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Orchids in the Home
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

The orchid is the hottest selling blooming plant today. Eclipsed by the poinsettia during the holiday season, the orchid is still, by far, the most popular selling blooming plant year round, according to John Allen at Nicholshon-Hardee.

?I?ve had customers who had 500 foliage plants, and they had them all taken out and then put in orchids because orchids are much easier to take care of,? said Gene Boswell owner of Orchid Gardens. Lowering costs have also helped boost demand for orchids. Back in the 1970?s, Boswell had to pay $50 to $100 to get a decent plant; today, plummeting wholesale prices allow Orchid Gardens to retail plants at $25 to $30. Not just cost, orchids fit nicely into any home d?cor. Boswell has placed them in every room of the house and used them on table centerpieces and as party favors.

?Orchids are big sellers because they?re such long bloomers,? said Jill Zeagler, greenhouse manager at North Haven Gardens. Especially popular is the Phalaenopsis, or moth orchid, which carries a four-inch flower looking somewhat like a five petal butterfly. With five or six flowers on a stem, the orchid can bloom for two to three months depending on what stage it?s purchased.

There are about 30,000 to 40,000 species of orchids growing world wide under ice, in the tropics, on rocks, trees and in the ground, according to Boswell. They live in rugged areas, high altitudes, the sand dunes of Brazil, pretty much everywhere, except they are not indigenous to Hawaii, where all orchids have been imported. Consequently, taking care of the orchid varies somewhat although all orchids should not be over watered. Boswell recommends a once-a-week watering that allows the plants to dry out between watering. Zeagler recommends watering twice a month and keeping the container on a tray of pebbles and water.

Long lasting blooms and easy care make orchids, on the whole, an economical flower for the home, especially in today?s era of disposable plants. Most people don?t keep houseplants after they are finished blooming, often changing out the plants every six months, once a year, or when the plants start looking bad, according to Allen. Or people trash the old plants and buy new, healthier looking ones the next season. But if a plant has sentimental value, for instance if someone gave it to them, then the owners may try to save the plant with varying amounts of success, said Zeagler. Consequently, each year, plant sales continue to go up for every kind of plant, according to Allen.

It?s economical for the homeowner to buy the proper plants for the light they have in their homes and to give them the appropriate watering, which means lifting the pot out of the water proof container and taking it to the sink. Totally saturate the plant and allow it to drain: then return the plant to the container. Use a watering can for very heavy plants, but add the water slowly until the soil is completely saturated. Don?t over water and allow standing water to kill the plants. Avoid the tendency to water the plant at its site location, which often does not provide adequate watering, it can damage the carpet or flooring.

Many people like the looks of a certain plant in a certain location, even if that location is not right for the plant. But they must be willing to purchase new plants when the old ones die off. Over time, however, plants that prove hard to adapt to the home environment or litter the home tend to become less popular. For instance, the ficus tree, although a long-lived easy growing houseplant, has earned a bad reputation for its tendency to lose leaves, according to Zeagler.

?I think that kind of scares some people away from them. Of course they do re-leaf back out,? said Zeagler. And pruning helps to keep them and other houseplants more attractive.

?A lot of people are afraid to prune (indoor) plants,? said Zeagler. That?s something you can do to keep it maintained into the area that you originally intended. If you?ve got a branch growing out into an area you don?t want?even indoor plants?you just trim it off. I think a lot of people think if they cut it, they?re going to kill it. But it?s aesthetic as well as good for the plant.?

The popular gift item for the home is the European basket, which offers a long-term problem for the interior gardener. Comprised of several different plants in the same pot, the European basket makes a lovely accent piece in the home. In this case, drier is better?the plants should be allowed to dry out between watering. Each plant needs its own growing space for proper air circulation and evaporation to prevent infestation from disease and insects, according to Zeagler. So for best longevity and growth, the plants should eventually be separated and removed from the basket.

?The idea that people value life to bring plants into the environment is important,? said John Ubelaker, chair of Biological Sciences at Southern Methodist University. ?Plants on the inside of homes provide a really important aspect to the environment of the house?not only aesthetic by having some other sorts of living things in the environment. Plants also play an important role in their contributions cleaning the air. There have been some studies that Boston ferns, particularly, are very important in reducing pollutants from the air and refreshing the air within the space.?

Theoretically, the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air is already pretty stable, according to Ubelaker. But, chemicals like benzene, formaldehyde, and tricholorethylene (commonly found in household solvents, paper products, and finishes) are reduced during a 24 hour period of exposure to bamboo palm, spider plant, flowering mums, Peace lily and Mother-in-laws-tongue in a sealed container, according to a study by NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (

The home is a sealed enclosure. At this time of the year, houseplants, seasonal plants, and tropical plants wintering the freezing outdoor weather all converge on the house, sometimes creating decorative problems. But, by wintering their plants, homeowners extend the growing season of their outdoor plants as long as a little care is taken when bringing in the plants.

?When plants have been outside for the summer and you?re bringing them inside, one ought to expect that there will be a really important kind of physiological change within the plant,? Ubelaker said. ?It?s adapted to the sunlight. When you move it into your house, you?ll change that requirement. And plants are very sensitive to those kinds of issues. So, plants might expect to lose leaves and re-grow those leaves at a later time period?adapted to the conditions they find in the home.?

?Normally, the plants that are brought in are not used to decorate the house,? said Bob Wilson, manager of the outdoor store for Nicholson-Hardee. Most people consider them kind of a hassle. But they want to keep the plants alive.

?They?ll hide them in the garage during the holidays,? said Allen. ?Then they put them in sunny windows.? Here in Dallas, depending on the winter, tropical plants can sometimes spend 90% of the winter outside.

A favorite plant brought inside is the plumeria, better known for its blossoms in the Hawaiian lei, according to Wilson. But, the plumeria is, in fact, a blooming tropical small tree or shrub that people cherish for years. Other popular varieties brought indoors are the sago palm, the hibiscus, and bougainvillea?all sizable plants requiring a sunny window or, even better, a garage with a window.

?It?s cooler, so they go dormant,? said Wilson. ?They don?t really grow. Probably one of the biggest mistakes in moving in plants is to cut them way back. You want to cut your plants back as little as possible when moving them in. When you take them back out in the spring, that?s when you do a serious cutback? Pruning stimulates plants to grow. ?And if you prune them hard, and you put them in a place where they can?t really grow, sometimes it kills them. So, I just tell people to cut them back as little as possible, what you need to fit the space.?

Taking a little time to adapt to the needs of your plants can make any plant you buy more economical.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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