Living Inspired: Jolene Roehlkepartain

Posted by Autumn

Jolene Roehlkepartain is a writer and speaker on family, parenting children and teenagers, and spirituality. Jolene has written 32 books, including Doing Good Together, Parenting Preschoolers with a Purpose, and What Young Children Need to Succeed. Jolene is also an avid Phalaneopsis orchid grower. She shared with us how she came to love growing orchids and a few useful tips about keeping these beautiful plants happy and healthy indoors.

When did you first start growing orchids?
I started growing Phalaenopsis orchids around 15 years ago. I had always loved orchids. They were in my bridal bouquet when I got married, but I always thought orchids were impossible and expensive to grow, so I admired them from afar.

What attracted you to orchids in particular?
I enjoy growing houseplants, but it’s difficult to find many that bloom other than African violets. (I actually grew African violets at first but I found them harder to grow than orchids because they’re so vulnerable to pests and getting black leaves from getting drops of water on them.) I became enchanted with how many different colors of Phalaenopsis orchids there were and that once they bloom, the blooms typically stay for two to six months. When you live in Minnesota and have orchids that are blooming in January to May, it can really boost your spirits and make you the envy of all your neighbors and friends!

Do your orchids live indoors, outdoors, or both?
Since I live in Minnesota, I keep my orchids indoors. I have a friend who takes her orchids outside during the summer, but I find it harder to protect orchids outside from windstorms, hail, and extreme weather. Orchids like humid, warm climates, so often our dry, excessively hot Minnesota summers are too hard on them.

Could you tell us one thing about growing orchids that would surprise us?
Phalaenopsis orchids are actually easy to grow without spending a fortune. I water them only once a week. I have a plant stand with three shelves of orchids with grow lights above each shelf with a timer.  That way I can control the lighting and the humidity, since my orchids sit on humidity trays.

How many different orchids do you have?
I currently have 30 different plants, and they range in color from purple to white to yellow to a light salmon. Some have polka dots. Others have stripes.  The orchid family is one of the two largest families of flowering plants with about 25,000 species, which is about twice the number of bird species!

Does the soil, water, or light affect the blooms of your orchids?
Phalaenopsis orchids are easy to grow once you have the correct soil, water, and lighting. (If you don’t, you can kill them quickly.) I use a medium-grade orchid bark mix. When I water my orchids once a week, I use reverse osmosis water mixed with Green Jungle Orchid Food, which is a 1-0-1 grade (meaning 1% Nitrogen and 1% Soluble Potash).
I also set the lighting timer for 12 hours a day in January, 13 hours in February, 14 hours for March through August, 13 hours for September, 12 hours for October, and 11 hours and 45 minutes for November and December. This schedule gives orchids a chance to go dormant, and it also makes it more likely for them to bloom. Then at the beginning of September of each year, I repot my orchids, checking their roots (and cutting off anything that’s dead), putting them into bigger pots if they’re outgrowing their current pots, and using bark for the newer orchids I had purchased in the past year. (Many sellers plant orchids in dirt or a certain kind of moss that can easily rot the roots.)

Is it true that orchids only bloom once a year?
Usually, although the mature ones can bloom two to three times a year. Most of my Phalaenopsis bloom once a year, although some skip a year or two. My expert orchid grower tells me that when a Phalaenopsis reaches mature size, it can bloom two to three times a year. Apparently, all of my orchids are still children and teenagers.

Do you grow any other plants?
I’m now taking a bonsai class, and I’m styling my first bonsai! Again, I thought growing bonsai was difficult and expensive, but I’ve learned from my teacher (the president of the Minnesota Bonsai Society) that you often can pot and style a bonsai for $12 to $20. Who knew?

What advice would you give someone who wants to try growing orchids?
I often buy orchids at home improvement centers where Phalaenopsis orchids can be purchased for $10-$30. Having grow lights with a timer made a huge difference in getting my orchids to bloom each year. I initially started out with one orchid, but I quickly discovered that if I watched for sales, I could add orchids without too much cost. (Plus, once you get a few orchids, it’s not as scary to have one die.) I remember how exciting it was to get my first orchid to bloom. I never thought that would happen, and the key was using the timed lights.

Anything else?
Enjoy the magnificent orchid blooms at a conservatory, botanical garden, flower shop, or orchid shop near you. I frequently visit the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in St. Paul, Minnesota, to see their glorious orchid collection. I’ve also seen stunning orchids at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont, North Carolina (which has an Orchid Conservatory) and the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida. Whenever I get the chance to travel, I look to see if there are orchids nearby.

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