Q) We live in Honolulu and are being transferred to Virginia. Do you have any suggestions on safely shipping our 100 plant orchid collection? Angela H.

A) The capital city of Oahu is a dream location for both orchids and people. The warmest month averages 78 degrees F while the coldest month averages 72 degrees F. Add to this, the romantic beaches and tropical flora, and it is no wonder that Hawaii is the #1 honeymoon destination in the United States. I’m getting starry eyed just thinking about it!

Every day, thousands of orchids, both plants and cut flowers, are shipped from Hawaii to the ‘Mainland’ where hungry shoppers snap them up. The shipping techniques for these delicate beauties have been perfected. Large cardboard boxes are packed to the brim and each plant rolled in newspaper. Individual blooms are cushioned with fluff. Plastic pots or baskets hold the roots, never fragile clay. Some epiphytes may be bareroot (no pot) with the variety label either wired or taped to the leaves.

During cold months, insulated packing material may be used or more recently ‘heater packs’ – skiers use them - small bags which chemically stay warm for several days. ‘Perishable’ stickers cover the outside of the box and the delighted recipient is encouraged to open the contents promptly. Occasionally, tropical frogs or even lizards will jump out! Its all part of the ambiance of Hawaii.

In most cases, 2nd day air is the timeframe for travel. Shorter is cost prohibitive while longer is hard on the plants – no light or air movement. Anyone who has ever flown from the east coast knows of the torturous trip – 12 hours under the best circumstances. Though expensive, Fedex and UPS offer the most dependable service while USPS remains a viable option.

Despite all the care in packing and shipping, however, your beloved orchids are in for a rude awakening. Virginia’s colder climate allows for outdoor growing just five months of the year – May though Sept. Without a greenhouse or sunroom, the remaining seven months will be somewhat of a struggle for the higher light plants such as Cattleyas, Dendrobiums, and Oncidiums. It will be smooth sailing for the shade-loving Paphiopediums and Phalaenopsis. Aloha.

Q) Both my orchids have lost their flowers. The stems and leaves are still a nice green, but the plants are completely bald. Is that natural, or has my brown thumb taken over? Gigi H.

A) ‘Bald’ orchids implies that they once had hair. There are occasionally tiny ‘hair-like’ filaments on certain flowers – Lady Slipper petals come to mind – or ultra frilly Brassavola lips - but these aren’t subject to falling out with middle age. Currently there are no ‘hair loss for orchid’ treatments on the market.

Orchids that have ‘lost their flowers’ are merely finished blooming – a natural cycle. Typical blossoms only last for a few months and appear just once a year. Most seasons are spent growing new leaves and roots in preparation for the annual bouquet. ‘Nice green foliage’ is what growers strive for so you are to be congratulated. The passage of time will determine your degree of horticultural savvy.

Q) I am concerned about the orchids that I have been given lately. The roots are waterlogged from being crammed in non-draining ceramic pots. Do they have to be re-potted right away? Doris G.

A) Mass marketed orchids are prone to the conditions which you describe. In an attempt to beautify the floral packaging, sometimes the health of the plant is forsaken. A novice grower may not recognize the early warning signs of a freshly bought stressed orchid.

Epiphytic roots require air movement which is why orchids are often potted in clay. These natural terracotta containers have a drainage hole so there is no standing water. When plastic is used, there are many holes in the bottom because the roots have to breathe or they will perish.

The use of decorative pots complicates matters for those orchids wishing for longevity. It is assumed that the plant and ‘growing’ pot are merely dropped into the fancy container for display purposes and removed each week for watering. Never is the orchid supposed to be physically planted into the decorative pot.

Re-potting a water-logged orchid in bloom in order to save the roots also poses a risk. Disturbing those roots shortens the duration of the flowers so, perhaps, the best course of action is to sparingly water the plant until it finishes blooming then repot. Its not a perfect world.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009 - 17:45