Orchids for Everybody

I fell in love with Orchids when I was young, maybe 10 or 11, my Grandparents gave me a Cattleya for Christmas and that's how I got hooked. I bought a couple of books, read all I
could & I eventually built up my collection to over 120 different varieties over several years.

Many of those were collected on family vacations where somehow I managed to persuade my folks to go through towns that hosted some of the best Orchid nurseries around. I guess you could say I was and still am helplessly in love with these, the Royalty of the plant world!

Orchids have to be one of the most misunderstood plants around. They are the largest plant family in the world and the only plant to be found on all the continents around the world.

They come to us courtesy of those dedicated plant collectors that explored the tropical jungles and regions around the world just to bring back new varieties that nobody had ever seen before.

Most can be grown by enthusiasts in either a greenhouse or even inside the home without too much fuss. Like most plants, Orchids have basic needs that once met, they will perform well for you.

On this webpage I will go over basic requirements, greenhouse growing hints, details on a few varieties that are
good for starters, and then where to find them. Orchids used to be hard to locate, but now they can be bought sometimes at the local grocery store.


With accessibility better than ever and more information available than ever before, there was never a better time to get started growing these awesome plants. Do yourself a favor, read on and learn how to grow these beauties.


How to Grow Orchids; The Basic Requirements

Watering & Fertilizing:

The amount of water to give your Orchids fluctuates depending on several factors. In cooler weather, water less. In warm weather, water more. If your plants are in clay pots, they will dry out faster than those in plastic pots. Also, smaller pots dry out faster than larger pots.

The type of material they are potted in is also a factor. Fir bark will dry out faster than Osmunda fiber. A good rule of thumb is:
If you're not sure, don't water! Also remember to always use room temperature water, not cold!

A good way to water is to take the whole pot & plunge it under water until the air bubbles stop, then take it out & let the excess water drain out. Rainwater, if you have a means to collect it, is the best water to use, but if not, water from the hose is fine.

I like to use water soluble fertilizer half strength every week or you can apply full strength every two weeks if you prefer while the plant is in full growth mode. A 20-10-10 or 10-5-5 or one labeled as Orchid food will be fine.

Another little trick I use is when I change the water in my aquariums, I use the water on my Orchids. It's warm, it has natural fish fertilizer in it, and my plants love it!


Light & Circulation:

Light requirements vary according to species, but most like well lit areas near a window, but never in direct sun. Even in a Greenhouse, the glass needs to be whitewashed to diffuse the sunlight.

Without adequate light, your Orchid will either bloom poorly or not at all. So this is important to your plant.

Air circulation is important to prevent disease. If grown in the house, having a window open in a room provides enough air circulation. In Winter, the air can easily get stale and will need some artificial means to move it around. Just don't point it directly towards the plant.

Growing Orchids With a Greenhouse

Growing Orchids in a greenhouse is much easier, you don't have to worry about spilling water or fertilizer, and you are better able to control the growing conditions for your plants in a greenhouse. More plants in a confined space creates more humidity also. Try to keep humidity around 40-60 percent.

Benches need to be made with wooden slats or perforated metal to allow adequate air circulation. A fan to circulate
the air would be beneficial also since you run the risk of disease from too high humidity without adequate circulation.


Another mandatory item would be a heater with a thermostat to keep the greenhouse warm during the winter. Some kind of
cooling system would also be important during the warmer months.

Again, choose wisely the varieties of plants you plan to
keep. It probably would be better to keep varieties liking the warmer temps if you live in a warm climate and the same idea pertains for the cooler types. You don't want to go broke trying to keep a greenhouse cool in August in a desert!

There are plenty of varieties available to choose from in each category. You can find all kinds of equipment specially manufactured to operate in the warm, humid conditions found in a greenhouse. I will have some greenhouse equipment catalogs posted here in the near future, but for now, you can do a search & find several companies.

As I mentioned before, you will want to whitewash the glass to guard against sunburning the leaves. How thick you paint it on will be determined by the light requirements of the plants you want to grow.

I like to put gravel beneath the benches so that when I water the plants, it trickles down onto the gravel and ends up increasing the humidity.


A Few Easier Orchids To Try

I'll go over a few of the more common, easier to grow varieties here for you. Start out with one of these if you wish before you tackle the more challenging ones. The Cattleyas, Phalaenopsis, Paphiopedilums & Cymbidiums are some of the most beautiful Orchids you'll find, and the easiest to grow.

Cattleyas:

These are the flowers most people think of when they hear the word Orchid. Mainly summer flowering, Cattleyas like to almost completely dry out between waterings. They can be grown in either fir bark or osmunda fiber, you'll need to stick your finger into the medium to find out if they need water. When in doubt, don't water.

Cattleyas like average home temperatures, 55-62 degrees at night, 10-15 degrees warmer during the day. In summer,
if temps get too high, make sure to mist frequently around the plants to lower the temperature.

Keep Cattleyas in a bright location, they like a lot of light. In the home, a west facing window during the summer months and a
south facing window in the winter months will give them the light levels they need to flower well.

After flowers fall, let the plants rest for 5-7 weeks with no water except for a time or two to keep them alive. During this time, they like cooler temps (58-62). Re-potting each year after flowering keeps the plants healthy, be sure to keep pot sizes small as they like to have their roots confined.

Feed Cattleyas every other week in the warmer months to encourage growth & flowering. Hold back on fertilizer
during the cooler months and during their rest period.

Phalaenopsis:

Commonly called the Moth Orchid, Phalaenopsis are some of the most beautiful Orchids, some flowers being up to 5" across and sometimes having more than 12 to a stem.

Colors range from the common white to pinks, purples, yellows, greens, stripes, spotted and other patterns that make these some of the most desirable flowers available..

The temperature requirements are around 65 degrees at night and 75-80 during the day are comfortable home temps. The humidity requirements for this Orchid are a little higher than most people enjoy, 60-70%. This can be achieved by locating in a room with high humidity like a bathroom, near an aquarium, on a tray of gravel with water or in a greenhouse.

Phalaenopsis have a lower light requirement preferring  a shadier spot, a curtained north window will do fine. Never
subject to direct sunlight. These plants have no water storage ability and so should never be allowed to dry out.


Repotting is not a big issue as the plant grows out of the pot with the new roots growing above the potting medium.
The plant will do fine without being repotted until the medium breaks down and no longer has an open, airy texture.

Fertilize regularly during the growing season to promote healthy growth and flowering. After the flowers fade, cut off the stem just below a node and another flowering stem will sprout from that point bringing on another couple of months of bloom. A healthy plant will only be out of flower about 3-4 months out of the year.

Paphiopedliums:

Paphs, also called Cypripediums, or Lady Slipper Orchids are one of the more unusual Orchids, it may be love at first sight or they may have to grow on you. These are handsome, beautiful flowers of mostly earthy color combinations and they are very waxy looking.

These plants do well in the home preferring temperatures in the upper 50's to 62 at night to 62-72 degrees during the day depending on the species. Keep humidity in the moderate range, 30-50% and do not let water sit on the leaves at night.

Paphs like bright light but not direct sunlight. A curtained west or south facing window would be great. Make sure to provide good air circulation.

These Orchids do not have any water storage capacity so do not let them dry out. Try to keep them evenly moist throughout the year. Water them until it is running out the bottom of the pot to flush out any salts that may damage the roots. Fertilize with a weak solution as they are sensitive to food.

Repotting is done after flowering and only when the medium has broken down or the plant is overcrowding the pot. As these Orchids are terrestrial, pot in a combination of fir bark & garden loam or a good quality potting mix.

Cymbidiums:

Cymbidiums are among the few Orchid varieties that can be grown in the garden in more temperate climates. They are
gorgeous during their bloom season, Jan-May, and are handsome out of bloom as well. One of the easiest Orchids to grow.

They can have several spikes of flowers and each spike can carry up to 30 blossoms in colors of pink, white, green, red,
bronze or yellow.

These plants like cool nighttime temperatures in summer & early fall to set buds. They can tolerate warmer temps but
prefer to be cool.

Water these plants regularly during their growing season, March-Oct, then keep just moist, never wet the rest of the
year. Fertilize these guys bi-weekly from January through July while they are in active growth and setting buds. The rest of the year fertilize once a month.

Cymbidiums like to be pot bound and actually bloom heavier when pot bound. So do not repot until the plant is literally
growing out over the edges of the pot. Then, right after blooming, you can either repot in a slightly larger container,
or divide the plant and pot up the divisions (leave at least 3 bulbs in each) in pots that are slightly larger than the
base of the new plant.

Use a potting mix made specifically for Cymbidiums or you can make your own from 2 parts fir bark, 2 parts peat moss and 1 part sand.

Where can I find them?

Orchids used to be a rare commodity but thanks to becoming more popular with the public, more & more hybridizers sell
their plants on the web and to the local community.

When starting your collection keep in mind there are Orchids that bloom at every time of year, so try to have at least one in bloom at all times.

Cost:
Most Orchids can be had for as little as $12.00, depending on the variety. Some Cattleya plants can fetch as much as $500 but these are the exception rather than the rule.

Be careful when shopping though, some "deals" that sound too good to be true can be for immature plants that have not bloomed yet. Usually the ad will say "will bloom in 2-3 years", steer away from these, you want a mature plant that has bloomed previously.


Where to Find Them:
As I mentioned previously, mail order Orchid nurseries can be found on the internet. This will offer obviously the largest
selection of varieties and some rare plants can be searched for. Always look for money back guarantees that tell you that the nursery stands behind their quality.

If you can find a local greenhouse offering Orchid plants, this is usually the best source, since you can pick out a healthy plant and see the quality of the operation first hand.

Purchasing a plant in bloom will ensure you are getting what you want in a bloom color & shape. Beware of too good to be true offers and low sale prices. Some times these are inferior quality and sub-par plants that have a reduced chance of making it.

My best advice to a first timer would be to buy a book or two on the subject, study up and decide on which variety would be
happiest in your environment. Then start to shop around and choose a plant that fits your budget and the environment you have to offer, whether that be your home or a greenhouse.

With a greenhouse, you have a more controllable environment and the possibilities are virtually endless. Again, take into consideration your climate, you don't want to force conditions that are on the opposite end of the spectrum from our local environment.

A Few Final Thoughts

So there you have it, especially if you have a Greenhouse, what are you waiting for? And if you have a Greenhouse Window, or even just a window sill, you can grow stunning Orchids.

Once you watch your first plant burst into bloom, and stay in bloom for 6-8 weeks under your tender loving care, you'll be hooked. I don't think any other plant will give a person the feeling of accomplishment that an Orchid will as you watch and anticipate it coming into full bloom, then display it in your home. So do try them, you won't be sorry.


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