Assuming the orchid you are acquiring is not a gift, then you’ve purchased it somewhere. True orchid aficionados will turn their noses up at getting orchids from anywhere other than a proper orchid nursery. Frankly, that’s bunk. As long as you are careful you don’t import diseases or pests, you can acquire orchids from literally every sort of store imaginable that sells orchids. Just know what you’re getting. For example:
Supermarkets: Lots of supermarkets sell orchids. Most of the orchids sold in supermarkets are of the genus Phalaenopsis. There’s nothing wrong with that. They come in a wide variety of colors, though whites and purples and spotted tend to be the most common. You can get a perfectly healthy Phal from a supermarket. Just don’t follow the “advice” on the label for care.
To be fair to the supermarket, most people don’t intend to “care” for their orchid in any event. They enjoy the flowers, which can last from weeks to months, and then give away or throw away the plant. To many people, an orchid that is not in bloom is a pretty bland prospect and so they really have no interest in keeping them around. I obviously disagree. When my orchids are not in bloom I’m caring for them with the intention of getting them to bloom to their fullest and most spectacular spender when it is their time to next bloom. Even in the dead of winter, when I’m surrounded by 75-100 plants, almost none of which are in bloom, I know I’m only weeks away from flower spikes beginning, and then the cycle of anticipation begins, leading to 8 or ten months of the year when there is always something in bloom. But then, I digress. What I meant to say here is that supermarket Phals tend to include instructions to put ice cubes on the bark a couple times a week.
Horrors! “Treating” a plant that doesn’t like any temperature below 55 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit to an ice bath is nothing short of sacrilege. However I do understand the point they’re trying to make. More Phals have been killed by over-watering than under-watering. And if you take their advice and put the ices cubes on the bark several times a week you’ll give it close to the correct amount of watering. Just understanding the watering needs of Phals is actually easier. And healthier. Simply take the plant to the sink (assuming it is correctly potted in coarse bark) and pour sufficient water through the bark to thoroughly wet it. Then put the Phal back in good light (but not harsh direct sun) and do it again in 3-4 days. The bark will be almost completely dry. Then you re-wet it. Period. Simple. That’s what the Phals tend to experience in nature. Drying periodically and getting thoroughly wetted by rain.
You can also find some spectacular buys at supermarkets, especially if you’re willing to take some chances. For example, our local supermarket sells Cymbidiums around February every year. Cymbidiums have really thick beautiful very waxy peddles. These are the orchids that are most frequently cut for use in corsages. They are beautiful and come in a wide variety of colors. The plants tend to be big – and expensive.
The ones in full bloom in our store run around $60-$65 for a really large potted Cymbidium covered with flowers. However……. Cymbidium flowers, however beautiful, don’t last anywhere near as long as, say, Phals. Cymbidiums can be in bloom for weeks, but Phals can be in bloom for months. What that means is, if you watch the display carefully over time, you may just see a few remaining Cymbidiums where the flowers have started to wilt. BINGO. The prices start tumbling. By the time the flowers are truly spent – crinkled and wrinkled and discolored – the store simply wants to get rid of the plants. I’ve purchased four of them for $5 EACH!!! Now, understand, supermarkets are NOT good at understanding orchid care either. Nor do they tend to put the time or effort into keeping them at their peak in the store. In fact, they may get no care at all. They may just intend to sell what they can while they look good, and practically give away – or worst case scenario through away – anything that doesn’t sell. If you like the thrill of a bargain and are willing to take a chance, grab one or two for $5 instead of $65! Just know that sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. If you’re careful, you may even be able to pick out the flower color you want, based upon the dying blooms. Worst case scenario you’ll be surprised if the plant survives and you’re able to nurse it back to health and new blooms next season.
This last year our supermarket experimented with Vandas. Vandas are orchids that have fairly short-lived (weeks, not days!) but spectacular flowers that have brilliant, vibrant colors. What’s unusual about them is that they are grown “bare-rooted.” The traditional way of growing a Vanda is in a wooden basket on a hanger. The plant is hung up in a bright spot and watered a couple of times a week by spraying the basket and all the roots. They can be pretty sensitive to low humidity the rest of the time, and so Vanda owners tend to spritz them with misters at least once or twice a day in between waterings. Our supermarket offered Vandas for sale with a new twist – one that actually works!
They were positioned inside really large clear plastic cylindrical containers. This is positively brilliant – at least for the casual grower. The instructions say to fill the container half full of tepid water (not hot, not cold) twice a week. I fill mine while I water my other orchids. The cylinders are emptied after 30-45 minutes soaking the roots. The beauty of this system is that the wet roots form a sort of micro-climate within the cylinder. That is, the moisture tends to keep the humidity high in the immediate vicinity of the roots for a long time. Long enough, in fact, that I’ve kept four of these babies alive and healthy for a solid year. And I am really looking forward to more blooms this spring. I’ve kept Vandas in the past, in the traditional wood hangers. They are beautiful, but because the roots tend to get overly dry this way without “extra” care (misting frequently, etc.) they tend to not do well outside a real greenhouse or at least in the hands of someone who actually wants to give “special” attention to different plants at different times. Me? With the volume I have, it takes me an hour to an hour and a half twice a week to water and feed all my plants with the occasional dormant oil spraying where needed. I simply don’t have time in my busy schedule for more complication of different plants requiring different steps on more days.
However – and this is another big however – I paid $5 for each of my four Vandas as well! And they listed for $35 each when newly arrived at the supermarket. Mine were still in bloom but had the occasional flower starting to wilt, at which time the floral department wasn’t going to be able to get full price. In fact, my wife and I have gotten to know the person who runs this department quite well, and he’s happy to “cut us a deal” to sell them at all.
One plant was actually so far gone the leaves on the top were seriously discoloring. It was nip and tuck if the plant would even survive. But putting it with the others and watering it religiously with the rest, not only did the damaged leaves die off, it actually developed a brand new crown. And not only is it now growing well from the top, it has two shoots on the body of the main stem and can eventually be divided into THREE different healthy plants when there are sufficient roots to support each section. All for $5!!!
Okay. So you get the picture. You can purchase orchids at a supermarket. Or Lowes. Or Home Depot, etc. And you can get real bargains if you’re wiling to take some chances.
You can also purchase orchids mail-order from orchid growers. They tend to be more expensive. You’ll pay $15-$30 for Phals. You can purchase a lot of different genus’ at varying price ranges. Some can run into the hundreds of dollars and I’ve even seen a few in the thousands!
What you DO get from orchid growers is a LOT more variety than you’ll typically find in local stores, even nurseries. And you generally get plants in great health and most likely with some sort of guarantee, something you won’t get at a supermarket or variety store.
Cattleya’s for example, are one of my favorite orchids. But I’ve never found them in the local home-improvement stores and supermarkets. I did find one spectacular specimen at a local nursery. Interestingly enough, the store didn’t have much in the way of orchids. In fact, it may have been given this one by a client or in trade or acquired it through some other means. In any event, it was a Cattleya skinneri. In fact, it is the flower of this plant that is the cover photo on this website. It’s one of my favorite flowers. It only blooms once per year, and it can have anywhere from one to three flowers on the spike that opens on a new leaf each year. The flowers are huge – maybe 5 inches across. And the color is beautiful. They only last a couple weeks, but they’re worth waiting for each year. I’ve read that the Cattleya skinneri was the first orchid imported into England from South America in the 1800s when orchid growing was thought to be extremely difficult, making the plants very expensive indeed. In fact, it was the propagation of orchids that was difficult, making them very expensive to import. Their care was no more difficult in those days than now. After all, the plants are the same. But no one knew how to care for them. And all the attempts that tended to treat them like the other varieties of plants people kept tended towards failure. So they are thought to be extremely difficult to care for, requiring expensive and specialized greenhouses and such., when their care was simply misunderstood.
You can purchase orchids with names you can’t even pronounce, orchids with wildly differing colors and shapes. Before you buy, however, try to determine the genus and especially the care of the orchid in question. It’s easy to get carried away by the variety. And it’s easy to want that one truly exotic looking plant, only to find that its care is so different from you other orchids that it simply becomes a chore rather than a joy – at best – or a lost plant in the worst case scenario.
Also understand that orchids can even have legal implications. In fact, there’s a book you might enjoy if you enjoy real-world mysteries and such. It’s called “The Scent of Scandal” by Craig Pittman. It’s literally a modern day thriller about the discovery of a very rare orchid and the legal trials and tribulations of trying to bring it into this country for sale and propagation. It was literally offered “under the table” at an orchid show for something like $10,000, the expectation being that some grower would pay such a price for a shot at naming and propagating an entirely new orchid and the crosses that would result. It’s a tale of illegally harvesting orchids in the wild, and the smuggling of them into and out of countries in violation of international laws.
I believe the story to be true, even though there is a lot of controversy over who did what and who broke what laws and who should be punished and who was an innocent bystander. I have even communicated directly by email with several of the principals in several different countries. While the dust has settled and the case finally resolved (with one truly renowned orchid business severely harmed in the process and a number of reputations ruined), you would not believe the extraordinary turmoil, cost, and grief caused by some of the international laws surrounding these beautiful flowers. In fact, I actually own an orchid that is a cross with the subject of this book. Unfortunately, it, and many of the Phragmapediums (the genus) are sensitive plants that require extra care and can be difficult to keep healthy, at least in my climate. Mine has struggled since I purchased it and I don’t know yet if I’ll be able to make a go of keeping it alive and blooming. I hope so. The flowers are huge and truly beautiful.
This particular specimen, the Dendrobium ‘Spring Dream Apollon’ isn’t the subject of intrigue, but it is a protected species that has been propagated and patented so that one cannot reproduce this plant commercially. I have no idea if it’s legal or not to separate the plant (which is typically the way one deals with orchids as they grow – they are not trimmed as more traditional plants are to keep their growth in check) and give away a living piece to another orchid lover. Fortunately (or not, depending on how you look at it!) this plant has not been a vigorous grower for me. Stalks tend to age, lose their leaves, and simply go dormant. I purchased this plant from its originator in a beautiful greenhouse in Hawaii and was able to legally bring it to the U.S. But when the stems age to the point of being useless, I’ve simply trimmed them away rather than attempting to start new plants from them, thus avoiding the issue entirely. In fact, I’ve never been able to keep the plant in full leaved, thick, vigorous growth as it was when I first got it. But it does okay. It stays alive and healthy. And interestingly enough, even though it’s not one of my most vigorous and prolific growers, it’s one of my favorite orchids. The flowers are nothing short of spectacular. The pictures can’t do it justice. I’ve never been able to take a close up photo that would show the almost luminescent, sparkly surface of these flowers which look like dust from ground up gems that practically glow! You simply have to see them up close to appreciate them. But they are truly spectacular little gems!