Classic Beauty: Orchids Becoming More Popular With Plant Lovers
Orchids are one of the most beautiful flowers, representing a highly evolved family that inhabits an incredible range of diversity in size, shape and color.
They are most pampered and occupy the No. 1 place among all the flowering plants valued for cut flowers and as potted plants. They are also known for their longer lasting and beautiful flowers that seem to make flower growers apprehensive about their care.
"People love their orchids to death," says Linda Thorne, owner of Seagrove Orchids. "If you think orchids are difficult to grow, rethink the process because orchids tend to be misunderstood. You just have to know how to take care of them."
Situated on a 37 acres at the border of Moore and Randolph counties, Thorne currently grows orchids in two greenhouses. An active orchid hobbyist for 18 years, she raises most orchids from seed.
"It takes three years to grow one phalaenopsis and up to 10 years to grow a vanda," she says.
Of the 30,000 species, some of the more popular orchids are phalaenopsis (which grows year round), cymbidium, dendrobium and oncidium. Others are paphiopedilum (lady's slipper), cattylas and vandas.
"Orchids are often overfed and over-watered," says Thorne. "The high demand to raise orchids from seed has increased quite a bit. People especially like to grow phalaenopsis."
The use of orchid seed has revolutionized orchid growing as every viable seed can be turned into a new plant. This has put orchid growing on par with other greenhouse crops.
"Propagation has become popular," says Thorne.
This can be done with cattleya, which bloom two or three times, and cymbidium and dendrobium, where a young shoot arising from the back bulb provides material. Even flower-stalk cutting can be used. Some growers use the leaf and root.
Vanda can be multiplied by air-layering. The propagation of orchids through cuttings is becoming popular. Dendrobiums are very fast-growing and can be divided every year. Cuttings can be potted directly in pots after treating the cut ends with fungicide to prevent rotting.
"If you're a beginner, it is easy to work with phalaenopsis and paphiopedilum," says Thorne. "They are more flexible and bloom longer than many other orchids. The dendrobium needs tons of light to grow."
Thorne says that 99 percent of orchids live on the sides of trees and are called epiphytes.
"When people have them in pots at home, they should try to replicate the environment," she says. "And although orchids grow in the rainforest, the tree roots are almost totally dry at night. But people have a tendency to keep orchids too wet."
She says that care should be taken to water the plants with a fine spray and not to hit the plants with powerful jets of water. Newly potted plants should be watered very sparingly until new roots appear and then watering should be increased. Orchids should be potted in small containers or under-potted to get more flowers. Cymbidium enjoys repotting after three years, but paphiopedilum should not be disturbed unless really necessary.
"When potting an orchid, use a typical mix such as perlite, charcoal, bark, and some type of rock such as lava rock," says Thorne.
The bloom time differs on each orchid. The flowers of paphiopedilum last two months while the phalaenopsis and dendrobium remain in bloom over a longer period of time. Cattlya is known as the "corsage" orchid, and many people use this flower during Easter and prom times.
"The Cattlya wants to be dry between watering times, and the flowers will last for six weeks with a wonderful aroma," says Thorne. "Cymbidium has grown in popularity because of the miniatures and the fragrance. The Oncidium 'Sharry Baby' smells like chocolate."
Thorne advises that orchids should not be exposed to temperatures of less than 62 degrees.
"Orchids don't like constant heat," she says. "At night they like to cool down. It's best to keep them in a southern or eastern window. And it's okay for the temperature to reach 98 degrees for short spells. They love shade tree protection, dappled light being the best. And five or more hours is recommended in direct light. Very poor light produces weak plants and slows flowering."
Thorne recommends a water soluble fertilizer.
"The orchids need minimal feeding, so you can cut the food by one-half during the summer season or one-fourth strength during the winter season," she says. "Peters or Miracle Gro are recommended for every third watering."
Thorne received the 2008 Award of Quality. This prestigious award is given to a grower when 12 or more orchids are flowering from the same seed cross via both parents. To be eligible, at least one of the orchids must have previously been shown at a judging center and granted a single award.
The Award of Quality is a difficult achievement, granted to the hybridizer and not to the orchid itself.
Thorne enjoys giving talks and tours to any one or a group of interested gardeners or hobbyists.
Seagrove Orchids is decorating the main hallway for this year's Christmas at Weymouth.
"This year the tour will take place Dec. 4-7," says Thorne. "Every orchid, all plant material, and orchid container will be available for purchase starting at 2 p.m. Dec. 7, the last day of the tour."
Thorne is a judge for The American Orchid Society, an educational trainer, regional director for the National Phalaenopsis Alliance and secretary for the Slipper Orchid Alliance.
Seagrove Orchids is located at 3451 Brower Mill Road in Seagrove and is open from Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. year round. For information regarding tours, call Thorne at (336) 879-6677.
Anita Stone is a Raleigh freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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