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Published: Wednesday, 10/31/2012

Orchids bursting at Clay High School

BY KELLY HEIBREDER
BLADE COLUMNIST

If you were to walk into the greenhouse at Clay High School in Oregon, you would give their horticulture students an A+. The students have coaxed their orchids into bloom and they are just dripping with color.

Charlie Schneider, Environmental & Agricultural Technologies Instructor, says the class inherited a few orchids about five years ago. "Our students wanted to do more with them, so we started them on a fertilizer program about three years ago," he said.

And the hanging baskets of orchids really needed the nourishment because they are responding to the attention.

Mr. Schneider says, "Caleb Graham is a senior this year and has earned the spot as our green house manager. He is very competitive and watches over the orchids carefully. He is really proud that he has one plant that is producing nearly 30 blossoms."

Orchid basics

Orchids are tropical growing parasites that don't like to grow in the ground. They hang on other plants and pull nutrients from them. Their thick roots need air circulation and like to be misted, rather than soaked in water and buried in soil.

So their potting soil looks different than most other house plants. It consists of a lot of big pieces of bark and light moss. You need to give the roots something to cling to.

"The students have learned how to repot the orchids and also how to feed them," Mr. Schneider said.

"We have also recycled corks from wine bottles to add into our soil mix. They are nice and light, give the roots a lot of air space, they let a little of the fertilizer and moisture to soak in and the roots can easily cling to them. It really helps us stretch the orchid growing medium," Schneider said. "So, don't throw away those corks. We could always use the donations."

Watering the orchids had to become systematic.

"This type of plant needs light moisture on a regular basis. So two years ago, we set up a misting system in our greenhouse. The orchids are misted two times a day during the hot dry months and one time a day during the cooler months," he said.

"As I did my research to care for these orchids, I was told to feed them weekly, weakly.

So that is what we do." Schneider said, "We use a 20-20-20 water soluble fertilizer, and dilute it to about 10 percent of its recommended strength when we fertilize one time each week."

You will find 30 to 40 blooming orchids in the green house right now, more than the class has ever produced. Most of them are Cattleya orchids.

"I couldn't be more proud of my students," Mr. Schneider said. "They are also very proud of their plants. It is very gratifying to see their pride when they show off what they have done. These plants are huge with lots of blossoms and the fragrance will knock your socks off."

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at getgrowing@gmail.com.



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