Add glamour to your houseplant collection with exotic orchids.
FEW HOUSEPLANTS can match the exotic beauty of orchids in flower. Homeowners, however, are often afraid to try them because orchids have developed a reputation as hard to grow. Although it’s true that some are extremely difficult and fussy, there are a few spectacular ones well worth trying.
Two that often are referred to as beginner orchids are Cymbidium and Zygopetalum. These orchids require the same easy care, and each produces spectacular flowers. The blossoms on Cymbidiums come in a wide variety of colors, normally with yellow and red markings on the petals. In winter, they are capable of producing three to five flower stalks, each with 12 or more large flowers. Best of all, the flowers usually last up to two months. Full-sized specimens can be quite large, with 2-foot-tall leaves, but dwarf varieties with smaller flowers also are available.
The flowers on Zygopetalums are every bit as gorgeous, and are also produced on multiflowering stems. The big two-toned blooms are usually green and brown, embellished with bright purple and fuchsia striping and speckles. The colorful flowers are incredibly fragrant, with a hyacinth-like scent.
These orchids come from high elevations, and require a cold, dry period to initiate blooming. In the summer months, place them outdoors, where they will receive early-morning sun, followed by dappled shade for the rest of the day. You’ll know they are getting the right amount of sun if the leaves turn a light yellowy-green. Dark-green foliage is a sign they’re in too much shade, which might prevent them from blooming.
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During summer, water them regularly, but allow the bark mix to dry slightly in between. Feed March through August with high-nitrogen fertilizer (such as 30-10-10) diluted half-strength every two weeks. In September, switch to half-strength high-phosphorus fertilizer (such as 10-30-20), and continue feeding through October.
As autumn temperatures drop, leave the plant outdoors in a dry location protected from rain, and water sparingly, only if the leaves begin to droop heavily. Allow the plant to experience several nights with temperatures in the 40s, or until frost threatens, then bring it into a warm, brightly lit room and water whenever the mix feels dry. When the flower stalks form, stake the stems and enjoy the spectacular flower display.
Paphiopedilum ‘Lady Slipper Orchid’ is another easy orchid and a dependable bloomer. The long-lasting, exotic-looking flowers have a pouch resembling a lady’s slipper, and come in all sorts of sizes and dazzling color combinations. Some lady slippers also have beautifully mottled foliage, making them attractive even when they’re out of bloom. These orchids remain in active growth in all seasons, so water anytime the pot feels light when lifted.
Feed with one-quarter-strength orchid food year-round every other time you water. Lady slippers prefer an east window where they receive morning sun, or a west window protected by a sheer curtain. Lady slippers usually produce only one flower per year, so stake the stem to keep the flower upright to show off its exquisite beauty.
Finally, it’s hard to believe that the delicate-looking Phalaenopsis ‘Moth Orchid’, with its elegant, arching wands of colorful moth-shaped flowers, is one of the easiest orchids to grow. These tropical forest plants prefer a bright location out of direct sunshine.
Water any time the pot feels light when lifted, and feed with one-quarter-strength orchid food every other time you water. When the last flower fades, cut to a node two-thirds of the way back on the wand. A new flower stalk should grow from that location.
It won’t happen, however, unless you use a trick. Although Phalaenopsis prefer daytime temperatures around 70 degrees, in order to set blooms, they must experience nightly temperatures that are about 15 degrees lower (mid-50s). Don’t, however, let night temperatures drop too low. If they sink into the 40s, you can forget about flowers. Dead plants just don’t bloom well.