Sure, orchids are great, but wouldn’t it be nice to just stick one in the ground like a regular plant? Well, you can do just that with the Chinese Ground Orchid, or Bletilla. If you can grow a tulip or a daffodil, you can grow a Bletilla. Resembling Cattleyas, their charming flowers have ruffly ridges on the flower lip. There are purple, pink, and white varieties. This cultivar from my garden, Bletilla striata ‘Rosea’, has more white and pink than the wild species, which has more purple.
Bletillas are terrestrial orchids which bloom with a succession of flowers over spring. Plant them in the ground or a pot in a bright spot. For best flowering, place them where new leaves will receive some full sun. Resist the urge to water heavily when new growth emerges in spring, or it may rot. Wait until leaves are 4 inches (10 cm) tall, and then start watering regularly. They enjoy a good dose of fertilizer or compost. In their native homes in forests and grasslands of Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan, they grow in rich, sandy soil.
Also nicknamed the Hardy Chinese Orchid and Hardy Ground Orchid, Bletillas have pleated leaves which offer interesting garden texture after blooms are done. Deer and rabbits usually don’t eat them. Leaves brown and drop as plants go dormant. Some gardeners keep the dormant bulbs in the ground over winter. As long as they stay on the dry side, they emerge next spring. They can survive temps down to 20°F (-7°C,) but it’s better to avoid a hard freeze. Instead, store bulbs in cool, humid conditions. Growers in Japan keep types with variegated leaves as bonsai. The Chinese Ground Orchid is one of the easiest orchids, and certainly a great garden addition.
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