Cultivating Orchids

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Orchids are an extensive and diverse family of about 20,000 species, and thousands of horticultural varieties. They come in various sizes, colors, and growing habits.

In the wild, orchids grow from the equator to the arctic, either in the ground (terrestrial), on top of trees, rocks, or telephone poles (epiphytic), or both. Most indoor orchids originally come from tropical and subtropical regions, where they thrive in well-ventilated environments with cool nights and sufficient drainage. Interestingly, the vanilla orchid produces a very fragrant seed pod that is used to make vanilla extract.


This cattleya orchid is just one of the many beautiful options
you have for growing orchids indoors.

Orchids became popular as a hobby plant in the 19th century, coinciding with the abolition of the tax on glass and windows in England and the improvement of live plant transportation. However, their reputation for being expensive and challenging to grow resulted from this era. Many plants did not survive sea travel or the extreme conditions at home, such as high humidity, high temperature, and no fresh air.

Despite their delicate reputation, orchids are hardy and adaptable. With minimal care, an orchid plant can thrive for generations. When starting to grow orchids, choose an easier-to-grow mature plant in bud, rather than judging the plant by its appearance. Note that not all orchids are suitable for indoor growth, but enough are to make it worthwhile.

If you think growing orchids is challenging, don’t worry. This article will provide you with everything you need to know:

  • Orchid Vocabulary: Learn the parts of the plant and the basic terms used in discussing orchids.
  • Temperature Requirements of Orchids: Discover the different day- and night-time temperatures that various orchids prefer.

The amount of light is crucial for orchids to produce flowers. Follow these instructions carefully to ensure proper lighting.

Orchids in the wild rely on rain for watering, so they may require less watering than you think in your home.

Potting and repotting orchids is different than for other house plants. Learn the proper procedure for keeping your orchids healthy and growing.

Proper fertilizing techniques for orchids can vary depending on the plant type, time of year, and potting medium used. Get some pointers on how to proceed.

This page offers assistance for both experienced orchid growers and new collectors in need of a handy review of the essentials.

Learn about growing orchids from seed and get tips for the much simpler plant-division method.

Survey your options for orchids to add to your collection now that you’ve learned how to keep them alive and blooming. This page provides plenty of ideas.

Ready to begin your orchid odyssey? Continue to the next page for a quick vocabulary lesson.

Find more ideas and information on placing plants around your house with these resources:

  • Learn all the basics of successful gardening, from vegetables to flowers to foliage.
  • Discover which plants are happiest inside the house.

Orchid Vocabulary

Begin your orchid-growing adventure by learning the language associated with it. This orchid vocabulary will help you discuss your new plants with confidence and follow the instructions presented in this article.


Get inspired! Beautiful blooms like this fire coral dendrobium orchid await when you begin your orchid-growing adventures.

AERIAL ROOT: An orchid root high on the plant stem or growing outside the pot.

ANTHER: The part of the flower that carries the pollen.

BACK BULB: An old pseudobulb, often without leaves, that can be encouraged to start growing again.

BOTANICALS: The name used for orchid species that are not too well-known and not commercially grown for cut flowers.

BRACT: A modified leaf or leaves, often very colorful, that grows around flowers or stems in bromeliads.

CLONE: An individual plant and all its offspring that are reproduced by cuttings and by division rather than from seed.

COLUMN: The reproductive organ unique in the orchid family that contains both female and male parts.

DECIDUOUS: The losing of leaves at certain periods.

The article provides definitions of various terms related to orchids, including epiphyte, genus, inflorescence, keiki, labellum, lead, lip or labellum, meristem, monocotyledon, monopodial, osmunda, petal, pistil, pseudobulb, pup, rhizome, scape, sepal, species, sympodial, terete leaves, terrestrial, and velamen. The article suggests bookmarking the page for reference and moves on to discuss the temperature requirements of orchids. The article concludes by providing links to resources on gardening and house plants.

Orchids have varying temperature preferences, but they all thrive in well-circulated air. The temperature preference of your orchid can be found on the tag that comes with it or through a discussion with the nursery. Most orchids come from rain forests, and they are grouped by their winter night temperature preferences: warm, intermediate, cool, or cold. Good air circulation is crucial for orchids as it cuts down on stuffy conditions and provides more carbon dioxide for growth. Orchids should be placed near a window for better air circulation and cooler temperatures. The light requirements of orchids are also important for flowering. Epiphytic and pseudobulb orchids need more light than terrestrial orchids, and proper spacing and rotation of the plants ensure that each gets the necessary light.

When orchids are grown outdoors or in a greenhouse, they may require shade during the summer to protect them from heat rather than light. This can be achieved by growing them under trees or in a lathhouse outdoors, or by using blinds, mesh, or shading compound on the glass in a greenhouse. Orchids can also be grown and flowered under artificial light when natural light is insufficient. However, a mixture of fluorescent and incandescent light seems to work better than fluorescent light alone, with a proportion of five watts of cool white and daylight fluorescent light to one watt of incandescent light. It’s important to use the longest fluorescent tubes available to maximize light intensity. Timers are essential when growing a lot of plants indoors and under lights. Watering orchids is a learned skill as different orchids have different watering requirements depending on their species, pot material, and growing medium. It’s safer and easier to have all orchids growing in the same medium.

The amount of water required for orchids depends on various factors such as the condition of the plant, size of the pot, and type of potting medium. One should water the plants deeply and thoroughly and let the mix dry out enough to allow air to reach the roots. Water temperature should be 60 to 70°F or higher than air temperature, and low in minerals. Water from an ion exchange softener should not be used. It is advisable to water early in the day to ensure that the leaves and flowers can go to bed dry at night. Orchids need less water on cloudy days than on sunny days. When unsure, it is best not to water them.

Apart from watering orchids through their potting medium, they also require a specific level of humidity in the surrounding air. Most orchids grow best when the relative humidity is between 40% to 60%. If the relative humidity is above 70%, it encourages soft and flabby growth, making them susceptible to infection. If the relative humidity is below 40%, the growth of the orchid may slow down, weakening the plant, and causing scrawny flowers. If the orchids are in an area with excessive humidity, moving them may be the best option. To increase the humidity, one can place a tray filled with water and gravel under the pots or use a humidifier. A small fan can be used to keep the air moving without causing drafts.

The procedure for potting orchids is different from that of other plants, and there are various options available for potting orchids. Orchids can grow in almost anything, such as clay, plastic, or peat, or even nothing if their roots get air and drainage is excellent. Special clay pots are available for orchids, and if using an ordinary clay pot, it is best to make a big hole in the bottom to ensure adequate drainage. Orchids should be repotted when the potting mix and roots become squishy, or every two years. Orchids with flower spikes growing straight down should be kept in bottomless baskets, while some orchid varieties prefer to have their roots growing outside their pot.


When potting or repotting orchids,
work carefully and keep tools clean
to avoid transmitting disease.

For more information on placing plants around your house, check out the resources on gardening or houseplants.

Orchid growers use a variety of potting mixes, such as sphagnum moss, osmunda fiber, fir bark, gravel, and coconut husks. Repotting should be done carefully and with disinfected tools to avoid spreading disease. It is important to remove old potting material and dead roots before repotting. After repotting, the plant should be kept in a warm place out of direct sun and watered sparingly for two to three weeks. Fertilizing orchids requires caution, as too much fertilizer can harm the plant. Some growers recommend using elephant dung, but it is important to seek advice before experimenting with fertilizers.

Orchids require different types of fertilizer depending on the potting medium. For osmunda, little to no feeding is needed, while fir bark requires additional nitrogen. Only fertilize orchids during their active growth phase. Basic orchid care includes maintaining high light and humidity levels, repotting every two years, and removing faded blossoms. Pests can be prevented by washing plants, and attacked with an old toothbrush. Yellow leaves can indicate too much sun or water, while dropping buds may be due to fluctuating temperatures. Good air circulation and careful watering can prevent disease. Diseased plants should be isolated or destroyed. Propagate your orchids to keep them healthy and happy.

The article discusses gardening basics, house plants, and propagating orchids. Orchid seeds are very small and require sterile conditions and special nutrient solutions to germinate and grow. For most orchid growers, propagation is limited to division of existing plants or meristem culture. Orchids can flower three to eight years after sowing. The article also provides brief descriptions of different types of orchids and encourages readers to start their own orchid collection.

This article discusses various types of orchids, including their origins, characteristics, and preferred growing conditions. The Ascocentrum curvifolium orchid from Thailand has striking orange-red blooms, while the Brassavola orchid, named after a Venetian botanist, is a hardy plant that is easy to grow indoors. The Cattleya orchid is a common family of orchids that features flowers in the traditional orchid shape, with hybridizers producing countless varieties. The Dendrobium orchid family includes 1600 species with flowers in every color, and they are named for their natural tendency to live in trees. The article also covers other orchid types such as the Laelia orchid, Paphiopedilum orchid, and Stanhopea orchid, each with their own unique characteristics and growing requirements.

The Vanda orchid, which originates from India and the Far East, can grow quite tall and requires support. With a range of orchids to choose from and the necessary information provided, you can easily add their beauty and elegance to your home. For more ideas and information on placing plants around your house, check out resources such as gardening for vegetables, flowers, or foliage, or house plants that are happiest indoors. The possibilities are endless!

FAQ

1. What are orchids and why are they so special?

Orchids are a diverse family of flowering plants that are known for their exotic beauty and unique structure. They are highly valued for their delicate, intricate flowers, which come in a wide range of colors and shapes. Orchids are also known for their ability to adapt to a variety of environments, from tropical rainforests to temperate climates.

2. What is the best way to care for orchids?

The best way to care for orchids depends on the specific variety of orchid you have. In general, orchids require a well-draining potting mix, plenty of bright, indirect light, and regular watering. It’s also important to fertilize orchids regularly and to keep them in a consistent temperature and humidity range.

3. How often should I water my orchids?

The frequency of watering your orchids will depend on a number of factors, including the type of orchid you have, the climate you live in, and the potting mix you’re using. As a general rule, most orchids should be watered once a week or so, but you should always check the moisture level of the potting mix before watering to ensure that you’re not over- or under-watering your plants.

4. What kind of soil do orchids need?

Orchids require a special type of potting mix that is designed to be well-draining and provide plenty of air circulation to the roots. Most orchid potting mixes are made from a combination of bark, sphagnum moss, and perlite or vermiculite. It’s important to avoid using regular potting soil, as this can lead to root rot and other issues.

5. How do I fertilize my orchids?

Orchids should be fertilized regularly with a specialized orchid fertilizer that is high in nitrogen during the growing season. It’s important to follow the instructions on the fertilizer carefully, as over-fertilizing can damage the roots of your plants. Some orchid growers also recommend using a weak solution of fish emulsion or seaweed extract as a natural fertilizer alternative.

6. What are some common pests and diseases that affect orchids?

Some common pests that can affect orchids include spider mites, scale insects, and mealybugs. Diseases that can affect orchids include fungal infections, bacterial infections, and viruses. To prevent these issues, it’s important to keep your orchids in a clean, well-ventilated environment and to monitor them regularly for signs of infestation or disease.

7. How do I repot my orchids?

Orchids should be repotted every one to two years to provide them with fresh potting mix and ensure that their roots have enough space to grow. To repot your orchid, carefully remove it from its existing pot and gently remove any old potting mix from the roots. Trim any dead or damaged roots, and then repot your orchid in a slightly larger pot with fresh potting mix.

8. Can I grow orchids indoors?

Yes, many orchids can be grown indoors as long as they have access to bright, indirect light and a consistent temperature and humidity range. Some orchids that are particularly well-suited to indoor growing include Phalaenopsis, Paphiopedilum, and Oncidium.

9. How do I encourage my orchids to bloom?

To encourage your orchids to bloom, it’s important to provide them with the right growing conditions and to give them a period of rest during the winter months. This may involve adjusting the temperature, humidity, and light levels in your growing area, as well as reducing the frequency of watering and fertilizing during the winter months.

10. How do I propagate my orchids?

Orchids can be propagated through a variety of methods, including division, backbulbs, keikis, and stem cuttings. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, and it’s important to choose the method that is best suited to your specific variety of orchid. In general, propagation should be done during the active growing season, when the plant is putting out new growth.

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