Gay But No Green Thumb

7 01 2008

Dear Alex: Your orchids are gorgeous! Why does every orchid I get always die? I’m even gay, which I thought was supposed to mean I have a genetic “green thumb.” Help!

Love’em but Kill’em

Dear LbK,

There is no genetic gay green thumb. It is a myth perpetuated by anyone who can’t arrange flowers (i.e. most of the population). Don’t despair. Here’s a quick guide to get you up and running. Orchids, like all living things, have certain needs. You just have to fulfill them.

Phal

The first is light. You must have light. Even the orchid group I would suggest for beginners, the phalaenopsis (moth orchid pictured above) needs light. Not as much as some others, but you can’t put them in the middle of the living room with the curtains drawn and expect them to flourish. An east window is perfect, south may even get too hot in the summer and mine do fine in the west (though I do check them on hot days in summer and may bring the shade down if it’s too hot.)

These incredible plants are used to living in trees and not in soil. They receive moisture from the rain and the air. To duplicate this indoors, the orchid is planted in a “medium” rather than soil — I recommend Aussie Gold Orchid Mix which does not disintegrate and needs to be replaced less frequently than some other mixes (so less work). I also add some New Zealand Sphagnum Moss to the mix and the top of the pot to keep it from drying out too much.

Most orchids fail because of watering. This is actually easier than you think. I water my phal once per week. That is all. Once per week. They like to dry out. And how do you water? Bring the plant to the sink, run the water till it’s cool but not freezing, and give the orchid a shower with your sprayer. What you are actually doing is washing away all the salts and built-up wastes from the past week, so fill the pot a few times with water and let it drain through. Think of it as giving the orchid a cool rain shower rather than watering.

Next is fertilizer. Since the orchids are not in soil, there are no nutrients. You must supply them. I try to make things easy for myself so that I don’t have to “think” too much, so I go by the “weekly, weakly” adage. I have one of those inexpensive plastic 2 quart pitchers (like for lemonade) and some liquid fertilizer (I use liquid because it dissolves instantly). I fill the pitcher with the same temperature water I am using on the plant and put in 1/4 to 1/2 of a cap-ful of fertilizer. Mix it up. Then pour it over the plant, let it drain completely, and put it back. You’re done for a week.

I also give mine a little spritz with a mist bottle in the morning, while the tea kettle is heating and the computer is booting up.

Orchids do not grow fast, and they have growing seasons. When you purchase one, ask about the blooming cycle. The one pictured above (I call her “The Phebe” after the friend who gave her to me) sends up an inflorescence (the flower spike), blooms, and the flowers last an incredible 6 months! After I cut the spike, she sends up another immediately — she’s always in bloom (just like Phebe).

As the plant matures, it will flower more, but be patient. Orchids take time, but are definitely worth the wait.

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The Orchids of Alexander G DeWitt

6 01 2008

I live on the northwest shore, near the highest point, of a densely populated island, neighboring an estuary that lets out to the turbulent Atlantic. When one lives amidst such mountainous terrain, the greatest pleasures are often viewing the flora and fauna that have adapted to life amidst the clouds.

Doritaenopsis Fire Cracker Blue Martini Dendrobium Green LanternPurple Dendrobium

Ascda. Su-Fun Beauty ‘Orange Belle’PhaleonopsisDendrobium New Somrak White

Phaleanopsis Sogo Lion AmberBrsa. Mem. Bert Field ‘Monte Vista’Oncidium. Wild Cat ‘Norman’ AM/AOS

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