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What's bugging you? Dec. 20, 2017

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Moth orchid

How many of you have looked wistfully at the beautiful orchids at City Market? I have and I finally purchased one, a white moth orchid from the genus, Phalaenopsis.

I know what you are thinking. Indoor plants, that's not gardening! But I beg to differ. My younger son in Texas loves plants but most are planted in pots and live either in his enclosed patio or in his house. Actually most are in his house in the winter time. And I'm talking almost 50 plants.

But let's talk moth orchids. They come in a variety of colors from white to purple to blue to multicolored ones. These orchids are inexpensive and easy to grow. They generally come planted in a bark potting medium that drains very well. Most are in plastic pots with many holes, allowing good drainage. These plastic pots are then generally placed in a decorative ceramic container without holes.

Since these orchids grow on trees, they do not like their roots sitting in perpetually wet soil or potting media. They produce many aerial surface roots that often climb right out of the pot. When these roots turn silvery, your orchid needs water.

There are other orchids to choose from other than moth orchids but some of these are toxic to cats and dogs. Moth orchids are safe. These orchids need indirect light to flourish. Too much sunlight and the leaves will turn light green. Too little light, the leaves turn very dark green.

Watering is fairly simple. I remove the plastic pot containing the orchid and place it in a container or sink where it can stand in tepid water for about five minutes. Then I drain the pot before placing it back in its decorative container. Some people put these pots on trays with gravel and water to increase local humidity. I find this is often unnecessary.

Watering should take place every seven to 10 days. Do not use the ice cube method of watering. They really don't like cold water. I would also fertilize with a balanced fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® every second or third watering using a half rate of the recommended amount.

These orchids hold their flowers for a very long time. After they are through flowering you can cut the flowering stem all the way down to the leaves. This would delay the next flowering anywhere from 4-12 months but the flowers would be larger. If you buy smallish plants you would be advised to prune this way. But once plants are larger, you can force more frequent flowering (2-3 months) by cutting between the first and second node down from the branched flower stems. Make all cuts with a sharp blade like a single edged razor blade.

You can repot every 2-3 years making sure not to choose too big of a pot. These orchids do not like a lot of wet, unnecessary potting media. I recommend bark over other types of potting media.

Well that's my take on these beautiful flowering plants. And don't tell me I'm not gardening when I take care of indoor or container grown plants. Because I am!

Jim Leser retired to Cedaredge in 2007 after a career with Texas A&M University Extension in entomology. He is a member of the Cedaredge Tree Board and a Colorado Master Gardener.

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Jim Leser, What's Bugging You
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