A Classic Plant for the Holidays and Beyond


The Phalaenopsis orchid is not a plant that one necessarily associates with the holidays. But ever since I got a classic with “phal” as they are often known, staked with a red and green candy cane stake, I have always thought that they are a great holiday plant (in fact, the poinsettia is the number 1 bestselling plant and the Phalaenopsis orchid is the second best-selling plant).

Many people shy away from orchids because they think they are difficult plants. They are very easy plants–after all, how hard can they be if every big box store and supermarket can stock them?

There are just a few simple things to remember: first, you can follow the instructions and “just add ice.” I don’t do that. I wouldn’t like anyone putting ice on me and my house is already cold enough–I don’t need to be chilling my plants down any further.

All of these plants are sold in a “2 pot” system: a decorative outer pot and then the inner pot holding the orchid. The way I water them is to remove the inner pot, take it to the sink, run water over the bark or the moss holding the plant in the pot until water comes out the bottom, letting all the water drain completely through, and then I return the inner pot to the decorative outer pot.

orchid with dry roots

How often do I do this? It depends. Phalaenopsis are great at telling you when they need to be watered. You can see their roots through that inner pot in most cases. If their roots are still green, or mostly green, they are still wet enough. If they are white, they need. water. Simple enough. The photo above shows the very white roots needing water.

watered roots

Here is the same plant, after watering (it is the same plant in the topmost photo, so you can see what the “inner pot” looks like as well). While the green, newly watered roots aren’t as visible as I would like, they show up nicely at the bottom of the pot.

The only other trick is that I don’t water the leaves. That can lead to rot, especially in my cold house.

orchid spike

Once it’s warm (say Memorial Day in my part of the country) I put them outside in the shade.  I bring them back in around Labor Day before it gets too cool. They will then begin setting flower spikes for new blooms. The flower spikes look like this. They are distinguishable from the white, above-the-pot roots by being green all the time and by their smooth texture.

Phalaenopsis only bloom once a year but the blooms can last for 4-6 months or longer. What more could you ask?

Wordless Wednesday–Anticipation

Orchid with scape

For those of you that got orchids for the holidays, congratulations. If you did, you can expect, a long period of bloom from them–a minimum of 3 months usually.

It’s once they go out of bloom that folks begin to have issues. First of all, they expect the plant to bloom continuously–almost like an african violet or something. It’s not. Think of it as an indoor perennial. It blooms once, then it needs to rest and restore its energy until it blooms again, usually the following year.

But what perennial do you know that will bloom as long as 3 months (and I’ve had some that have bloomed as long as 9 months!) These are great work horses of the plant world! So when they stop blooming, don’t just throw them out! Water them, care for them, and they will reward you.

Native Orchids and Their Pollinators

This post has something for everyone in North America: the orchids are native in ranges from Alaska and parts of Canada to Texas, Florida and Mexico.

And it has all sorts of pollinators too: bees, flies, beetles and yes, even the most unpopular mosquito! Who knew that a mosquito was even a pollinator?!

What on earth sort of orchid has a mosquito for a pollinator? Well, it’s a very nondescript little native orchid called the blunt leaved orchid. It is native to our colder regions beginning at the Arctic Circle and coming as far south as New York in the East and Oregon in the West. Its flowers are tiny and almost the same green as the stem. Its pollinator, the aedes communis mosquito, actually can be found outside of that range–and of course feasts on humans as well.

Other native orchids like the showy lady’s slipper (you may be more familiar with that one–the lovely pink native slipper orchid), while it is visited by a number of flies, beetles and bees, apparently is only pollinated by a specific sort of miner bee. I am fortunate enough to have this type of bee nesting in my gardens–one rare benefit of heavy clay, I suppose–and I am happy to host it!

Where am I getting this obscure knowledge? Pollinator.org, of course, the source for all things anyone might need to know about pollinators and home of the Pollinator Partnership. There is a great poster there available for ordering which shows the native orchids and their pollinators.

There’s also an individual list of each orchid on the poster, and a list of each pollinator of the orchids.

So this is a pretty neat site and a pretty great resource for some pretty obscure stuff. But if it keeps us from using a bug zapper to kill moths–which are great pollinators–I for one will be very happy!

Wordless Wednesday–What on Earth Is This?!

orchid flower close-up

I said at the beginning of the month that I was relying on my house plants to help me get through the month. But when a house plant–or more specifically, an orchid–looks like this, you can see why I might be having a few problems with the winter doldrums! The botanical name–and it has many–is cirrhopetalum Elizabeth Ann Buckleberry. It’s a hybrid of several parentages–I won’t bore you with further details.


Here’s the whole plant–not much better. Its redeeming quality is its sweet scent. That’s probably what it uses to attract pollinators.

In nature, each orchid has a specific pollinator–and some of them are quite creepy. They are not the normal bees and flies we think of as pollinators. But that is a subject best left to the orchid experts. Here’s an interesting story about Charles Darwin (yes, that Darwin, of evolution fame) and how it took 150 years to prove his theory about an orchid pollinator correct–in this case a hawk moth.

Let’s just say no one grows orchids to attract pollinators!

Wordless Wednesday–Orchids for the Holidays

Christmas Orchid

You know I like orchids for holiday decorating. It seems the orchid sellers have finally gotten on the commercial bandwagon.

Now this really wasn’t what I had in mind for orchid decorating for the holidays. But if you recall my post at Thanksgiving when I had that gorgeous peachy colored phalaenopsis shown with the crotons and the kalanchoe, I said that I had been seeking a white orchid. Well, here it is.

Since I’m lecturing in 5 days I figured I’d better not disturb this one too much. I can take the “peppermint stripe” candy cane thing out later.

But wouldn’t this have been so much nicer with something a little less “candy cane?”

Oh well–if we all liked the same thing…..

Wordless Wednesday–Sophisticated and Neutral Holiday Decor

holiday centerpiece

I wish I could tell you I’d designed this centerpiece but you can clearly tell this is not my house.

This is the lobby of a hotel where we vacationed last winter. We were not staying here but The Spoiler’s conference was in this hotel. I think it’s a Westin. Don’t quote me. It used to be independently owned and was recently taken over by a big chain–that’s why I have no idea which chain took it over.

In any event, I heartily approve of their décor. This is Colorado. And this dendrobium orchid survived our entire stay of 9 days in the incredibly dry air and frigid blasts from the doorway.

If it can take that abuse, imagine how nicely it will do in the average home?

A Burst of Sunshine


While I’m on the orchid theme, and not talking about phalaenopsis, I thought I’d show another easy to care for orchid that I’ve had forever, that I plunk outside in the spring and bring back inside in the fall and that reliably blooms for me at least once a season if not twice.

This is Masdevallia Copper Angel ‘Highland’ AM/AOS x ‘Maui Titan’ CHM/AOS. With a name like that, it’s a wonder the thing just doesn’t wilt away and die!

But no, it’s ridiculously easy to care for. It goes outside at Memorial Day (or a week or so before if it’s been mild in my part of the world–what I look for is nights that are reliably no lower than 50 degrees) and it stays in a shady northern exposure that might get brushed by a beam or two of late afternoon sun until Labor Day or a week or two later (again, those night time temperatures are the key. It’s not so important for orchids, really, but for leafy green plants it’s absolutely key!)

Indoors I keep it in an eastern exposure. I may have repotted it once or twice in the last 6 years but I’m not as good about that as I should be. If it stops blooming obviously I’ll care more.

And I ignore the orchid “experts” who advise the “weekly weakly” fertilizing with commercial food–because I just don’t do that sort of thing. It’s not organic, and fish emulsion isn’t going to help me get flowers. If I want flowers, the best thing I can do is put it outside–and change my potting medium more often, I’m sure!

As the days grow shorter and darker, this is certainly a burst of sunshine!

As The Gardening Season Winds Down….

As the outdoor gardening season winds down, at least for me here in the northeast, there are (very small) compensations. One of them is orchids.

I talk–and have talked–about hauling the house plants in and out. But I don’t even get terribly specific about what those house plants are too much. Occasionally I’ll show a photo that has some of them in it. Or I might show some of them in bloom. I might even take a shot of a “window vignette” once they’re all back in for a Wordless Wednesday now and again.

But I don’t think I talk about my orchids all that much. I start rhapsodizing about the phalaenopsis when they come into bloom in January. I might even carry on about how they bloom for as long as 9 months for me (and they do–it must be my exceptionally cold house. I’m glad to know there are some advantages to that–even though that’s probably the only one!). In fact, I just finally took the last spike off one that started blooming sometime in 2012. It had multiple spikes of course so that’s how that happens. But what other plant blooms like that?!

But I rarely talk about the other orchids in my life and I know I’ve never talked about this one in particular. Its botanical name is a mouthful: Perreiraara motes Leprechan ‘Haiku Mint.’I’ve had it since 2006 when I bought it in bloom at an orchid show. Every summer it goes outside and hangs underneath the branches of my dogwood tree. Every fall I bring it in, it forms a spike and the spike promptly blackens and falls off.

I figured that my home was too “something:” too hot, too dry, too dark, too light–whatever it was, I didn’t have the proper conditions to get this orchid spike to flower.

But of course, in the time-honored tradition of gardeners everywhere, I gave it the ultimate threat this year. I said, “One more year. This is the last year I’m doing this. If you don’t bloom this year, next year, you’re compost!”

And of course, I gave it all the help I could this fall. I gave it a little extra water, I hung it next to an extra full plant to give it some extra humidity.


And voila! This is the result! So I guess, at least for this year, there will be no compost heap!

Wordless Wednesday–Pansies


Wait–what about the herbs?

Actually, if you know that the pansies that you’ve purchased haven’t been sprayed or grown with herbicides (and increasingly, you can buy flowers that are certified organic) pansies are edible and they make a lovely garnish for salads or even just a garnish on a plate.

If you can’t find organic flowers, plan ahead and next year grow your own. Or better yet, don’t spray the lawn and use some of the wild violas.

row of pansies

The Spoiler loves his hoses. Excuse the one visible in this photo.

Pansies are cool weather plants and don’t do well once the temperature warms.
pansy orchid

And this is neither a pansy, nor edible–it is the pansy orchid, a miltonia. But the resemblance is clear, and I couldn’t resist showing it off!

Wordless Wednesday


while orchid

You may remember this orchid from back at the end of January.  I had it in a “Wordless Wednesday” post (which are never really “wordless” for me) and showed a close-up of one of the flowers.


At the time, I talked about all the flowers to come.  Here’s that photo.

The only way to get a fairly decent shot of all the flowers on this plant was from above.  There are more than 20 at the current time, blooming on 5 separate spikes.  Three of these spikes are offshoots of prior blooming spikes and 2 are brand new spikes.  (For those of you less familiar with orchid terminology, “spike” is just the fancy term used for the blooming stalk).

Why I wanted to post about this again is a comment I read recently from a nationally renowned orchid grower.  He said that with “modern Phalaenopsis” (like the orchid above) the old thinking was to leave the finished spike on in case it rebloomed.  But The new blooms would be so much smaller and punier it was better just to cut the spikes off and let the orchid put its energy into making new flower spikes.

Looking at this plant, I totally disagree.  But then again, I disagree with just about all the orchid advice out there anyway.