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Ooh-la-la orchids

A lover of the epiphyte shares her blooming secrets

Yes, you can have a life and grow orchids too.

The simple beauty of orchids is deceiving. Sure, their delicate features make them appear difficult to take care of, but other than weekly watering, orchids actually thrive on neglect.

That's why orchids are Juanita Howard's signature flower. Howard, who lives in a downtown waterfront condo tastefully appointed with orchids, says, 'Most people don't realize just how easy they are.'

Because the plants are so unique, people mistakenly believe they are expensive. They're not. You can buy them for eight bucks at Trader Joe's stores.

Now you also can 'recycle' orchids inexpensively and have one blooming all year. This is a new concept that appeals to those of us who want orchids but fear the commitment.

The Orchid Exchange on Northwest 12th Avenue in the Pearl District sells plants for $20 and up. But here's the beauty of it: You can bring the orchid back when it's done blooming and get 25 percent off the next one.

'All our customers wanted us to re-bloom the orchids for them,' business owner Pawel Wojtanowicz says. Thus, the Orchid Exchange was born.

Wojtanowicz's business partner Gary Brown explains, 'Instead of buying a flower arrangement that lasts a week, for the same cost you can have an orchid that blooms for months.' Then, you just take it back and get another.

Jean Burch of Northeast Portland trades in her orchids about once a month. 'Yeah, I've kept them, and they bloom again,' she says. 'But I just don't have the room.' So for her, orchid recycling is the best of both worlds.

For me, it takes some of the fun out of it. I have to tell you, there is nothing more rewarding than getting your orchid to bloom again. You feel like a hero and can't wait to show it off. Nobody knows all you did was water the darn thing.

Take a shortcut to success by choosing the easiest orchids. Dancing Doll and lady-slipper varieties are popular, but the moth orchid is easiest of all to make flower again. Just cut off the old flower spike at the joint or notch below the lowest flower on the stem and the plant will send up another flourish.

All three of these orchids thrive in the same temperature and light conditions most of us like, too. So you see, we're a perfect family.

In the summer I throw the lot of them outside and tell them to get some fresh air in the shade. When they stop blooming I simply store them downstairs on a workbench under a fluorescent shop light (plugged into a timer that remains on 12 hours a day) and then water and fertilize the little epiphytes weekly.

That's it. (Oh, and I also think it helps to remind them they have to bloom to get out of the cellar again.) I'll tell you, when the November gray sets in, I'm a blooming idiot over orchids.

'Gardening With Anne Jaeger' airs at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday on KOIN (6).

Easy, easy orchids

• Moth orchid: Phalaenopsis (ask for: fella-NOP-sis)

• Lady-slipper: Paphiopedilum (ask for: pa-fee-oh-PEDDLE-um)

• Dancing Doll, Star Wars: Oncidium (ask for: on-SID-e-um)

The MO on orchid care

• Water weekly. Use warm water.

• Never allow plants to sit in water.

• Fertilize weekly, half-strength.

• Use orchid fertilizer.

• Keep away from air vents, hot or cold.

• No direct sun. Bright, indirect light is best.