Orchids forum: What do I do with my "Lowes" orchids?

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Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
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drdawg
Mar 26, 2014 8:35 AM CST
I received this message via "Mail" and thought it was something that might be helpful to the ATP community. The message was sent by Nanny 23 and she agreed to allow me to post it here.

Nanny said: "So when you purchase an orchid that is already blooming or has finished blooming, what is the best way to get them to bloom again? I have a few orchids that I purchased on sale from Lowes, that had finished blooming so they put them on clearance back in the late Summer/Early Fall. One of them has bloomed for me, but the rest don't have any sign of blooming. Some of them weren't in the best shape. But out of the 8 that I bought I managed to keep 7 alive. I believe they had been over watered. And I am pretty sure that the one that is failing had too much sun on top of being water logged. But they were marked down so cheap I couldn't resist. And they needed me!

My mother and I bought all they had left that looked salvageable. I know "cheap" does not usually give you the best plants. But I figured if I could get these to grow, I would be able to invest in some better quality (and more expensive) plants with a little more confidence. And the orchid pots alone ,that some of them were in ,cost more than we paid for the potted plants. Most of them have a marker in the pot with a month ,date and year, as well as the color and variety? and a number. Any clue what that means? Is the date an indication of age? Most have 11/13/10. Or a similar date ending in 2010. I am not familiar enough with Orchids to know what all that means.

I put them (my "rescue orchids") near a east/southeast facing window and fertilize every 3-4 weeks. I only water once a week usually, some are planted in commercial orchid medium, a few are still in moss. They are in my dining room now, but as soon as the weather is warm enough they will go outside on my covered patio on the east end of the house. I haven't tried any of them in the greenhouse yet. I suppose as an experiment I should put one or two in the greenhouse just to see how they do. But I like having them were I can monitor their progress.

So what can I do that I am not already doing?"

First the label. Keep those labels with your plants. I always like to know what my plants are, so knowing the variety of the plant is important, at least to me. The date is perhaps the date that the plants were potted up. That's just a guess. The numbers are probably the grower's item numbers and thus are not important.

When I lecture to organizations, I always have a "Question and Answer" session at the end. Always, and I do mean always, one of the questions is: "My orchid (usually bought at a big-box store) was in bloom when I purchased it and it has never bloomed again", or "My orchid was in bloom when I purchased it and within six months, it was dead". Most orchids, particularly the phalaenopsis varieties, are shipped with sphagnum moss as their media. Sphagnum moss holds water a long time and since these plants may be in transit or sitting on a shelf for weeks, the grower/big box store doesn't want to have to worry about watering them. Good for them, bad for the buyer. It is difficult if not impossible to really know when a plant growing in sphagnum moss needs watering. Take the plant out of the pot, remove the moss, and replant it in orchid media, something like a mix of Douglas fir bark, horticultural charcoal, coconut fiber chunks, and perlite. I have typically substituted expanded rock for the perlite for my plants, but perlite is easier to find. Just be sure that the perlite is course, not fine or medium. What you are after is an extremely well-draining mix, one that doesn't retain moisture long-term. If you use a pot that is full of holes so that air can pass through, so much the better. Don't allow your pot to sit in a saucer full of water unless the bottom of the pot doesn't touch that water, such as filling the saucer with pebbles. The vast majority of orchids that die do so because of over-watering. The roots literally drown. That's why some water their plants with ice cubes. The ice melts and thus waters the plant, but those ice cubes don't over-water. If you want to water with ice cubes that's fine, but don't put the ice directly on the plant or its roots. Sometime that is the problem. The leaves might be low, almost resting on the media and often the roots are growing along the surface of the media. There might not be enough space to put the ice cubes on without touching plant or roots.

Be sure your orchid received good, indirect light. Phalaenopsis plants can grow well with less light than the cattleya alliance plants, but the better the light, the better the blooming. Mist your plant every few days to keep the humidity up. From November through February, I generally water my plants one week and then fertilize it the following week. I also dilute my fertilizer at 1/2-1/4 the recommended rate. A handy term used with orchid growers is "Fertilize weakly, weekly". From March through October I still alternate watering/fertilizing, but I might have to water every 3-4 days. Other than my "baby" orchids, my plants are all outside during the warm months and thus dry out more quickly.

Many books have been written on orchid care, potting media, fertilizer, etc. It is impossible to cover much detail in a thread such as this.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
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If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
The one constant in life is change
Cat Lover Master Gardener: Florida Tropicals Multi-Region Gardener Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
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dyzzypyxxy
Mar 26, 2014 11:32 AM CST
Nice answer, Ken and I'd agree with most of what you said. Especially getting the soggy spaghnum moss out of those pots and giving the roots air! Some of the orchids from Lowe's and other big box stores come in pots with no holes or drainage at all! Cutting off all mushy or dead roots is also a good idea, and dusting with cinnamon seems to help mine not continue to rot and get sick. I've re-bloomed nearly all the little Lowe's orphans I've brought home.

Have to disagree with the ice cube watering, though. I think that is highly risky practice and I don't think anybody who is wanting to be successful at growing orchids should do this. It may prevent overwatering, but will it allow blooming? Even a plant that's growing in a cool room is 30deg. warmer than that ice cold water you're going to be dripping onto the plant. Can't be good for them, unless you're growing a really cold-tolerant orchid. My Phals bloom in response to temperature changes, and watering with ice cubes surely would make the plant think it's always winter, I'd imagine.

Would you water any of your orchids with ice cubes? I sure wouldn't!
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Carol
Santa Ana,Ca. (Zone 10b)
Sunset zone 22
Charter ATP Member Hummingbirder Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Orchids Region: California Plant Identifier
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ctcarol
Mar 26, 2014 11:37 AM CST
Ken, When you give advice about Phals, do you ever tell these folks not to cut off the bloom spike until it's completely brown? That seems to be a secret with the growers. The plant often grows a new branch on the old spike. If you remove that still green spike you may have to wait years before it puts out a new one.
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Mar 26, 2014 11:44 AM CST
Elaine, I would never water my plants with ice cubes. I have over 400 plants! That being said, I cannot tell your how many people I have talked with or sold plants to that said that is exactly the way they water. Some have done that for decades and their plants seem to do fine. Scientifically or anecdotally, I don't know whether this practice hinders blooming. My concern is not the water than slows waters the plant as the ice cube melts, but the fact that the ice touches any part of the plant. That's what's hard to get around.

P. S. I have never watered via ice cubes, even when I only had a handful of plants, and really see no need to ever do so.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
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If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Mar 26, 2014 11:48 AM CST
Absolutely, Carol. I always tell them that. I have phal. with old stems blooming, new stems blooming, and keiki's on old growth as well. I cut off the really dead part, that will be brown and brittle, but cut just above what is still green/purple color on the stem. Good point. As I say, numerous books have been written about growing orchids and a thread such as this is a drop in the ocean of information.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Ursula
Fair Lawn NJ, zone 6b
Charter ATP Member Spiders! Native Plants and Wildflowers Region: Pennsylvania Greenhouse Cactus and Succulents
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Ursula
Mar 26, 2014 1:23 PM CST

Moderator

Regarding the ice cube watering - we ran an errant for my son a couple of years ago, which involved a trip to Oberlin/Ohio. By sheer coincidence we met a lady who works at the huge Orchid nursery at Oberlin. She told us that the ice cube thing originated with them! ( and here I was blaming Taiwanese imports) It is simply a sales-gimmick, that's all. It sure worked, since everyone shopping for Orchids/mostly Phals at the Bigbox stores has heard about it. And Phals from Oberlin are a good business.
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Mar 26, 2014 1:37 PM CST
Ah, ha. Now we know the rest of the story. I have no clue whether it works or not since I have never used ice cubes. I just know from personal experience that some use ice and grow their orchids successfully (or at least they swear they do!).
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Carol
Santa Ana,Ca. (Zone 10b)
Sunset zone 22
Charter ATP Member Hummingbirder Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Orchids Region: California Plant Identifier
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ctcarol
Mar 26, 2014 5:09 PM CST
I think that keeps them going in the moss for quite awhile as it isn't enough to soak the moss. I have two Phals that are doing fine in the moss, but I never pour water through them, just sprinkle the surface and any roots that are hanging out. It helps that they are both in the clear sleeves so I can see what's going on in there. I would imagine if they follow the directions, it prevents over watering.
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Mar 26, 2014 5:31 PM CST
Ah, you know the two secrets when using sphagnum moss. Know how wet the moss is and don't overwater.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
The one constant in life is change
Cat Lover Master Gardener: Florida Tropicals Multi-Region Gardener Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
Herbs Orchids Birds Garden Ideas: Level 2 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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dyzzypyxxy
Mar 26, 2014 7:06 PM CST
But hey, ask some of those ice cube waterers next time would you? See if their orchids just survive, or if they grow, bloom and thrive.

Inquiring minds want to know!
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Mar 26, 2014 8:27 PM CST
I hate to be an old fuddy-duddy (I am old), but many of these people I talk to don't know whether their orchids are thriving, holding-on-for-dear-life, or are dying. That's just the nature of who I deal with. I cannot tell you how many orchids I re-pot for people (did one today), simply because they don't know how to do the simplest thing with their plants. I have a feeling that if we could quantitatively categorize the orchid growers, 90% who have them have always wanted to grow an orchid and have no idea how to go about it. The vast majority of we who successfully grow and bloom orchids, learn far more from the actual growing than from what we learned from reading about how to do it. I have killed my fair share, and I am sure continue to do so, but the vast majority of mine that don't make it are really tiny ones, those that I call "baby" orchids. Blooming size orchids are really simple to grow and really simple to bloom. That's my experience anyway.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
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If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Annette
Mt. Sterling, KY (Zone 6b)
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AFlowerChild
Mar 27, 2014 7:01 AM CST
True, I believe that many people have no idea what to do with their orchids, and then there are some, like me, who know just enough to be dangerous. As you pointed out, Ken, Orchids have basic needs just like most plants. Some people think more water is better and literally water their plants to death.
I love Orchids and someday I hope to have my greenhouse full of them. I have two windows full now. Have a great day! Thumbs up

Annette
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Mar 27, 2014 7:31 AM CST
Welcome!
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
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If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Ursula
Fair Lawn NJ, zone 6b
Charter ATP Member Spiders! Native Plants and Wildflowers Region: Pennsylvania Greenhouse Cactus and Succulents
Forum moderator I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Ponds Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Region: New Jersey
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Ursula
Mar 27, 2014 8:07 AM CST

Moderator

Most people start out with Phals, since they are so pretty, widely available and fairly cheap. I think it is great that they truly have become main stream! Lovey dubby
Ken, I think this is a really good thread you started here, lots of good advice!

Now living in NJ and considering our Summer climate, for me a Fall - flowering Cattleya ( /Cattleya hybrid) is/was just about the easiest Orchid to start out with. I say Fall -flowering, because those are a bit easier to bloom for a beginner than Spring flowering Cattleyas. Take them outside for the Summer ( when night temps are holding around 60 degr F), give them a nice protected spot, good light, and water and fertilize along with your garden. By the end of the Summer you should see good new growth. Comes Fall, take them back inside into a bright/sunny spot and watch them bloom by October - December. (Of course you have continued watering inside…)
Which Catts do bloom in the Fall, you ask? One way would be to read our Fall threads and see what blooms in those months. Another is visiting orchid nurseries in your area/ Orchid Shows/Open House and simply ask!
[Last edited by Ursula - Mar 27, 2014 8:15 AM (+)]
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Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Mar 27, 2014 8:43 AM CST
I tip my hat to you.

Ursula, like you, I find cattleya alliance plants easy to grow, even though we have quite different growing conditions here in NE Mississippi. My theory, and perhaps I read it somewhere years ago - I don't remember, is that the blooming cycle of orchids depends on where they grow in nature. Many of my cattleya varieties grow naturally in the southern hemisphere and are spring bloomers down there. When they are brought north, they are fall bloomers, but in reality they are blooming in the spring. Our seasons are simply reversed! Does this make any sense at all? I know I am a novice compared to many of you, and I bet y'all have the answer as to why our orchids bloom in the fall/winter. Sticking tongue out

Also, I have found that with some of my orchids (Blc. Greenwich 'Elmhurst' and Blc. Ports of Paradise 'Emerald Isle' for example) that were consistent fall bloomers when they are fairly young plants (perhaps 5 year old plants), after having them for 4-5 years, they now bloom in the fall and then again in the spring. Don't know why. Confused
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
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If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
The one constant in life is change
Cat Lover Master Gardener: Florida Tropicals Multi-Region Gardener Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
Herbs Orchids Birds Garden Ideas: Level 2 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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dyzzypyxxy
Mar 27, 2014 10:15 AM CST
Interesting question, Ken. I have several Catt related plants that bloom both spring and fall as well.

I always just assumed it was something to do with the temperature changes. In fall when the first cool nights arrive, that's usually when I start seeing new spikes. Same in the spring when the nights start to warm up!

As far as Phals becoming the mainstream orchid and 'beginner' orchid it's a bit of a shame, I think. Phals are very sensitive, and need pretty exacting conditions to thrive, so I think they made a bad choice when the mass growers decided the public needed to be introduced to orchid growing using Phals. A bad choice for the customers, but a good choice for the growers. In my cynical mind I think they saw an opportunity to sell a lot of orchids that would very quickly die off, and then the uninformed customers would buy more . . . such a shame to waste a plant that's been grown for a couple of years to end up as a throw-away after blooming once.

Just came in from moving my Phal collection out onto the patio table so they can enjoy yet another unseasonable rainy day! Move very carefully, keep them all facing the same direction . . . Divas, all!
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Mar 27, 2014 11:21 AM CST
I think/hope I am only a couple of weeks away from moving my tropical plants out. I still need my oaks to leaf out. They are loaded with buds and leaflets, but there's no canopy for shade yet. Experience tells me that the staghorns/plumeria/fiddle leaf ficus will go out first, since they are hardier. The plumeria are all potted up and will transition from my porch, getting some early morning sun, into my "seedling" GH with some shade-cloth, and then into full sun. Next will be approximately 175 bromeliads. Bringing up the rear will be several hundred orchids. I will wait until the nights get no cooler than 50 F for those.

I don't know too much about phal. since I only have a few dozen of them and I only grow some because people like to purchase blooming orchids, and in late winter/early spring, that's all I have that blooms. To me they are very easy to grow, bloom at an early age, and the blooms last weeks if not months. I have already spoken of the problems buying them in big-box stores, so won't waste anyone's time in the re-telling.

I think we here in NE Mississippi are finally done with winter. Hurray! The long-range forecast (10 day)shows one more morning in the upper 30's and several mornings in the 50's. Thus my moving-out plans.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
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If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: tarev
San Joaquin County, CA (Zone 9b)
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tarev
Mar 27, 2014 11:22 AM CST
I have come across that watering with ice cubes. I tried it once on a noid Phal, but I timed it at the height of our exceedingly hot temps here, like outside temps are onerous 110+ and inside temps are also quite warm, 80's. At that particular timing, it did not harm my plant as the ice is sitting on the media, not on the roots. Somehow it seems to trigger an earlier spike later on, but not sure if that was the direct effect, since I did not try to test it again to compare results. But knowing more of my orchids now, I did not repeat it anymore..just curious if it does work. Gimmick or not, who knows..the more we know the more we improve or avoid stuff. And that orchid is still alive, one of my active growers actually. Big Grin

I do caution my friends not to do it whenever they ask me about the ice cubes method, especially those who really have no iota of understanding about growing orchids.
Name: Ursula
Fair Lawn NJ, zone 6b
Charter ATP Member Spiders! Native Plants and Wildflowers Region: Pennsylvania Greenhouse Cactus and Succulents
Forum moderator I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Ponds Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Region: New Jersey
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Ursula
Mar 28, 2014 7:30 AM CST

Moderator

Regarding the blooming season of Orchids - we need to look at the parentage (mix) of our Hybrids. That's why Hybrids bloom somewhat easier than species, usually.
Getting species to bloom - it helps to understand the climate of its location, although many Orchids can adapt hopefully to our conditions, but not always.
For years I added the daily weather report of a few locations in the world which were home to some of the species I was trying to bloom, to my Yahoo start page, so I could get an idea about the temperature, amount of rain/beginning of rainy season and so on.
( when vendors from tropical regions talk about drier/cooler conditions during perhaps the Winter months, it helps to understand that that person might shiver when the temperature drops below 70 degr. ( I am only exaggerating slightly Big Grin ) That super dry season still has dew in the morning, which can be considerable.

I always look at the orchidsourceforum, and it is pretty awesome when people post that very same Orchid in bloom from different locations, all within a couple of weeks. Many times I see a post say from Tennessee and realize that poster's Orchid is about one week ahead from mine. Right now one expects Den anosmum and similar to pop up everywhere. Springtime brings Cattleya skinneri blooms, which makes me happy, since mine blooms like clockwork. Encyclia bractescens will be posted in bloom from Florida, just as mine starts budding.

adding - Habenaria medusa, Sarcoglottis sceptrodes and so many bloom right here also together - from all sorts of locations….
[Last edited by Ursula - Mar 28, 2014 7:38 AM (+)]
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Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Mar 28, 2014 7:35 AM CST
Ursula, does the "theory" that my fall bloomers, who's parentage is S. America, are actually spring bloomers in their native region?
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
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