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Orchids 101: Expert offers growing tips for beginners

Orchid expert offers tips for beginning growers.

Orchid blooms can intimidate budding gardeners.

Joan Connors, a retired greenhouse manager of the American Orchid Society, has a few tips to help beginners keep plants blooming and healthy.

"I love growing orchids, because there is always a new flower to surprise me," said Connors, of Deerfield Beach. "They give me joy every day."

Connors, who retired in 2011 when the AOS headquarters moved to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, also is a president of the Fort Lauderdale Orchid Society. She helps plan the club's annual orchid show and sale at the War Memorial Auditorium, which will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 20-22.

Q: What is the easiest orchid for beginners to grow?

A: Phalaenopsis. It requires little maintenance. Just water it once a week and it should flower. Phals will be in full bloom now through March, and hybridized versions of the plants bloom a few times a year. Also, ask the grower you purchase plants from for culture instructions and visit AOS.org for more tips on commonly grown orchids.

Q: What is the biggest mistake most new gardeners make with orchids?

A: Overwatering will kill a plant faster than anything else, because the roots rot. Generally, water plants once a week and keep them in indirect light, and they should do well.

Q: Is fertilizer necessary?

A: Orchids get hungry, and fertilizer is their food. They expend a lot of energy producing those beautiful blooms. Try generic Miracle-Gro plant food. You must be very careful to follow package instructions when fertilizing so you don't burn the leaves, roots and blooms. There is one rule: Water with fertilizer, weekly and weakly.

Q: Where is the best place to keep orchids?

A: Most orchids, especially phals, do not appreciate direct sun, so keep them in indirect light on a patio or strapped to a tree with a dense canopy or dappled light.

Q: What are the benefits of joining the local orchid society?

A: Clubs offer a wealth of information, and experts can help you learn more about specific species and their culture. Plus, you meet people that have the same success and failures that you have and you can learn from each other.

Q: Any new trends in growing supplies?

A: Many Florida orchid-growers are using more nonorganic potting material such as clay pellets. They don't break down like bark does and you won't have to repot plants as often.

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