I try not to impulse buy plants. So many times I've bought a plant that just did not work, because it caught my eye in the store.
So, yesterday when I saw a big shelf of clearance orchids at Big Blue, I passed them by. Sure the price was good, but what do I know about growing orchids? I used to have a couple of orchids: there was this nursery that would take care of them for me, and every year they would send me a postcard when an orchid was in bloom. I'd go pick it up, pay the nursery fee, enjoy the flowers, then when it bloomed out back to the nursery it went.
That nursery closed down years and years ago, and I haven't had an orchid since then. And I couldn't stop thinking about the poor sad clearance orchids at Big Blue. I searched online and found out that lots of orchid people buy them and nurse them back to health. And oftentimes the plants aren't unhealthy; the store just can't sell them when they're done blooming. On the other hand, the people at the big box stores don't usually know how to take care of orchids and sometimes they're in very bad health. It's hit or miss.
So I read online about how to identify a problem orchid vs. one that will be okay, went back after work today, and bought a cattleya. I also bought a bag of orchid potting mix. Before dinner I repotted it, with help from this fantastic photo tutorial.
The pot it came with was covered with a thick layer of sphagnum moss. In the store I had pulled away some of the moss and seen enough healthy roots to feel comfortable buying it. Though I was expecting to find rotten roots also, since it was clearly being over-watered in the store. The surprise was that the orchid had been very recently potted up from a much smaller pot. But all they had done was yank the orchid out of its original pot, stick it into a bigger pot, and stuff sphagnum moss all around it. It was still potbound in the shape of the original pot -- this mass of roots in the shape of a small pot, sitting in the middle of soggy sphagnum. Poor cattleya!
I read that orchids don't like having too much space, they prefer to be slightly potbound. So Georg found a smaller pot out in the shed that would be a better fit. I had to cut away about 1/3 of the roots, and I think I got all the bad parts. The weirdest part of the instructions was to sprinkle cinnamon on all the cut ends! Apparently cinnamon has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, and it's used to prevent opportunistic bacterial infection.
The cattleya is all potted up, though I think I might pull it out and try again. Orchids get potted in this really loose mix made of bark chips, chunks of charcoal, even bits of styrofoam. No soil at all. You just have to poke and tuck the bits in and around the roots. And that tutorial said to plant it really firmly, and I think I might have left too many air pockets in there. It's kind of wobbly and they said that's bad for the plant when it starts to grow fragile new roots.
So the best case scenario is that it will like my sunny desk, and it will grow, and in a couple of years it will flower again. It came with a tag that identified it as Burana Beauty, which is a dramatic yellow and red flower. I read that a lot of orchid growers mislabel them though, so I won't count on it being any particular color until in blooms. If it ever does!