Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Beautiful blooming orchids are easy to grow

March 10, 2013 12:00 am
March is Orchid month. The old saying, "you can't fail with a phalaenopsis" is really true. These beauties grow in the wild like weeds --attaching themselves to the bark on trees. They are classified as epiphytes -- plants that grow directly on other plants without any soil. These beauties grow in the wild, attaching themselves to the bark on trees.

The last time I had an orchid it was "dishwasher-safe", meaning -- plastic. It wasn't until last year that I first endeavored into the world of orchids. I was amazed at the neglect this plant would suffer and still thrive. It was just the perfect combination of sun, humidity and watering, which in my case, had no pre-planning involved.

After it finished its blooming cycle, I bought another and sat it right next to my first. Now the second one has finished and to my surprise, the first orchid is about to send out a shoot, which soon will be brimming with blooms.

I used to think orchids were only grown by people with really green thumbs or by those who could afford to have someone else care for them. I’ve learned that is not the case. If I told you that I knew of a live plant that looks exotic and complicated, that bloomed once a year for two to nine months, required a little easterly sun, and some humidity, would you believe it’s an orchid?

It’s true. The little beauties known to thrive on “benign neglect” are easy to care for, and very rewarding to grow. Orchids that come from reputable orchid farms are only sold through full service greenhouse operations.

Just like produce, you can tell when you are buying a good one. Orchids sold by mass merchandisers are not a great choice for the beginner because they haven’t had a great start. They’re usually smaller, light-deprived and in plastic sleeves. The success rate is low and part of the reason why many consumers believe that they are hard-to-grow.

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. Phalaenopsis (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 for 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. Once you’ve established your indoor orchid garden, your family and friends will marvel at your talent. Let’s keep the fact that they’re really easy to grow between us!

Jim Gainan is president of Gainan’s Flower and Garden Center in Billings.