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Inspired to grow your own beautiful orchids after experiencing Longwood’s awe-inspiring Orchid Extravaganza? Read these tips from our very own orchid grower, Lee Alyanakian and her assistant gardener, Marie Viallet to keep your plants healthy all winter long. “Whatever you do, don’t over-water orchid plants. When in doubt, wait,” says Lee Alyanakian who cites over-watering as the number one beginner’s mistake with orchid care.
Try these easy varieties if you’re new to orchids
Alyanakian suggests trying Phalaenopsis (Moth orchids) or Paphiopedilum (Lady slipper orchids) if you’re a first timer. “Even though the orchid family can seem intimidating to beginner gardeners, these types are actually low maintenance and are easier to care for,” says Alyanakian.
Potting your orchid
It’s important to repot your orchid each year after it flowers, and Alyanakian suggests removing all dead roots first. “If you can’t tell if the roots are dead, try wetting them,” says Alyanakian, “Shriveled brown roots are dead, whereas live roots are plump and are often a whitish color.”
Unlike choosing pot sizes for houseplants or annuals, it’s important to plant your orchid in a pot that corresponds with the amount and size of the roots, and not the size of the plant itself.
Never use soil!
The majority of orchids are epiphytes (grow in trees) and should never be grown in soil. “It is so important that every orchid grower invests in a bag of orchid mix,” says Alyanakian. Orchid mix is necessary because it provides the adequate drainage that orchids need to grow. Mixes include various combinations and sizes of bark, charcoal, and sometimes perlite.
What about temperature?
“Many people don’t know that orchids natively grow in many climates from hot to cold,” says Alyanakian. For easy orchids like Phalaenopsis and Paphiopedilum, average home temperatures will work just fine, however, Alyanakian says that the addition of a humidifier is not only beneficial to your own air quality, but beneficial to your orchids as well.
Feeding & watering tips
Through her many years of orchid care experience, Alyanakian says she has seen more orchids killed from overwatering than under-watering. Her tip? Water your orchid plants thoroughly approximately once a week. “Orchid mix is very porous and drains quickly, so let the water drain through several times to generously wet the soil, but don’t let the plant itself sit in water, or it will rot,” says Alyanakian. Specific orchid fertilizers aren’t necessary, but can be used if preferred. Orchids can be fed with a diluted balanced liquid fertilizer such as 20-20-20 once a month.
Other expert orchid tips
After your orchid flower has dropped off, be sure to remove the remaining spikes by cutting them off at the base of the stem. Most orchids bloom once a year, but if your orchid hasn’t flowered, don’t despair, something needs to be shifted culturally. In this scenario, Alyanakian says to try putting your plant outside during late August and September to allow the cooler nights help initiate flower spikes.
Want to learn more?
Come to the International Orchid Show and Sale, March 25-27 to see stunning exhibits and to purchase more orchids for your home during this weekend event. Enjoy the American Orchid Society-judged show, guided tours, and informative orchid talks. There will even be experts on hand to answer your growing questions. This event is sponsored by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Orchid Society.
Want to learn even more?
Marie Viallet says,“Join a local orchid society to speak with other orchid enthusiasts and hear talks from orchid experts on a variety of topics!”
Ones close to Longwood Gardens include the Delaware Orchid Society , the Southeastern Pennsylvania Orchid Society and the Greater Philadelphia Orchid Society. Click here to visit the American Orchid Society website to read even more about orchids.
Although there are thousands of blooming orchids that drape our walls and flow from pedestals in the Conservatory throughout Orchid Extravaganza (January 22 – March 27), one of the most inspiring orchid displays grows in the form of a waterfall in the Cascade Garden. It takes a team of two Longwood gardeners about five hours to create this breathtaking dancing lady orchid display.
“I led the team that created the first orchid waterfall display three years ago, and we’ve brought it back every year due to popular demand,” says senior gardener Joyce Rondinella.
Rondinella says that the display team chose a bright yellow Oncidium ‘Sweet Sugar’ orchid that comes all the way from Hawaii because this orchid’s vibrancy draws visitors’ eyes to the display and is the exciting “wow factor” that lures visitors into the Cascade Garden.
“Whether it’s the living orchid curtain above the Music Room in the Conservatory, or the orchid waterfall, when you group orchids together it makes more of an impact on our guest experience and I think that’s part of the reason why this display has been so successful,” says Rondinella.
Before our gardeners start creating the display, each yellow orchid is grown in its own 4 inch pot. And a few days before the installment a group of hardworking Longwood volunteers hand make coco liner baskets that are needed for the construction of the waterfall.
These custom made coco liner baskets are then sent to Longwood Gardens’ paint shop and are painted bronze to seamlessly blend them in with the wall in the Cascade Garden.
Next comes the planting process – each orchid is placed inside its own coco liner basket, and each basket is attached to the wall using s-hooks and wires that are fastened to eye hooks in the wall.
“We start attaching each orchid filled basket from the top and work our way down,” says Rondinella. “The orchids really do all the work from this point on. Because of the special formation they’re planted in, when the plants open up they naturally grow in the shape of a living waterfall.”
To finish the display off, Rondinella says she pins fresh green moss to the front of the baskets to help blend the plants even further into their surrounding environment.
See this display and more during Longwood Gardens’ Orchid Extravaganza, January 22-March 27. And don’t miss the return of the International Orchid Show and Sale, March 25-27.
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Meet the arborists and gardeners that care for our trees and flowers throughout Spring Blooms, and see demonstrations throughout our Conservatory and outdoor gardens.
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Get ready for an evening of oohs and ahhs, as Longwood presents spectacular Fireworks & Fountains shows guaranteed to make your summer memorable.
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Registration is now open for our 2013 Continuing Education courses!
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