A Tropical State of Mind

As the holidays wind down and we enter into a new year, many folks look forward to heading south for the winter. This winter’s travel plans may have changed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring a bit of the tropics to wherever you are spending time.

Fresh squeezed orange juice is nice, but it might take more than that to ward off the winter blues. What about an orchid? These tropical plants are easy to find. I see Phalaenopsis in the floral section of the grocery store, big-box home improvement stores and even the drugstore. Oh, I can just hear orchid enthusiasts groaning, but this can be an introduction to a new plant.

When bringing your new orchid home, protect it from the cold wind and keep it away from the heater vent in the car. Once home, find a sunny spot where it will get bright light but not direct sun. As you water, forget about dropping an ice cube in the pot once a week.

Think about mixing orchid fertilizer with a gallon of water and gently pouring the water through the pot, letting it completely drain before returning the plant to the outside container. If your orchid is double potted, that is. Mine is in a small plastic container with drainage, which I place in a decorative container after watering.

This may sound like a lot of work, but it’s worth it. You can watch the bud appear, grow, then burst into bloom. You will be rewarded with flowers and petals that hang off the stems and last for several weeks. Enjoy them while they are blooming. It may take the plant several months to build the energy to bloom again.

Another tidbit about orchids: They don’t really grow in soil. They like a bark-like mixture, sold as orchid potting mix, or even clay balls that absorb the water then slowly release it when needed. I keep it simple with the basic grocery store orchids and they bring an elegant, tropical vibe to my room.

Bromeliads can be an indoor/outdoor plant. During the winter, keep this plant where it will receive indirect light, have good air circulation and hopefully some humidity. Much like the orchid, it doesn’t like wet feet and is not planted in soil. The mature will create a bloom that looks like a colorful plume.

When the temperatures are warm, the bromeliad can be planted outside. I toured a garden last summer that had them planted in rows as a border and it was lovely. The garden owner is quite experienced with tropical plants and shared a tip that I thought was genius. Dig a hole and drop the plant and container in the space, then lightly cover. This makes it a breeze to bring indoors when the cool weather begins in the fall. Good for the plant and easy for the gardener.

Of course, everyone has seen indoor palm trees; I inherited one from a friend who was moving. Ping (yes, she named him) is at least 15 years old and has lived with me for almost 10 years. He stays outside all summer, then winters in my basement (is this the equivalent of heading south for the winter?). Ping is easy to care for; plenty of water, sun and an occasional trim keep him healthy.

Fiddle leaf ferns have been all the rage the past few years. I get it — they are fun, and the leaves are great. But Monstera, or the Swiss cheese plant, is hot at the moment. I see the easily recognizable leaves as background in commercials and magazines. As they grow, the leaves split and — you guessed it — look like Swiss cheese. The leaves can grow up to 3 feet wide. This plant will spread low, but grow tall if staked. Again, light and moisture with humidity will make it a happy plant.

The winter weather in West Virginia may be cold and snowy, but if you are dreaming about sunny get-a-ways, maybe creating your own tropical paradise is what you need until easy, safe travel returns. Squeeze some orange juice, crank up the Beach Boys music and give tropical gardening a try.