The orchid family is the largest in the plant world. Orchid breeders have produced some wonderful color combinations. Shortly after World War II, the orchid industry took off in Santa Barbara, a repository for orchids from around the world. Today we find beautiful and affordable orchids in hardware stores, groceries stores, flower shops and nurseries. Unlike most consumer goods, orchids have actually dropped in price.
Most retailers tend to carry tropical orchids, which need more water than many other types. In summer, I put my orchids outside and water them almost daily. Indoor orchids may need watering only once a week.
When selecting a plant, look at the flowering stem first. Don't buy an orchid whose buds are all open; you want the flowers to open slowly when you get the plant home.
Orchids need a lot of light. If you plan to keep them indoors, put them near a window where they will receive a lot of natural light but not so much that they might burn.
In the wild, orchids grow on trees with their roots exposed. They grow from trunks and branches. And they survive untended on the light, air and rain water. Once my husband and I were hiking in Bothe State Park in Calistoga, and we found an orchid in a fairy ring, the site where a mother tree has died and “babies” have come up around it. We did not disturb it.
Years ago, when the orchid nurseryman Rod McClellan was still alive, he would have an annual spring showing of cymbidium at his nursery in South San Francisco. He was an engaging person and wore highland plaids for this event.
Cymbidiums usually bloom in the spring. They need winter's chill to set flowering spikes. At that time, the McClellan nursery was reproducing orchids via meristem propagation, removing a growing tip and placing it in agar. This technique produced many small plants quickly. McClellan was also breeding orchids to produce different colors and also introduced hanging cymbidiums, with a spike that hung over the side of the pot. I got my first mini-cymbidium from this nursery. Last year, one of mine had 11 hanging spikes. It is hard to resist these wonderful plants.
I have since acquired many orchids that need different care than cymbidiums. Most are tropical, and I keep them in my screened house during the summer so they get plenty of water, light and air flow. In winter I move them to my passive-solar hothouse and watch them daily.
All orchids need occasional repotting. Nurseries sell potting mix for orchids, but I have been making my own for years. It is a well-draining mix of equal parts orchid bark and red lava rock. I plant the orchids in pots with mesh sides so that they will get good air circulation. These mesh pots need support so I put them inside another pot to keep them upright. If you are repotting a large orchid, put white plastic peanuts in the bottom of the pot to improve drainage.
In the spring and summer, I feed my orchids with an organic mixture of bone meal, blood meal, cottonseed meal and fish pellets. In the fall, I give them 0-10-10 to bring out the blooms and help them overwinter.
Napa Valley has an orchid society that meets monthly at the Napa Valley Senior Center in Napa. The society has an annual sale in the spring, where you can meet avid collectors and get your orchid-growing questions answered.
Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will conduct a workshop on “Rose Pruning and Maintenance” on Saturday, January 17, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. This workshop will feature demonstrations on rose bushes to show and explain proper pruning techniques. Master Gardeners will discuss various types of roses, common rose diseases and routine maintenance including watering and fertilizing. Online registration (credit card only) Mail-in registration (cash or check only).
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners ( http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.