Serious orchid growers tend to refer to their favorite pastime in language more suited to a 12-step program.
“It’s an addiction, no question,” says Toni Simmons, owner of Bloomin’ Delights Orchids and a fixture at the Saturday and Tuesday Crescent City Farmers Markets. You get hooked, she says, “when you bloom your first plant. You say, ‘I can do this!’
“After 15 years of growing orchids, I still call my friends when something blooms that I’ve never been able to bloom before. And I’m not as crazy as some.”
Orchid fans talk about the arrival of a reluctant bloom or the announcement of a new hybrid the way other people might welcome a new family member. And no wonder: whether big and showy or delicate and subtle, an orchid in bloom is mysterious, exotic and simply beautiful.
They are surprisingly easy to grow, too, if you know when to leave them alone. Most orchids prefer not to be fussed over too much. Simmons offers some other general tips to novices. Buy a plant when it’s in bloom, so you can enjoy it now and know what it will look like when it blooms again. Buy from a local grower when possible. And be patient, “because it will sometimes take a year before you see a change in a plant you’re nursing,” she says. “Nothing happens fast, except sometimes death.”
You can help avoid an existential crisis by starting with varieties that do well in our warm, humid climate. Here are four popular categories, each of which covers an aston-ishing variety of orchids:
Phalaenopsis, which sports big, open blooms, grows well indoors, particularly near an east-facing window. It’s also “very tolerant of different abuses,” Simmons says. Phalaenopsis should be repotted once a year. It can adapt to temperatures as high as 90 degrees and night temperatures no lower than 60 degrees.
Dendrobium, on the other hand, will not bloom indoors. Bring it in to enjoy the flowers, Simmons says, “but it will need to go out when it’s finished blooming.” Dendrobium, one of the largest family of orchids, generally can handle temperatures up to 90 degrees and can sustain night temperatures in the mid-fifties. It prefers bright but not direct sunlight.
Cattleya, the familiar “corsage” orchid, comes in a surprisingly broad array of sizes and colors. Like Dendrobium, Cattleya prefers bright, filtered light, and a similar temperature range, from about 55 degrees at night for a low to 85 degrees in the day. Cattleya typically blooms in spring or fall, after which new growth appears.
Oncidium, the “dancing lady” type of orchid, features sprays of small blooms on tall stems. Most varieties like bright sun, and can tolerate a little more heat than other orchids, provided they have adequate air circulation and enough humidity.
Because there are thousands of varieties of orchids growing everywhere from mountain forests to, in some cases, under the soil, offering generalizations about care is risky. It is best to talk to a grower about a specific plant and what type of climate it will be kept in. For the most part, orchids kept in the house should be grouped with other plants, where they enjoy more humidity than they would if placed alone. Simmons likes to flush hers with about a quart of water once a week and let them drain. Avid orchid growers often feed their plants weekly. However, for most people growing inside, twice-monthly doses are usually sufficient, using fertilizer specifically made for orchids. •
For Orchid Lovers
The New Orleans Orchid Society’s (895-1115) annual show takes place June 3 to 5 at Lakeside Shopping Center. Fifteen growers and several orchid supply vendors will be on hand. The group also holds meetings the third Tuesday of every month at the New Orleans Botanical Garden in City Park. The Orchid Society of Jefferson Parish (279-4348) meets the first Monday of each month at 701 Amelia St. in Gretna.
This article appears in the May 2005 issue of New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles