Basic Culture

My daughter and son-in-law recently moved to Florida and left their orchids with me to take care of for a few months. What is required? Rhonda Y.
It can be a little scary when a prized orchid collection is suddenly dropped in your lap. Even scarier is the thought 'What next, the kids?'
This could be an ominous sign of things to come.
Take comfort in knowing that orchids are both slow to grow and slow to die and it is unlikely that a few months of general care will make or break a collection.
The goal should be to 'keep the plants alive', rather than aim for any miracle outcomes. Simply put the pots in a window or any bright area of the house and avoid full sun. Water once or twice a week thoroughly.
While it is not realistic for the young couple to expect to come home to an overwhelming display of flowers, it would be nice if something had blossoms. The random blooming nature of many varieties inherently results in only a small percentage of any collection ever being in bloom at one time. But that doesn't get you completely off the hook.
Depending on how desperate the situation is, consider purchasing a few jaw- dropping specimens to 'subtly' add to the collection. I won't say a word!

I am contemplating setting up a small grow table in my house for Paphiopedilums. I have run out of window space - what would you suggest as far as lights, spacing, humidity, etc. George T.
Window space is a hot commodity for orchid growers since natural light is always the best for good culture. Running out of such space is not a good thing for it threatens to derail any ideas for new and exciting acquisitions.
Windows are, unfortunately, not easily added to one's house so some growers opt for a sun room or a full blown greenhouse in order to keep the dream alive.
A less costly but still viable approach is to make an indoor growing area with 'grow lights.' The key is to obtain light bulbs that offer a spectrum that closely approximates natural light. Consideration must be given to the intensity of light (in foot candles) that the bulbs emit as well as the height that the fixtures are mounted from the plants. Consult the technical specifications for this data.
It is always good culture to have air circulation but extra fans may be necessary since light bulbs can produce excessive heat.
Optimum plant spacing is having the leaves almost touching. Too far apart and there is wasted space. Too close and valuable light and air circulation is decreased while the risk of transferring insects and diseases is increased.
Supplemental humidity may be required if the air is dry. Locate a hygrometer in the area to verify that the moisture in the air is at least 50%.
The most successful candidates for this type of culture are Paphiopedilums (lady slippers) and Phalaenopsis (moths) since they are low light plants.

I have a beautiful green and white lady slipper that has been blooming for 10 weeks. Recently, I noticed two bottom leaves are starting to turn yellow. Any suggestions? Catherine T.
A lady slipper that has lasted 10 weeks is outstanding as 6-8 weeks is normal. There are obviously no major problems with your orchid growing ability so, whatever you do, don't make any drastic changes. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!
Bottom leaves that are turning yellow, is not necessarily a bad thing. Through the normal course of their lives, lady slippers drop their lower, less significant leaves as they make new growths. Gently pull off these old leaves if they are unsightly.
Yellow leaves can be an early warning sign that there is some stress present but that doesn't seem to be the case here.

Sunday, January 1, 2006 - 18:15