Tending Orchids: Don’t Kill Them With Kindness

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Someone just gave you an orchid as a gift. It’s a tropical plant so it needs plenty of moisture right? Wrong. Orchids don’t like wet feet and the easiest way to kill an orchid is over watering. I was hesitant to get an orchid. I didn’t think I had the proper conditions in my house for orchids. Orchids like day time temperatures around 75 and night time temperatures around 65; just what us humans are comfortable with. When I got my first orchid as a gift my first thought was that I didn’t have room among the fifty or so African violets. After I got that first one I did some research and found a site that recommend using 3 ice cubes a week to water them. I’ve been using that system for my original orchid plus the 23 or so I have now.

During bloom season which starts in January to February and lasts for months, I use vermicompost tea for fertilizing my orchids every other week. Vermicompost tea is a fancy term for earthworm compost pee. This tea is the only fertilizer I use on all of my house plants. It’s natural and won’t burn your plants and doesn’t have the salt build up that you get with commercial fertilizers. Whenever I find my ice cube trays, I’m going to make vermicompost ice cubes and use those during bloom season. One worry I have is that a visitor one will think they are frozen tea and use them in their ice tea.

One thing that I would recommend after receiving a new orchid is to repot it as soon as blooming is over. Some are in a clear container inside an outside container which allows you to see how healthy the roots are. Pull the plant out of the pot and if you see Styrofoam or nothing but the Spanish moss, repot it. I bought one in full bloom recently and it did not have a single speck of potting bark, only a pot full of moss. People get these things as gifts, then they die on them, and they get the attitude that they just can’t grow orchids. You can replant it in any type of decorative container. You just have to be careful not to overwater. This is the beauty of using 3 ice cubes; they slowly melt and you don’t have to worry about drowning your orchid. If your orchid starts looking wrinkled, it is an indication that it is not getting enough water. Increase your ice cube by one. Larger pots may need 5 ice cubes. Place in bright, indirect light; direct sunlight will result in sunburned leaves and bloom drop.

After the blooms have finished and fall off, do you cut off the stem or leave it on? I usually cut mine back to a node and usually will get a re-bloom. If the stem starts to turn brown or yellow cut it off to the base. This will direct its energy into producing roots. A trick you can use to try and force them into bloom is to move them to an area where the night temperature is slightly lower, about 55 degrees. Leaving mine in its usual spot and using ice cubes serves the same purpose of lowering the temperature.

I just purchased a garden orchid called Nun’s orchid. It is hardy to zone 8 which is one zone below my zone 7, so I planted it in a container that I can move into the garage to overwinter with the rest of my plants. If planting in a container, use one with plenty of space, it has a lot of roots.

With spring coming, my hooligan Border collies have been very busy. They spent most of the day today barking at a plastic bag hung on a cotton plant flapping in the wind. They must have thought it was Noah the cat next door who likes to tease them in the area where the bag was caught. I finally got tired of hearing the commotion and went over to the field and picked it up.

Levi has been busy picking on Blackie, and when she finally catches him she sits on him and he is squirming trying to get away. During several days of continuous rain one of them decided that my John Deere tractor seat made a nice bed. I went to use it and had to mop the seat off before I could get on it. My guess it was Levi. Now that I’m folding down the seat, I’m waiting for him to discover the Husqvana. He’s the only one that will jump up on things.

I started my heirloom tomato seeds the middle of February. I’m planting my usual Cherokee Purple, a deep dark reddish black flesh tomato which I think is one of the better tasting tomatoes. This year I’m also planting a yellow Brandywine tomato. It’s a new heirloom for me that I haven’t tried before. Last year I planted a Black Krim tomato along with my Cherokee Purple and it didn’t do well. Come to think about it, last year wasn’t a good veggie gardening year. After I planted my garden we had monsoon rains and then weeks of scorching heat which killed most of my plants. I had placed my plants out on the patio table during a nice warm spell we had. We’ve had a few nights of freezing temperatures and day time temps in the forties and fifties, so I put my plants in the garage on top of a bucket of water that I use for watering my overwintering plants in the garage. Yesterday afternoon I found the box dumped off into the floor, so I spent time repotting the survivors into larger containers. My guess as to the doer of this deed would be Blackie. She likes to splash and play in water. Patches has been wearing herself out chasing bumble bee shadows, and I’m sure she’s been into something. I haven’t found it yet.

The daffodils are just finishing up and my dwarf iris is starting to bloom. The daffodils that they dug up three times last fall and scattered the last time all seem to be back in the correct place except for one of the Full Throttle is mixed in with the Pinza daffodils. So all I have to do is move the marker down a little and move one of the wayward daffs back to its section.

Me? I’m fussing about all the cases of Crepe Myrtle Murder I’m seeing around the Shoals. My dwarf iris are in bloom and late blooming daffodils are finishing up.