Democrat and Chronicle


At the end of my January 4, 2015 column in the Rochester Democrat and ChronicleI mentioned some back-columns that might interest readers further. A number of you emailed me asking for them, so I posted them here on the site. Links are below.

Thanks for reading! — Jane

Suggestions for Keeping Rosemary Alive Over the Winter

What to do with that Amaryllis after the Holidays

Orchids 101 & 102



Orchids 101 & 102

by janem on January 4, 2015


The following two columns were originally published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in February of 2011, and were referenced January 3, 2015, in my column about holiday plants. A number of readers emailed asking for a copy, so I thought I would post them here for your reading convenience. Thanks! — Jane

I’ve always been somewhat put off by orchids, which is odd, considering my profession. They just seemed so difficult. But last March I received one as a gift—a white phalenopsis. It stayed in bloom for months and I grew very fond of it. Since then it’s just sat there, and I’d like to learn how to make it flower again. Then I’d like to buy another. Isn’t this how obsessions begin?

Two weeks ago the Rochester Civic Garden Center had their annual seed swap event, and Trish Gannon (of Wayside Garden Center, Macedon, Wayne County) was there to demystify orchid care and talk about the easiest ones to grow. Turns out my phalenopsis, or moth orchid, is reputed to be among the least demanding. Given that Gannon’s handout on orchid care was eight pages long, “easy” is perhaps not an appropriate description for any household orchid.

There are some general rules that apply to most epiphytic orchids. (Epiphytes are air plants. There are also terrestrial orchids you can grow indoors and hardy ones native to our area, like lady’s slippers.) First, since they would suffocate in regular potting soil, you need special orchid potting mix consisting mainly of tree bark and other chunky stuff. If you neglect to repot your orchid every couple of years, the organic matter in the potting mix will break down and become dirt. Not healthy.

Orchids need a lot of humidity. If there is a spot in your bathroom or kitchen for them, perfect. You can also mist their leaves daily with a mixture of water and fertilizer (Gannon recommends using an orchid-specific formula), being careful not to spray any flowers. Another method is to fill a tray with pebbles, put the plant on top and keep the tray filled with water. Even something as simple as placing a glass of water among the plants will help.

The plants should be watered about once a week. If you can submerge the pot (just to the top) in lukewarm water mixed with fertilizer, perfect. Let it sit there for several minutes before draining (never let any houseplant stand in water for long). If you can’t do that, overhead drenching is fine, but again be careful not to wet the flowers. Ideally, tap water should be left out in a bowl overnight in order to let any chlorine that may be present dissipate. Better yet, use rain water.

In my next column I’ll cover temperature and light requirements and how your orchids should spend their summer vacation.

“Light is really the most important factor.”

I recently visited orchid man Jim Marlow at his greenhouse in Scottsville, and this was the very first thing he impressed upon me about orchid care. You can mess around some with temperature and other variables, but if your orchid won’t bloom, chances are it’s not getting the correct light.

The phalenopsis, or moth orchid, is considered the easiest to grow, in part because it is among those that require the least light—about 1500 candles. On a sunny day at around noon, hold your hand about 12 inches above the orchid. If you see a fuzzy shadow, you have around 1500 foot candles. According to Marlow, that would be set back a little way from an east or a south window, or a little farther back from a west window. This position, or even a little less light, would also work for the slipper orchid, paphiopedilum.

Oncidiums can take a little more light, directly in an east or south window or set back from a western exposure. Cattyleas want a little more, and cymbidium a little more than that. Vandas need to be in a greenhouse, under bright artificial lights or outdoors (in summer). (Vandas also like to be watered every day.)

You can tell if your orchids are getting enough light by the leaves. It’s counterintuitive, but dark green leaves are not good. You want more of a lime green color.

Orchids also have varying temperature requirements, though for the most part, they enjoy a ten degree—or more—swing between day and night. Cymbidiums require cool temps, down to 45 or 50 degrees at night, in the fall, in order to set buds, which is perfect for our climate—just leave them outside until it gets any colder than that. Like all houseplants, orchids benefit from summering outside. Just watch that they don’t get too much sun, and keep them off the ground.

Intermediate temperatures are considered 55 or 60 degrees at night, which is about right if you live in an old house like I do. That factor, plus a good window in the dining room, is what prompted me to risk a couple of oncidiums from Marlow’s place. Fingers crossed.

A warmer home, with night temperatures around 65 degrees, is perfect for phalenopsis and certain paphiopedilum.

There is a huge amount of orchid growing information out there, much of it conflicting. Just jump in, says Marlow, and you’ll start to pick up a knack for what they need. The key is to try new things. If a particular plant isn’t thriving the way you’d like, move it. “Growing orchids—growing anything—is an experiment.”



This piece was originally published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in January of 2008, and was referenced January 3, 2015, in my column about holiday plants. A number of readers emailed asking for a copy, so I thought I would post it here for your reading convenience. Thanks! — Jane

Q: What do I do with my amaryllis plant? Can I plant it outside in the spring and will it bloom? —M.M., via Internet

A: Here in the frigid north we can’t treat the amaryllis like an outdoor perennial the way one could in its native South America—or even as far north as Florida, in the case of hardier types. You certainly can keep your holiday plant alive for several years, however, and like us, it will benefit from a summer vacation spent outside.

The amaryllis is a jungle plant, so it’s used to a thick canopy and doesn’t require a lot of light. In fact, to make the blossoms last as long as possible, it’s best to keep them out of direct sun. As each begins to fade, remove it individually—this prevents the plant from forming seeds, a process that uses up energy better directed to the bulb.

Your amaryllis should be watered thoroughly—from the bottom is preferred—and allowed to sit for couple of hours or so (never longer than overnight) and soak up what it needs before the saucer is emptied. Like its cousin the clivia, the amaryllis likes to be a bit pot-bound, so it dries our more quickly than the average houseplant, and will need to be watered more often. (Do let the soil dry out between waterings, but not the plant.)

When the plant is done flowering and you’ve cut the stalk down to a couple inches from the soil, you’ll be left with a pot of green leaves to tend. After Memorial Day, simply put it outside with the rest of your houseplants, in a shady spot, and water and fertilize it with the rest of them. (My whole gallery usually gets a dose of time-released fertilizer at the beginning of summer, and that’s it for the year.) Towards the fall, you may find the leaves are yellowing and even dropping off, and that’s perfectly normal; the plant is entering dormancy.

Let the plant stay outside with the others until just before frost, and then put it someplace dark and cool for about six weeks, and don’t water it. Replace the top layer of soil with fresh. When you bring it back into the light, water it once, well, and wait for the foliage to start growing again. At this time you can resume the plant’s regular routine. The amaryllis will probably flower again just fine, although they will sometimes skip a year. If it produces no leaves, however, it may have rotted—check for squishiness and try a little less water with the next one.


Rosemary Flowers

This piece was originally published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in November of 2004, and was referenced January 3, 2015, in my column about holiday plants. A number of readers emailed asking for a copy, so I thought I would post it here for your reading convenience. Thanks! — Jane

Q: Any suggestions on keeping rosemary over the winter? I know this is the $64,000 question.

—A.W., via e-mail

A: You’ve come to the right place. As someone who has killed numerous rosemary plants over numerous winters, I can certainly tell you what not to do.

Don’t overwater. Like many plants with strongly-scented, silver-tinged leaves, rosemary prefers dry soil. It’s better to keep it in an unglazed clay pot than in plastic or any material that will lessen the soil’s ability to release moisture. Drainage holes are a must.

Don’t underwater. Many houseplants will tolerate being dry to the point where the leaves wilt. Water them, they perk up, and life goes on. (This isn’t great for the plants, but unless they’re abused this way with regularity, it doesn’t kill them.) Not so with rosemary. After just one time of being seriously dried out, it simply won’t revive. This trait is made more troublesome by the fact that it’s difficult to just look at the plant and tell if it needs water. (Many houseplants’ leaves start to take on a subtle translucent cast, or even just look “sad,” when thirsty. By the time rosemary looks sad it’s already dead.)

Unless you have a cold frame, don’t attempt to leave it outside. Some varieties of rosemary, ‘Arp’ and ‘Madeline Hill’ being two, are hardier than others, but that doesn’t mean they’ll survive an upstate New York winter. I’ve planted both in spots with good winter protection and lost both. The closer you live to the lake the better your chances, but there are no guarantees.

Don’t grow it in the bathroom. Or near the fireplace. High humidity promotes powdery mildew, which shows up as a white, fuzzy coating on the leaves. (Rosemary is, after all, a culinary herb, and powdery mildew doesn’t taste very good, aside from being unhealthy for the plant.) If you must grow rosemary in super-high humidity, at least point a fan at it for a few hours each day to increase air circulation. Confusingly, the plant itself enjoys humidity, so if your house is very dry, consider placing the pot on a tray of pebbles that you can keep wet, while allowing the soil to remain dry.

Give up yet? Don’t do that either. Plenty of green thumbs manage to enjoy rosemary year-round. Here are some of their tips.

Keep in a cool, sunny spot. Rosemary needs all the light it can get and thrives in night temperatures into the low 50s. A cool greenhouse, sunroom, or sunny attic window is ideal.

Watch for the tiny webbing of spider mites. These pests may not have bothered your rosemary outdoors, but may become problematic once inside, where they are encouraged by high heat, low humidity and an absence of predators.

Image courtesy flickr: tdlucas5000

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Interested in My D&C Columns?

by janem on November 24, 2013

Of course you are. You can find them in one convenient place: Here.