Caring for Your Supermarket Orchid
For over a decade, orchids have been appearing commonly in stores everywhere. You can find orchids, primarily the moth orchid (Phalaenopsis), not only in the florist shop but in the grocery store and in big box stores like Home Depot. The internet is filled with advice on how to care for these orchids and how to make them bloom again. Despite the availability of all of this information and advice, these beautiful, exotic plants remain a mystery to many.
To keep an orchid healthy, happy, and blooming, it is important to know a little bit about how orchids grow in their natural environments. Although orchids can be found on every continent except the Antarctic, the types of orchids most readily available to us in the grocery store are from tropical climates. The most ubiquitous orchid – the moth orchid – is native to Southeast Asia. It is an epiphytic plant which means, in its native environment, it uses its long aerial roots to attach to trees where it receives just enough light, warmth, rain water, and air flow for it to thrive. This is very different from how we find orchids in the grocery store – in a small pot and in a chilly environment. However, it is possible to take these orchids home and keep them happy and healthy! Let’s look at a few important factors.
Choose the right day to buy an orchid. If you take your new orchid out into freezing cold temperatures, to a cold vehicle, the plant could sustain damage or could die. This is true also with hot weather conditions. Although many orchids grow in the tropics, the temperature in an over-heated, stuffy car can be too much for an orchid. The tropics are hot but an orchid growing in that environment is adapted to the temperature and has access to air flow and humidity. When purchasing your orchid, ask the store to wrap the plant to protect it from temperature extremes once it leaves the store. Bring the plants home as soon as you are able. Once at home, keep the orchid at 60-65⁰F at night and 70-85⁰F during the day.
Growing attached to a tree in the wild, a moth orchid receives dappled or filtered light. Your new orchid does need a good amount of light but try to position your orchid out of direct or harsh sunlight conditions. South-facing windows tend to have the harshest sunlight. If you only have a south-facing window, position the orchid back from the window a distance.
Imagine a brief rain show in the tropics. Rain washes over the orchid and its roots and quickly drains away. This is good to keep in mind when you water your orchid. Take your plant to the sink to water it. Focus on watering at the base of the plant and its roots. Try not to get water on the leaves or flowers. As you water the orchid, allow the water to drain out of the bottom of the pot into the sink. Watch as the white aerial roots change from white to green. Orchid roots are covered with a spongy layer of cells called velamen. The cells in the velamen layer open when water hits them. This is the way the orchid takes on and stores water until the next watering. You will see the roots above the soil turn back to white in a day or two. This is ok. Because your orchid is in a pot, the roots beneath the soil layer stay moist for a long time. This is why it is important not to over-water your orchid as the plant can rot or develop diseases. Water your orchid once a week, or twice a week in very hot, dry weather.
Fertilize your orchid once a month with a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10). Get a fertilizer that dissolves in water. Water with the fertilizer as you would with a weekly watering.
Growing and Flowering
The question I hear most about orchids is, “My orchid has stopped flowering – is it dead?” Much like any other plant, orchids have a flowering cycle and a dormancy period. The moth orchid typically blooms once a year, with many flowers along the flower spike. Blooms may last several months. Eventually, the flowers will wither and drop, leaving a bare flower stem. This is normal. It is important to keep your orchid healthy during the ensuing dormant period. Continue to give your orchid good growing conditions – proper light and air circulation, water, good drainage – and continue to fertilize once a month. Your plant may grow new aerial roots. This is normal. Eventually, you may see a new flower spike emerge from beneath a leaf and will grow upwards. This may take a full year as your orchid continues to acclimate to the conditions in your home.
In Closing …
Beautiful and exotic, orchids capture our attention and imagination, and have done so for centuries. You can bring a bit of their exotic beauty into your home. The care of orchids may seem daunting but by following a few rules of proper plant care and culture, you can enjoy happy, healthy, and beautiful orchids in your home.