Society offers help for orchid newbies

KENNEWICK -- A long time ago some friends brought me a little orchid plant from Hawaii. It was a pansy-faced Miltoniopsis.

It lived about two years, bloomed and later inexplicably died. To be truthful, it may have died from a lack of watering, but I can't be sure.

After that experience, I didn't consider myself a very good nurturer of orchids. I was often tempted to try again when I saw orchids for sale in the big box stores, but I felt they were ill-advised purchases considering my past failure.

Keeping this in mind, I attended the South Central Washington Orchid Society's (SCWOS) Annual Orchid Show & Sale for the first time last spring.

The great thing about their Orchid Show is that there are enthusiastic local orchid experts available to give you advice on growing orchids. Not only did I get the chance to see some exquisite orchids on display for the show, but I also was able to get advice from the local experts. I wanted to know the best orchids to grow as a novice and ones that I could grow easily on the windowsills in my house. I like orchids, but needy plants requiring a greenhouse or special window were out of the question.

Local expert and SCWOS member, Betty Wise recommended a few smaller miniature orchids that would work well for my situation. She recommended a little Cattleya, a little Phalaenopsis, and a little Paphiopedilum.

The show also includes orchid vendors selling orchid plants and supplies. Betty was able to show me some of each that she had recommended that were for sale. I came home with three orchids, one of each that she had recommended.

Before I settled my three little darlings in their new home, I purchased a narrow plastic tray that fit my windowsill perfectly. I filled the tray with polished pebbles, added a little water, and then placed the plants on top of the pebbles. I did this because orchids like a humid environment of at least 50 per cent or more, depending on the orchid.

Most homes in our region are drier than that and placing the plants on tray of moist pebbles raises the humidity around the plants.

I'm proud to say that I remembered to water them at least once a week for the past year. I also periodically fertilized them with food that I purchased at the show. My diligence was rewarded when the Cattlyea re-bloomed in February and the Phalaenopsis re-bloomed last month.

I'm hoping my "Pap" will bloom before long, but at least it's still alive and growing. I'm so proud of myself, but since they've grown some, I fear they may be too big for their tiny pots.

Orchids are not planted in regular potting soil like other houseplants. Their roots need lots of air so potted terrestrial forms of orchids like mine are typically planted in orchid potting media containing fir bark chunks. The size of chunks or the grade depends on the type and size of the orchid.

Orchids are repotted when they get too big for their pots or when the bark starts to break down and doesn't provide the needed aeration. It will be my first time ever for repotting an orchid, so I'm thinking of stopping by the show May 1 or 2 from 1 to 2 p.m. when Orchid Society members will repot orchids for a fee of $5.00 each.

It'll also give me the chance to get a few more orchids.

Maybe I'll try a little Miltoniopsis. It would give me a chance at redemption for my long ago orchid failure, although Betty advises me it's a little trickier to grow.

The SCOS's Annual Orchid Show & Sale is from 11 a.m. to p.m. May 1 and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 2 at The Manor at Canyon Lakes, 2802 W 35th Avenue, in Kennewick.

There is a $3 admission fee.

* Marianne Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension Office.