Marianne Binetti

Marianne Binetti: Spring fever comes early to Seattle

The first week of February may still be gray outdoors but a rainbow of orchids will offer tropical delights inside the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, Wednesday through Sunday at the Washington State Convention Center.

This year, the show has acres of blooming display gardens that will jump start your spring fever with flowers and fragrance. If you want to get up close and personal or take some macro-digital shots of incredible beauty featuring easy-to-grow houseplants, don’t miss the walk-through display garden “Fifty Shades of Orchids.”

The Northwest Orchid society with garden creators Joe Grienauer and Jeff Morgan designed a giant painter’s palette displaying a rainbow of hues that feature the orchids that naturally flower indoors during the winter months.

Orchid growing bloomed over the past decade as new varieties and a much lower price point have made this potted houseplant accessible to everyone. “Orchid growing was once the hobby of the very rich – but today anyone can pick out an orchid plant even at the super market and have success keeping that plant in flower for nine months or more” said Grienauer, co-owner of Emerald City Orchids and a show seminar speaker.

If you can’t make it to the NWFG show this week or catch Greinauer’s orchid growing seminar at 11:15 a.m. Sunday, go ahead and eavesdrop on the phone conversation I had with Joe about his favorite topic: How to grow orchids.

Marianne Binetti: I know orchids are super easy for you to grow, but what type of orchid would you recommend for a beginning grower or to someone who has had no luck with houseplants?

Joe Grienauer: The phalaenopsis or butterfly orchid is the easiest to grow in our climate and they are really low maintenance plants. Just buy a phalaenopsis orchid plant with buds or just beginning to bloom and place it in filtered light. Water once a week and enjoy.

MB: What if you want to try something more exotic? Are any unusual orchids easy to grow?

JG: I like to suggest the Brassia orchids to those that want really amazing colors like brown, orange or green flowers. This group of orchids are aggressive growers and heavy bloomers – and almost as easy to grow as the phalaenopsis.

MB: What are the most common mistakes that beginners make when growing orchids?

JG: They water too much and put the plants in a sunny window. Orchids like filtered sunlight and they grow on the trunks of trees in the wild. They need perfect drainage and little water.

MB: So do you recommend the ice cube trick? Placing two ice cubes on top of the orchid’s roots every Sunday?

JG: If portioning out the water supply by using ice cubes instead of a watering can works for you, then use it. Orchids do like cooler night temps especially to get them to re-bloom, but the tropical orchids we sell and display have never met an ice cube in their natural habitat. I just set my potted orchids in the sink once a week, water, let them drain in the sink, then place the plants back near filtered sunlight. I’ll give them more water in the summer or if they are really growing fast. Don’t let your orchid’s roots sit in drainage water.

MB: What type of fertilizer do you use?

JG: Mostly anything I can get my hands on – but I dilute every fertilizer because you can harm an orchid plant by feeding it too much. I put 1/8 or 1/4 of a teaspoon of liquid plant food into a gallon watering can to fertilize.

MB: So growing orchids is your full-time job?

JG: Yes, I love it. I also speak to garden clubs and other groups about orchid growing and encourage people to join the Northwest Orchid Society. The society members are the great group of volunteers that supplied the rainbow of orchids for our display at the show. Of course, I have my retail shop in Georgetown and also supply flower shops and other retailers with cut orchids and orchid plants. LEARN MORE

Want more details about orchid growing or about joining the orchid society? Email or visit the Northwest Orchid Society website at