Moth orchids are no shrinking violets | Ciscoe Morris
What to get a budding gardener, and how to nurture a moth orchid? Garden writer Ciscoe Morris offers tips on both.
Special to The Seattle Times
In the Garden
Q: I received a beautiful moth orchid in full bloom as a holiday gift. Is it possible to grow this plant as a houseplant?
A: It’s hard to believe that the delicate-looking moth orchid (Phalaenopsis), with its elegant, arching wands of colorful moth-shaped flowers, is one of the easiest orchids to grow in the house. It’ll even rebloom as long as you meet its needs. These tropical forest plants prefer a bright location but will burn up in direct sunshine. Raise humidity by placing it on a moist pebble tray; plus mist daily before noon. Overwatering kills more Phalaenopsis than anything else. Water only when the planting medium feels dry, and the pot feels light when lifted. Water until it runs through into the saucer, but toss out the excess and never allow the plant to sit in water. Feed with a half-strength dilution of orchid food once per month in winter, and once per week in summer. When the last flower fades, cut to a node 2/3 of the way back on the wand. If all goes well, a new flower stalk should grow from that location. It won’t happen, however, unless you use a trick: Although Phalaenopsis prefer daytime temperatures around 70 degrees, in order to set blooms they must experience nightly temperatures that are about 15 degrees lower (mid 50s). Don’t let night temperatures drop too low, however. If they sink into the 40s, you can forget about flowers. Dead plants just don’t bloom well.
Q: What is the most useful garden tool I can give to a budding gardener as a Christmas present?
A: Without doubt, buy your gardener friend a quality pair of hand pruners. I’ve tried most every brand available and, in my opinion, the best ones are Felco brand, model No. 8 for right handers and number 9 for lefties. Constructed of top-quality Swiss steel, the blades are easy to sharpen and hold an edge well. The bright-red handles are easy to spot if you drop them in the garden and are ergonomically designed to fit comfortably in all but the smallest hands. Although it’s rarely necessary, all parts, including the blades, are replaceable. Along with the pruners, give your friend a leather holster and a sharpening file. Using the holster protects pockets and upholstery. The holster also makes pruning easier because you always have access to your pruners. The sharpening file, used only on the bezel edge, will keep the blades razor-sharp. Finally, encourage your friend to attend a Plant Amnesty pruning seminar before you “accidentally” slip how much you paid for this gift. That way your friend will be a skilled pruner when he or she trims your shrubs from now on in an effort to thank you!
Ciscoe Morris: firstname.lastname@example.org “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.