On orchids

I have a small but growing collection of orchids slowly taking over my available window space, and I feel confident after a few months of keeping them alive to share some photos and what I’ve learned so far.

I bought my first orchid a couple of years ago and managed to keep it alive until last November, when a coworker bought one and I remembered I had it, and started doing research to see if I was doing a respectable job (I was not—RIP plant).

So I did the librarian thing and exhaustively researched the subject of how to care for orchidsThe best care advice I’ve come across so far is through a series of videos produced by a woman who lives somewhere in Eastern Europe. She’s a hardcore expert on the topic, and her YouTube channel is charming not just for the fact that she has videos on everything, from the basics to rare species to planting media, but also because she mysteriously never shows herself on camera.

The biggest, fastest takeaways that I’ve learned are these:

  • Orchids can live long, healthy lives if you treat them right. They bloom for about 3-4 months, then lose their flowers and go into hibernation for a year or two before blooming again.
  • When you buy them from someplace like a grocery store or home improvement store, they’re packed pretty tightly in wet moss. It’s good to remove a little bit of that so the roots have a chance to dry out. Orchids like to dry out a little bit, they need air circulation.
  • Phalaenopsis, the flowers you can get almost anywhere, are ready to be watered when the roots are silvery-green. If they’re green, they’re fine and should be left alone.
  • Orchids like bright indirect sunlight—leaves can get sunburned if they’re in direct light for too long.
  • When it is time to water, give it a good soaking. This is where double-potting comes in handy. An orchid typically comes in a clear plastic pot, which you can set inside a cup. Pour water over the roots until it comes just up under the leaves. Let it soak for about 5 minutes, and drain well.
  • Don’t ever let water sit in the seam where the leaf meets the base of the plant. That’ll promote root rot and kill the orchid. If you accidentally pour water into the inside seam of a leaf, blot it out with a paper towel.

That’s pretty much it. There’s a ton of misinformation out there about how you should water orchids on a schedule, or give them 3 ice cubes a week, but that’s completely wrong and designed to make people fail. If you kill an orchid, you’ll probably still be tempted to go get another one and try again, and the companies that sell those orchids are well aware of that.

So far I’ve been collecting mini phalaenopses, because the rooms where I have enough space to set them in a window tend to face east, which gives them enough light without burning them. Other species, such as vanda orchids, require much more light, so I stick to the basics.

The first one I bought is called an E. Chia berry, and has a lot of darker purple against a white background, with yellow inside the lip.


The petals vary between white backgrounds and some lavender veining, which you can see better in this picture:


The second mini I got is a Flora Sweet Heart, which I keep in my office. The flower spikes are shorter, and the leaves have a dark reddish tone to them. They have a ton of freckles.


Then I got a Jiaho’s Pink Girl, which is similar to the Flora Sweet Heart, but is paler and has a cooler tone to the pink, almost a blush lavender. There’s more white at the edges of the petals. This is the flower that’s in the picture at the top of this post.  It came with two spikes out, but unfortunately the second spike has finished already, which is why it’s just hanging out.


I’m really glad I got a nice one—the color fades into the white edges so nicely.


And then I got the one I keep calling Yog Sothoth, because I can never remember what it’s called. The tag says it’s a Sogo Yenlin (Coffee), and I have no idea what is has to do with coffee. This one has striking purple flowers with sharp veining and white outlines at the edges of the petals. I bought it specifically because it came with two spikes and so many unopened buds.


This was taken last weekend, and all but two of the buds have opened now.


Originally there were more buds on the very tips of the spike on the left, but with the cold weather and them being pretty tiny, they were weak and didn’t make it.


Still, I’m pretty happy that this plant opened something like 5 or 6 buds out of at least 12.

I have other phalaenopses as well that I haven’t photographed—I got two standard-size ones at the Orchid Society meeting in January. Two members were kind enough to give me the prizes they won in the raffle. Those didn’t come with spikes or blossoms, so I’ll be waiting at least a year to see what color they are. There’s also a standard-size clearance table phal I just got, no flowers or identification, and a post-bloom mini phal I got in December that’s looking a little sick. I’m doing my best to deal with the fact that its roots have dried up near the base of the flower but are green on the ends.

Those are all my orchids worth photographing! They’re doing pretty well and seem to be happy where they are.

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