There is no doubt Jim Pearce and Kathy O’Neill are passionate about growing orchids. After all, they grow hundreds of the exotic plants in their home greenhouses. Pearce and O’Neill – the president and vice president of the Spokane Orchid Society, respectively – enjoy teaching others how to grow orchids and are excited about the Society’s orchid show next weekend.
Held at Spokane’s Southside Senior Center, the show will feature more than 200 orchids displayed in different habitats, vendors selling plants and supplies, seminars on orchid culture, and plenty of orchid experts on hand to answer questions.
With the low admission price of $1, the show is sure to put attendees in an upbeat mood after the long, hard winter.
Because orchids look so delicate, many gardeners have never tried growing them and figure they must be fussy and require a lot of care. It turns out this is a myth.
“I think we tend to pamper them too much,” Pearce says. “There’s this mystique about growing orchids, but they really are easy to grow.”
Orchids are members of the plant family Orchidaceae and can be found all over the world in a variety of growing conditions. Experts agree that for the best success, you should select a type of orchid with growing requirements that match your home environment.
“The five things that make orchids grow are the same as for any plant: temperature, water, humidity, light and air flow,” Pearce explains.
Orchids do not like cold drafts but they don’t need a constant temperature, either.
“They need a 10- to 15-degree temperature differential during the course of each day,” Pearce said, “so the cooler nighttime temperatures we have in our homes are ideal.”
Orchids must have good drainage and would rather have less water than too much. If their roots are kept in standing water, they will die.
Pearce also advises that if water sits in the crown of a plant, it will rot. When watering, he uses tepid water and lets it run through the pot so the plant doesn’t become waterlogged.
Most orchids need 60 to 80 percent humidity, which can be especially difficult to achieve during the winter when the air in our homes is so dry. A simple solution is to place potted plants on trays that are filled with pebbles and water so the humidity around the plants remains constant.
Avid growers purchase gauges called humidistats to monitor the humidity in their homes or greenhouses.
When it comes to light requirements, O’Neill advises that orchids “should never be placed in direct light or they will get sunburned. Always use indirect light.”
South- and east-facing windows are the best. “For easy-to-grow orchids, natural light is fine,” Pearce added.
Those growing orchids in darker areas like a basement can use artificial lights placed six to 12 inches above the plants.
Pearce also underscores the importance of having good air flow around the plants. He explains that regular air flow within a home is fine but air can become stagnant inside a terrarium or other enclosed space.
Orchids should be fertilized with a 20-20-20 liquid or water-soluble fertilizer. Pearce suggests diluting the fertilizer to half- or quarter-strength and applying it when watering.
He follows the “water weakly weekly” mantra, which refers to watering with a weak fertilizer solution once a week while the orchids are actively growing. Orchids tend to bloom in the spring.
They only need to be repotted every one to two years, when the roots are growing out of the container or the potting medium has degraded to a point where it no longer provides good aeration.
“Or if the plant is looking gangly and you want to tidy it up,” Pearce added. Always wait until the plant has finished blooming.
The most commonly used potting medium is chopped fir bark, which is light, airy and drains easily.
If all of this talk about growing orchids is tempting you, the orchid show is a great place to start – not just for the expert advice but for the showy displays as well. “There will be a lot of unusual plants that people won’t see anywhere in Spokane,” O’Neill said. “Be sure to bring your camera.”