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Orchids’ beauty belies their easy maintenance

Sat., March 20, 2010

Maybe it’s the magic of their translucent flowers, which glow cream, pink, and purple in the right light. Maybe it’s the challenge of coaxing this beauty out of a nondescript plant that grows in bark and hangs from a rafter in the greenhouse.

Regardless, orchids have captured the imagination and the riches of people for thousands of years. Emperors have sought them for their magical powers. Explorers collected them from the most remote parts of the world to satisfy the egos of their patrons. We gobble up vast quantities of one species as vanilla flavoring.

In the modern era, orchids have become a popular hobby. Next Saturday and March 28, members of the Spokane Orchid Society will share their passion for the plants at their annual show and sale at the Southside Senior Center. Members of the society will display some of their best plants for judging while vendors from across the Northwest will have plants and supplies available for sale.

While the orchid’s mystique has created the myth that they are a tough plant to grow, most of them really aren’t. Most thrive under normal household conditions for the simple reason that the temperature, light and humidity of our houses are similar to their native habitats.

Orchids need diffused but somewhat bright light. Place plants six to 12 inches from an east, south or west window, especially in the winter when our light levels are low here. To diffuse the light, hang the equivalent of a lace curtain between the plant and the window. Orchids also do well under fluorescent lights hung low over the plants and set for about 12 hours of light a day. Keep plants out of drafts from doors, vents and fireplaces.

Orchids grow in coarse bark or fiber and collect water and nutrients directly from the air. As a result, they need frequent watering and fairly high humidity levels around the plants. Plants need to be watered every two or three days or when the growing medium dries out. Plants can be set in trays of gravel filled with water or misted frequently to help increase humidity.

Some of the most popular orchids include Phalaenopsis, which produces flowers up to four inches across on spikes of 15 or more flowers in every color but blue and true red. They can bloom for six weeks or longer.

Paphiopedilums, or lady slipper orchids, are one of the best orchid groups to grow under artificial lights.

Oncidiums, or dancing girls, produce dainty yellow and brown or white and brown flowers often used in corsages. They do well even under less-than-ideal growing conditions.

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane Valley for 30 years. She can be reached by e-mail at pat@inlandnw


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