February Gardening 2014

by Jane Ahrens

From Mélie’s Garden

On Valentines Day, many lucky people are given orchids.  Their blooms are enjoyed for a number of months during the winter. The flowers then fade and fall off leaving an empty flower stalk and a plant with green leaves.  I am not an orchid expert and have only grown the easiest type of orchid called phalaenopsis (the moth orchid), but I have had pretty good success with healthy ones in getting them to bloom again.

Once the blooms have dropped, cut the stalk down with sharp scissors to the leaf level and with good care the orchid will bloom again in a year.  Or, if the empty stalk is still green, cut it to just above one or two of the lowest nodes and hope that it will encourage a second set of smaller flowers this year.  If the stalk has turned brown it will not produce flowers, so cut it down and wait for next winter.

Phalaenopis orchids grow in the jungle and are known as “mid-canopy epiphytes”.  They live in trees, high up in filtered sunlight.  During the rainy season, they actively grow in the warmth and humidity.  When the dry season comes the plants get more sun light due to the lack of cloud cover and the temperature drops at night. A grower of houseplant orchids needs to try to recreate the jungle environment, as best they can, for the plants to thrive.

In the Northeast, summer nighttime temperatures are in the 70s, and in the winter, house temperatures drop into the 60s or lower. I have a neighbor, in New York, who puts his orchids in the refrigerator overnight to encourage them to bloom, but that is probably due to the higher overall temperatures in an apartment.  I have found that the natural drop of temperature in our house at Fishers Island seems to do the trick after a month or so of cooler weather. My orchids live near a southwest window all year long, with shades often down during the summer to keep out damaging sunlight. The plants seem to be happy in this combination of filtered summer light and drop in nighttime temperatures during the winter.

My plants are grown in terracotta orchid pots filled with a store bought orchid mix.  I sprinkle ozmocote, a slow release fertilizer, on the top of the mix.  They get a good shower in the sink once per week.  After the pot has drained well, I then dry off the leaves near the crown with a paper towel, so that no water is left in any crevices, which would cause rot.  I place the orchids back near the southwest window in saucers filled with pebbles. The pebbles allow additional water to drain. An orchid should never sit in water; remember they like to grow in trees.  The damp pebbles will create a bit of humidity for the plant for a day or two after watering, which makes a slightly tropical atmosphere. If you have a wood stove or use your fireplace often, orchids will not be happy in the room, unless you run a cool humidifier near the plants.

Once the days start to get longer in February, the orchid flower stalks should start to appear and I am always thrilled to see them.  My orchid growing philosophy has always been, “survival of the fittest” and I have had about as many failures as successes.  This has brought me to the conclusion that some orchid plants are just healthier than others, no matter how well you care for them, and that’s probably true in the jungle as well.  Happy Valentines Day!

Featured Photo

USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay. Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

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