When it comes to Father’s Day gifts, something unusual and homemade–with a little science thrown in–always wins. Just explain to your dad all about epiphytes, which grow non-parasitically on another plant, getting moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and debris. What dad wouldn’t be intrigued?
See below for step-by-step instructions and a list of materials:
Photography by Sophia Moreno-Bunge for Gardenista.
Above: Start with a medium-size Oncidium orchid (pronounced on-SID-ee-um) in a pot.
Above: Gather everything before you start.
- Orchid, such as an Oncidium Sharry Baby ($15.95 from Royal Orchid Club)
- A branch about 1 foot long and 2 or 3 inches thick (or driftwood, or Cork Bark available for $22.66 from Amazon)
- A handful of New Zealand Sphagnum Moss (a 5-quart bag is $24.64 from Repot Me)
- Clear fishing line
- An eyelet screw
Above: First, remove the orchid from the pot and soak the roots in water for about five minutes to make them more flexible (so they won’t break when you attach them to the branch). But don’t fret if a root does break; it will grow back.
Next, rinse off the remaining dirt.
Above: Wrap the orchid’s roots around the branch and tie them with fishing line. I used one piece of fishing line around the bottom of the roots and another around the base of the plant. As the orchid grows, its roots will attach to the bark and the fishing line no longer will be needed.
Above: Tuck clumps of moss between the roots and the fishing line. The moss will help the roots retain moisture; whenever it feels dry, the plant needs water.
Above: If you like, you can cover the fishing line on the back of the branch with more moss.
Above: Last, put an eyelet screw in the top of the branch and thread a piece of thick twine through it to hang the orchid.
Above: The finished product. If you want to keep the orchid indoors, place it in a well-lit spot, but not in harsh direct sun. I keep mine in the bathroom, the most humid room in my house, and near a window where it gets just enough light.
Above: The Sharry Baby has small, delicate blossoms and an amazing scent.
A hanging orchid should be watered and fertilized more often than a potted orchid, because its roots are exposed. Every two days, spray the roots directly with a mister to soak them thoroughly. I spray the blooms and leaves almost daily, because many orchids love humidity. Experts suggest fertilizing once or twice a month, using special orchid fertilizer; the water-soluble type is easiest. You also can fertilize every week, at about a quarter strength.
Follow Sophia on her visit to her uncle’s spectacular garden in A Hanging Orchid Garden in San Isidro, Buenos Aires. And for Amanda’s warning tale about how easy it is to become an obsessive orchid owner, read The Orchid That Owned Me.