My daughter gave me a lovely Miltonia last fall and I am afraid that I have hurt it. I have it on the porch facing east but there must have been too much light as three of the six leaves have turned brown. What can I do to prolong its life? Maggie B.


While many orchids live to a ripe old age of a century or more, it is rare to find a Miltonia thriving past a decade. The reasons for this short lived duration are debated, but one thing is certain – Miltonias are tricky to grow. Many commercial nurseries don’t even sell them so don’t be discouraged if your plant is struggling.

At first sight, the ‘Pansy Orchid’ seems to have the most desirable qualities of the floral kingdom. The foliage is bushy and compact – wispy like Oncidiums – but no taller than a foot. The flowers are large and flat – like Phalaenopsis – yet give the appearance of Pansies and are fragrant! Its no wonder Miltonias ‘fly off the shelves’ at flower shows and other quick turn gardening events.

The reality, however, is that this orchid challenges the most ardent horticulturalists. Cultural requirements are indirect light, well draining media, and temperatures in the 60 to 80 degree range. Yet, Miltonia leaves are easily prone to rot and cannot withstand typical Virginia summer heat. The best advice is to focus on genera that grow well in this climate.


I have four orchids that have bloomed beautifully for years but now I am seeing a sticky substance covering much of the leaves. What is this and will it affect the growth in the future? Lou S.


Hobbyists who bloom their orchids year after year are no longer neophytes – but rather advanced growers who have mastered the sport. Re-potting is second nature and all the light levels and watering intervals are fully understood. At this point, it is a matter of addressing small matters such as sticky leaves – aka insect outbreaks.

Plants speak in a language that horticulturalists understand. Foliage that displays tiny syrupy droplets is not normal growth habit but rather the work of an army of bugs – either mites or brown scale. Close examination of the leaf surface reveals the identity of the critter. Mites can be seen scurrying about while mature brown scale has an armored shell.

In either case, a thorough spraying of the foliage at weekly intervals will reduce this pest to negligible populations. Horticultural oils, soaps and waxes work well at smothering their prey while Pyrethrum-based solutions are fast acting poisons. Always apply these products outside in the shade on mild days.


My boyfriend and I see orchids as ‘our plants’ because he gave me one on our first date and every special occasion since. Sadly, most of my orchids don’t live past one year. I have a wide variety and they reside in my living room which has low light, a slow fan, and temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees. What can I do? Laura M.


You are not alone in claiming orchids as your own – after all, orchids are the #1 houseplant today. Still it’s touching to hear that they are exchanged on every special occasion – since there are literally dozens of events each year – from major holidays to pet birthdays. Your collection must be quite large by now!

Generally speaking, orchids have the potential to live forever if given the right conditions. Their native habitats are the tropical forests around the world where they have evolved from the beginning of time. In today’s wretched economy, orchids are the most economical floral purchase one can make given their annual several month-long blooming time and their life expectancy.

Orchids can loosely be divided into two groups by their light requirements and, thus, cannot be grown together. Cattleyas, Dendrobiums, and Oncidiums need filtered direct sun whereas Paphiopedilums and Phalaenopsis take indirect or shade. Your low light living room can only benefit the latter group. The sun loving type will rapidly go downhill and perish unless major changes are made. Moving those plants outside during the months of May to September and locating a south facing window for the remainder of the year would be the long term solution.

The low light plant Phalaenopsis is particularly subject to crown rot so try to avoid water on the leaves. The companion Lady Slipper sometimes needs timely re-potting to encourage flowering but is a tough plant otherwise. All that is needed to ensure survival of this prized collection is a little shuffling of the pots that takes into account their specific preferences. Perhaps by this time, the generous boyfriend will have become the loving husband. 

Monday, November 1, 2010 - 17:30