Facts Hummingbirds augment their diets with insects and spiders and will drink sap as it runs from trees. They also need water – as much as eight times their body weight each day. (So it’s a good idea to place feeders near a water source.) Share :

The Secret to the Best Looking Hydrangeas


Blue Hydrangea Flowers

Hydrangeas can sometimes be a tricky plant to care for, so it is important to learn how to prune and when to prune different hydrangea varieties. Properly pruning hydrangeas based on your hydrangea’s variety will allow you to have more blooms next year.

Before you start pruning hydrangeas, it’s important to figure out which variety you have. If you prune at the wrong time, you could be cutting off next year’s blooms.


Bigleaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla)

Even though my area is hardy to Zone 5, my ‘Endless Summer’ mophead hydrangea—which usually has huge blue blossoms all summer long—was killed to the ground. Luckily, it has the wonderful ability to bloom on both old and new woodso even though they were a bit later than usual, there were still many blooms.

‘Endless Summer’ in a good year.

My other blue hydrangea is a lacecap-type, called ‘Let’s Dance Starlight’, but instead of the huge, mophead-type of flower cluster that ‘Endless Summer’ has, the lacecap hydrangea bears a flat blossom made up of many small, fertile flowers surrounded by a few showy, sterile flowers. It is also hardy to Zone 5 and blooms on both old and new wood.

Lacecap ‘Let’s Dance Starlight’

Both mophead and lacecap hydrangeas are considered bigleaf or macrophylla hydrangeas, so they can be pruned right after flowering by cutting back the flowering shoots to the next bud. If you have older plants that aren’t blooming well, you can cut up to a third of the stems off at the base in late summer to encourage new growth.

Panicle Hydrangeas (H. paniculata)

The hydrangeas grown most often in New England gardens are the panicle-types, since they are not only beautiful, but also very hardy, surviving Zone 3 winters with no problems. One of the oldest and most reliable favorites is ‘Grandiflora’, also known as Pee Gee hydrangea. Native to China and Japan, it was the first Asian hydrangea cultivar introduced to the United States, in 1862. They were a big hit during the Victorian era. The flowers start out a creamy white and turn a rosy pink as they age. They can be dried and look lovely in a winter arrangement. Find out how to dry these lovely hydrangeas here.

There are many panicle-types to choose from. I have one called ‘Pinky Winky’ that has long, cone-shaped white and pink flowers, and also ‘Vanilla Strawberry’, which has panicles that color from white at the tip to pink in the middle and red at the base. For something different, try ‘Limelight,’ which has chartreuse flowers that gradually turn pink in autumn.

Panicle-type hydrangeas should be pruned in late winter to keep them from becoming overgrown.

Panicle-type hydrangea ‘Vanilla Strawberry’

Smooth Hydrangeas (H. arborescens)

Smooth hydrangeas are North American natives, originally found growing wild in Pennsylvania. They tolerate light shade, begin to bloom in June, and continue to blossom until fall. Their white flowers are round and can reach 12 inches in diameter.

Smooth hydrangea ‘Annabelle’

The popular cultivar ‘Annabelle’ grows to be 3-5 feet tall and can be used to light up a shady path or as a mass planting at the edge of the woods. It is hardy to Zone 3.

Smooth hydrangeas can be pruned back to the ground in the fall or early spring.

Oakleaf Hydrangeas (H. quercifolia)

Oak-leaf hydrangeas are another North American native, having been discovered in Georgia in 1773.

Oak-leaf hydrangea

Also called swamp snowball, it is hardy to zone 5 and though it prefers full sun, it can take some shade and still blossom well. It blooms a little later than the other hydrangeas, beginning in August. Its flowers are large panicles that start out white and turn dark pink as they age. The leaves, which are deeply lobed like an oak leaf, turn a rich maroon red in the fall.

Oak-leaf hydrangeas don’t need a lot of pruning, but if you want to tidy yours up, prune out the dead stems at the base in early spring.

If you are unsure what type of hydrangea you have, a general rule of thumb is to prune them right after flowering.


Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.

 Almanac.com. (2017, 07/01 Published). Pruning Hydrangea Varieties. Retrieved from http://www.almanac.com/blog/gardening/garden-journal/hydrangea-care-pruning-hydrangea-varieties.
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Planting spring bulbs

imageSpring flowering bulbs can provide a good investment for money spent by supplying years of seasonal color in your landscape. They offer a tremendous range of flower colors, shapes, sizes, and plant heights. They can be planted in beds, borders, and meadows. Spring flowering bulbs make great cut flowers. With a variety of bulbs, you can have blooms from late January with snowdrops and winter aconites to late May with ornamental onions.

The word “bulb” is often used for any plant that can store food underground. This includes true bulbs (tulips and daffodils), corms (crocus), tubers (anemone), rhizomes (lily-of-the-valley) and tuberous roots (ranunculus). This ability to store food is what makes gardening with bulbs relatively easy. With a little planning, proper planting and water, the bulb will take care of the rest!

Planting Requirements – Soils and Fertilizers
The optimum pH range for spring flowering bulbs is 6 to 7. If needed, limestone should be worked into the soil to raise the pH, while sulfur or aluminum sulphate will help in lowering a high pH. A soil test will provide information on the recommended amounts.

Spring bulbs need ample amounts of phosphorous in the soil to encourage root and bud development. If your soil requires additional amounts, phosphorous should be mixed in the soil below where the bulbs will be located so it can be utilized by the bulb’s roots. Sources such as bonemeal or superphosphate can be added in the lower part of the planting bed as it is being prepared. Do not fertilize spring flowering bulbs after they have started flowering, this tends to encourage the development of bulb rot and may shorten the life of the flowers.

For bulb health and longevity, the soil must be welldrained but moisture retentive. In general, adding peat moss or compost will quicken drainage in heavy clay soils while slowing drainage to hold moisture in very sandy soils.

Photo: Flowers.
Planting Requirements – Site and Planting
Select a site that will provide at least five to six hours of direct sunlight a day. Decide on a design. Bulbs are much more attractive if planted in mass plantings or drifts and if the planting can be seen from a favorite window in the house. Then select quality bulbs—those that are plump and firm, not soft, rotted, moldy, dented or nicked.

Spring flowering bulbs should be planted in mid-September through October when the soil temperature falls below 60°F. This will allow a root system adequate time to develop before the ground freezes.

The general rule of thumb for successfully planting spring bulbs is to plant them at a depth two to three times the height of the bulb. This means that most large bulbs like tulips or daffodils should be planted about eight inches deep and eight inches apart. Smaller bulbs like crocus and anemones should be planted three to four inches deep and three to four inches apart. Planting depth is always measured from the bottom of the bulb.

Tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths should be planted with the point of the bulb upward and the root plate downward. The best method of planting is to dig and loosen the entire bed to the proper depth. Press the bulbs into the soil in the planting area and cover with soil. Because the soil in a fully excavated bed will generally drain better, the planting should last longer than individually planted bulbs. This method of planting is preferred over trying to plant bulbs one-by-one with a bulb planter. In many soils, bulb planters do not work well, especially in compacted or rocky soil.

Watering the bulbs following planting will help to settle the soil in the planting bed plus provide needed moisture for the bulbs to start rooting. Fall planted bulbs must be well rooted before the ground freezes, so timing and preparation is key for a successful design. Avoid over-watering at planting time since this can result in bulb rot.

The bulb bed should be covered with two to three inches of mulch which helps minimize temperature fluctuation and maintains an optimal moisture level in the planting bed. The small, early blooming bulbs should only be lightly mulched to avoid interfering with their emergence and bloom.

Maintenance Requirements – Post-bloom Care
When flowers fade, cut them off to prevent seed formation. Seeds take stored food away from the bulbs.

Following the peak bloom of your bulbs, the remaining foliage should not be removed or mowed off until it turns yellow and dies back naturally. The foliage on smaller bulbs such as snowdrops and squill will die back quite rapidly and cause little aesthetic problems in your landscape. The foliage on larger bulbs such as tulips and daffodils can take several weeks to die back. The plant needs these green leaves to manufacture nutrients that are stored in the bulb for next year’s growth and bloom. If the foliage is removed or mowed too early, the plant loses its ability to ‘recharge’ itself, resulting in a smaller, weaker bulb that will gradually decline and die out.

There are a few landscape design elements that can divert attention from yellowing bulb foliage:

Interplant spring-blooming bulbs with cold-tolerant annuals, such as pansies.
Use groundcovers such as periwinkle or pachysandra.
Interplant with herbaceous perennials such as hosta, daylilies, and ferns.
Plant the bulbs behind taller growing herbaceous perennials or shrubs.
Underplant with low-growing groundcover shrubs such as junipers, cotoneasters, and roses.
Treat these winter hardy spring flowering bulbs as perennials that are left in the ground year after year. But when flowers eventually become smaller or fewer in numbers, it’s time to dig up the bulbs and divide them before replanting. After several years in one location, clumps of bulbs will form and both stem and flower size will decline. Dig out and separate the bulbs around the middle of July, when the foliage has yellowed and withered naturally. Remove the foliage (tops), wipe the soil from the bulbs, and allow them to air dry. They can then be replanted in the fall, adding further life to your original investment and more color to your home landscape.

Diseases – Most spring flowering bulbs have been selected for tolerance and/or resistance to most of the serious soil-borne diseases. Avoid planting diseased bulbs. The most prevalent foliar disease is Botrytis. Remove heavily infested bulbs.

Insects – There are several insects that can attack spring flowering bulbs. Among them are aphids, thrips, and mites. Assistance for insect identification and the selection of the proper insecticide can be obtained from your local Cooperative Extension office.

Weeds – Use a combination of cultural and mechanical techniques to control weeds. Hand pull or hoe emerged weeds. Two to three inches of organic mulch will also help to control weeds.

Animals – Many spring flowering bulbs (such as tulips and crocuses) are edible to animals (voles, squirrels, rabbits and deer). Know the susceptibility for each bulb type. Refer to Rutgers Cooperative Extension publication E271, “Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance”. Cover the susceptible bulbs at planting time with wire mesh screening that allows the shoots to grow through. Repellants may be necessary.

Forcing Bulbs
Spring flowering bulbs can be forced into bloom during the winter and early spring to bring color and fragrance indoors. The easiest to force are crocus, hyacinth, narcissus, scilla, muscari, iris and tulip.

Starting in October through the end of November, bulbs can be planted in clean pots with adequate drainage holes. A good soil mixture contains one part loamy soil, one part organic matter such as peat and one part sand. Do not add fertilizer. Plant so that the tips are at the soil line. On average, 15 crocus, four to six daffodils, three hyacinths or six tulip bulbs will fit in a 6-inch pot.

Pots should be held at 35°F to 48°F for a minimum of 12 to 13 weeks. Suitable locations would be an unheated basement, storage area, cellar or cold frame. After 12 to 15 weeks, the bulbs should be well-rooted and short shoots should be present. Bring the pots into a bright, cool room (55°F to 60°F). The bulbs will flower in three or four weeks. Discard the plant after flowering since forced bulbs will seldom rebloom when planted outdoors.


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All about Hummingbirds!!



  • Hummingbirds augment their diets with insects and spiders and will drink sap as it runs from trees. They also need water – as much as eight times their body weight each day. (So it’s a good idea to place feeders near a water source.) [Read more…]
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Growing Container Tomato Plants


Growing Tomato Plants in Containers

~Tomatoes grown in containers have the same needs as garden tomatoes including full sun, warm temperatures, adequate watering, food, good soil, and staking/caging the plant.  They grow really well in containers because the support of the pot encourages growth upward.  The larger the container the bigger the plant will get and it will retain more moisture. [Read more…]

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All About Tomatoes

Tomato FAQs:

~Tomato plants come in a wide variety and each one has a distinct flavor, acidity and maturity rate (as to when they will yield tomatoes).    They grow well in many types of soil.  Adding peat moss, manure or compost will increase quality of soil.  They require full sun for at least 6-8 hours of the day and need a lot of water.  Leave enough distance between your plants for adequate circulation and root growth, Tasty Tomato recommends leaving 24 to 36 inches.  Dig your hole  and set plants in the ground deep enough so that only two or three sets of leaves are exposed if smaller plant.

~Tomatoes need some type of starter solution to wash around the roots helping it grow.  We have fish emollient, and an organic product called Thrive that will be perfect and encourage growth.  Caging your plants provides good structure and support to help the plant grow upward.  You want to add the support once your tomato is planted to prevent root damage by staking or caging after roots start to grow.  Caged tomatoes tend to be more productive.

~To help to keep the soil moist, add a layer of mulch, straw/hay, or bark which will help prevent moisture from evaporating to quickly from around the plants and prevent weeds from germinating.

~Nitrogen rich fertilizer is recommended for tomatoes for flowering and providing a balanced environment for overall growth.  We have a variety of fertilizers specifically for tomatoes including miracle grow and many other varieties.

~Foliage control involves pinching and pruning out of control leafy growth, be careful not to remove too much since the foliage protects the tomato from sun scald and converts sun into energy for the plant.  Too much coverage can shade the tomato and slow ripening especially in the autumn months.  Let tomatoes ripen on the vine for best taste.  Pick when red and firm.  Light isn’t necessary for ripening tomatoes that are taken off plant to early.  Most green tomatoes ripen to red if placed in cool dark place at about 65-70 degrees.

~Crushed eggshells applied to the surface of the soil offer a great source of calcium which is critical for a healthy plant.  Don’t forget to water because the plants can’t absorb the calcium or the fertilizers without adequate water.


~plant Basil next to your tomato plants!  It will attract bees which improve pollination and ward off aphids, making it the perfect companion for your tomatoes in your garden.  More pollinators lead to a bigger harvest. Here are more compatible plants for tomatoes: Arugula, asparagas, basil, beans, carrots, celery, chives, cucumbers, garlic, lemon balm, lettuce, marigolds (attracts ladybugs, bees and praying mantis ), mint, nasturtium, parsley, peas, onions, roses, spinach, stinging nettle.  DO NOT PLANT NEXT TO: apricots, corn, cabbage, dill, eggplant, fennel, peppers, potatoes, walnuts because these plants attract the wrong bugs or will inhibit tomato growth.

      Follow these tips and enjoy your perfect ripe tomato!  Good Luck!



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Frost Protection

Tips For Protecting Plants From Frost:

When there is a frost warning you need to take precautionary measures to protect tender plants from exposure to cold temperatures.

The most common way to guard against frost is with the use of some type of covering. Most anything will work, but old blankets, sheets, and even burlap sacks are best. When covering plants, drape them loosely and secure with stakes, rocks, or bricks. The lighter covers can simply be placed directly over the plants, but heavier covers may require some type of support, such as wire, to prevent the plants from becoming crushed under the weight. Covering tender garden plants in the evening will help retain heat and protect them from freezing. However, it is important that the covers be removed once the sun comes out the following morning; otherwise, the plants may fall victim to suffocation.

Another way to protect plants is by watering them a day or two before the frost is expected. Wet soil will hold more heat than soil that is dry. However, do not saturate the plants while the temperatures are extremely low, as this will result in frost heave and ultimately injure the plants. Light watering in the evening hours, before temperatures drop, will help raise humidity levels and reduce frost damage.

Some people prefer to mulch their garden plants. This is fine for some; however, not all tender plants will tolerate heavy mulching; therefore, these may require covering instead. Popular mulching materials that can be used include straw, pine needles, bark, and loosely piled leaves. Mulch helps to lock in moisture and during cold weather, holds in heat. When using mulch, try to keep the depth at about two to three inches.

Some tender plants actually require over-wintering in a cold frame or indoors. Cold frames can be purchased at most garden centers or built easily at home. Wood, cinder blocks, or bricks can be used for the sides and old storm windows can be implemented as the top. For those needing a quick, temporary frame, simply incorporate the use of baled hay or straw. Stack these around your tender plants and apply an old window to the top.

Designing a garden with raised beds will also help guard plants against frost during cold temperatures. Cold air tends to collect in sunken areas rather than higher mounds. Raised beds also make covering of plants easier.

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Tips for Spring Pruning for Color Year after Year

Tips to ensure that glorious bursts of spring colour reappear year after year

The bright yellow blossoms of forsythia and the fragrant purple sprigs of lilacs are welcome springtime sights. Shrubs such as these launch the seasonal flower display with fireworks of color. Here are some  tips to ensure that those glorious bursts of colour reappear year after year.

Prune for blooms, beauty and health
Judicious pruning keeps shrubs blooming their best. Cutting off spent flowers diverts the plant’s energy from unnecessary seed production to the creation of plentiful flower buds for next year. Pruning can also improve the shape and structure of a bush, enhancing its beauty and keeping it healthy by improving air circulation and allowing sunlight to penetrate into the centre of the clump. And because many spring-flowering shrubs produce flowers on new wood, pruning out old branches promotes the growth of young, blossom-bearing ones. However, shrubs younger than three years generally do not need pruning.

Use the right tools
Most shrubs can be pruned using one or more of four basic tools: a pair of secateurs, loppers, a small pruning saw and pole-mounted pruners. For twigs and stems measuring less than the diameter of a thumb, hand-held secateurs will do the job. Loppers, ratcheted for better leverage, can handle thicker stems. Large branches may require a Japanese pruning saw, which cuts on both the pull and the push strokes, making them more efficient than saws fitted with conventional blades. For cutting high branches, pruners mounted on an extensible pole make it easy to reach to the top without a ladder.

The blades of secateurs and loppers should be sharpened and honed after every few cuts. When pruning out diseased branches, sterilize blades with rubbing alcohol after each cut.

Know when to prune
Spring-flowering shrubs are able to bloom so early in the season because they produce their flower buds during the previous season. Forsythias, for example, start forming flower buds over the summer, and these nestle behind leaf axils where they remain dormant through fall and winter.

To prevent the removal of next season’s flower buds, it’s best to prune before the buds start to develop. Various shrubs produce buds at different times of the season, and climate plays a role, too, so it’s often difficult to gauge just when this will happen. Therefore, the safest time to prune is just after the shrub has finished blooming.

How to prune step by step
Here’s how to prune most spring-flowering shrubs, including serviceberry, deutzia, forsythia, beautybush, honeysuckle, mock orange, lilac and weigela.

  • Remove any dead or diseased wood, cutting stems right to the ground.
  • Prune out some of the older branches (these are thicker and darker than younger stems), cutting them back to about 30 centimetres from the ground.
  • Shorten the remaining stems by about one-third and remove any inward-facing branches. This will control the size of the shrub and open it up to air and sunlight.
  • Remove any remaining dead blossoms; depending on the shrub, these can be removed by shearing, pruning or manually snapping them off.
  • Pruning shrubs in this manner every year, being careful not to remove more than one-third of the overall size, ensures attractive, floriferous and healthy plants.
By Lorraine Flanigan
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Roses – Care & Handling

We would like to offer our advice on how to get the most out of these amazing flowers. Whether you cut them from a garden or buy them from one of our local stores, these tips will help you make them last and enjoy them longer.


Follow these simple steps to get the maximum vase life and enjoyment from your fresh cut roses:

Water them! Pretty obvious, right?
Get them into water as soon as you can. Even if you don’t have time to arrange them initially, it’s important to place them into some container of water until you can arrange them.

Tips on water:
– Use warm water.
– Make sure that you clean the vase before it is going to be used for those fresh flowers. Then, fill it ¾ full with lukewarm water (100°F to 110°F, about the same temperature as bath water). Warm water can be absorbed by the flower with greater ease than cold water, allowing the water and nutrients to travel up to the bloom as quickly as possible.

The importance of flower food.

Be sure to add flower food to the water according to package directions. We include these packets with all cut flower bouquets, and they really do work!

Note: Did you know that flower food contains three key ingredients that work together to prolong the life of your flowers? A food source for continued flower development, an acidifier to control the pH of the water, and a biocide to kill harmful bacteria.

TIP: If for some reason you do not have flower food, you can make your own! Add 3 teaspoons of non-diet lemon-lime soda, and 1 teaspoon of bleach (to kill the bacteria) to one quart of warm water.

Eliminate sources of bacteria in the water.

– Before placing the flowers into the water, remove any foliage that would fall below the water line. Foliage in the water causes bacteria to grow which will shorten the vase life of the flower.

How to properly cut your stems.

Tip: Ideally, you should cut about an inch from the bottom of each stem, at an angle, while holding the bottom of the stem under water. Once the stem is cut, place it immediately in the vase.

Explanation: By cutting under water, the rose will immediately start to absorb water, preventing any air bubbles from forming in the stem. Cutting at an angle maximizes the amount of water that can be absorbed by the stem. Both these things prevent blockage of the flow of water to the bloom, which is where the water needs to get!

For optimum vase life (over 7 days), repeat these steps every three days–take the flowers out of the vase, and clean your vase with hot water. Then, refill the vase with clean, warm water and flower food; cut your stems an inch under water; and place back in the vase.

On a daily basis, check the water level and add warm water as needed.

Showcasing your flowers

Display your flowers in a cool place, away from direct sunlight and drafts. Avoid displaying your flowers near a direct source of heat or any extreme temperatures, such as a window with strong sunlight, heating and cooling vents, and appliances that give off heat.

Give roses a “face-lift”

– By gently removing discolored or drooping petals from roses to give them a fresh, just-received appearance even after several days.
– Keep your flowers away from ripening fruit.
– These give off ethylene gas, which shorten the life of cut flowers.

If your roses wilt, they can be revived!

Submerge the entire rose under water, such as a sink or bathtub. In about 30 minutes to an hour, the rose will have absorbed enough water to become replenished. Before putting it back into the vase, remember to cut off one inch of the stem under water using a sharp knife or scissors.

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Orchid Care

Ever wonder why your orchids are not blooming?!
The key is in the temperature… 

Caring for your Orchids:

Orchids have different temperature preferences depending on the type of Orchid.

Temperature affects an orchid’s overall growth and especially its bloom habits. The most critical time for orchids is during the winter, when many of them are preparing to bloom. Orchids are classified into three types based on their winter temperature needs: cool-, intermediate-, and warm-growing.

Cool-growing orchids enjoy night temperatures in winter around 50°F and daytime temperatures not exceeding 70°. Intermediate-growing orchids prefer minimum winter-night temperature around 60° and daytime temperatures from 70° to 85°. Most orchids best suited for growing indoors are in the intermediate group (see sidebar). Night temperatures for warm-growing orchids should not be lower than 65°, and daytime winter temperatures can range from 75° to 85°. During the summer, intermediate- and warm-growing orchids can stand temperatures up to 85° or 90° as long as they have good air circulation. Cool-growing orchids prefer to stay cool in the summer.

A fluctuation of 10 to 20 degrees between day and night temperatures is essential for all orchids and triggers them to produce flowers. This difference is most important for cool- and intermediate-growing orchids because of the conditions they are used to in the wild. In the winter, it’s possible to achieve this fluctuation by lowering your home’s thermostat or by moving an orchid to a cooler spot, like a porch or a garage, at night.

Most orchids flourish under bright, indirect light. Full eastern or western exposure or indirect southern exposure usually provides enough light. However, as with temperature, specific orchids may require a certain light intensity. When buying an orchid, check the label for its light preference, then observe how much light your orchid actually receives.

Symptoms of excessive light are sun burn, yellowish foliage, and a plant that looks weak and dehydrated. On the other hand, if you bought an orchid in bloom and it did not rebloom the following year, even though the foliage looks green and full, consider giving it more light. Also make sure the temperature range is correct.

Repotting an orchid

It takes only a few minutes to repot an orchid, and this maintenance is essential to keep the plant thriving.

Orchids need to be repotted when one or more of the following occurs: the orchid is top heavy, a new orchid shoot is growing outside the container, the potting mix has deteriorated, or the orchid needs dividing.
Orchids need to be repotted when one or more of the following occurs: the orchid is top heavy, a new orchid shoot is growing outside the container, the potting mix has deteriorated, or the orchid needs dividing.
Step 1: Remove the orchid from its pot, gently separating any roots that are attached to the pot.Step 1: Remove the orchid from its pot, gently separating any roots that are    attached to the pot.
Step 2: Loosen the old potting mix from the roots.Step 2: Loosen the old potting mix from the roots.
Step 3: Remove yellow leaves and dead parts of the roots (areas that are dark and soft rather than light and firm).Step 3: Remove yellow leaves and dead parts of the roots (areas that are dark   and soft rather than light and firm).
Step 4: Choose a container that's just slightly larger than the one being replaced. Spread the roots evenly within it.Step 4: Choose a container that’s just slightly larger than the one you are         replacing.   Spread the roots evenly within it.
Step 5: Add fresh, porous potting mix (a packaged orchid mix or a custom blend), filling the spaces among the roots.Step 5: Add fresh, porous potting mix (a packaged orchid mix or a custom      blend), filling the spaces among the roots.
Step 6: Gently pack the potting mix, making sure the plant roots are held firmly within the pot.Step 6: Gently pack the potting mix, making sure the plant roots are held firmly  within the pot.
Step 7: Position the plant so that it is centered and the potting mix reaches or slightly covers the uppre roots.Step 7: Position the plant so that it is centered and the potting mix reaches or slightly covers the uppre roots.
Step 8: Water the plant thorougly and let it drain.Step 8: Water the plant thoroughly and let it drain.
Staking tip: The weight of gangly stems can make an orchid unsteady in its container. Metal pins like the one shown here are designed to help lock orchids within their pots. The pin clamps onto the side of the pot and holds the stems in position.
Staking tip: The weight of gangly stems can make an orchid unsteady in its container. Metal pins like the one shown here are designed to help lock orchids within their pots. The pin clamps onto the side of the pot and holds the stems in position.

Too much water can be as deadly as too little

Watering is the aspect of orchid growing that can be the trickiest. Most epiphytic orchids should be grown in a loose potting mix. To be sure the orchid gets enough water, drench the mix until water runs out the bottom. Then allow the potting mix to dry out before watering the orchid again. The top layer will dry more quickly than the soil at the bottom and can make you think the orchid needs more water, but don’t be fooled.

A simple way to test when an orchid needs water is to compare its weight before and after watering. Make sure the plant is completely dry before testing, then remember how it feels when you lift it. By learning the difference, you can determine how much moisture is left in the container. Experienced orchid growers advise that if you are not sure whether or not to water your orchid, wait a day.

Also keep in mind that orchids need less water during their resting period, when they are not blooming or producing new growth. With the appearance of new roots and shoots, an orchid can be watered more often.

Usually, resting orchids will need water once a week. When they are actively growing, I water them twice or more per week. However this is not a rule to follow precisely; you must use your own judgment. The need for water will also depend on the temperature, the container size, and the potting mix. Shriveled new stems and wilted leaves are indicators that an orchid is staying dry for too long. Too much water will eventually cause rot within the root system, leaving a plant dehydrated.

Most orchids also welcome a moderate level of humidity (50 percent or higher). To achieve this, you can mist them frequently with water or use a humidifier in your home. During the growing period, fertilizing orchids once or twice a month with a reduced-strength fertilizer will promote healthy growth and strong blooms. My favorite formula is a 20-20-20 solution.

Many orchid growers I’ve met have a specific soil mix they swear by. In my experience, it doesn’t matter what kind of components and how much of them you use when potting up an orchid. It’s only important that the mix be airy, drain well, and decompose slowly. Whether you mix your own or buy a prepared mix, it will work as long as those criteria are met. The numerous options include bark, sphagnum moss, tree fern fiber, and peat moss.

Container size, however, is an important factor, because orchids like to be root-bound. Their roots often spread outside the container, right into the air. This does not necessarily mean the plant needs a bigger pot. See the sidebar above to help you decide when to repot. The new container should be just big enough to accommodate the root system and provide room for growth for the next year or two. The choice of clay or plastic pot is up to you.

Dividing is not necessary every time you repot. I like to let an orchid grow into a larger specimen that produces multiple flowers. Limited growing space can be one reason for dividing, as well as the desire to have more than one plant, or to trade with friends. To grow quickly into a healthy blooming plant, each division should have no less than three developed stems, also known as pseudobulbs. In many orchids, you will find old, bloomed-out pseudobulbs.  You should cut these off only if they’re dried and yellow; if they are still green, leave them in place.

Keep an eye out for pests and disease

Proper care, including good air circulation, usually keeps orchids free of problems. Nonetheless, it can be heartbreaking to find that an orchid is being tortured by pests or exhausted by disease. Early detection is a key to keeping orchids healthy. The earlier you notice a problem, the easier it will be to fix.

First, I isolate a problem plant from its neighbors. If pests like scale, aphids, or mealy bugs are visible, I remove them manually with a soft brush. If a pest does get out of hand, I may resort to using a pesticide. After the treatment, I keep the plant in isolation for two to four more weeks, monitoring it regularly.

Appearance of fungal or bacterial diseases on orchids can be an indication of cultural problems. The first step is to identify the disease. The next step is to evaluate growing techniques and adjust them if needed. For example, fungal disease can be the result of poor air circulation. With some bacterial diseases it is necessary to reduce watering. Sometimes a change in culture will be enough to fix the problem. If not, turn to a more aggressive treatment. Consult your local extension agent or garden center for help in choosing an appropriate fungicide or bactericide.

In the summer months, orchids welcome fresh air. Of course, outdoor conditions should be similar to those you have provided for your plants indoors. When blooming time comes, it is fine to display your treasure out of the growing area, in a place of honor. The plant will not suffer if it gets less light for a couple of weeks, and it will make you proud of your achievement.

Start with these easy orchids

The following groups of orchids are among the easiest to grow indoors. Most orchids in these groups are considered intermediate-growing orchids in terms of their temperature needs. That is, they prefer minimum winter-night temperatures around 60° F, and from 70° to 85° during the day.

Lady’s slipper orchids
Tropical lady’s slippers (Paphiopedilum spp. and cvs.) are small to medium, with showy, long-lasting, waxy flowers and leaves that are often mottled. They are perfect for indoors, since they can tolerate lower light. They do not like to stay dry for more than a day or two, especially when growing or blooming. Bloom season is winter and spring.

Cattleya group
This group includes species and cultivars of Cattleya, Laelia, Rhyncholaelia, Sophronitis, and their hybrids. Plants are small to medium and produce medium to large brightly colored flowers. To bloom, they need filtered bright light. The potting mix should be very dry before the plant is watered. Bloom time is winter into late spring.

Moth orchids
This group includes species and cultivars of Doritis and Phalaenopsis, some of the easiest orchids to grow. These medium-size plants produce sprays of small, medium, or large flowers that can last for months. They prefer filtered light and regular watering, with short dry periods. Blooming continues from winter into late spring.

Lady's slipper orchid Lady’s slipper orchid
Cattleya orchid Cattleya orchid
Moth orchid Moth orchid
From Fine Gardening 82, pp. 36-40
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