Articles About Orchids
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Articles About Orchids
   Here in Utah it is finally spring and my "Chinese Ground Orchids" are beginning to poke their green heads up out of my flower garden. Would you like to have orchids growing in your very own flower beds even though you live in a colder non-tropical climate? Chances are, you can! While browsing your local garden supply centers for your spring bulbs, look for Chinese Ground Orchids.
Bletilla striata
   In my area, Northern Utah, I find packages of Bletilla striata hanging near the Gladiolus and other packaged bulbs. These hardy little orchids originated in China and Japan but can now be found living in many gardens in the UK and Europe as well as here in the USA.

   When you first start growing orchids, you will often hear the advice, "Do not plant them in soil!" This advice is true -- unless you are growing terrestrial orchids. Bletillas are terrestrial orchids and are among the three species currently being commercially cultivated: B. striata (also known as the B. hyacinthina), B. ochracea, and B. formosana.
   There are also several registered hybrids available: Yokohama (N. Suzuki 1956 - Bletilla striata x formosana), 'Coritani' (R. Evenden 1994 - Bletilla formosana x ochracea), and 'Brigantes' (R.G. & A. Evenden 1994 - Bletilla striata x ochracea). I personally grow B. striata that produce blossoms which are pink with a darker pink lip and B. striata f. alba, a form that produces white blossoms.   
   Both of these species are hardy down to about 20 degrees oF (-7 oC) in the winter (when covered with mulch). In colder areas, you may need to dig up the bulbs much like you would Gladiolus bulbs or plant them in flower pots which you can bring into the house for the winter.
   I have been successfully growing these little delights around the outside of my greenhouse for over 20 years. They are watered and fertilized by the water that drains from my greenhouse which they really enjoy.
   I have planted them on both the west and south sides of the greenhouse to take advantage of the sun, they multiply readily into nice clumps. The flowers are excellent as cut flowers and have a nice soft fragrance.
   Every spring these little orchids send up tall leaves with prominent pleats running down them. Then, in early summer, they send up an inflorescent that can reach over 30 inches tall with up to a dozen 1 1/2 inch blossoms.
  • B. ochracea has cream or yellow-colored blossoms with a fringed lip dusted with red markings.
  • B. formosana blossoms are rose-pink with yellow centers.
  • B. szetschuanica (not commonly grown or available)is the smallest of the group. A miniature variety with pale rose blossoms with a darker rose lip.
   Propagation is achieved by seed and division. I have not seen any little orchids growing in my garden from seed, even though my plants do produce many seed pods. Perhaps my soil or climate is not what the seeds need to survive. If you are interested in growing them from seed, you might sprinkle seeds onto some damp Sphagnum and hope they germinate. Personally, however, when I want more plants, I just dig up a clump and divide it much I like I do with my other bulbs.
   Generally speaking for cultivation outdoors, plant the bulbs in early spring in an area that receives full sun. Space the bulbs about 6 inches apart and about 2 inches deep in well drained humus-rich soil.
   I add bone meal to the hole and then place the bulb on top of it. If you plant in the fall, be sure to cover the soil with mulch if your winter temperatures are below freezing. In pots, plant the bulbs in a mixture of soil, leaf mold, peat, and sand. You will want your media to drain well. If the bulbs are allowed to stay soaking wet, they will rot.   Place your pots in a location the receives full sun, and bring them indoors to a protected area in areas that freeze.
   I highly recommend these for beginners and for everyone that has always wanted to grow orchids in their gardens. If you can grow Gladiolus in your garden then you can grow these little jewels.
TIP:    While you are browsing for bulbs this spring you will probably find the bulbs that are called "Peacock Orchids".
    These are NOT orchids! These are Acidanthera bicolor murielae (syn.: Gladiolus callianthus). These plants are probably one of the most fragrant bulbs you can grow. They make great companions for your little Bletillas. But don't be fooled by the nurseries telling you that they are orchids!