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Orchids: Expert Advice from Susie Turner of Green Door Design

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Orchids: Expert Advice from Susie Turner of Green Door Design

December 28, 2020

Susie Turner began working with orchids more than 20 years as a buyer for Smith & Hawken, the much-missed retailer of garden plants and tools that got its start in a shop in Mill Valley, California.

These days Turner has her own shop in Mill Valley, where I live. At Green Door Design, she and her design team create living arrangements with potted orchids, tillandsias, and succulents. I stop by frequently for advice, which is how I learned to make a Succulents Bouquet: Needs No Water, Lasts a Month. Under her guidance, I’ve gone from fearing orchids (too fragile and finicky, I used to think) to living happily with The 6 Best Flowering Orchids, blooming on a windowsill next to me as I type.

The other day when I dropped in to see Turner, she shared her top tips for living with orchids:

Photography by Dawn Uhalley courtesy of Green Door Design.

Turner, the owner of Green Door Design in Mill Valley, creates arrangements with living orchids and offers an Orchid Exchange program. After orchids go dormant, customers can trade them in. The plants go to  &#8\2\20;local growers and orchid enthusiasts who enjoy coaxing the orchids into bloom again,&#8\2\2\1; says Turner.
Above: Turner, the owner of Green Door Design in Mill Valley, creates arrangements with living orchids and offers an Orchid Exchange program. After orchids go dormant, customers can trade them in. The plants go to  “local growers and orchid enthusiasts who enjoy coaxing the orchids into bloom again,” says Turner.

What is the easiest orchid to grow?

“Speaking as a home hobbyist grower, I think Phalaenopsis orchids are probably the easiest to get to re-bloom,” says Turner, who suggests experimenting with different locations in your home to find the spot your orchid likes best.

Tip: After an orchid stops blooming, cut its spike at the base. (“Some people like to cut the flower spike in the middle of Phalaenopsis; this may encourage some branching side buds and a few new flowers,” says Turner. “But cutting the old spike all of the way down to the base will encourage a strong new flower spike with more flowers and a longer new bloom cycle.”)

Phalaenopsis orchids (also known as moth orchids) &#8\2\20;like higher levels of indoor light to encourage the new spike and blossoms to develop,&#8\2\2\1; says Turner..
Above: Phalaenopsis orchids (also known as moth orchids) “like higher levels of indoor light to encourage the new spike and blossoms to develop,” says Turner..

Which orchids like to go outdoors in warm weather?

Turner, who lives in Mill Valley (USDA zone 10A), has grown in her garden Cymbidium and Dendrobium kingianum (“a wonderfully fragrant Dendrobium with small white or purple flowers”.)

Says Turner, “It’s as easy as finding a suitable location in your garden—dappled sunlight to partial shade — and giving the regular water (although they can withstand some neglect), along with fertilizer while they’re dormant, and you will be rewarded with several spikes of dramatic and long lasting flowers every year.”

Tip: “You may wish to bring your plants indoors to enjoy the blooms, once the first flowers have started to open,” says Turner.

Succulents and wispy grasses in terra cotta pots at Green Door Design.
Above: Succulents and wispy grasses in terra cotta pots at Green Door Design.

What plants mix well with orchids in floral arrangements?

Turner frequently uses multiple orchids in one arrangement—snow-white Phalaenopsis orchids make easy companions—and adds succulents and air plants around the base of the plants.

Tip: Keep orchids in their plastic nursery pots and place them in a larger decorative planter; when it comes time to water the orchid, you can carry it to the sink in its plastic pot. Add a layer of orchid bark or moss to the surface to hide the plastic.

&#8\2\20;Generally speaking, your orchid arrangement will feature orchids already in bud and bloom. As such, they can all be placed in just about any area of your home—with the exception of a very dark, no-light room,&#8\2\2\1; says Turner.
Above: “Generally speaking, your orchid arrangement will feature orchids already in bud and bloom. As such, they can all be placed in just about any area of your home—with the exception of a very dark, no-light room,” says Turner.

How do you water orchids?

A general rule of thumb: “I’ve found, over the years, that the best frequency to water the orchids we design with is every 10 to 14 days, or two to three times a month,” says Turner.

Tip: When watering, give an orchid 1/2 cup to 1/3 cup water or take it to the sink and let water run through, if planted in bark medium.

Occasionally check to see what’s happening in your orchid arrangement. If your plants are arranged together and can’t be taken apart, make sure you’re using a measuring cup and not exceeding the watering amount guidelines to insure your plants are not sitting in excess water. Remove a little moss that may be decoratively placed on top and feel to see if the orchid medium is moist or wet. If so, do not water. Check a few days later. Wait up to 14 days, until the top of the orchid is on the dryer side, before you add more water.
“Our designs often feature multiple orchids for dramatic effect and lots of flower power, placed together in one container,” says Turner. ” It’s important to identify how many orchids you have in your arrangement when you water. Look for the center leaf structure; don’t count the number of flower spikes, as many single orchid plants feature multiple flower spikes.”

Above: A collection of galvanized watering cans for sale at Green Door Design. “At Green Door Design, we have the watering and care information written down for you, and will let you know what your specific arrangement and orchid needs are,” says Turner.

Any more specific tips for watering orchids?

Here are a few simple questions to determine the specific water amount and frequency, to help you get the water just right.

Q:  Is my orchid a mini (3-inch pot and about 8 to 12 inches tall)?

A:  If it’s a mini orchid, it likes weekly watering, about ¼ cup water. But it can often do well if stretched to a 10-day watering cycle.

Q:  Is my orchid a larger orchid (4-, 5-, or 6-inch grow pot), and 20 to 30 inches and taller)?

A:  If a larger orchid, it likes a 10-14 day water cycle, about 1/3 to ½ cup water, poured directly around the base of the orchid.

Q:  Is my orchid placed in a warmer, brighter location…or a lower light, cooler location in my home?

A: Warmer, brighter light means more water is needed in both frequency and amount; a 10-day cycle is good. Lower light and cooler temperatures require less water in both frequency and amount; a 14-day cycle works well.

Q: What is my orchid growing in, a moss medium or a bark medium?

A:  In a moss medium, orchids need less water; a 10-14 day cycle is good and don’t soak the plant at the sink.  In a bark medium, more water needed in both frequency and amount; try a 7- to 10-day cycle; these plants like to go to the sink.

Tip: If you’re in doubt… go for the 10-day watering cycle. Err on the side of less water. Never let orchid plants sit in excess water.

N.B.: For more on orchids, see:

Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for orchid with our Orchid: A Field Guide.

Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various houseplants with our Houseplants: A Field Guide.

Interested in other tropical plants for your garden or indoor space? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various tropical plants with our Tropical Plants: A Field Guide.

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