Thursday, November 23, 2006

What Everybody Ought to Know about Buying Orchids

Don’t purchase orchids from big box stores, such as Target and The Home Depot (this is also true for the giant Albertsons, or Rainbow down the street). Okay, maybe one, but generally try to avoid it. I know it’s hard, but these orchids are mass produced and often in poor conditions. I have had one or two good experiences buying an orchid from a big box chain. However, most of the orchids I bought were either infested with insects, or their roots were rotten. If the roots are rotten you often won’t even get to enjoy the full length of the flowers' blooming time, because the plant will begin to die and drop its flowers before it’s even finished blooming.

Top 5 Reasons Not to Buy Orchids from Big Box Retailers this Christmas
  1. The orchids often lack specific tags, which might not matter to you now, but will in a few years if you become really interested in orchids. A plant without a specific tag will often just be labeled by its species, which is not always accurate either (see below). If you don’t know the parentage of the plant (this is its cross) you won’t be able to enter it in shows, sell it, or trade it to other growers.
  2. Nine times out of ten these orchids are rotting at the roots. You will need to go to some extraordinary lengths to save a plant that has rotten roots. Usually the Nursery repots their orchids in really soggy moss before shipping them. Then the store workers keep the plants completely soggy for days or even weeks on end. Orchid roots are designed to remain dry. They are covered with a substance called velam, which quickly soaks up water, however, orchid roots are designed to dry out between waterings. This comes from the fact that in nature these orchids are epiphytes, meaning that they grow suspended on tree branches and catch rain when it falls (which is often in the jungle). However, if the roots are soggy all the time, they will rot and die. The picture to the right is used courtesy of Allen Black's Orchid Photo Site. A great site for pictures of orchids growing in the wild in Belize and Honduras.
  3. More often than not the flowers will fall off soon after you get the orchid home. Phalaenopsis are the most commonly available orchids at Big Box Stores and also one of the most finicky in terms of holding onto their flowers. These orchids should be in bloom for 2-3 months at a time, but if their roots are rotten, or they undergo too much shock, they will almost certainly shed their flowers.
  4. Watch out for diseases and insects. Big box stores are notorious for sending their plants home with all sorts of organisms, so be careful. I have learned the hard way that an orchid that looks fine on the shelf at Home Depot may in fact be harboring not one, but two types of destructive insects. These can then easily spread to your other plants and can spread diseases, which are the other common problem with these orchids. Viruses are less common than insects, but poorly grown plants are more susceptible to them.
  5. The orchid will most likely not come with any specific information on how to grow that genus of orchid. It may not even tell you what sort of orchid it is so that you can look the information up yourself.
Check out my previous post on What to Look for if You Must have that Big Box Store Orchid.

Check back soon for recommendations on finding reputable orchid retailers.

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