22 May 2014

Bletilla - Hardy Orchids you can grow in your garden

Of the 200,000 orchid species, 200 are hardy enough to grow in home gardens. Of those, many are easy to grow and add beauty and interest to the usual mix of plants.


One key to growing hardy orchids is to avoid killing them with kindness.  In general, they prefer the low fertility provided by good compost, filtered sunlight and average to low water.

The orchids that enjoy the weather found in the southern states, zones 6 to 9, are Calanthe, Chinese Hardy Orchids – the Blettilla species, Grass Pink Calopogon, White Egret Flower – Pecteilis radiate, Fragrant Nodding Ladies Tresses and Lady’s Slippers – the Cypripediums.

For beginners in outdoor orchid growing, Chinese Ground Orchids or Bletilla varieties are the best place to start.  They are reliable for spring color, attractive leaf form and when established they multiply to create colonies. Pollinators love them and despite the fact that they grow in shade, snails and slugs ignore them.

Kay Backues, president of the Tulsa Orchid Society said, “If you want to grow something you will be successful with and love, grow Bletillas.”

During the growing and blooming seasons, Bletilla orchids need rain or supplemental water. They cannot thrive in wet, heavy clay and are most likely to multiply in well-drained soil without standing water.

During the summer, they need a little water. Backeus said she waters hers the same as she waters her annuals and Echinaceas.

Avoid planting Bletilla among plants that spread by runner or by seed. In order to form clumps they have to grow without competition from plants that invade their territory.
“Bletillas cannot out-compete other plants,” said Backeus. “Mine are in a 2 by 3 foot bed and in the ten years they have grown there, clumps have been removed for sharing and they filled in the space quickly”.

As the clump grows, it can be divided but the offspring should be replanted as soon as possible so they do not dry out. Remove the soil from the clump of corms and cut the clump into pieces with two or three growing points. Dust the pieces with sulphur or let them harden off for a few days so the open cuts heal a bit before planting.

If the new pieces cannot be replanted right away, put them in bags of dry peat moss and refrigerate.
In his book, “Growing Hardy Orchids”, John Tullock calls Bletilla orchids the queen of hardy orchids (Timber Press, www.timberpress.com, 2005).

Tullock says that his first Bletillas were planted on the northeast side of his house foundation where they thrived among Hostas, ferns and a Japanese maple tree. He amended the planting area with compost, peat moss, leaves and composted pine bark.

Bletilla striata flower buds and leaves emerge at the same time and bloom in March, most years.

“Late frosts will kill the flower buds of Bletilla,” said Backues. “Daffodils can take a frost and still bloom, but hardy orchids cannot. If a late frost is predicted I throw a towel or a blanket on them.”

The standard Chinese Ground Orchid is the most hardy, purple variety, Bletilla striata. Bletilla albostriata has narrow, pleated white-edged leaves. Gotemba Stripes has narrow gold streaks on the leaves. 


Kuchibeni has two-toned purple and white flowers. Murasaki kichibi has pale blue-lavender flowers with a darker color on the lip. Alba is white and may also be called First Kiss by garden stores.

A slightly fussier and less cold hardy variety, Chinese Butterfly Orchid, Bletilla ochracea, has cream-yellow flowers with a purple and yellow lip. It likes more sun than the other varieties.

“Asian Ground Orchids are tough, pest-free and beautiful Terrestrial Orchids,” said Backeus. “The flowers are classic miniature orchids that are readily available and easy to grow.”


Resources
The American Orchid Society (www.dev.aos.org)
Plant Delights Nursery, Inc. www.plantdelights.com, (919) 772-4794
Tulsa Orchid Society, Emilie Kraft (918) 371-4723, eclicity@mindspring.com
Oklahoma Orchid Society http://www.oosorchids.org,

SouthWest Regional Orchid Growers' Associationhttp://www.swroga.org
Wild Orchid Company Hardy Perennial Orchids www.wildorchidcompany.com, (215) 297-5053






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