The care and feeding of an orchid addiction
by Linda Marrone
May 29, 2008 | 780 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Orchids were once considered a rare and an extravagant pleasure. Today, orchids are imported from all over the world to meet a growing demand and are even available in grocery stores. This increased availability has brought the price of orchid plants down substantially, but many people still shy away from them because they feel orchids may be too exotic and difficult to grow. The truth is that most are not.

Orchids belong to the world's most diverse family of plants, and there are literally thousands of species found throughout the world. These plants are survivors, are very adaptable and enjoy the same type of environment as humans: not too hot, not too cold, just a happy medium, which generally means temperatures between 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. In most cases, orchids prefer warm days and cool nights. It is the cooler temperatures at night that help to create their flowers. Orchids should be kept out of direct sun, since most are used to growing under the canopies of trees in dappled sunlight. They prefer to be kept away from cold drafts, heaters and air conditioners that can rob the plant of much-needed humidity. Air circulation is crucial "” again, think of their natural habitat high in the trees.

This past December, we spent Christmas on a friend's island in Panama and I observed firsthand how orchids grow in the wild. High up in the trees, orchids, bromeliads and tillandsias clung to the trunks and branches, creating an elegant umbrella of color. The delicate white blossoms of the Brassavola nodosa (Lady of the Night) and Epidendrum parkinsoninum were just beginning to open in December, which is the beginning of the region's dry season. I have a Brassavola nodosa in my garden that is mounted on bark and hangs over a waterfall in partial shade. Except for a few months in winter, when temperatures drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit and I put it in a greenhouse to keep warm, the orchid flourishes in the outdoor environment and blooms in late summer. Keeping the orchid moist with a misting bottle of water in between waterings during its growing season, along with a diluted application of 20-20-20 orchid fertilizer in the spring, seems to keep the plant quite happy.

If you do not have the perfect place in your home to grow orchids but want to have mature, healthy plants, Cal Pacific Orchid Farm in Encinitas offers a room and board program that is designed just for orchids. Their 36,000-square-foot greenhouse space has the perfect environment for growing most orchids, and the nursery is dedicated to the growing, hybridizing and preservation of orchids. Why should you consider boarding your orchid plants? As an orchid plant matures, it increases in size and value. These mature plants are not the usual suspects we find at the nurseries for sale, and specimen-size orchids produce many more flowers and can sell for hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.

With more than a thousand orchid guests boarded at their greenhouse, which I refer to as the "orchid spa," the nursery has a one-month minimum charge for boarding your plants and a five-plant minimum. The average cost for each orchid is $1.75 per month; larger orchids such as cymbidiums are $3. At the "spa," your orchids are treated to a routine of just the right amount of watering, feeding and humidity. When they are in bloom, you receive a call from the nursery telling you it is time to pick them up.

If you have always wanted to grow orchids, don't be afraid "” the nursery can help direct you to the perfect orchid for your environment. Many extensive collections are not grown in greenhouses, and there may be a variety perfect for your environment, indoors or out. A helpful publication about orchids is Smith & Hawken's "100 orchids for the American Gardener" by Elvin McDonald. The book can be purchased at their store or online.

Be warned, orchids can become an addiction "” just ask my husband. Once you have one rebloom you will become hooked. When your collection grows and you run out of room at your home, remember you can rely on Cal Pacific to board all of your new additions. Cal Pacific Orchid Farm is located at 1122 Orpheus Ave. in Leucadia. For information, call (760) 436-0317.

"” Linda is a local Realtor with Coldwell Banker who specializes in historic and architecturally designed homes. She is a co-founder of the Secret Garden Tour and enjoys working in her historic La Jolla garden (featured on the 2001 garden tour) every chance she gets. www.LindaMarrone.com, voicemail: (858) 456-3224. 
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