Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Phalaenopses are in bloom again...

I'm up in NH for the holidays and there's 2 feet of pristine, white-white-white snow on the ground. It could not possibly be more wintery. Yet indoors, the Phalaenopses are in bloom, blissfully unaware that outside it's 5 degrees.

Many Phalaenopses (singular = Phalaenopsis, common name = moth orchid) bloom in winter, so now is the perfect time to pick yourself out a winner. It's also the perfect time because tropical beauty is accentuated by juxtaposition with snow and cold. Entertaining for the holidays? Make a Phalaenopsis your centerpiece. People will think you have mad plant skills when all you did was shell out a few bucks for a long lasting, low maintenance houseplant.

A few basics:

1) Keep your Phal out of drafts. Although the plant can take temps down to about 55 degrees, when it's in bloom don't let it get colder than 65 or buds may blast (turn yellow and fall off).

2) Don't overwater! Most Phals are potted in long grain sphagnum moss. It's great for commercial growers because it stays in place when the plants are shipped. But it's not so great for beginning indoor gardeners because it holds moisture SO long. The top feels dry, but if you poke your finger into the moss an inch or two, it's still plenty wet. A Phal potted in sphagnum won't need water more than once every 7-10 days, depending on the temp of your home. If the orchid is potted in a bark mix, check it every 5-7 days.

3) Remove spent flowers. Phals can bloom for up to 6 months (no joke), although 2-3 is more normal. Flowers open from the bottom of the stem upwards, so remove each flower as it wilts and fades. This keeps the stem looking fresh and new.

4) Extend your bloom season. When all the flowers have passed and the stem of your Phal is still green, cut the stem just above a node. About 60% of the time the orchid will produce a new bloom spike from the node. When the stem turns brown, cut it off at its base.

5) Be reasonable. Phals bloom once a year. I get so many calls from people complaining about dead orchids because the flowering has stopped. As the pet shop owner on Monty Python said, "It's not dead! It's just resting!" As long as the foliage is healthy, your orchid is alive and there's no reason to think it won't put on another glorious show next year at about the same time.

Where to buy? We're lucky in NYC, because in addition to big box stores, botanical gardens, and neighborhood florists, we have the plant district! It's smaller than it used to be, but there's still a block of stores on 28th Street, between 6th and 7th. They used to be wholesale only, but most will sell to anyone these days. Some of my favorites are Holiday Foliage (116 W 28), Foliage Garden (120 W 28), Fischer & Page (150 W 28) and Noble Planta (106-A W 28).

2 comments:

sarah said...

Wow - you make it sound so easy! Maybe I'll pick one up and give it a try.

Ellen Zachos said...

Let me know how it goes, sistah!

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