Q: What's the best way to water my new orchid plant? — Cindy

A: Yesterday I would have told you to place a couple of ice cubes on top of the potting mix and let them slowly soak the fir bark. But having attended the orchid show at Hausserman's Orchids in Villa Park, I know better now.

It seems this popular method will rot the roots, freeze delicate roots on heat-loving orchids and never really wet the fir bark at the bottom of the pot. The best way still is watering with distilled water and spraying distilled water on the aerial roots and leaves.

You can set the plant in the sink to give it a shower. The most important thing is to let it dry out a bit between watering. The most common orchid grown, the Phaleanopsis, or moth orchid, likes to be damp, but understand what damp means and actually stick your finger into the bottom third of the potting medium to see if it is damp. Overwatering is worse than underwatering. In the cold months, when the house is very dry, mist it often.

Always repot with fir bark, and keep the plant in a well-ventilated pot.


Zen only happens when you allow it. Sometimes we get so caught up in the results of gardening that we fail to allow the experience. We let some of the good stuff slip through our dirty fingers.

I'm usually pretty good about appreciating the small gifts to be found while growing things, receiving them gratefully and being in the moment. I have harvested one tiny carrot, found months after a crop failure, and brought it in to photograph, admire and then eat. And I have sat in a patch of weeds, doing nothing more than feeling the sun on my face and watching bright red ladybugs crawl across my hands.

I recall many years of roadside gleaning for wild asparagus and dandelion greens, and being grateful that there was food lying in ditches for the taking. I remember popping mulberries into my mouth while resting in the shade of a neighbor's pesky tree. I was probably resting after digging the wiry seedlings of it from my flower beds. You have to admire an enemy that feeds you as you kill its young.

But I forgot something big, something important.

Our back lawn had turned into what looks like your basic cow pasture. The grass had become thin; invading annual grasses made their raggedy brown presence known; and broadleaf weeds like plantain, dandelion and chickweed came to stay.

Even the residents of the perennial beds, invited to the property, had rebelled and joined the wild trespassers to party while my back was turned. There were stubborn patches of ajuga, violets and Lysimachia everywhere.

My loss of control had me turning to ever stronger means of eradicating these weeds and the worst of them, huge rivers of creeping Charlie, had become my mortal enemy. Last fall found a product that controlled the creeping Charlie, a strong chemical, but effective — and I felt that I was regaining ground. It also appeared to be effective on the escaped ajuga. But the plantain laughed and shrugged it off.

I was vexed by this and planning a second attack on the plantain this spring, hitting it while young and vulnerable. Then I watched a series on the History Channel called "Alone," where contestants tried to outlast one another, living wild and alone in some remote spot.

One of the contestants suffered a series of nasty spider bites that became infected. She quickly foraged for plantain leaves, made a poultice and cured her wounds, thus staying in the race. Of course! How could I have forgotten the value of those plantain leaves?

When I was a child, my grandma picked the leaves, mixed them with petroleum jelly and made a salve to put on our insect stings, poison ivy, rashes and cuts. I remember how it stopped the pain as soon as it was applied. She used it to cure the dog's skin ailments as well. I think it would be fair to say that plantain was far and away the most often used product in our jumble of bottles and tubs in the bathroom cabinet. I recall having to pick more leaves when we ran out to treat my aunt's sunburn. Grandma just chopped up the leaves we brought in and wet them, applying them directly to her blistered red skin.

I'm looking forward to their return now, eager to pick as many of the leaves as I can gather, to chop and keep in coconut oil. I'm most looking forward to using the stuff as a powerful itch reliever on those January nights when some random itch is keeping me from sleeping, and then feeling all Zen about my weeds.

Deb Terrill is a local horticulturist with more than 30 years of hands-on gardening experience. Email her at dterrill@daily-journal.com.

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