How to Care for an 'Orange Star' Plant

Miss Chen
"Orange Star" plant (Guzmania lingulata "Orange Star") earned its common name with its showy orange flower bracts, which have a bold, starry shape. It grows best indoors, but will survive in a sheltered outdoor spot in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10a to 11. "Orange Star" plant needs little care once established in a warm, bright location. Regular care year-round will help enhance its appearance and keep it healthy.

Moisture Needs
"Orange Star" plant requires consistent soil moisture year-round, but the amount and frequency of watering depends on the season. In summer, water whenever the container's medium feels dry to the touch or the outdoor soil is dry. Watering once per week is usually sufficient. In winter, let the medium dry out completely to prevent root problems. Watering an "Orange Star" plant is simple: fill the empty space at the center of its foliage whorl with water until it trickles down the sides of the plant onto the medium. During hot or dry weather, it is best to keep a small amount of water in the center of the plant to maintain adequate humidity around the leaves. In winter or during cooler weather, let the water evaporate completely before adding more.

Fertilizer Advice
As with most bromeliads, an "Orange Star" plant needs little supplemental fertilizer to perform well. Light feeding during the summer will help encourage the production of pups, or offshoots, which means you'll have new plants to replace the original one. Feed the plant with half strength fertilizer from spring until late summer. Use a balanced fertilizer with an N-P-K number of 20-20-20 or 7-7-7. Mix 1/2 teaspoon of the fertilizer with 1 gallon of water. Replace one watering every six to eight weeks with the fertilizer solution, filling the foliage cup at the center of the plant. If the "Orange Star" plant produces lanky, discolored leaves or other signs of overfeeding, stop feeding for the remainder of the growing season.

Pest and Disease Problems
Even under the best growing conditions, an "Orange Star" plant sometimes suffers from infestations of scale insects, mealybugs or spider mites. If you only see a few, wipe the bugs off with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. If the plant has a lot of pests, you'll need to use a chemical. One safe and relatively nontoxic means of killing pests is a 2 percent insecticidal soap solution. Mix 4 teaspoons of insecticidal soap concentrate with 1 quart of water in a spray bottle. Saturate the foliage and flower bract with the solution, paying special attention to areas where the leaves overlap. Repeat the application every five days until the pests are gone. Although insecticidal soap is not harmful to people, it is best to wear a dust mask and goggles to protect your nose, mouth and eyes when you use it.

Whether grown in containers or outdoors in the ground in frost-free locations, root rot is a problem for "Orange Star" plants grown in conditions that are too wet. Use a well draining mix, when growing the plants inside containers. Outdoors, the plant does not perform well in clay soils, which retains too much water leading to root rot. To keep rot from developing, grow "Orange Star" in soils that drain well. If needed, amend the planting site with 2 to 3 inches of compost to increase drainage and do not keep the site overly saturated with water.

Winter Care Tips
Winter is a difficult time for an "Orange Star" plant. Dry air and low temperatures make striking the correct indoor moisture balance around the plant difficult, and it may develop serious root issues or damaged foliage. To ensure its health during the winter, water sparingly and maintain humidity above 50 percent by placing the plant on a shallow, pebble-lined tray filled with water. The water shouldn't touch the bottom of the pot, it should only cover the pebbles halfway. As it evaporates, it will help increase the humidity around the "Orange Star" plant without making the soil wet. Also, move an indoor "Orange Star" plant away from heat vents to keep it from drying out.

To prevent winter damage, move outdoor containers to an indoor location before temperatures drop to freezing. If temperatures are expected to drop to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, remove any standing water in the cups of "Orange Star" plants grown outdoors to prevent winter damage. Protect outdoor plants by covering them with blankets, if an unexpected freeze occurs.
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