Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
February, 2012
Regional Report

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These soft green moth orchid blossoms have lasted more than four months.

Think Orchids for Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is almost here and what could be more appropriate for your sweetie than a lovely orchid?

A Lovely Moth Orchid
I have a pale green moth orchid sitting on my kitchen windowsill where I enjoy it daily. It is in full bloom and has been that way since my husband brought it home in September. When it came home, it was in bud, and the buds began opening over the course of the next few weeks. And not one of the flowers has faded yet. In fact, as I sit here, I can count eighteen blossoms.

Jewel Orchid
Sitting next to it is a velvety, maroon-leaved orchid called a jewel orchid. It has a flower spike about eight inches tall, and the tiny white orchids, no bigger than a dime, are just beginning to open. I've never considered myself an "orchid person", but every time I see an orchid in bloom, I'm amazed at the wondrous form of the flowers.

Orchid Habitats
Moth orchids are epiphytic plants, meaning that in the wild they grow on trees. They are native to the rain forest and attach themselves to trees in pockets between branches where they are constantly bathed in moisture and humidity. This is the ideal spot to collect nutrients from rainfall.

Home Conditions for Epiphytic Orchids
In order to keep an orchid thriving in our home, we should try to duplicate these natural conditions as best we can. Orchid roots need plenty of air, which is why they are best grown in a bark mixture or in long-fibered sphagnum moss. They live in subdued light in the rain forest, so they'll tolerate medium light conditions in the home.

Home Conditions for Terrestrial Orchids
The jewel orchid, however, is a terrestrial orchid. It grows on the ground in soil, much the same as the native lady slipper orchids that are so prized. My state has over twenty native orchids, all of which are terrestrial orchids and thrive in mostly low-light woodlands. This is also a clue to the care of any terrestrial orchid. They do best in lower light, and high light will actually burn or fade the leaves. Average household temperatures are best, and the soil should be a light organic mix that is kept slightly moist most of the time.

Stick with Easy-to-Grow Orchids
If you get bitten by the orchid bug, there are hundreds of other exciting and exotic orchids to try. But be advised that the fancier the orchid, the more involved the care. Beauties such as cattleya, dendrobium and vanda orchids all have specific requirements that may be hard to meet in the average home. And they can set you back financially since many are quite expensive to buy.

You Can Treat it Like an Annual!
So, for my not-so-orchid thumb, I'll stick with my two easy-care orchids. And, when the blooming is finished on the moth orchid, since they are not always easy to bring back into bloom, I may just choose to treat it like a blooming annual and discard it, while scoping the garden stores for another pretty one for the next six months.

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