What is Valentine's Day without expounding on some favorite, romantic plants? Roses are the traditional flower to give on this day of lovers, but as many of my gardening cohorts know, orchids are one of my favorite types of plant life.
According to Orchids of Minnesota by Welby Smith, estimates note upwards to 23,000 species of orchids in the world (7-10% of flowering plants). In Minnesota, we have 42 wild orchids that migrated here - a surprise as we think of orchids as fragile plants and tropical. But think of our state flower - the showy lady's slipper (Cypripedium reginae) - it is an orchid and grows in ditches along our roads! These are some tough organisms - and I find them a real pleasure to grow. Today it's easy and inexpensive to buy orchids - especially moth orchids (Phaleanopsis or "phals" ). I admit to buying one of my most reliable phals at IKEA! (it was my first and pictured here in full bloom).
I have found the limitations for growing orchids as houseplants similar to other houseplants: light, water, and patience - especially true in the case of orchids. Growers also need to appreciate the whole plant - not just the blossoms - as healthy leaves and firm, strong roots mean flowers are in the future. Most orchids perform best in a bright window in the winter months and filtered sun in the summer. Moth orchids are more tolerant of lower light situations indoors (another good reason for trying one). Keep leaves clear of dust too using a soft damp cloth.
Let your orchid dry out between watering and use rainwater, melted snow, or RO water (reverse osmosis and refillable at many grocery stores). Don't use tap water as it is usually softened and treated. Add a dilute amount of orchid fertilizer each time you water and flush plants once a month with clear water to eliminate salts that have collected. Note that plants growing in sphagnum moss will hold salts in the moss, so fertilize less often. Once a plant has finished flowering, leave the flower stem on the plant till it turns brown as sometimes they re-bud. After blooming, the leaves may appear wilted and dull, but continue good care and they will return to their thick, green condition. Celebrate new leaves and the crazy silvery roots as they indicate a a healthy plant and more flowers to come.
Take a look at our publication Phalaenopsis and Paphiopedilum species: Easy orchids to grow as houseplants. A great field trip for any orchid enthusiast - beginner or expert - is to the Como Park Conservatory, the conservatory at the U of MN Landscape Arboretum or, if you need a greenhouse shopping experience (as I recently did on a -20 degree day), visit Orchids Limited in Plymouth MN.
Recently, a new Extension Master Gardener intern told how orchids grew everywhere in her homeland. All I could do was sigh.... Enjoy these pics and happy Valentine's Day!