Garden Detective: Dud orchid blooms

Cattleya Crownfox "Sweetheart" orchid blooming in reader Teruko

Cattleya Crownfox "Sweetheart" orchid blooming in reader Teruko Torres' home. (Credit: Handout/)

Jessica Damiano

Jessica Damiano, Newsday columnist Jessica Damiano

Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more

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DEAR JESSICA: About seven to 10 years ago, I purchased a small orchid and planted it in potting soil. It did not bloom so I repotted using orchid bark, but it still did not flower, so I switched to a special orchid mix. Still it did not bloom. During summer I keep it outdoors in a shady spot, and in winter it sits by a window that gets morning sun. I had been fertilizing with orchid food, but this past October switched to all-purpose plant food. At that time, I also cleaned up some old, dry roots. I then decided that if there was not a flower this year I would throw it in the garbage, figuring I'm just not cut out to be an orchid grower.

When I returned from vacation at the end of December, my orchid was blooming! It is no ordinary orchid -- I have never seen this flower before. Also, I have never known orchids to have fragrance, but this one does. I have attached the photo; will you please tell me the name of this orchid? Is it a type that takes so many years to bloom? -- Teruko Torres, Rocky Point

DEAR TERUKO: Congratulations! What a wonderful surprise you received, and just as you were about to give up. I asked Richard Heeseler of the Long Island Orchid Society to identify your orchid, and he determined it's a Cattleya Crownfox 'Sweetheart.' That is a cross between Cattleya walkeriana and Cattleya Memoria 'Robert Strait.' Heeseler said it is not typical for your orchid to have gone years without blooming. Almost always, the way the orchid is cared for is to blame, he said. "Most often, it isn't exposed to enough light."

To ensure your Cattleya thrives, provide as much natural sunlight as possible during the winter, and keep it in a partly shady spot during summer, especially if outdoors. They prefer cool, moist air (60-70 degrees, with 40-70 percent humidity), and will grow successfully in fir bark, coconut husk chips, tree fern fiber, gravel, lava rock or sphagnum moss.

DEAR JESSICA: I don't know if you've come across this problem before, but I have some tulips and daffodils that have stems popping out of the ground already, and a few crocuses are even showing their flower color. I assume this is from the warmer weather we've had. Will the cold weather harm them? Is there anything that can be done to help them? -- Rob Taylor, Massapequa

DEAR ROB:There really isn't anything to worry about. When warm winter weather tricks bulbs into sprouting early, there's little to no effect in spring. Prolonged warmth occasionally forces premature bud formation and sometimes those buds get killed by freezing weather later in the season, but often they survive just fine. If plants actually bloom early, however, they won't bloom again in spring. To help protect against this, cover bulb beds with three inches of mulch every year right after the first frost.

DEAR JESSICA: I was excited to see that a recent column on carnivorous plants included some pitcher plants and sundews. I have an exciting piece of information that might interest your readers: There are two species of sundew -- round-leaf sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) and thread-leaf sundew (Drosera filiformis) -- and one species of pitcher plant (Sarracenia spp.) right here in Suffolk County. They exist in many of the state DEC, county parks, and nature-conservancy preserved lands, mostly around the headwaters of the Peconic River, and are highly adapted to fluctuating levels of surface ground water and vernal wetland and pools. I have noticed sundews as well as pitcher plants in local sphagnum bogs, too, especially historical cranberry bogs. They are a wonder to see in their natural habitat. -- Peter Priolo, Center Moriches

Editor's note: Priolo is an agricultural stewardship technician who discovered a lost population of nine-spotted native ladybugs, thought to be extinct, last summer at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett.