I often purchase an inexpensive plant during the winter that we can enjoy on the dining room table during this rather dreary part of the year. A while ago, some friends visited — they are gardeners like we are — and brought us a most beautiful plant which has graced our table ever since: a miniature orchid.
Orchids of all kinds have become very affordable over the last few years and have flooded the marketplace — you cannot go into a garden center, big box store, or even some grocery stores without encountering displays of orchids.
People who have never thought of having an orchid plant have been able to acquire one of these beautiful blooming plants and many people have taken up the growing of orchids as their main indoor gardening activity. They have done this for good reason, as these plants are exquisitely beautiful and the individual blooms are remarkably long lasting.
Phalaenopsis or moth orchids are the most popular orchids grown for the potted plant market are and the miniature that I received and those that I have seen in shops — not all shops or garden centers carry miniatures — are miniature phalaenopsis orchids. They range in height from 15 to 30 cm, so they are much smaller than the traditional phalaenopsis orchids and they have much smaller, but no less beautiful, blooms.
Miniatures usually come in quite small containers; the one we received is in a ceramic container that is only 7 cm in diameter. I like miniature orchids because they are much more versatile than their larger cousins in terms of where I can display them.
A full sized phalaenopsis would look odd and out of scale on our dining table; it would be too tall and the flower stems would be in the way at mealtime. The little miniature that we received, however, serves as a perfect table center.
Miniature orchids require the same care as the larger types except for watering requirements — since they are in smaller pots, they may need to be watered more often.
Orchids are generally happy if they are watered once a week to keep the planting medium evenly moist without keeping the roots sodden. I hold mine under the tap and let water flow through the medium, allowing excess moisture to drain out of the pot’s drainage hole before I put it back into the jardinière in which I am displaying it and put it back on the table.
Once a month I fertilize with a high-nitrogen soluble fertilizer to the water at half strength; I use a fertilizer that is specially formulated for use on orchids. When you buy an orchid, it is most often potted in bark chips of some kind and they provide excellent drainage.
Luckily, orchids like warm temperatures similar to those of our homes in winter, so no adjustment of the thermostat will be necessary. The only time temperature will be an issue is if you are encouraging new bud development, which will not occur as readily if night time temperatures are too low.
Bright indirect light is perfect for any phalaenopsis orchid and generally, the humidity in our homes during the winter will satisfy the plants but if you suspect the humidity in your home is too low, place the orchid on a pebble tray.
Astonishingly, the individual blooms of a phalaenopsis orchid, including those of a miniature, will last about three month. Therefore, a specimen with two or three flower stems with several buds on each stem will bloom continually for months.
Because they are not expensive, many people do not try to get miniature orchids to rebloom; they simply discard the plant after all the flowers on the flower stalks have finished blooming. Many of us, of course, cannot bear to dispose of a perfectly healthy plant and strive to grow it on.
If you want to get your plant to rebloom, cut off half of each flower stalk after the blooms have expired, keep the plant warm, and continue to look after it as you did when it was in bloom. In a month or so, you may very well see new shoots developing and in time buds will appear on these new stems — you will enjoy another round of bloom from your beautiful miniature orchid.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.