Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Growing Up: Exotic, elegant orchids are a popular blooming plant choice

Happy Orchid month! Yes, March is indeed the month that we celebrate the grace and elegance of the orchid. They look fragile and hard to take care of, but they are the opposite.

With exotic long-lasting blossoms, it's no surprise that orchids have become one of the most popular blooming plant purchases by consumers, second only to poinsettias.

Orchids are the largest family of flowering plants in nature with new species being discovered every year. Every country in the world and every state in the United States, including Alaska, has native orchids and there are over 100,000 registered hybrids.

What does this mean? That there is an orchid out there for you.

The best overall performer for growing inside the home is the phalaenopsis. Understanding where the orchid varieties are found in nature is key to selecting the "right" orchid for you.

Phalaenopis (fail-ee-nop-sis) orchids are found in tropical areas growing in the bark of a tree. The moisture varies from heavy to dry, depending on the season. High winds are also present at times.

We recommend placing the orchid in an area with good air circulation, the proper light (see chart), and humidity.

The hardest component to properly achieve in our area is humidity.

This can be accomplished by placing the orchid on a bed of pea gravel in a plastic saucer filled with some water in the gravel. The humidity will increase in the little ecosystem that has been created and provide an environment for success. Bathrooms with good light are great, but the humidity from a shower is only advisable in the morning. The water during the rest of the day has to have enough time to evaporate from the leaves of the orchids.

If you are a "shower-at-night person", the kitchen counter works well also because of the humidity created from washing dishes.

Give an orchid a try. They bloom once a year, and the blooms last a long time. To have constant blooms, you simply add another plant that is in full bloom when the first has expired and so on. With about 6-7 orchids, blooms are possible all year long. In fact, some cities have orchid "babysitting" services, where you can leave your orchid with someone to care for it while it is not in bloom. When it's ready to bloom again, the "sitter" calls to tell the customer it's time to pick up their orchid.

Any budding entrepreneurs out there? (Pun intended!)

Jim Gainan is President of Gainan's Flower and Garden Center in Billings.