In a special room on the north side of Eileen Sieger’s rural Marion home approximately 45 orchid plants in various stages of flower and foliage belie the fact that the species is hard to grow.
“Well, the many different varieties are certainly hard to spell,” Sieger said. “And they are a bit tricky to keep going. There are just some certain things you have to know to grow them.”
Phalaenopsis, cymbidium, papiopedilum, dendrobim, and cattleya thrive under Sieger’s tender care, and in their own way, give something special back to their caretaker.
“I just like them so much,” Sieger said. “They speak to my soul. There is just something so very satisfying about it.”
Sieger’s orchids are in bloom most of the year, with different varieties taking center stage at different times of the year.
“This is really the prime time for the phalaenopsis,” she said. “They start blooming in early spring and their blooms can last from six weeks to several months.”
To keep her orchids blooming and looking good, Sieger follows several points of care, learned through her own trial and error and by reading books, attending orchid shows, or visiting with others around the country who also raise the special flowering plants.
The first point of growing orchids Sieger emphasized is that they like lots of light but not direct sunlight.
“My room on the north side of the house is better than having them near a south side window,” she said. “There are times I need to pull the shades in here to keep them from getting too much direct light from the east and west, but they do seem to love the grow bulbs I have them under.”
Sieger’s orchids are potted in a variety of sized pots, arranged on several low tables along a north wall of windows, situated above a bed of gravel rocks. Long aquarium-type, florescent grow bulbs illuminate their growing area and natural light adds to arboretum-feel of the special room.
“When we built this room on to the house several years ago, we left about two feet from where the floor ended to where the north wall starts,” Sieger said. “We filled that space with gravel so now when I water, it can overflow and just drain down. This is much better than having to set each plant in the sink each time I need to water.”
Plenty of water is the second growing tip Sieger follows for beautiful, blooming orchids year-round. She used to set each pot in the kitchen sink and run water over it, thoroughly soaking the plant.
“The amount of water they can absorb really depends on the type of soil they are potted in,” she said. “I made the mistake last year of potting several in regular potting soil, not the special orchid mix. They do much better with the bark and moss mix than in soil because the water can run right through.”
Sieger said retaining too much water was just as bad as not getting enough water for an orchid plant.
“You should never let them sit in water,” she said. “But they do like to be moist. They especially love high humidity.”
A full-size hot tub in the corner of the north room serves both humans and flowers in the Sieger family.
“The plants just love the Jacuzzi,” Sieger said. “They thrive in the hot, moist air.”
Sieger’s orchids thrive so well, she has to re-pot them each year as they send out shoots for new growth and need more room.
“Every so often I spend an intensive day of re-potting,” she said. “I like to wait until they are done blooming, then I just pull them up out of the bark and moss, rinse them thoroughly, trim off some things that need trimming, divide them if need be, and the replant them in a bigger pot.”
Sieger said she likes to bury the new shoots and runners when re-potting her orchids, but she knows some other growers do things differently.
“I have a friend in St. Louis who grows lots of orchids and he always leaves those shoots out,” she said. “But I think they look better this way and they are growing well.”
Sieger said she and her husband, H.J., attend several orchid trade shows every year. She is also a member of the Kansas Orchid Society, which puts on a large flower show each year. She does not exhibit at these shows, but loves to attend and glean new information about her passion of growing orchids.
“I learned how to mix a non-chemical spray to get rid of pests,” she said. “Orchids get this parasite called ‘scale.’ I don’t like to use chemicals, so this works much better.”
Sieger mixes a few drops of dish soap, a bit of cooking oil, rubbing alcohol, and water, then checks the underside of her orchid leaves and sprays accordingly when she finds the unwanted small brown specks.
Trade shows are also good places to pick up special orchid fertilizer, something she has only found elsewhere at Lowe’s.
“Orchids need fertilizer to grow,” she said. “I follow the rule of weakly — weekly. This means I use a very diluted solution each week and don’t give very much at a time.”
The last tip Sieger offered for growing orchids, was to keep air circulating.
“I keep a space heater in here for when it gets too cold,” she said. “But I like to keep the fan running continually just to provide the air circulation that they love.”
That the orchids love the air, temperature, and humidity of Sieger’s growing room is evident in the abundance of purple, yellow, white, pink, and variegated-color blooms. The varieties she currently has do not give off much smell, but Sieger said there were some kinds that do give off more aroma.
“There are some that can smell really bad,” she said. “But there are others that smell like chocolate or coconut. I have found that the varieties that put off a smell do so at intensive intervals. They don’t always smell the same all the time.”
Even if she does not love her orchids for their smell, Sieger does love to look at them, care for them, and sometimes share them with others.
“Sometimes I clip the flowers just at the stem and float them in bowls of water,” she said. “They make nice birthday presents that way.”
In addition to her admitted passion for growing orchids, Sieger also spends time with her special dogs, raising chickens, growing an outdoor garden, and caring for a plethora of other in-door plants. She grew up in the area, and farmed and ranched with her family for many years.
“I’ve always loved to garden and work with plants,” she said. “Sometimes I think it might be my connection to my grandmother. She always had a large garden and a whole backyard full of flowers. Growing flowers is my inheritance from her.”