Right now, half of the garden centers around are offering severe discounts on their current plants, either to clear out overstock before the worst of the heat hits, or to make room for fall stock. Because there’s not a whole lot to do before September down here, now’s the time to play a game I developed a few years back. The game is “Orchid roulette”, and it’s remarkably cheap and quite a bit of fun.
Anyone spending any time researching commercial horticulture notes that there’s a lot of waste in the trade. You get plants that die or get sick before they’re ready to be sold, and they usually get composted long before they reach market. You get others that get damaged or infested before they’re put out for sale, and they’re usually pulled from sale as soon as it’s noticed. Others, though, outlive their shelf life: Christmas chrysanthemums and rosemary “Christmas trees” get pulled right after the season is over, even though the plants are still good, because nobody wants to buy flowering plants without flowers. And nowhere is this more evident than with orchids.
The game of orchid roulette requires finding a venue that has lots of relatively inexpensive orchids for sale, and waiting until about now, when the big rush for orchids is starting to lapse. At this time, most of these venues will have discount sales on the orchids that have already bloomed and returned to focusing on photosynthesis. They may still have the remnants of their bloom spikes, but the flowers are gone, so take the time to focus on everything else about the plant. Take a look at the shape of the leaves, the form of the pseudobulbs (if the variety has pseudobulbs), the presence or absence of aerial roots, or any other factor about the plant that really attracts your fancy. Once you’ve found one that catches your interest, buy it: when I started doing this, I paid a whole $10 US for my first orchid, and I had absolutely no idea as to what its flowers looked like.
Most commercially sold orchids come with some sort of identification, usually a Latin name and the cultivar name, and you’ll use this afterwards to find out about the basic husbandry of your new orchid. Does it need a bark mix for a potting medium, or is it happy with good old-fashioned dirt? Does it need full or partial sun? Most of your popular groups, such as Cattleya or Dendrobium, have similar care regardless of species, so do a touch of research. In my case, I picked up that $10 orchid and realized that the potting medium was an absolute joke, with it suffocating its roots and preventing it from growing. I repotted it with a standard Cattleya blend of pine bark and charcoal, and it rewarded me with an explosion of roots and two new pseudobulbs. All the time, though, I didn’t know anything about the blooms, and I held off for nearly a year until it started growing bloom spikes.
The best part of orchid roulette is that the incredible variety of cultivars and hybrids means that you have no idea of what you’re going to get as far as blooms are concerned until the next year, and this means that you focus on everything else about the plant beforehand. In my case, I purchased an Iwanagara Apple Blossom ‘Golden Elf’, and it’s currently blooming in my greenhouse as I write this. Oh, the blooms are interesting, if nonscented, but I’m waiting for the blooms to fade so I can repot it. It’s been doing very well in a standard plastic orchid pot, but I managed to find a beautiful tall Chinese orchid pot a few years back, and I want to see instead how well it takes to that pot before next year’s blooming.