Published February 22, 2023
Published February 22, 2023
Ohio winters may be drab, but the Conservatory’s Senior Horticulturist Dave Brigner is doing his part to nurture an oasis where Ohioans can always find summertime in full bloom. Brigner is the head caretaker of the Orchids show, on display in the historic Dorothy M. Davis Showhouse and throughout the Conservatory now through March 12. Brigner has been caring for plants at the Conservatory for 22 years and continues to love connecting people and plants everyday. Read on for Dave’s top 5 tips on how to take care of your orchids at home!
Senior Horticulturist Dave Brigner within the Orchids exhibition
“I love the Conservatory. I love the people, I love the plants and I love bringing joy to our visitors,” Brigner shared during a recent Orchids walkthrough. Every morning, Brigner starts by misting the arches overflowing with draping orchids that welcome guests into the Showhouse. He lovingly tends the 1,700 orchids on display throughout the two-month exhibition, which are brought in fresh each year from Hawaii and local Ohio greenhouses. After the show, the displayed orchids are priced to sell and go on to live long happy lives “in retirement” with Conservatory members, who purchase them during an annual members-only sale. Which leads to the question–what is the best way to care for your orchids at home?
“There are so many variables! It depends on this and depends on that,” Brigner laughed.
He suggests you start by looking at your light levels. “Look at your environmental conditions and make a choice of type of orchid based on those conditions. If you only have an east window then a Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid) would be ideal. If you have a south window you could grow high light orchids like Oncidium (aka Dancing Lady) or Cattleya.”
Planting: The best type of soil depends on what type of orchid you have. Orchids are either epiphytes (plants that grow anchored to other plants, often trees) or terrestrial (plants that grow in the ground). If you have an epiphytic orchid, it will want a free draining mix such as bark. If you have a terrestrial orchid, you should add some moss to help add and retain moisture.
Maintaining Humidity: Humidity is beneficial to orchids as they normally are native to rainforests. You can mist them, but don’t go overboard. You can add a humidifier near the plant, or have the plant sitting in a pebble tray of water.
Watering: Unlike African violets which you should water from the bottom, you should water your orchids from the top and only when the media becomes dry. Brigner suggests taking your orchid to the sink, flushing it with water and letting it sit for a few minutes to drain. Another option is to submerge the whole pot in a bucket of water for an hour and it should be good to go for an entire week.
Blooming: Maybe you’ve bought an orchid in bloom but could never get it to bloom a second time. Brigner shares the secret to getting another lovely show out of your plant. Keep the dormant, still-living stalk healthy, watering as instructed above, until the following autumn. In the fall, place your orchid outside to expose it to the drop in temperature for a couple of weeks. With some luck, that drop into the low 50s will initiate a flower spike.
*Pro tip: While it is growing, don’t rotate the plant. That way, all buds will be facing the same way so that when they open, you’ll get the prettiest show of blooms.
Encouraging Year-Round Blooms: After flowers fade, follow the stem back to where the first flower was and cut it above the first node (above the flower scar). With some patience, that bud should swell and grow a secondary flower spike, which will bloom again! With this method, you can have a phalaenopsis in bloom for most months out of the year.
Phalaenopsis orchids, commonly known as moth orchids
With Dave’s tips, you’ll be well on your way to being an orchid caretaker extraordinaire. Bring home an orchid of your own from our Botanica Gift Shop and Greenhouse during your next visit. Or become a member today to receive an invite for your chance to attend the popular members-only Retired Orchid Sale happening after the close of the Orchids show. Support through membership and donations help ensure that the Conservatory can continue to provide world-class annual exhibitions such as Orchids, as well as caring for a lovely display of orchids in the Rainforest Biome year-round. Thank you for your support and we can’t wait to see you in the Showhouse soon!
The orchid wall in the Rainforest Biome
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