom every year.
And for the fresh cut bouquet, you can do a few things to make it last a bit longer, too. If the bouquet is not in water when you receive it, the first order of business is to re-cut the stems and get them in some water. Bacteria clogs stems, so re-cutting and changing the water every couple of days is key for long-lasting blooms. It’s also important to remove any leaves that will fall below the water line once in the vase. Foliage will foul the water more quickly. Don’t set the vase in direct sunlight, and you can even put the whole vase in the refrigerator at night while you sleep; that’s true love!
(Jeneen Wiche is an avid gardener from Shelbyville. She can be reached at www.JWiche@shelbybb.net.)