In the temperature requirements of orchids article I was talking about temperatures and how they can affect your orchids. Now, here is the story about what happened when the furnace went out one night in my greenhouse. My disaster began on Saturday night January 3, 1998 Keep in mind this could happen to you!
I routinely water my orchids early in the morning every Sunday. I enjoy opening the door to the greenhouse and feeling the warm, moist air and smelling the beautiful fragrance of the flowers in the air.
This particular morning was different. I walked out to the greenhouse and the minute I opened the door, I knew something was wrong...
The beautiful fragrance was missing. In fact as I looked around I did not see any blooms either. Oh no! there was a definite chill in the air! I rushed over to the furnace and felt it, it was cold! The pilot light had gone out sometime during the night. I quickly checked the high/low temperature gauges and soon learned that it had gotten down to 22 oF!!
Tears started to swell up in my eyes and creep down my cheeks. I knew what cold temperatures would do to my orchids. I slowly walked around and through my tear-filled eyes saw that flowers that were in full bloom yesterday and full of life, now lay limp and dead.
Flower spikes that stood so proud and full of buds waiting to burst open and fill the greenhouse with their beauty and fragrance now stood naked and drooping limply like broken arms.I could not bear to look any further. I slowly walked back to the house and told my hubby what had happened. He ran out to the greenhouse to see why the alarm did not sound. Yes we have an alarm to tell us if the temperature gets too low or too high. Why did it fail? He soon discovered that one of the alarm wires had rusted and broken.
After getting over the initial shock, I went back to the greenhouse to see what could be saved - if anything. The Phalaenopsis were the hardest hit, their leaves looked all mushy and the flower spikes were all droopy. I really doubted if I could save any of them.
Surprisingly, the Paphiopedilums and the Cattleyas did not look that bad. Most of the new leaves were starting to turn black and I was sure I would lose the new growth on all of the orchids. The Oncidiums, Dendrobiums and Cymbidiums looked the best, in fact, I saw a big bud that had not dropped off one Dendrobiums and it was starting to open! As I looked closer I noticed some pink above me, it was a very tall spike from a Laelia and the blooms were just fine. The blooms looked like they were telling me "we survived, don't give up."
What was strange is just a foot away, another Laelia that was in bloom and it was dead now. The flowers were faded and limp and the leaves were all black. Some of my exotic species like my Sarcoglottis appeared to be terminal.
Yes, I lost quite a few of my orchids (over 500) but many did survive and months later, many were once again cheerily blooming. My Sarcoglottis did put on new growth and has started to recover. I was also seeing new growth again on many of the orchids. It took some of them another year to bloom, but at least they survived.
Why did I wrote this story? Because I don't want this to happen to you!
Are orchids fragile? Some yes, but many are not. How many house plants could have survived temperatures below freezing? Please remember to add an alarm to your greenhouse and, more importantly, to check the alarm weekly to ensure it is working properly.
Remember it is not just the extreme cold that can hurt your orchids. Extreme heat also can damage or even kill them. If you are growing your orchids outdoors, listen to the weather and protect them if the temperatures turn cold. The loss I occurred was from just one night.
I am sure if I had not discovered the loss of heat until later, none of my plants would have survived.
As you visit the nurseries and stores looking at orchids and wondering if you can grow them, look around. You just might see "The Orchid Lady" buying more orchids to fill up her greenhouse.