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Another Bloom

03/05/2011

I woke to find that my other orchid had apparently bloomed in the night. Here is the first of what will be several flowers over the next few weeks. They usually last for about three months.

Phalenopsis

This one is a Phalaenopsis, the most common orchid seen at grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and retail outlets. It’s also one of the longest to bloom and easiest to care for. Most people throw them away after the flowers die, but you can save the plant, care for it, and it will bloom again the next year—if you treat it right.

Put your Phal in a location with diffuse but plentiful light (a frosted glass window is excellent for this), moderate temps (not to hot or cold), and water once a week by flooding the plant in your sink. Fertilizing is good, especially at first. A friend of mine described commercially grown orchids as “crack babies.” They’re so overfertilized that they become accustomed to that level of feeding. I’ve never been one for fertilizing a lot, though, so my Phals tend to bloom less on later rounds than they did at first. (Not so for the slipper orchids, which are very sensitive to fertilizer—but that’s another story.) But you might try weening them down from once a week to every other week or so. And be careful not to have too strong a dilution of fertilizer. You don’t want to burn the roots. Follow the directions, and wet the soil down with plain water first before watering with fertilizer solution.

People tend to think that orchids are hard to care for, but if you get a forgiving, low-maintenance type like the Phal, they’re really not hard to grow. Phals do better underwatered rather than overwatered, so if you go away or forget for a day or two, it’s not a big deal. Just once a week will do it. That said, I live in the Bay Area, where the temperature is not an issue.

Temperature is important if you want the plant to be happy and bloom. I’ve had my best results when the plant is near a window, because it needs an approximate ten-degree temperature drop at night to trigger the blooming cycle. The Bay Area is a great place for growing orchids indoors because the year-round temps are moderate, with a mild temperature drop and increased humidity in winter. It would be hard, I think, to grow orchids in a very cold climate, like the midwest or northeast, because in winter the indoor air gets overly dry from central heating and there’s no easy way to give your plant the slight temperature drop it needs; it’s so cold outside that you probably don’t want to crack a window, and you certainly can’t grow the plants outdoors. If you have a cooler room that isn’t heated overnight in winter, like an office or bathroom, you might be able to grow a Phal in there.

I think people just get impatient and don’t realize that it could be a year (or more) before the plant blooms again. But then the flowers last for so long, it really is worth a try. So next time someone gifts you a hearty Phal, don’t ditch it after the flowers die. Just treat it well, pretend it’s another ordinary green plant in your house, and maybe next winter, it will surprise you.

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