The adjective “cheap” doesn’t seem appropriate for orchids, which generally are pictured decorating upscale interiors. Fortunately, if our timing is right, even those of us who have to settle for chintzy chic can afford the plants in those photos. To us, however, they are usually advertised as "ice cube orchids."
I’ve never understood the reasoning behind watering with ice cubes. If you were a tropical rain forest plant, would you want ice water trickling into your nethermost parts? I don’t think so! So please forget the ice cube moniker and call your plants by their more distinguished family name of Phalaenopsis or their more lyrical common name of "moth orchids."
Even when arrayed on the shelves of your local Walmart, these beauties generally are a bit pricey when in full bloom. Just wait a few weeks, however, and that price will plummet with the plants’ falling petals.
You can expect it to drop the farthest if the orchids are encased in holiday wrappings. I once purchased a perfectly healthy post-Valentine’s Day plant for $2. In most other cases, they are marked down to half price.
At that point you might not be able to tell what the plants’ flower colors were. I usually don’t want to know, because I like botanical surprises. If the orchids are still encased in their plastic sleeves, however, you often can find the shriveled petals inside those sleeves.
After you choose your plants and get them home, remove their sleeves and cache pots, the outer containers which often encase the actual flower pots. Water draining from the inner pots can build up inside the cache pots. If not noticed and dumped, that excess moisture will eventually rot the plants’ roots.
During the winter I place my orchids on a gravel-filled tray under a shop light, the tightwad’s version of a plant-light, so I don’t need the cache pots. If you plan to position your orchids on a windowsill instead, replace the cache pots with plant saucers. That way, you can detect and discard extra water before it does any harm.
Except for their propensity to rot, moth orchids are easy care plants. Since they usually grow under a rain forest canopy, they don’t like overly bright conditions, so place them on a windowsill where they receive just morning sunlight or bright, indirect light. Because they are succulents, they should only be watered about twice a week—with lukewarm water rather than the frigid kind.
They eventually will need re-potted, since their bark or moss medium will break down over time and begin retaining too much water. Fertilize them with half-strength plant food once every two weeks from spring through autumn, and once a month during winter.
When humidity is low indoors during the coldest months, your plants may become infested with scale insects, which look like brown bumps on the undersides of the leaves. You can easily rub out—I mean, rub off—those scales off with a damp paper towel.
In late spring, I move my orchids to a shaded porch and leave them outdoors until early autumn, as the cooling temperatures seem to stimulate them to set buds. If they haven’t bloomed before being taken indoors again, they usually do so shortly afterwards, in late autumn or winter.
Because the flowers of moth orchids can last for weeks, longer than most other houseplant blooms or bouquet posies, they actually provide more bang for your buck than cheaper plants. If you only paid a few bucks for them anyway, you can feel both smug and smart!
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Photos: The orchid photos are my own.