Buying Tips

Consumers have many options when buying orchids. The flowers can be about to open, fully in bloom, or half and half. Oncidiums, with at least one bud remaining, such as this popular hybrid, Sweet Sugar, are considered fresh.

Savvy orchid shoppers have many choices in today’s marketplace. Not only are orchids sold in traditional venues such as florists, garden centers, and specialty boutiques, they can sometimes be found in farmer’s markets, mass merchants, and…gasp…grocery stores. Depending on your urgency, orchids can even be obtained on-line though this process is a little trickier. How to decide?

Orchid shopping can be a spontaneous adventure. Beautiful specimens flutter effortlessly near the checkout counter and although the grocery cart is overflowing with free range chicken breasts and organic vegetables, the temptation is just too much. Why not treat yourself to something nice for the kitchen table. What’s another twenty bucks?

In other cases, orchid shopping is mandated by tonight’s dinner party that practically requires a floral centerpiece. In search of something exotic and different that is sure to generate conversation. Grouping together two or three plants in a fancy container with curly willow and Spanish moss is sure to do the trick. Destination: Gourmet flower shop. Price tag: one hundred and fifty dollars.

Blooming orchids can be found in three stages – all buds, all flowers, and some buds/some flowers.

It’s very tempting to get an orchid that is all buds. The plant has its entire blooming duration remaining and there may be the lure of having a pleasant surprise when the flowers open. Cattleyas are best purchased in the all budded stage since their blooming time is relatively short (averaging three weeks). It is exciting to watch the petals unravel and see the delicate blossoms for the first time. The Cattleyas on the market today are, for the most part, clones of exceptional varieties so the quality is guaranteed.

Lady Slippers, on the other hand, are best purchased in the full bloom state because the flowers are seed grown and unpredictable. There are good ones and not so good ones. The color, size, and shape are all variable so it is best to see the blossoms first hand to verify that they are pleasing. Even in full bloom, expect several month’s worth of longevity. In all cases, the rich marbled foliage is exceptional in the plant kingdom.

Dendrobiums and Phalaenopsis are best obtained with some buds and some open flowers stage. These popular genera open their buds sequentially over many weeks so there is plenty of time to buy them in the half and half stage. It’s reassuring to see exactly what the flower looks like and know there is plenty of life remaining. It should be noted that even in full bloom, these orchids often last for months.

In an ideal world, the blooming process of Dancing Ladies could be slowed down such that the buds open over several weeks. Instead, the plants practically open all their branched buds at once like a fireworks finale. It would be impressive to watch this with a time lapse camera. The trick is to catch Oncidiums in that short window (often a matter of days) where the buds are unraveling or freshly open. Often a lone bud or two at the very end of the spike provides a freshness clue. Expect six to eight weeks of blooming time.

The last thing anyone wants is to have buds fall off when the plants get home. There are many reasons for this condition ranging from low humidity to under-watering but one way to avoid ‘bud drop’ all together is to buy orchids in full bloom. There can’t be ‘bud drop’ if there aren’t any buds! 

Friday, July 1, 2011 - 17:15