Orchids have their druthers, but they’re not difficult
flower doesn’t deserve reputation of being fussy and fragile
What an orchid needs
- Bark or other growing medium (soil not necessary)
- Humidity (moist gravel tray underneath and/or spray misting of leaves)
- Bright (but not direct) light
- Air circulation
To many, the orchid flower seems delicate and difficult to grow — and the people who grow them a breed apart.
“Not so,” says Jeanette “Parky” Dodge of Salem, who has grown many different kinds of orchids for 35 years.
According to Mrs. Dodge, orchids don’t deserve their reputation of being fussy and fragile.
“They are sturdy and not hard to grow at all,” she said.
Mrs. Dodge’s love affair with orchids began when she was in college in Illinois.
“I was interested in orchids and a professor … gave me an orchid. I promptly killed it,” she said.
Not to be deterred, Mrs. Dodge tried again and eventually became the successful grower she is today.
“At one time I had over 350 orchid plants at my home in Peoria. When my husband and I moved to Salem, we culled to about 100 plants. That is about as many as we can care for at a time,” said Mrs. Dodge.
Mrs. Dodge’s orchids bloom year-round, but primarily in the winter. Earlier this week, numerous green shoots — the promise of future blooms — could be seen edging upward in the clay pots in the sunroom of Mrs. Dodge’s Keowee Key home.
“They will bloom for months on end, and the colors and fragrance are just wonderful,” Mrs. Dodge said fondly. “This one smells like chocolate,” she said, pointing to one cluster of more than a dozen blooms.
Unlike some orchid enthusiasts, Mrs. Dodge never cuts the blooms off her plants.
“I just let them grow and die on their own. Oh, sometimes I will give a special friend a blossom if they ask, but not often,” she said.
Despite rumors that they’re hard to grow, orchids aren’t difficult, according to Mrs. Dodge, but “they do need studied neglect.”
In other words, she said, they need certain specific conditions to thrive, but do not like to be fussed over.
“Once I brought some seeds back from Costa Rica and a friend germinated them for me,” she said. “I grew those plants for some time and they actually bloomed. That was very exciting. It was studied neglect,” she said.
Orchids are epiphytes and do not need soil. In the wild, they often grow on the trunks of trees or clinging to rocks. According to Mrs. Dodge, they have been found growing on every continent except Antarctica.
Mrs. Dodge grows her orchid plants on fir bark.
“Some growers use pine bark or sphagnum moss, but fir works best for me. Also, I plant most of my orchids in pots. I rarely use an orchid raft, unless the plant is a spreading variety that needs the roots to be exposed,” she said.
Although many people think orchids will thrive only in a greenhouse, Mrs. Dodge’s do well in a sunroom during the colder months. When summer comes, she places them outside in “speckled shade.” They usually don’t bloom in summer but if one does, she brings it inside to enjoy and protect the blossom from insects and wind damage.
Some orchid growers keep their plants on a windowsill or in a bathroom. The humidity is the important thing, Mrs. Dodge said.
“I keep my orchids on trays of moist gravel and mist water on them several times each day, to keep the humidity at 30 to 60 percent. Orchids don’t like to be exposed to direct sunlight, but they do need bright light in order to set blooms,” she said.
Mrs. Dodge recommended that anyone interested in growing orchids should research the “cool” and “warm” varieties. Orchids can tolerate temperature extremes of 50 to 85 degrees, depending upon the species of orchid and its requirements.
Are pests a big problem for orchids? Not so much, Mrs. Dodge said.
“Spider mites, slugs and certain kinds of scale insects are about it. All of these are easily controlled with organic insecticides,” she said.
Some of the plants in Mrs. Dodge’s collection are more than 30 years old.
“Orchids are long-lived,” she said.
Another thing that makes orchids happy is air moving around them. In rainforests, they grow high in the trees, where fresh air circulates around them all the time.
“I don’t let mine sit in stagnant air,” Mrs. Dodge said. “I turn on the ceiling fans … to prevent problems like root rot.”
Learning the ropes of keeping orchids happy, she added, “is just like anything else you try to do. First you learn how to do it and then you develop your techniques and do it the way you like. Follow the basic rules, but adapt the rules to your situation.”
Anyone who’d like to try it should start with an inexpensive plant, Mrs. Dodge advised.
“You can buy pretty nice orchid stock from local plant nurseries and home improvement stores for $7.50 to $12 a plant,” she said. “I recommend starting on the inexpensive side and going from there.”
A variety of orchid plants, many in bloom, will be on display and for sale at this weekend’s show sponsored by the Blue Ridge Orchid Society. It takes place today and Saturday, at the Fran Hanson Discovery Center in the South Carolina Botanical Garden, at Clemson University.
The rewards of growing orchids, according to Mrs. Dodge, are immediate.
“They are the best flower to grow, as far as I am concerned. What could be more beautiful than an orchid?”