Easy Valentine blooms keep on giving

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By Jeneen Wiche



I have a handful of phalaenopsis about the house and three of them have just begun to shoot up a bloom spike that once in bloom (probably still about a month away) will bloom for months if I keep them out of direct sunlight.

One plant is like 10 fresh cut bouquets and they are so delicately lovely you just can’t beat them as a nice Valentine gesture!

The phalaenopsis, or butterfly orchid, is a Valentine’s favorite because it keeps on giving (and will do so annually). This orchid is considered an epiphyte, or air plant, so it is accustomed to absorbing nutrients and moisture from the air.  

The loosely packed growing medium of bark mimics this environment by allowing good air circulation and drainage.

Good drainage is extremely important.

Bright light is best for phalaenopsis but they are tolerant of lower light levels.  For most indoor environments watering once a week will do, allow the bark to dry out before you water again.

I have found that the she surest way to kill a phalaenopsis is by over-watering.  The mantra for orchid growers is “water weakly, weekly”.  Once a month you should water with a diluted solution of fertilizer.

Putting them outdoors in the summer (they like humidity and air movement so outdoors in the summer is ideal but keep them shaded from direct sunlight) and leaving them there into early fall helps them initiate bloom.

The cooler night temperatures (into the low 50s) and the shorter days triggers bud set.  

Another lovely and easy orchid that has a long lasting bloom is the lady slipper.  Phaphiopedilum species that are generally found at local nurseries and florists can be put in two different categories.  

Those with mottled foliage are typically considered warm season orchids that prefer nighttime temperature above 60 degrees; those with green foliage are considered cool season lovers that prefer above 50 degrees at night.

This is an important distinction if you will be summering your orchids outdoors. Bring them in accordingly as night time temperatures drop in the fall.

Lady slippers bloom in the winter (mine have been in bloom for over a month now and are still going strong). They prefer lower light levels as they grow in the shade; a fine to medium bark potting mixture is best because it will help to maintain a more consistent moisture level.

Lady slippers are harder to kill from over-watering because they actually like more even moisture.  Use a dilute solution of fertilizer every couple of weeks and you should have winter bloom every year.

Another fabulous bloomer is the African violet. I have a constant supply of blooming violets year round.  Plants take a short break from time to time but, mostly just keep putting out the blooms. 

They bloom best if they are slightly pot-bound so keep your plant in a small pot.  Set the plant in bright light and let the soil surface dry out between watering. Use a diluted solution of fertilizer every couple of weeks. 

Bright light, good drainage and regular feeding are required for continued bloom.

After the first bloom cycle finishes, repot the plant into a terracotta pot and add some worm casting or sterile compost to the mix to improve soil nutrients and drainage.  Usually the potting mixture they come in is a little too light to sustain them.

And for the fresh cut bouquet, you can do a few things to make it last a bit longer, too.

If the bouquet is not in water when you receive it the first order of business is to re-cut the stems and get it in some water.  Bacteria clogs stems so re-cutting and changing the water every couple of days is key for long-lasting blooms.

It’s also important to remove any leaves that will fall below the water line once in the vase.  Foliage will foul the water more quickly.

Don’t set the vase in direct sunlight and for the hard-core you can even put the whole vase in the refrigerator at night while you sleep; that’s true love!