The Cottage Smallholder

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How to make your orchids flower for months

dendrobium orchidI can now understand why some people get obsessed with orchids. These are definitely flowers with attitude. We have two types of orchid living in the cottage. Phalaenopsis and one Dendrobium. Their flowers remind me of the heads of mythical beasts. Open-mouthed in a chatty rather than a snappy way. If you care for them properly, their extended flowering period almost guarantees that eventually they will start to work their magic and make their presence felt.

Our orchids live in the bathroom, on a deep windowsill. They seem to like the steam and the diffused light through the window. One of them has been flowering constantly since Christmas 2005.

My orchid fascination started late. For many years I only saw waxiness. I thought that people who became obsessed with them were weird. To me, orchids seemed vaguely malevolent, like Tobermory, that bitchy cat in Saki’s tale.

Then I was given an orchid. Danny was away at the time. As it sat on the kitchen over breakfast and supper, I gradually warmed to it. Its compost seemed rather dry so I watered it every day, not realising that I was killing it. Death came quickly. The flowers started to look very seedy. Then the buds went yellow and dropped off within days.

I considered buying a silk orchid or small silk trees. Seraphina has some very pretty ones in her sitting room.

A few months later we went to stay with our friends Margaret and Tony in Whitehaven. They were not orchid buffs when had they lived next door here in Cheveley. Their move to Cumbria had initiated many new interests. A vegetable garden and a passion for orchids, were the ones that stood out for me. They have a large sunny dining room and every windowsill was crammed with pots of orchids. All healthy and singing with flowers. It was January. I was amazed.

“The secret is not to ignore them and treat them badly.” Margaret shares without being preachy. “These are different to a normal houseplant. They are jungle flowers. The roots don’t like being wet.”

Margaret explained her two secrets. Use orchid fertiliser and immerse each orchid pot in a solution of water and fertiliser every two weeks for a few minutes. Then drain each pot well before returning them to their containers. Never let the orchids stand in water. Use a mister on the leaves, every now and then.

When we were leaving, she pressed a  container of orchid fertiliser into my hand and whispered that the Whitehaven Tesco had an offer on orchids. We drove into the town with a Tesco comfort stop five minutes into the journey and a passion was born.

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  1. how many flowers can I expect to get from my white orchid

  2. Laura

    I have an orchid that was given to me as a present in October and is still flowering 7 months later – sits on windowsill in kitchen – gets water every now and then but all the flowers are on the same stem and its getting long. Do I use a longer plant support and wait til it stops blooming? It currently had three flowers in bloom and about 5 buds waiting to open. No idea what to do with it but if the stem gets any longer it’ll start hitting the top of the window! Only has one stem too.

    Any suggestions really welcomed as I have no clue!


  3. one of my orchids has been blooming for 18 months , the last few with smaller blooms. Now it is bursting in to vigorous growth again with new side shoots and three new spikes at the base. Should I allow all of these to grow and should I cut it back occasionally to allow a dormant period?

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Clive

      If I chance upon a wonder orchid that flowers for months on end I let it do its stuff but I’m very careful to feed it at least every 10 days. I’m no expert but have had good results with this method.

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Geraldine

    If you haven’t fed it this is a bit unusual. Lucky you.

    Ideally they need to be fed regularly and given rain water.

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