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Orchids

An Orchid Is Not Just For Christmas crack

Perhaps orchids are not traditionally the plant associated with Christmas, but their long, arching stems bearing sprays of beautifully marked, delicate-looking flowers look great in both modern and traditional settings.

Moth orchids are widely grown and well-suited to life indoors, requiring a minimum temperature of 16C. These plants donít have a yearly cycle of producing flowers, and can develop flower spikes at any time. Cool nights are important, so allow a dip of a few degrees.

Once theyíve finished blooming, cut the flowered stems back to just above a joint, two up from the base, using a pair of sharp secateurs. It should draw up another spike within a few weeks, although mine didnít show any signs of life for several months until a new branch appeared, producing a string of beautiful blooms.

Their rambling roots spread across the surface of the pot and out, searching for nutrients. The roots contain chlorophyll and therefore produce energy from light, so grow the plants in clear pots - itís also a good way to see if the roots are wet or dry.

Trends are changing as people start to shy away from the big, showy flowers to the more dainty, subtle and smaller-flowered types.

Slipper orchids (Paphiopedilums), trendy in Victorian times with their waxy leaves and lip-shaped pouch at the front of the flower, are again becoming popular. The flowers are usually long-lasting and can remain in bloom for months.

Some people have veered away from orchids in the past, fearing they may need a lot of maintenance. But these elegant plants, which originate from South-East Asia, are actually tough old birds which donít like too much fuss.

Itís generally overwatering that kills them, and they are becoming easier to grow as nurseries bring out new varieties. Most hybrids come from hot, humid forests and like a warm, tropical climate.

Itís a myth that they must be shaded, because they do well on windowsills and flower more freely if given some sun. However, itís best to keep them out of direct sunshine in the summer - and donít make the mistake of moving them from somewhere very shaded into direct sunlight, or they will suffer leaf scorch.

Some orchid-lovers mist the plants regularly, but they really donít need to.

Orchids should just be watered once a week by immersing the pot into a bowl of tepid water until itís moist all through. Then lift the pot out and sit it on a draining board for a few minutes before putting it back into its permanent pot. The plant should be allowed to dry out between watering.

Use a half-strength liquid feed for orchids. Add it each time you water the plant, which you need to do more frequently in summer.

Moth orchids should be repotted about once a year - you can buy specific compost for orchids from garden centres. Itís expensive, but worth it as it has the right mix of nutrients.

If you grow a cymbidium orchid indoors, be warned that it does not like being repotted and may not flower for several years afterwards if you do so. These orchids, which come in a wide colour range with spikes bearing up to 20 long-lasting flowers, normally flower from early winter to late spring.