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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Eight Ways to Kill Your Orchid

Confession: Like most professional growers I have killed a shocking number of plants during my career. But wait a minute. Should this be shocking? The way I look at it, if you haven't failed --if you haven't killed lots of different plants during your career as a horticulturist-- then you haven't been stretching yourself enough. I'm not happy about the ones I've loved and lost, but my point is that a good grower --one who learns from her mistakes-- can tell you just as much about how to kill a plant as she can about how to grow it. So here's the guide you won't find on Martha Stewart TV.

Eight Ways to Kill Your Orchid

1. Water it every day.
The Most Frequently Asked Question that we receive at the FOC is, "Do you water the orchids every day?" The answer is, "No, but we check them every day." Checking means looking at the potting mix to see if it is dry. A good grower checks the potting mix daily and learns to recognize the change in color that accompanies the drying process. Checking is what separates the green thumbs from the black thumbs.

2. Establish a watering schedule for your orchid. Make it conform to your schedule. Water it on the same day of the week that you go to the gym, or the grocery or the car wash.
This one is really tempting. But let's say it's September. Did you notice that yesterday was one and a half minutes shorter than the day before? Maybe not, but your plant did. Did you notice that the sun is now lower in the sky than it was in July? Your plant did. So, two months from now, when your plant receives one less hour of light and considerably weaker light intensity does it make sense to water with the same frequency?

3. Water your orchid whenever you water your other plants.
Convenient, yes. Good horticulture, no.

4. Water your Phalaenopsis orchid with ice cubes.
Tell me you don't do this. In nature a Moth Orchid seldom experiences temperatures below 60┬║. And you're thinking about applying ice water to its roots? Seriously? Why not just put it in the freezer for a day? You can revive it later by dropping it into a pot of boiling water.

5. Find out where your orchid is native to and water it when the weatherchannel says it's raining there. This strategy wouldn't work even if you and your houseplant lived in its country of origin. Why not? Microclimate matters more to an orchid than macroclimate. Even if your condo is located in the rainforest, the kitchen window microclimate where your potted orchid resides is different from the microclimate within the tree canopy outside.

6. Force it to live its entire life in a beautiful pot with no drainage holes, in a dense soil mix, and smothered with florist's moss. 
I know you received it from the florist this way. It looks great, I admit. Shouldn't they know better? What do you think? I think the florist's priority is how the plant looks, not how well it grows

7. Force it to live its entire life in the same soil mix that the grower put it in.
After two years an orchid mix is history. Orchids in conventional (peatmoss-based) houseplant soil should be sold with CAVEAT EMPTOR (Buyer Beware) stamped on the pot. The structure of peatmoss (and composted pine bark) is too fine and too dense to be a good long term medium for plants that in nature grow in trees. It retains loads of water and breaks down quickly. At our Orchid Care Clinic we do more post-mortums on orchids in this mix than any other.

You may have received it from the grower in this mix. Shouldn't they know better? Look at it from the grower's perspective. Peat-based mixes are cheap, widely available, uniform, sterile and lightweight (meaning inexpensive to ship). Young orchids reach flowering size rapidly in this mix, saving production time and labor, and then can be swiftly passed along to the consumer. What's not to like?

8. Bring your orchid to our Orchid Care Clinic (good so far) on the coldest day in January. One the way home leave it in your unheated car while your visit every store in Lenox Mall. 
Oh no. More blood on my hands.

Do you have a similar list? Don't hide it. It means you've learned something, and that's good. It means you're growing ...even when you're plants aren't.

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