David Robson Extension Educator, Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois
Yard & Garden
Have a bloomin’ good winter
Orchids lend color to your indoor landscapes
Houseplants come and go, just like New Year’s resolutions, yet we still attempt some form of greenery indoors during the dreary winter month. More than likely, it’s our attempt to remind ourselves that we suffer winter in order to enjoy what spring has to offer.
In other words, we bridge the transition by having something green growing indoors.
And if we want to take another step toward spring, we look at more than the philodendrons, mother-in-law tongues and Chinese evergreens. We look at blooming plants.
Which is a long way around to get started talking about orchids.
Now, right away some of you are saying “Wow! I can’t grow orchids. Nope. They will die and I don’t want to be classified as a plant murderer.” That’s understandable.
Decades and centuries ago growing orchids was the hobby of the rich. You needed a greenhouse to achieve the spectacular blooms that Rex Stout’s Nero Wolf was always fussing over.
That was a misconception, at least on the growing part. Back then orchids were expensive to buy, but many weren’t that hard to grow. In the 50s, 60s and 70s, advances in tissue culturing could create thousands of new plants in a year instead of waiting until plants sent up a shoot that could be separated.
All you have to do is look at discount box stores and even grocery stores to see orchid plants for sale. And if they can survive in those environments, think what they can do in yours.
Granted, some orchids are a thorn in your back side to grow. The classic Cattleya orchid, with its large fragrant flowers are still wisely passed up, or treated as a plant that will bloom and then suffer indoors.
On the other hand, Phalaenopsis or moth orchids can tolerate most indoor conditions. Paphiopedilum or lady slippers are a little more difficult but not impossible. Then there are the Vanda, Dendrobium and Oncidium that do well, and will a little luck will rebloom.
There are five keys to keep most orchids alive and blooming.
First, they like humidity. Enduring the indoors isn’t the greatest for most plants in winter, since furnaces dry out the air. A humidifier is the best bet. Misting doesn’t work. If all else fails, keep the orchids in the bathroom shower, especially if there is a window in there.
Humidity is more important than moisture, which is why orchids are potted in bark mixtures that are kept moist by watering once or twice a week and draining the water off.
Next, avoid hot temperatures, another problem indoors during the short days. Plants prefer at least a 15 to 20 degree difference between the day and night. You could safely drop the temperature to 55 F at night and the orchids would be happy. That’s where electric blankets and mattress pads come in handy.
Third, most of the plants need lots of light, but it doesn’t have to be bright light. Since many bloom during the winter, light is more crucial during the summer months as the plants manufacture food. It doesn’t hurt to have lights during the winter, but if you take the plants outdoors during the summer, they’ll thrive. Bring them back indoors when temperatures fall to the upper 40s.
Don’t worry about how nice the foliage looks. That’s the fourth consideration. It may be spotted, shriveled, etc. As long as it’s not rotting, you are okay. You grow orchids for the flowers and not the foliage.
Finally, be patient. That’s tough. Once you get orchids adapted to your home, they should bloom yearly. However, it may take several years to get them to that point.
David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension, P.O. Box 8199, Springfield, IL 62791. Telephone: 217-782-6515.
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