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Orchid School: A Few Pointers

Thursday, October 20, 2016

There's a whole lotta pottin' goin' on on Indigo Hill. 

Nothing like about 10 days in the 80's in mid-October to get me out and washing orchids! It's the kind of thing that I have to be in the right mood to do. If I'm in the right mood, it's fun. Not in the right mood: endless wet drudgery. 

What? You don't wash your orchids?  Every couple of years, I repot mine. I knock them out of their pots, rinse every bit of medium off their roots.  Before I put them in new medium and clean pots, I wash their leaves with a hard spray of cool water, rubbing away scale and the sugar deposits they leave. Then I clip off anything rotty: brown spongy roots, old withered pseudobulbs if they're the type of orchid that makes pseudobulbs. 

This year, I'm potting everything in nice long-staple sphagnum moss. It's the blonde stuff that comes in dried bricks. I'm using sphagnum not just because it's way cheaper than Aussie Gold. I'm using it because I've noticed that the best, firmest, greenest roots are forming in the orchids I've potted in sphagnum. They're healthy and not rotting because they've got ample air in this light weight, non-packing medium. For some fine pointers on sphagnum quality, go here.

Your results may vary. Sphagnum works well for me here in Ohio. If you live in a super-humid place,  you might do better with coco fiber medium or even bark. 

I'm sprinkling some Aussie Gold medium into the sphagnum, but overall it's 90% moss.  I soak the moss before packing it loosely around the roots. 

I took the opportunity to hack up a massive jewel orchid that was overgrown and flopping out of its pot. In the center is the mother plant. All around it are the long floppy stems I snapped off at their joints. I got 13 of 'em, and put them all to root in moist sphagnum in another container. 

I noticed that jewel orchids seem to send down roots to about 5" deep in the pot, then quit. The growth habit is to spread, laterally. So what they want is a pot that's wider than it is deep. Not having one of those, I put some  spacers in the form of deli containers and lava rock in the bottom of a big 10" pot, and heaped the sphagnum medium atop that. That should help get air to the roots, and encourage good drainage.

Mother plant to the left, nicely trimmed back and now with room to expand, and cuttings to the right. Discarded stems at bottom. I didn't use any rooting hormone because this is one badass orchid...I think those cuttings will root without any help. 

Add Bacon and sun, and you get happy Zick. I like to say that plant propagation is my only vice. I would happily develop some more, but opportunity is lacking. 

This is what jewel orchids do in midwinter! I love them best in candalabra bud.

But when those little white flowers open: Redonk!! It's too much.

The nice thing about this plant is the glorious velvety leaves with deep maroon reverse. Also the fact that it cannot be stopped, and I've never found an insect that bothers it. So I'm propagatin' on with my bad self.

I have 32 orchids, and tending to them all took parts of three days. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to spend the time it takes to tend them.  I'm not replacing my big orchids as they slowly pass on. I don't need more stuff to care for. But the collecting urge is still strong, so I'm downsizing. The only orchids I buy any more are the mini Phalaenopsis that I find at the grocery store. I love them so.  They fit on my kitchen windowsill: big plus.  I can add just one or two more without too much crowding. And the bunch of them in midwinter, going nuts on my kitchen sill, gets me through February.

If you're an orchid connoisseur, don't walk by ones that look like this one, below.  It may not be the most striking in color, but it's got a secret. It's got Phalaenopsis schilleriana in its parentage, which you can tell by its lightly mottled leaves, pale pink coloration, and heavenly incredible paradisiacal FRAGRANCE. Muguet from Venus.

These get to sit on my drawing board, and get picked up and inhaled about 60 times a day.

Since orchids in grocery stores rarely are warm or happy enough to emanate any fragrance, the other tipoff for P. schilleriana is the little moustache at the bottom of the flower's lower lip. 

This one's a real dandy--beautiful leaves. You probably won't find a beauty like this in a grocery store. But these are the characteristics that say it's going to be fragrant. Keep in mind that they may not emanate if the ambient temperature is under about 75 degrees. When mine bloom in mid-winter, they rarely emit any fragrance. But ohhh those midsummer and autumn blooms.There's a wee schilleriana at my elbow right now.


Whelp, I have now descended the bunny hole in search of moar orchids... My three mini-phals just simply aren't enough (despite Joe's protests that the kitchen window is full !FULL! already). The future looks very colorful and fragrant from here.

I'm generally safe from orchid urges but I didn't know they ever had a fragrance. Hmmm my pass through is currently empty. hmmm. The one houseplant I really really tried to keep was a gardenia and I failed spectacularly. I don't even know if those are ever meant to be houseplants but we were having a horrible winter and I was snorting it like cocaine at a nursery greenhouse and figured what the hell? Thanks for the inspiration.

My orchids are so hardy. I repotted them last year so I will do so again next. I haven't seen the two you highlighted. I will be on the look out for them. I love the pattern in their leaves as well as the blooms.

Another difference in our climes. Orchids here live in trees. Sadly too high for me to snort them!

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