Photographs by Norman A. Plate
Given their glamorous appearance and considerable cachet, orchids make impressive gifts. Their thick, waxy flowers last four to six weeks, often longer. Their length of bloom makes them a good value for the price--$28 to $45 for a 4- to 6-inch pot is typical. But that's not the end of it. The orchids described here make good house or patio plants--no steamy hothouse environment is necessary to keep them happy. With reasonable care, they'll bloom again next winter and for years to come. Oncidiums, cymbidiums, phalaenopsis, and zygopetalums are widely available now in nurseries, florist shops, and even supermarkets.
Florists call oncidiums "spray orchids" for obvious reasons. These beautiful plants produce tall, branching flower stems that dance with dozens of dainty, ruffle-edged blossoms. A few species and varieties are also fragrant: O. Sharry Baby 'Sweet Fragrance', for instance, exudes a powerful chocolate and vanilla scent. Oncidiums need more light than some of the other orchids, but when the right conditions are provided, they are contented house plants. BLOOM TIME: Varies. LIGHT: Bright, indirect light all day or direct light mornings only. TEMPERATURE: 70°-80° (day), 55°-65° (night). POTTING MIX: A commercial orchid mix, or medium-grade fir bark with or without perlite. WATERING: Keep potting mix moist during growing and bloom season. After bloom, allow the soil to dry out somewhat for two to three weeks. To provide the extra humidity this orchid likes, place the pot on an inverted saucer in a pan filled with pebbles and water. Keep water level below top of pebbles. Morning misting is also helpful. FEEDING: Fertilize with high-nitrogen fertilizer at least once a month for the first six months after bloom. Switch to low-nitrogen fertilizer for next six months.