Monday, 05 January 2015 23:08

Gardening at Altitude in Boulder County

A friend of mine jokes that she's a terrible gardener, one who can kill a plant just walking past it at the store. But she loves flowers and wants to grow them, so the best gift to give her is a plant that's beautiful, long lasting, and tough as nails: an orchid.

Their delicate beauty hides a strength that's perfect for those whose hearts are green but thumbs are brown. If you've been given an orchid this year, the secret to success is location, location, location. And a little bit of fertilizer.

In winter, the best light for orchids is within 2 feet of a window. Because our sun is intense even in winter, avoid burned leaves by making sure sunlight doesn't fall directly on the leaves if it's in a south or west-facing window.

Orchids like the same temperatures humans do, but just like people, within the orchid family some plants prefer cool, warm or intermediate conditions. My spouse would get along great with cool or intermediate-growing types, such as cymbidiums (cool), cattleyas and dendrobiums (intermediate); they prefer nighttime temperatures of 55 degrees. I, whose teeth chatter when temperatures plunge below 65 degrees, love warm growers, like Phalaenopsis, which need 60 to 65 degree nights.

All orchids need a difference between day and night temperatures, so place cool and intermediate types in a room that warms to 70 degrees during the day, and warm types in areas getting a toasty 75 degrees. Be sure they're not placed over heaters or vents from the furnace; too much warmth and the orchids dry out, dropping leaves or slowing growth.

When selecting a spot for your orchid, include humidity in your criteria, which is crucial to orchids. Removed from their moist, natural habitat, most require supplemental humidity in dry Colorado homes.

Misting the foliage is one way to approach this, if you have time and a love of repeating tasks throughout the day. If misting morning, noon, and night gets old, you could go to the local home improvement store for a whole house humidifier if your furnace doesn't have one. For a mere $160 plus the fee to a HVAC company to install it, your orchid will be cozy in perfect, 30 to 40-percent humidity.

An easier approach is to place a pebble tray filled with water under the plant. Simply take a tray and layer small stones evenly along the bottom, then fill with enough water to reach the top of the stones. Place potted plants on this tray, but take care that the water is not touching the pot itself.

Refill the pebble tray often to keep the humidity levels even, and group plants closely together. Water vapor coming off the soil or clay pots adds to the air moisture of the happy group.

Many orchids are adapted to grow on trees (epiphytes) or rocks (lithophytes), but not in soil. Rather, they rest lightly in decaying leaves or loose organic matter from which they pull water and nutrients. To mimic this condition, most orchids aren't planted in soil; they usually come in a soilless media.

If allowed to stand in water or chronically moist soil, orchid roots will rot. Let the media dry out slightly between watering. Twice weekly, check the pot to see if your orchid needs water by poking your finger into the media up to the first knuckle. If it feels moist, you don't need to water.

Fertilization of the orchid should be done often, since the loose media doesn't hold nutrients for long. Soluble fertilizer blended especially for orchids can be found at local garden centers or at Fantasy Orchids, 830 West Cherry St. in Louisville. Follow the package directions for frequency and fertilizer strength, but in general, a weak solution should be provided weekly.

 
By Carol O'Meara

CSU Cooperative Extension

Posted: 12/18/2014 01:00:00 AM MST
 

&nbs

Read 1086 times Last modified on Monday, 05 January 2015 23:19
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