Biltmore Opens New Area to Public, Offers Exotic Gardening Tips. This year Biltmore is planning a parade of springtime blossoms with some extra cool new surprises. The biggest change is that the Festival of Flowers will start earlier than ever before. Starting March 21, orchids will be the first flower on display in the Conservatory and around the estate. The beautiful exotics (seen in these images of flowers) will precede the annual tulip display that usually kicks off this annual floral bonanza, more than 90,000 tulips to be exact.
These are followed by clusters of bright daffodils and forsythia; acres of azaleas ablaze in shades of pink, purple, orange, red and white; and hundreds of fragrant, romantic roses in the Historic Rose Garden.
The coolest new change is that for the first time ever, the public will have access to the Winter Garden inside the house. This area is normally roped off, but now guests will be able to step inside to enjoy a lavish display of 350 exotic orchids and tropical plant set the way George and Edith Vanderbilt enjoyed it. Make plans to visit Biltmore's Festival of Flowers.
A Biltmore How-To: Basic Home Orchid Care
There are as many opinions on the culture of orchids as there are orchid growers. Add to that the many different orchid types – orchids are one of the largest and most diverse of the flowering plant families – and it’s enough to make you dizzy! Just keeping an orchid alive can seem like a daunting undertaking.
However, like many living things, when given the basics orchids can adapt and thrive. Many varieties make excellent house plants and with proper culture, an orchid can be in bloom for months each year. In this respect, orchids are an excellent value as far as blooming plants go.
Biltmore’s Conservatory Horticulturalist Darien Ball suggests practical tips to keep orchids beautiful and growing year-round.
Environment & Placement
A good rule of thumb is to think about where most orchids originate -- usually in a humid, shaded, warm environment. Many are epiphytes, clinging to a tree with roots exposed. Now, think of where you want your own orchid to grow. In that dark, cool laundry room? In the den, ten feet from the window over the heat vent? No! How about near that east facing window beside the kitchen sink? On the sunny window sill in the living room? Perfect! These spaces provide the necessary light, warmth and humidity needed for orchids to survive.
The epiphytic orchids are, again, found hanging in a tree, shaded by the jungle canopy. They typically need about 50 percent full sun. Too little sunlight and growth is poor and flowering will not be likely. Too much and there is the possibility of leaf scorch (yes, they get sunburned just like us!). East facing windows are perfect; west facing windows may be too hot. If the later is the case, simply pull the pot back several inches or add a curtain sheer. Many home growers use florescent lighting to grow orchids with success.
Temperature & Humidity
Orchids prefer temperatures between 55 and 75 degrees. In other words, if you are comfortable with the temperature in your home, your orchid plant will be as well. Simple enough? Not so fast!
Centrally heated homes can have relative humidity levels even lower than a desert environment. Usually the higher the heat, the lower the humidity level.
Humidifiers placed near orchids are an option. For a low-tech solution, fill a pie pan with pebbles and water, and place the orchid pot on top of the pebbles. The evaporating water will increase humidity around the plant itself. Grouping plants near one another also helps, as moisture from neighboring orchids helps maintain humidity.
Correct watering technique is an area in which many home growers fall short. Orchids do not grow in pots in nature, they cling to a tree. We put them in pots for our convenience. As a result, it’s important to understand how to treat orchids planted in pots -- their open-air roots like to breathe and be free.
When it rains in nature, the open-air roots rarely stay thoroughly saturated. Orchids in pots receive little air movement around the roots, therefore less watering is needed. There is no silver bullet for determining how often to water orchids. When looking at the potting mix (loose mix and mostly bark), resist the temptation to overwater. Check the pot daily and water only when the mix is dry to the touch. Run water into the pot until the mix is thoroughly saturated or put the whole pot into the sink and let it soak for a minute. Never let the plant sit in water longer than it takes to be saturated.
Fertilization for orchids is yet another debated topic in orchid care. What kind of fertilizer, how much, when? There is no simple approach. Most orchids require little feeding. In the natural environment, orchids get food from compost that has run down a tree trunk where it’s clinging. At home, too much feeding can result in soft, weak new growth and fewer flowers.
There are a number of fertilizers on the market formulated especially for orchids. A light feeding about every fifth watering is one option. Another option is to use a very weak solution every watering. Many orchid growers recommend fertilizing "weakly, weekly."
Be sure to occasionally flush the potting mix thoroughly to rinse out any accumulated salts. To do this, take your orchid to the sink and flood it with water periodically.
For More Information
Educate yourself in orchid care through publications, the local branch of the American Orchid Society, or get to know a neighbor who is an orchid hobbyist. Starting March 21, Biltmore begins its spring celebration, Biltmore Blooms, with a lavish display of more than 350 exotic orchids and lush tropical plants in the Winter Garden inside Biltmore House, in addition to a display inside Biltmore’s Conservatory. “Ask a Gardener” stations are available in the Walled Garden each weekend for guests to learn more about orchids. See the orchid specimens up-close from March 21-April 7.
Want more tips? Check out How to: Biltmore Container GardensAlso see: Spring Gardens in Asheville