Our Favorite Orchid

Creative display ideas make this easy, long-lasting flower even more gorgeous.
Gene B. Bussell

They are so beautiful that they don't seem real. Sprays of colorful blossoms hover in the air--whites, pinks, yellows, and purples with faces that can have stripes or spots. Moth orchids will simply make you stop and stare. These blooms surprise you too. Gently arching stalks sport a parade of blossoms that can create a show that will last for months.

Get the Look
Generally, orchids are grown in plastic pots, which are then placed in terra-cotta containers to be sold in stores. It's important to keep your plant in the original plastic pot until it has finished blooming. For a more dramatic display, remove the plastic pot from the terra-cotta container, and drop it in a decorative container. Here are some easy ideas that take only minutes and look great.

Think Tropical With Shades
Moth orchids echo your winter preferences. They like some warmth and love bright light but not direct sunshine. Warm days with temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees and mild nights between 60 and 65 degrees are ideal. They also appreciate humidity. Consider bright windowsills in your kitchen or bath as potential locations that have these conditions. Just give them what they want, and let them thrive.

What's in the Pot?
It used to be that all moth orchids were planted in an orchid bark medium. This allows for easy drainage and a good surface for the roots to grow. Times have changed. Now moth orchids can be purchased growing in an orchid bark medium, sphagnum moss, a combination of these, or sometimes even soil.

This makes watering a little trickier. Sphagnum moss holds moisture well, but it can also become extremely dry and hard to rewet. It's very easy to overwater orchids planted in soil. If you purchase one planted in sphagnum moss or soil, plan on repotting after it finishes blooming. Orchid bark medium, available at your local nursery or garden center, is still best.

 

Liquid Diet
It's important to fertilize your moth orchids regularly. Why? Orchid bark medium really just provides a place for the roots to adhere and get moisture but not nutrients. Use a balanced, water-soluble orchid fertilizer diluted to one-fourth or one-half strength. A rule of thumb: Water plants weekly (in the morning), and feed every other week.

Repotting
Every couple of years, it's a good idea to repot your orchid. Why? The bark mixes gradually begin to break down after awhile and start to hold moisture, causing roots to begin rotting. Remember, moth orchids prefer good drainage. Repot them in the spring after plants have finished blooming.

First, water your orchid. Then, gently pull it from its container. Remove any old potting medium from around the roots. Use sterilized scissors to trim away any brown, dead roots (live roots are firm and grayish green). Replant in a slightly larger pot; plastic containers work well. Add new orchid bark medium, and place the plant in the center of the pot on top of the new medium. The leaves of the orchid should be level with the top of the pot. Add more medium around the roots, and water. Feed your plant, and allow several weeks for it to settle.

Will It Bloom Again?
If you do not want to try to get your orchid to rebloom, pass it along to a friend with a green thumb. No guilt here. Otherwise, after your moth orchid has finished flowering, cut the bloom stalk above the node where the first flower bloomed. This should initiate a new bloom stalk. Place in a window with southeastern or southwestern exposure and indirect light. Continue to feed. New growth of leaves indicates the plant is healthy and is likely to rebloom.

 

Did You Know? 

  • Moth orchids are the most popular orchids in America. 
  • If you love vanilla, you already love orchids. This spice is derived from the fruit of the vanilla orchid. 
  • Orchids compose one of the largest groups of plants in the world with up to 30,000 species. 
  • To learn more about the fascinating world of orchids and the passion they can induce, read The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean.  
  • The American Orchid Society (AOS) is based in Delray Beach, Florida. For information on orchids, local societies, and shows in your area, visit www.aos.org.

Buying Orchids 

  • Moth orchids ( Phalaenopsis hybrids) make affordable, beautiful houseplants. They are available year-round, though late winter through early spring is their peak bloom season. When selecting, look for plants with firm green leaves. Avoid plants with yellow buds or leaves. Choose those that have just one or two blooms open and lots of buds.  
  • When you purchase an orchid this time of year, bring it straight home. Don't leave it in a cold car. Take care when moving your moth orchid. The bloom stalk is usually tied to a bamboo stake. An orchid with a full spray of blooms can be a little top-heavy and snap off if moved too suddenly--a painful experience for both you and the orchid. Should this happen, take heart; you can use the bloom as a cut flower.  
  • Moth orchids are affordable and readily available from garden shops, florists, and mass-market retailers. Prices start at around $15 for a 4-inch container and about $20 for a 6-inch container (the cost can be $50 plus for plants with multiple bloom spikes).  
  • Order gift baskets of blooming orchids from Norman's Orchids for flowers that will last for months. Also available is a tremendous selection of orchids in different sizes for both the novice and the collector. Call 1-888-467-2443, or visit www.orchids.com. Prices begin around $39 and go up to $250 for flowering gift baskets.  
  • Purchase orchids by mail from Carter and Holmes Orchids. This is a great place to shop because plants are available in multiple sizes and are reasonably priced. Plants can be purchased in spike or bud but generally are not blooming when shipped. Call 1-800-873-7086, or visit www.carterandholmes.com.
  • The Miami International Orchid Show is March 3-5. It is the largest all-orchid show in the U.S. For more information call (305) 255-3656, or visit www.southfloridaorchidsociety.org.
  • Carter and Holmes Orchids ( 629 Mendenhall Road, Newberry, SC 29108) is open to the public 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday 

"Our Favorite Orchid" is from the March 2006 issue of Southern Living.