Sunday Gardening – The Epiphytic Moth Orchid

I was born around mid-February, which makes me a free-spirited, eclectic, water-bearing Aquarius. And although I hardly ever read or follow daily horoscopes, I do find the subject of astrology entertaining and rather interesting. I particularly enjoy learning about the zodiac signs that are associated with the closest people in my life.

For those of you who have taken even a slight interest in this controversial ‘science’, you’ve learned that every astrological sign has its own set of personal characteristics. Included in this mix are the representative symbols (water-bearer, crab, lion, twins and so forth), the associated elements (fire, earth, air, water), favourite colour(s), most compatible signs, ruling planet(s), quality (fixed, mutable, cardinal), preferred day of the week, positive and negative personality traits, metals, gemstones, lucky numbers, most suitable careers, possible health concerns, commonly-used phrases, likes, dislikes, and a whole slew of other related factors.

With so many interesting components used to define each unique sign, it stands to reason that plants and flowers are included in the mix. According to several sources of information on astrology, each sign is drawn to different botanical beauties. Some of the plants suitable to individuals born under my sign include: Sarracenia (Pitcher Plant), Zantedeschia Aethiopica (Arum Lily), Eryngium (Sea Holly), Polygonatum Commutatum (Solomon’s Seal), Strelitzia (Bird Of Paradise), Banksia, Protea, Arisaema Triphyllum (Jack-in-the-Pulpit), Gladiolus, Olea (Olive), Sambucus Canadensis (Elderberry), Yucca and Trillium Ovatum.

That’s quite a list that’s been decided on my account, considering that I don’t even like half the plants listed above. While I do find the Arum Lily, Pitcher Plant, Olea, Yucca and Bird of Paradise very appealing, the rest don’t even come close. But there is a beautiful flowering plant that the ‘zodiac experts’ have assigned as perfectly fitting to the Aquarian personality, which they are absolutely right about (at least for me). I purposely left it out of the abovementioned since it’s the plant I will be writing about today. That lovely, popular, treasured specimen is (drum roll please) the Orchid.

No Other Plant Compares To The Beauty Of An Orchid

An Orchid is a prime candidate for anyone looking for something exceptional to grow. These queens of the flowering plants – once collected by the wealthy – are now available to everyone. There is an impressive selection to choose from in a variety of colours, sizes, habits and fragrances. And there’s no need to be intimidated by their exotic good looks; the ones that are readily available are also surprisingly easy to grow. If you can grow houseplants, you can grow Orchids.

Found on all continents excluding Antarctica, most of these plants are epiphytes, although there are also terrestrial and lithophytic (grow in or on rocks) varieties. With flowers in solid, striped or speckled shades of red, orange, yellow, brown, green, white, pink or yellow, there is an Orchid sure to satisfy even the most discerning palette.

As a very large and diverse family of plants, it should come as no surprise that requirements vary considerably depending on which Orchid you choose to grow. In order to succeed with these pretty bloomers, it is imperative that you research and learn as much as possible about the habits and growing needs of each species, and then apply that knowledge accordingly.

While each type has its own special needs, there are a few general rules that they all share: average room temperatures are ideal, hot and stuffy rooms are to be avoided, good quality light is essential, protection from midday sun is a must, compost must be kept moist but never soggy, a fast-draining soil is necessary and high humidity is important.

If you are new to growing Orchids, you should consider starting with varieties that are the most suitable to the growing conditions of homes, particularly your home, until you gain some experience. Certain species of Paphiopedilum – with their long-lasting, beautiful flowers – are good starter plants. But the extremely popular Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid) is one of the best candidates for the average home. This is the plant that I will write about today.

Caring For An Epiphytic Moth

Even if you’ve never grown an Orchid, you probably recognize the regularly-available and increasingly popular Phalaenopsis, generally referred to as the Moth Orchid. The plant derives its common name from the way the flowers it grows resemble a moth with outstretched wings.

This Orchid, found frequently in garden centers, is grown especially for beginners with its simple care requirements and quick adaptability to the indoor environment of homes. The blooming period can last up to three months or more, and some of the newer hybrids flower all year round, some of which exude a pleasant fragrance.

Over the years, hybridization by growers has produced many different variations of the Moth Orchid, increasing the species dramatically. Ranging in flower buds from vibrant pinks and mauves, to whites, yellows, reds, violets, browns and even pale greens, there are many different types to choose from. And together with a wide selection of colours, flowers also come in various forms with different markings.

Easily maintained from one year to the next, there is no doubt that the exotic Phalaenopsis is a lovely addition to any interiorscape with its striking flowers and thick, shiny leaves that emerge from the central crown.

Like all epiphytic orchids, the Phalaenopsis does not require any soil to grow in and is therefore usually sold in a clear container filled with a growing medium that is specially-prepared for orchids. The medium provides stability by anchoring the plant, but it also allows for quick drainage and very good aeration – two very important factors in keeping the thick, fleshy roots on this plant healthy. It is important to heed this advice; orchids are quite often killed by being planted in soil mixes used by commonly-grown houseplants that lead to root rot.

The Moth Orchid does not enjoy being grown in dark corners nor does it appreciate having the scorching midday sun beating down on it. The best light is indirect light. Choose a bright spot but avoid direct noontime sun. Early morning or late afternoon sunlight in an east or west facing location is ideal, but you can also place this plant in a southern location in indirect light. If the available locations in your home do not offer enough natural light, which is important in healthy growth and flower development, consider supplemental lighting.

Average room temperatures that are comfortable for you are also acceptable to your orchid during the day time; cooler nights, if possible, are preferred. Hot and stuffy locations should be avoided; provide plenty of fresh air and proper ventilation, but avoid cold drafts, which can prove fatal. Humidity is essential to an orchid. Increase the levels by placing the plant on a pebble tray.

Be careful with watering this plant that is susceptible to root rot but also hates being left to dry out until it’s wilting. Keep the plant moderately damp; water only when the medium begins to dry out, but never allow it to dry out completely either. When it’s time to water, water thoroughly until it runs out from the drainage holes. Do not leave your plant standing in water; dump the excess promptly.

A Moth Orchid’s flowering period is impressively (and appreciatively) long, but like all good things, it does eventually come to an end – until the next time. When the flowering period has ended, cut off the flower spike slightly above the third node, starting from the bottom. If after two or three weeks a small flower spike does not emerge (another one does occasionally grow), cut off the entire spike down to the base.

Hydroculture And The Epiphytic Moth – A Perfect Match

There is no question that this Orchid and hydroculture make beautiful music together considering that no soil whatsoever is required for healthy growth. In fact, the roots of a Phalaenopsis will cling to whatever is offered to them; in this case it is clay pellets. What better way to eliminate the guesswork involved in watering a plant that is susceptible to root rot and requires perfectly moist soil than by growing it in this soilless system? The epiphytic moth converts effortlessly, and readily adopts the hydroculture growing style. This is truly a perfect match.

While the Phalaenopsis is one of the easiest orchids to grow indoors, you don’t have to settle for that one, nor do you need a greenhouse, terrarium or any other special setup to grow them successfully; they are not as delicate as you think. They can be grown indoors like your other houseplants as long as their specific needs are met. And while it’s true that you can’t just place them anywhere, the chances of you matching an orchid (with so many varieties to choose from) to the growing conditions you have to offer are excellent.

Thankfully, my zodiac sign includes a beautiful plant that “….no other plant compares to…”

What plants are included in your sun sign?

Contributed by Martha Plousos
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