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Washington Voices

Exotic orchids can grow nicely even in Spokane

Sat., March 31, 2012, midnight

Orchids have ignited passion in people for thousands of years. The search for them in the wild has taken expeditions to the far corners of the earth. Legal battles have been waged over their ownership. All for a plant that more often than not doesn’t grow in soil and hangs from a tree.

The Spokane Orchid Society knows how magical orchids can be. This weekend it is inviting the community to explore orchids and orchid growing at its annual show and sale at the Southside Senior Activity Center, 3151 E. 27th Ave.

This year’s show will feature several plant vendors who haven’t been to the show for several years, which means there will be lots of unusual plants to see. Demonstrations and lectures include repotting your orchid, growing orchids under lights, growing cattleyas, watering and fertilizing your orchid, and orchid conservation.

Orchids are not just from the tropics. Washington is home to 41 native orchids that grow all over the state. They are found on forest floors where they live in forest duff and rotting wood. Most are protected by law.

Most orchids do nicely in average home conditions. Household temperatures of about 70 degrees during the day and 60 at night are perfect. They need diffused but somewhat bright light from an east, south or west window, especially in the winter when our light levels are low. Drape a sheer curtain between them and the window to diffuse the light. They also do well under fluorescent lights set to run 12 hours a day.

Maintaining humidity and watering routines are the most challenging elements of growing orchids at home, especially in our dry climate. You can add humidity by setting the plants on a large tray of gravel filled with water or misting them regularly.

Because orchids grow in a coarse fiber medium of fast-draining bark chips or coir fiber, most orchids will have to be watered more frequently than other houseplants but not too much at a time. If they stay too wet, the roots will rot quickly. Plants potted in clay pots or suspended in the air tend to dry even more quickly and will need more-frequent watering.

Here are some plants that are good for beginners to try. Look for them and advice on how to grow them at the show.

• Phalaenopsis orchids produce flowers up to 4 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 easy to grow under artificial lights. This group has many spectacular hybrids with colorful flowers that resemble a lady’s slipper.

• 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.

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