In 1978 a plant known as P. Golden Emperor ‘Sweet’ was sold in Taiwan for $100,000. Now plants of this species have become a mass market commodity and can be found in local grocery stores for less than $10. What are they? Orchids.
With annual sales of $86.3 million, orchids are arguably the best selling potted flower in the United States and chances are you either received one for a gift this Christmas, or have had one in the past. Like other plants, many orchids are imported from places like South America, the Philippines, or Taiwan and several countries in South American have had to ban orchid collecting in order to prevent extinction. Yet how did they get to be so inexpensive and such a commodity?
The answer to that is simple. Overseas growers learned how to grow them too well and subsequently flooded the world market. Many growers originally started with other products, like sugar, but found orchids to be a more profitable crop so made the switch. Today orchids are grown in almost every country in the world.
If you received one of these beautiful plants as a gift over the holidays, the good news is that they are much easier to care for than the reputation they have gotten. There are a few tips I want to share so you will be successful with your tropical beauty.
The first is to be careful with your watering. I take my orchids and run them under tepid tap water once a week in order to keep the roots moist. Water that is too hot or too cold will shock the plant. Depending on the air in your house, once a week really is enough to keep most orchids happy and healthy. If you run a wood stove, you may need to water slightly more frequently, but not much. You don’t need to mist them either. Orchids are like people- neither like to be wet all the time!
Don’t over fertilize, especially in the winter. When growing season returns in the spring, feed them once a month with fertilizer at half or quarter strength of what is recommended on the package.
Keep it in a cool spot, but not where the temps will get below 50 degrees. Orchids don’t want to be in full sun, so keep them away from a window that gets direct sunlight, especially those that are south facing. It’s easy to burn your plant this way! Filtered sunlight is best and be sure the plant has good ventilation. Orchids don’t like crowds, though grouping them with other orchids to create a favorably humid environment is fine.
When they become too large for the pot they arrived in, it’s time to transplant them into a larger one but wait to transplant until it’s out of bloom. When it’s flowering, all of the plant’s energy is being directed towards those flowers and transplanting at that time will result in transplant shock. Use a good quality bark, perlite, or orchid mix when you transplant as potting soil is too dense for good root growth. Remember that these are plants that originally lived on the bark of trees in the forests. Though potting soil is fine for most things, orchids are one plant where you are better off investing in a mix specifically for them. Generally it’s best to repot every couple of years to allow the plant room for its roots to grow.
Keeping the plant clean will also help to keep your orchid happy and healthy. Wipe the leaves every week or so when you water to remove the dust. This is also a good time to check for any insects that may have appeared. Orchids can be magnets for pests like aphids, mealybugs, thrips and scale, but you should have few problems if the plant starts out happy and healthy and you take regular care of it.
Orchids have indeed become a commodity in the plant world, but these exotic beauties are still lovely to have in any home. With a little care, yours could easily be a colorful showpiece in your houseplant collection for many years to come.