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Afraid to try your hand at orchids? Don't be, experts say. They're worth the bloom

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Marc Hachadourian was traipsing through the woods near his home when he found something completely unexpected for a 10-year-old kid growing up in New Jersey: an orchid. He fell in love and he's been hooked ever since.

Hachadourian channeled that passion into a career and he's now an orchid expert as the senior curator of the New York Botanical Garden's Orchid Collection. Hachadourian, who also wrote a book about orchids last year, said this beloved flower, which comes in thousands of varieties, is finally shedding its intimidating reputation.

Who says orchids are fussy? Experts say with the right species and conditions -- and patience -- anyone can grow them.

"Now that orchids are affordable and they’re familiar, that’s taken away the fear," said Hachadourian, who unveiled the 18th orchid show at the Botanical Garden last week. "People see them everywhere and they think, 'If they’re around, maybe I can grow them.' People aren’t afraid to experiment with a $20 plant."

And that's a good thing. Given the variety of orchids -- there are between 20,000 to 30,000 species of orchids -- experts say home-growers should give them a chance. And while they may only bloom once a year, that bloom could last three to five months -- if not longer -- if the plant has the right conditions. And it's well worth its beauty.

With a variety of orchid species timed to bloom at different times, "you can have orchids blooming almost year-round," said Hachadourian.

But if you have some reservations about orchids and want some guidance, now is the time to do your homework. Late winter and early spring is when several groups host orchid shows or sale. Hachadourian's Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden opened last week and runs through April.

English Gardens, meanwhile, will host its annual Orchid Festival Weekend Saturday and Saturday with speakers and workshops at all six of its stores across Metro Detroit. 

Don't over-water an orchid or let it sit in water. Gallagher with English Gardens said watering depends on each home environment but recommends giving an orchid a drink every 7 to 9 days with water that isn't chlorinated or well water.  She says let water sit to let the minerals settle in it and then give your orchid a drink.

And the Michigan Orchid Society will hold its 64th annual Orchid Show and Sale March 28-29 at the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 876 in Madison Heights.

Hachadourian says when it comes to pick the right orchid, 

When it comes to growing your own orchids, Meg Gallagher, English Gardens' merchandising manager, says don't be intimidated. Orchids grow everywhere in the world but Antartica.

Much tougher

A good genus to start with is Phalaenopsis, also known as the Moth Orchid. 

"It's one of the most common orchids," said Gallagher. "It has nice longevity. They come in all different colors and all different patterns."

Phalaenopsis orchids that have dotted or striped blooms are often Taiwanese orchids. Solid colors are often Dutch. 

"If you buy an orchid and maintain it correctly, it could last 6-7 months," said Gallagher, who recommends cutting the orchid stem right above the first notch after it blooms. 

Orchids with stripes or dots on their petals are often Taiwanese plants.

Pam Haxton is the president of the Michigan Orchid Society, a group of dozens of local orchid enthusiasts from all over Metro Detroit and Windsor who meet monthly at a church in Birmingham to share tips and advice. Their March show will also include vendors se more uncommon orchids.

Haxton said orchids have come a long, long way from when she used to have to drive to Monroe to buy them. They weren't available anywhere else.

"Now you can get one at Trader Joe's," said Haxton.

A tiny bloom begins to sprout from one of Haxton's small orchids.

Haxton has about 100 orchids and a small greenhouse off her family room at her home in Huntington Woods. She grows dozens of tiny orchids on mounts.

Orchids are "bred now and they’re just much tougher than they use to be," said Haxton.

Find the right orchid

But so much of growing orchids is finding the right one for your home.

In his book, Hachadourian writes, "Choose the orchids that like you, rather than the orchids you like.”

What he means, he says, is look at the conditions in your own home -- the light, the temperature, hours of sunlight and humidity. He said it often takes the right plant for the right condition and not every plant will thrive in the same conditions.

Marc Hachadourian, curator of the New York Botanical Garden's Orchid Collection, says "choose the orchids that like you, rather than the orchids you like." So much depends on each person's home environment.

"It’s finding the right plant for the right environment," said Hachadourian. "Once you have the right match, you’ll succeed."

For the right humidity -- which is especially an issue in Metro Detroit during the winter -- Hachadourian recommends putting a tray underneath your orchid filled with gravel and water. The water will evaporate and your orchid will get the moisture it needs. Another option is grouping your orchid with other plants to create a microclimate.

Hachadourian says like anything, orchids require patience. 

"Nothing happens overnight," he said. "In an age of instant gratification, it takes some time and effort. It’s not an a bonsai tree that will take hundreds of year. With time, the plants will reward you."

Win 'Modern Orchid'

Marc Hachadourian is the curator of the New York Botanical Garden's Orchid Collection. His book, "Modern Orchid: Living & Designing with the World's Most Elegant Houseplants" has not just care suggestions but DIY ideas for designing with orchids. To win, email designer writer Maureen Feighan at mfeighan@detroitnews.com

Orchid Shows & Events

Orchid Festival Weekend at English Gardens: Free seminar, Orchids 101, at all six stores at 1 p.m. Make It & Take It Orchard Garden Workshop at 2:30 at all stores.

Ann Arbor Orchid Festival: 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. March 21-22 at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, 1800 N. Dixboro Road, Ann Arbor. Talks, displays, and orchid sales. For information, go to www.aaosonline.org.

Michigan Orchid Society Show & Sale: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. March 28 and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. March 29 at the United Food Workers Building, 876 Horace Brown Building, Madison Heights. For information, go to www.miorchidsociety.com.

mfeighan@detroitnews.com