Are you looking for a unique new flower to plant in your garden this spring? Peacock orchids have 4 to 5-inch white blooms with a burgundy center and a deliciously sweet fragrance. Let’s look at how to grow Peacock orchids (Acidanthera bicolor). If you are asking “What are peacock orchids?”, the answer may surprise you a little. Acidanthera bicolor, with the common name peacock orchid, is not an orchid at all. More on this and how to plant them and care for them below.
How To Grow Peacock Orchids
The first thing you should know is that the peacock orchid is actually a member of the Iris family. Peacock orchids are not true orchids, but rather relatives of gladiolus. These plants reach 28-40 inches.
Their stems are adorned with a few close flowers, shaped like a curved funnel with a long neck. They are white with a purple ring and purple markings at the center and have a strong, sweet fragrance. The beautiful, unusual flowers leave a true impression on anyone who sees them and they will look stunning in your garden.
This flower has several common names, including peacock lily, sword lily, Abyssinian glad, and fragrant gladiolus. While it is often called a summer bulb, it actually has a globose corm instead of a true bulb. This plant is considered an heirloom bulb since it was blooming in Boston by 1888 – only 44 years after it was first collected.
It’s native to the mountains of East Africa and is most common in northern Ethiopia. But it can also be found in locations south like Malawi and Mozambique. In the natural wild environment, it grows on cliffs or even in rocky outcrops of thin soil. You will typically find it where few other plants are growing. In the wild, they will grow from 1-2 feet tall and usually have four to eight soft-textured leaves.
The stems are strong on this plant but may need the support of stakes if it is very windy or if there is no nearby shelter to help buffer strong winds. The plant is hardy to around 10 degrees F, so it can do well in the ground in zones 7-11. It can also be overwintered indoors in climates that are colder.
Planting peacock orchids
Buy corms as soon as they are available in nurseries in your area and plant them as soon as the danger of frost has passed. For waves of blooms, plant them one to two weeks apart. This will give a beautiful effect once they start growing in. this plant prefers cool to sub-tropical zones but when planted in containers, it can also do well in colder climates.
Set corms (bulbs) in the soil about 4 times deeper than their height, and about 4 to 6 inches apart. They’ll start blooming about 65 to 90 days after planting. You can mark this on your calendar to track progress, which is especially important if you are staggering the plantings. Avoid planting in frost-prone areas during the frost season.
This plant needs full sunlight and lots of heat to develop flowers. It can thrive outside in the summer against a sunny wall. It requires a longer growing season than the common hybrid gladiolus.
Peacock orchids will bloom from mid to late summer, based on where they are planted. You will see that the flowers are similar to gladiolus, but they are more relaxed and delicate than the more showy hybrids.
Peacock orchids can be successfully grown in the ground or in containers. A good idea for planting is to position them where their fragrance can be best appreciated. If you want to have a bold impact on the landscape, plant in masses and in clusters, rather than in straight rows. Peacock orchid care is important to keeping them alive and beautiful for you to get a lot of enjoyment from.
Watering and feeding
Water well in summer and feed 5 to 6 times during the season. In the winter, keep the corms dry. Typically, the natural rainfall that occurs will be enough for your plants once established, but you may need to water if it’s been a long time since there was rain. You might use liquid fertilizer if you want to give it a little boost but don’t use too much and burn the roots. You also want to avoid overwatering or it can lead to fungal diseases, root rot, or powdery mildew issues.
The beautiful plants also do well indoors on a sunny windowsill. But avoid direct sunlight for long periods of time, so that they don’t get scorched. The hot afternoon sun in some climates might be too much, so choose your window accordingly, or you can just move it around throughout the day. And don’t forget to give your pots plenty of water, too.
The Acidanthera bicolor loves a rich, fast-draining garden soil. If your soil is poor, mix in some fertilizer and compost before planting. It prefers warm soil, so you should plant in the early spring when there is no longer danger of a frost. It will do best if you plant in soil that is at least 50 degrees F. It likes moist soil, but it shouldn’t be too wet. It’s also important to be sure there is good drainage in the soil that you use and that you don’t overwater.
If you are going to plant them in containers, such as if you live in colder zones, then be sure to use a large container to allow for proper space to grow in full. You can also set your containers outside but bring them in for winter storage before the first frost. If this is your plan, be sure the containers are not too heavy for you to move them when the time comes.
Some people use clay soils and also peat moss with their peacock orchids. When planting outside, they need partial shade so they don’t get burned by the direct sun.
How to propagate peacock orchids
The fastest way to increase your plants is to divide the corms and remove the offsets which grow on the “mother” tuber.
Plant them in pots or trays and keep them inside for the first year. They will begin to flower after 2 or 3 years.
If you have more patience than money, you can also plant seeds in April or May. Sow them in rows an inch or two apart, then move them out into individual pots when the seedlings are a few inches tall. Seeds propagation requires a lot of patience as corms need several years to grow large enough to produce flowers.
The proper way to store corms
The corms can be used for several years in succession, but they are very sensitive to cold. If you live in zone 7 and above, you can let the corms in your garden. Otherwise, move them indoors before the temperatures start dropping in the fall.
Trim away withered leaves, dust corms with diazinon and store them in single layers in flats or trays between 40F and 50F.
Where to plant peacock orchids
They look quite impressive if several are grouped together in large bowls or tubs. They work really well in borders and containers. You want them to have access to the sun but not full, direct sun all day long or they can burn. The green leaves will look their best when they are healthy and placed in a sunny location. In warm climates with warm winters, you may not have to worry about cold weather or frost setting in to kill your plants.
Plant them in your cut flower garden for a burst of fragrance. They are a good addition to your sun porch, living room, a warm patio or balcony, and against a garden wall. In fact, they look beautiful just about anywhere you can place them, which is another reason they are so popular.
It’s not hard at all to grow peacock orchids: give them a try and enjoy their beauty and fragrance.
Adriana Copaceanu is a passionate nature lover living in the country on her dream property where she grows vegetables, lavender, and wildflowers that she shares with the wildlife they attract. When she's not in the garden, she loves spending time with her chickens and planning her next nature project.