A visit to a good garden centre is enhanced when there is a display of phalaenopsis orchids.
There are now literally dozens of different cultivated hybrids. It’s difficult to choose the one which looks the best. The price of these gems has come down from when they first became popular – £45 was the price for most of them but it’s now easy to find them at £10 to £15.
When grown at home this orchid – the moth orchid – is far less trouble than some other types.
During the spring and summer, they are best grown in plenty of light but not in direct sunshine and during those seasons the plants must never dry out. Rain water is entirely suitable because they don’t like the chalk in our water.
In autumn and winter, watering has to be done carefully. Again the compost must never dry out, but it’s a good idea to spray the compost regularly using rain water to keep the compost, which comprises equal parts Osmunda fibre and sphagnum moss just moist all the time. I grow Osmunda ferns in the stream in our garden.
Some plants are grown in compost which consists of a mixture of fibre, moss and sand and they come in clear pots – it doesn’t matter, they are very happy in this medium as when found in their natural environment, they often hang from trees growing in moss and rain water.
There are some other important things to remember
These gems thrive in hot humid conditions but during the winter they love lots of light and central heating and are very happy indeed if the temperature doesn’t fall below 15.5C (60F). If it is lower, watering must be reduced.
Lovely silvery, hairy, spidery roots grow longer and become more interesting as the plant gets older.
Many people don’t like the spidery appearance but it’s important to bear in mind, this is all part of a most interesting plant structure. The roots take in air as well as water.
The flowers bloom for many weeks and quite often a plant will flower continually for nine months or more.
Here’s another important thing to remember. Never cut off the flower stem until it turns brown. If it remains green, and they usually do, a baby plant may grow out of the tip of the old flower stem or another flowering shoot may appear out of the side of the stem lower down on the plant.
New flower stems will also grow from between the leaves. When a baby shoot appears on the old flower stem, use a split cane carefully pushed into the compost and using fuse wire, make a small ball of sphagnum moss, tie this on to the split cane at the base of the baby so the baby one can root into the moss. Keep the moss wet all the time.
Once the roots have penetrated the moss (after six months), the baby one can be cut off and planted into its own container.
Pam has just reminded me to mention that it is a good idea to wipe the leaves with a moist tissue because the leaves attract dust!
It’s a good idea to ensure flies are not allowed in the room because if a fly lands on an open flower the flower is pollinated and the blooms only remain in flower for a few days – not many people know that.
Feeding is best done using a good-quality liquid orchid fertiliser. Simply follow the directions and there will be no need to put the plant into a larger container for two years if they are fed properly.
When it becomes necessary to put the plant into another container, use orchid compost but if you are really interested in seeing these gems in a dramatic situation, instead of using a pot, put the compost on to a section of interesting tree bark, cork oak can be purchased for this, you just have to find a piece which looks good indoors.
I saw a moth orchid growing on the stem of an indoor yucca – a tree I am not fond of, but the orchid made it look really beautiful as the silvery spidery roots were more than a foot long and there were more than 100 flowers
on the plant.
Wow! I wish I had taken my camera with me.
THIS WEEK’S TOP TIP
If borders look dull it isn’t too late to buy potted chrysanthemums with lots of unopened flower buds. Knock them out of the pots and plant them in gaps.
Chrysanthemum flowers are not damaged by light frosts or cold winds and you will be making winter a little bit shorter.