Thursday, April 16, 2009

Knowing What to Look for in an Orchid

After you consider your environment, you’re ready to go shopping. You have an idea of which types of orchids will work best where you’ll be growing them, and now you just need to look at a few things such as the plant’s health and age. I fill you in on these factors in the following sections.

Choosing a healthy plant
Picking out a healthy orchid plant is essential. Even in the best of circumstances, the orchid that you bring home will have to adapt to changes in its environment. A strong, robust plant has a much better chance of surviving this ordeal than a weak plant does.

Here’s a checklist of things to look for when you select an orchid:

  1. Look carefully at the leaves. They should be stiff, not shriveled or dehydrated. They should also have a healthy green color. Brown or black spots on leaves could mean disease, or they could be harmless; if you find spots, ask the grower about them.
  2. Look for any signs of insects. Most insects hang out on the new young growth, on the flower buds of the plant, or on the undersides of the leaves. Also check under the pot for snails or slugs.
  3. Examine the exposed roots on top of the potting material. The roots should be firm and light colored, not black, soft, and mushy.
  4. Watch out for plants infested with oxalis (which looks like clover). Oxalis is a pesky weed that is difficult to get rid of after it’s established. It will not directly harm the orchids, but it can harbor insects and is a cosmetic distraction.

Make sure the plants are labeled. Labels will be important to you later if you want to look up information on growing your particular type of orchid.

Be sure to ask the grower about the temperature, light, and humidity requirements of the orchid you’re considering. Check out its ultimate size. Then match this information with what you know about your orchid growing area.

Deciding between a blooming plant and a young plant
When you buy a mature, blooming plant, you get to see exactly what the flower of this orchid is like. Because many orchid flowers can last quite a while, you’ll be able to enjoy this orchid for weeks after you bring it home. The biggest disadvantage of blooming plants is that they’re usually the most expensive, because they’re in the highest demand.

Younger plants — ones that are months or even years away from blooming — are much less expensive than their mature counterparts. The joy in choosing these plants is anticipating when they’ll bloom and what they may look like.

If you’re a beginner, I recommend that you buy mature plants with buds or flowers. Waiting for immature plants to bloom is something you may enjoy after you have a small collection of the mature ones.

Choosing seed-grown orchids or orchid clones
Very few orchids sold today have been collected from the wild. Instead, they’ve been grown from seed. The flower color, flower size, and growth habits of these seed-grown plants vary. Seed grown plants are generally very reasonably priced.

Cloned orchids, also referred to as meristemmed or mericloned orchids, are orchids that have been multiplied from single cells, usually from a plant of very high quality, in a flask, which is a type of laboratory bottle. The result is that they’re all identical.

The advantage of purchasing a cloned orchid is that you can depend on the orchid that you buy being exactly like its parent, which is frequently an award winner. In general, these clones are a bit more expensive than the others, but they’re usually worth it.
Caring for Your New Orchid
Adding new orchids to your plant collection is exciting, but this is also a time for caution. Even though you may have been very careful in the selection process, your orchid still may be harboring insect eggs that may hatch, or it may have a disease problem that you didn’t notice before.

So, to be on the safe side, keep your new plant isolated from all your other plants for at least two to three weeks — enough time to see if any insects appear or a disease shows up. If you need to treat your new plant, doing so will be easier when it’s separated from your other plants.

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