Far from being difficult and finicky as is popular belief, orchids are easy and rewarding plants to grow by following a few simple steps. Beautiful flowers can be sitting on your window sill for many weeks during the coldest months of the year.
Step number one, do not over water orchids. There are ten or twelve popular mediums in which orchids reside and they all have different water retention qualities. With our super efficient heating systems now days, the humidity levels tend to be on the low side. Orchids like humidity levels between 40% and 70%. If the house is on the dry side, perlite or sphagnum moss in plastic containers will stay good and wet with a weekly watering. If the house has humidity levels in the 60% to 70% range, fir bark or combinations of rockwool and cork nuggets in clay pots will stay moist with a once a week watering. Using reverse osmosis or distilled water will eliminate salt buildup and will leach plants as well. Misting the orchids in the sink with a hand sprayer is also a great way to create humidity. In their natural environment, mist and fog are a daily occurrence for most orchids.
Step number two, give orchids the proper amount of light. Some orchids can be happy with light levels as low as 200 foot candles and others can thrive in 2,000 or even 5,000 foot candles. Phalenopsis (fal-en-op-sis) is one of the most popular if not the most recognized orchid. There are 50 or so species of "phals" that will do nicely in an east window which by light standards is low, around 1000 foot candles. Catileya (kat-lee-a) likes higher light levels and would do nicely in a south window. All orchids can be placed in a south window setting. High light orchids should be at the window and lower light orchids can be set further back from the window at varying degrees. For a house or apartment with no suitable light source, a good quality fluorescent or high output fluorescent is all that's needed for orchids to thrive. In a natural setting, orchids will dwell in the tree tops, to the jungle flora, on fence posts and in the crotch of trees. All these niches have the proper amount of light and water for that particular orchid.
Step number three, fluctuating temperature. Do not be afraid to let orchids get cool at night and hot during the daylight hours. Orchids, like the phalenopsis, will tolerate a temperature fluctuation from 16 degrees to 28 degrees Celsius. A temperature drop at night is critical for a good flower set to be established, so you can nudge the orchids up against a cool window to achieve a more pronounced fluctuation. A 20 degree drop in temperature is common in their natural setting and this may seem pretty big, but in reality, all plants respond better with some sort of temperature drop. An orchid at home will do fine with a 6 to 10 degree drop at night.
Step number four concerns nutrient. When I purchased my first orchid (a
phalenopsis) and asked about proper feeding, I was told "weak, weekly". I never forgot that saying and it works. There are many nutrients available.
Some are pre-made especially for orchids, some are powder solutions you can mix yourself. Some good nutrients for orchids are a 30-30-10 in powder form or a two part A and B solution. There are also one part organic nutrients on the market and fish emulsion is very good especially for plants outside. All these nutrients would be mixed at 1/4 strength and used on a weekly basis.
There are indicators that show when the orchid is getting too much or too little food, but following the quip "weak weekly" should make feeding fool proof.
There are 35,000 to 45,000 different species in the orchid family world wide. There are 1,000 native species in Australia and in the bulbophylum family alone, there are 2,000. In 1510, the Spaniards brought the first orchid back from South America. It was vanilla. James Cook brought orchids back from around the world to Britain. Orchid gardening was born in England at the Kew Gardens in the late 1700's. Orchids come from the tropics where there are no seasons. The closest an orchid can get to seasons is dry and wet. Coming from the tropics, there is very consistent light, so when you find a happy spot for an orchid it is best to leave it where it is. At nurseries where orchids are sold the plants will have stakes or tags that take the guess work out what a plant needs in the way of light. They will be marked high, medium or low light. Failing that, the web can tell you pretty much anything you need to know about orchids and their needs.
Today, rather than sailing around the world to find orchids, you can purchase any type of orchid you want through mail order or even better, through members of an orchid club near you. When you mail order from an organization like the American Orchid Society, you will receive a product guide to choose from. Once you have chosen your plants you will be sent the bare root in a plastic bag surrounded by moss. From there, pot it, water it and enjoy. Orchid clubs are a great way to find out about these exotic plants. Usually you can purchase peoples extras from a table setup at meetings. The plants at these tables are a great price and are healthy specimens. You can glean some good advice from members as well.
My first orchid was a gift. It was a phalenopsis and shortly after that, I bought another. At one time, I had 25 or 30 between the basement and main floor of our house. Today, I have 6 plants that I can rotate from fluorescents to the window sill. These are a number of plants that work well. After all, I'm not going into the orchid business. It's easy to over do it and be taken in by the orchids exotic beauty.
If someone was interested in getting started, I would suggest two or three orchids that are easy to keep indoors. The phalenopsis is number one. This orchid comes in a myriad of colours and its flowers last a long time. Phals do not need a lot of light and after the flowers are done you can cut off the spike at the last flower and shortly there after more flowers appear. My wife refers to these orchids as living watercolours. The second orchid would be a jewel orchid. I keep this plant in a peat and co-co fiber mix. It's from Hawaii and likes lots of light and also likes to stay moist. This is the easiest orchid I have ever taken care of. It likes to be root bound and taking cuttings is practically 100% successful. Three times a year spikes will appear and shoot out, up to 2 feet from the base of the stems. Small white flowers pop out all the way down the stem. These flowers stay for up to eight weeks and look stunning, not to mention the subtle vanilla scent they give off. Last year, I counted 14 spikes on one pot of jewel orchids.
Orchid number three is any type of dendrobium. Some of these orchids look like aliens or bizarre insects. The colours and shapes are out of this world. Dendrobium orchids like it a little cooler, prefer medium light levels and respond well to 30-30-10 fertilizer.
With a few simple steps, anyone can enjoy a little summer even in the