I've heard many of you say that you can't grow orchids. Full confession: I've had my share of orchid frustrations, too, but I've been determined to figure out what I did wrong. Growing a happy orchid can't be rocket science! Let's unearth the secret to growing a happy, healthy orchid.
Before we begin, let's assume the orchids being referred to are Phalaenopsis (also known as moth orchids). They are the most popular and the most common orchids because they are easy to grow. First let's address when your new orchid arrives home. Most orchids do not need to be transplanted until it has finished flowering. However, if the roots are circling the pot or if the pot has no drainage, then it's best not to wait to repot.
CHOOSING A POT
Look for pots that have good drainage as orchids do not like to sit in water. Terra cotta pots work well because they are porous and allow the roots to breathe. Some orchid pots have openings in the sides that allow extra air circulation for the roots which is a good thing! Choose a pot that is one size bigger than the one it is currently in. Orchid roots like to be cozy in their home. Clean the roots off and place the orchid in it's new pot. Use an orchid bark mix. Most mixes have perlite and charcoal included with the bark.
WHAT ARE THOSE CREEPY TENTACLES?
Have you wondered about this? Those alien-looking things are not tentacles or roots that need to be pushed back into the pot. They are air roots and can indicate the health of the plant. Firm and fleshy is a good sign! And please don't cut them off - just let them be, hanging out above the pot.
Phalaenopsis Orchids are quite content in an east-facing window or any spot in a room that has bright, natural light.
WHAT ABOUT USING ICE CUBES?
As orchid guru, Marc Hachadourian, says, save the ice cubes for your drinks - not your orchids! The best way to water them is to take them to the sink about once a week and water from the top, letting the water flush through the bottom. Water less frequently in fall and winter and always check to make sure they feel dry before watering.
WHEN TO FEED THEM
Orchids need to be fertilized after repotting and when done flowering. Most orchid fertilizers are fairly balanced in their N-P-K levels to ensure that leaves stay dark green and to promote flowering. Try to use one with more phosphorus (a higher middle number) every 2-3 waterings to encourage new blooms.
HOW TO HELP THEM REBLOOM
This is the question I hear the most: How do I get it to bloom again? Here are a few tips:
1. First, if the flower stem has turned brown, cut it down to the base. If the stem is still green and the leaves and air roots are healthy, cut back the green stem just above the third or fourth node. It may send out a new shoot of flowers from that node. If the plant doesn't look terrifically healthy, then cut the green stem back to about an inch above where it rises from the leaves.
2. If orchids haven't bloomed for 6-12 months, move them to a cooler spot and continue to feed them with a bloom-boosting fertilizer.
Orchids like a humid environment, so group orchids together with ferns to raise the humidity level and/or keep the pots on trays of pebbles that are kept moist.
Those are the basics! If you want to learn more, I highly recommend these two books which are written for beginner orchid growers. Both are available here in the shoppe:
If growing orchids has frustrated you in the past, give it another try,
and let me know how it goes. Happy growing!
I find it so exciting to discover a new perennial garden gem that performs well in my SE Wisconsin garden and then feel the need to make sure everyone else knows it and falls in love with it, too. The last few years, my fondness of Geums has grown into pure infatuation as I indulge in adding more to the garden every year. So here is my attempt to charm you with them as well.
Geum, also known as Avens, is a member of the rose family so it is not surprising that it has a 5-petaled inflorescence like roses and apple blossoms. What is surprising, no matter how many times I see them in bloom, is how much they resemble miniature roses with their double layers of petals. They add a touch of elegance to the garden with their tidy and attractive, deep-green foliage and their lovely flowers that dangle above on wiry stems.
Species & Hybrid Cultivars
There are over 50 species of Geum. One of the most well-loved one here in Wisconsin is Geum triflorum (Prairie smoke) which is native to the midwest. Although other species originated in Greece and Turkey, the midwest has another claim to the many hybrid cultivars. Since 2006, Brent Horvath at Intrinsic Perennial Gardens in Hebron, IL has been breeding a new series of Geum called the Cocktail series. ‘Cosmopolitan’, ‘Mai Tai’, ‘Tequila Sunrise’, ‘Banana Daiquiri’, just to name a few, vary in colors ranging from yellows, bright orange, and sweet pinks, rose, cream, and peach. Even the creamy white-colored ‘Champagne’ is charming and is more robust than the others in the series.
How to Care for Geum
Geum make good cut flowers to admire indoors in a vase. They grow 12-18” tall when in bloom and are deer and rabbit resistant. In clay soil, they can be short-lived, so place them in a spot that is well-drained and receives morning sun accompanied by shade in the afternoon. Dividing them every few years can also help prolong their life span. The lovely blooms begin to open as early as late April and can last into June.
Remove spent flowers to extend the bloom period. In spring, fertilize established Geum lightly once annually with a granular fertilizer (try an organic one by Fox Farm or Espoma). By the way, this is how and when most perennials should be fertilized. When you clean out your beds in spring, apply the fertilizer to slowly feed through the season, then top with mulch. Faded blooms can be deadheaded to prolong bloom time, but leave a few on so you don’t miss their cool wispy seed heads. Don’t be too hasty to deadhead Prairie Smoke, or you will miss why it is so named.
Designing with Geum
Geum are ideal for rock gardens as long as the soil isn’t too dry. Plant them in drifts of 3, 5, or 7 along the front of the border in a staggered manner to create a naturalized look. Remember there are no straight lines in nature! Plant other spring-bloomers nearby like Polygonatum ’Prince Charming’ and mix in summer bloomers to compliment the Geum foliage. One of my favorite combinations is Geum x ‘Champagne’ planted with Hosta ‘First Frost’ and Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (see above). The effect of the greens, purples and creams is stunning elegance.
Have you been convinced or at least intrigued? Seek them out - it is worth the effort.