Cultivating Orchids

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The orchid family comprises of approximately 20,000 species and numerous horticultural varieties, exhibiting variations in plant size, flower color, and growth habits. These species grow naturally from the equator to the arctic, either on the ground (terrestrial), on top of trees, rocks, or telephone poles (epiphytic), or both. Most indoor orchids hail from tropical and subtropical regions, where they thrive in good air circulation, brisk nights, and excellent drainage. Some orchids have a pleasant fragrance; for instance, the vanilla orchid’s seed pod is used to make vanilla extract.


This cattleya orchid is just one of the many beautiful options
available for cultivating orchids indoors.

As a hobby plant, orchids emerged in the 19th century when the tax on glass and windows was lifted in England, and transportation of live plants improved, prompting wealthy hobbyists to experiment with houseplants. Despite their adaptability, orchids gained a reputation for being expensive and challenging to cultivate during this era. Many plants did not survive sea travel, and those that did were often subjected to extreme conditions, such as 100% relative humidity, 90°F temperatures, and no fresh air, which even the most robust orchids could not endure for more than a year.

Orchids can thrive for generations with minimal care. When starting, select a mature plant (in bud) of a variety that is easier to cultivate. Don’t judge the plant by its appearance alone; most orchids have plain leaves, but their flowers are stunning. It’s important to note that not all orchids grow well indoors. However, many do, making it easy to overlook those that don’t.

If you’re still unsure about cultivating orchids, don’t worry. This article provides comprehensive information on:

  • Orchid Vocabulary: Learn about the parts of the plant and the commonly used terms in discussing orchids.
  • Temperature Requirements of Orchids: Despite their hardiness, orchids have temperature preferences. Discover the different daytime and nighttime temperature ranges for various orchid species.

The proper amount of light is essential for orchids to produce flowers, so it’s important to follow these instructions carefully. Unlike in the wild, orchids at home may not require as much watering as you might think. Potting and repotting orchids requires a different approach than for other houseplants, but with the right procedure, your orchids will remain healthy and flourish. Fertilizing techniques can vary depending on the type of plant, time of year, and potting medium used. Whether you’re an experienced orchid grower in need of a quick refresher or a new collector seeking essential information, this page can help. You can learn about the challenging process of growing orchids from seed and pick up tips on the much simpler plant-division method. Once you’ve learned how to keep orchids alive and blooming, you can start choosing which ones to include in your collection. Alternatively, if you’re looking to add a new orchid to your collection, this page offers plenty of ideas.

Ready to begin? Continue to the next page for a quick vocabulary lesson to start your orchid-growing journey.

For more ideas and information on placing plants around your home, check out these resources:

  • Gardening: Learn everything you need to know about growing vegetables, flowers, or foliage successfully.
  • House Plants: Discover which plants are happiest indoors and would look great in your kitchen window.

Orchid Vocabulary

If you’re starting a new project, it’s always helpful to learn the associated language, and growing orchids is no different. After familiarizing yourself with this orchid vocabulary, you’ll feel more comfortable discussing your new plants and better equipped to follow the instructions 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 that grows high on the plant stem or 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: Orchid species that are not well-known and not commercially grown for cut flowers.

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

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

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

DECIDUOUS: The process of losing leaves at certain periods.

An epiphyte is a plant that grows without being parasitic on other plants and is usually found high up in the air, such as an orchid. It attaches itself to a surface using its roots. A genus is a group of closely related species, while an inflorescence is the flowering part of a plant. A keiki is an offset of an orchid and is referred to as a “baby” in Hawaiian. The labellum is the lip of an orchid, while the lead is the growth on sympodial orchids. The lip or labellum is a modified petal that is usually different from the other two petals in orchids. A meristem is the tissue in plants that is actively growing, often found at the tip of a stem or root. A monocotyledon is a plant that has only one seed leaf, such as orchids, corn, and bromeliads, unlike cabbage, roses, and beans, which have two. A monopodial orchid grows from the tip and is difficult to divide. Osmunda roots are fibrous roots of osmunda ferns used for potting bromeliads and orchids. The petal is the brightly colored flower part inside the sepals, while the pistil is the seed-bearing organ of the flower. A pseudobulb is a thickened bulb-like stem, and a pup is a bromeliad offset. The rhizome is the horizontal, modified, root-like stem, while the scape is a stalk that comes up from the ground with no true leaves. The sepal is the outside flower envelope, and a species is a subdivision of a genus with the same distinctive characteristics. Sympodial orchids produce new shoots that grow up from the root-bearing stem and are easy to divide. Terete leaves are circular in cross-section, and a terrestrial plant is one that grows naturally in the ground with well-developed root systems in bromeliads and orchids. The velamen is a thick, corky layer of cells that covers aerial roots and can condense and absorb moisture. To remember all these terms, bookmark this page for future reference, and learn about orchids’ temperature requirements on the next page.

Orchids have varying temperature preferences, but they all thrive in well-circulated air. You can determine the ideal temperature for your orchid by checking the tag that comes with it or asking the nursery where you purchase it. Most orchids come from rain forests and are grouped by their winter night temperature preferences – warm, intermediate, or cool/cold. Good air circulation is crucial for orchids to grow, and placing them near a window is recommended. Light is also important for orchids’ flowering, and the light requirements vary depending on the type of orchid. Epiphytic orchids and those with pseudobulbs need more light than terrestrial orchids or those with soft leaf growth. Crowding the plants together is not advised as each plant needs its share of light. Turn the plants from time to time to ensure the whole plant benefits from the light.

When growing orchids outdoors or in a greenhouse, shade may be necessary during the summer months to protect them from excessive heat. This can be achieved outdoors by placing them under trees or in a lathhouse, while in a greenhouse, blinds, mesh or shading compound can be used. Artificial light can be used to grow and flower orchids when there is not enough natural light. A mixture of fluorescent and incandescent light works well, with a proportion of five watts of cool white and daylight fluorescent light to one watt of incandescent light. Timers are essential when growing many plants indoors and under lights. Watering orchids can be challenging, as different orchids have different watering requirements. Epiphytic orchids need less moisture than terrestrial orchids, and plants growing in plastic pots need less watering than those in clay pots or on a slab. It is safer and easier to have all orchids growing in the same medium.

The amount of water required by orchids depends on various factors such as the size of the pot, the plant’s condition, and the type of potting medium used. Orchids should be watered deeply and allowed to dry out adequately to ensure that the roots receive sufficient air. The water used should be low in minerals, and its temperature should be between 60 to 70°F or above the air temperature. Avoid using water obtained from an ion exchange softener. Watering should be done early in the day to allow leaves and flowers to dry out at night. On cloudy days, orchids require less water than they do on sunny days. If unsure, avoid watering the plant.

In addition to water, orchids require a specific level of humidity. Orchids thrive in an environment with a relative humidity of 40% to 60%. Humidity levels above 70% can cause soft and flabby growth and make the plant susceptible to infections. If the humidity levels fall below 40%, the plant’s growth may slow, and the flowers may appear scrawny. It is easier to raise humidity levels than to lower them. Therefore, if the orchids are in a highly humid area, it may be best to move them. You can increase humidity levels by placing trays filled with gravel and water under the pots or by using a humidifier. Keep the air moving using a small fan without causing drafts.

Orchids can grow in almost any potting medium, including clay, plastic, and peat, or even without a pot, provided the roots receive air and the drainage is appropriate. Potting orchids requires a different approach than potting other plants. Special clay pots are available for orchids, but if using an ordinary clay pot, make sure to create a large hole at the bottom to ensure adequate drainage. Repot orchids when the roots and potting mix become squishy, typically every two years. Some orchid varieties prefer to have their roots growing outside the pot and should be left alone. When repotting orchids, work carefully and keep tools clean to avoid transmitting diseases.

There are a variety of orchid potting mixes available, with some early English growers using sphagnum moss and osmunda fiber for potting material and pots. As osmunda fiber became scarce, fir bark, gravel, and coconut husks were used instead. Some growers choose to use one mix for all their orchids, though new plants may take time to adjust to the new medium. Potting and repotting should be done carefully, with tools disinfected and a fresh sheet of newspaper used under each plant and pot to prevent disease spread. Plants should be removed gently, with dead roots cut away. The bottom of the pot should be covered with broken clay pot pieces and potting material packed gently around the roots. After repotting, the plant should be kept in a warm place for 2-3 weeks without direct sunlight and with reduced watering to allow time for root healing. Fertilizing orchids should be done carefully, with minimal fertilizer needed, as orchids in nature only receive what is delivered by wind and rain. The use of elephant dung as a fertilizer was recommended by the third World Orchid Congress, but it is important to consult with a successful grower before experimenting with different fertilizers.

The type of fertilizer required for orchids depends on the potting medium used. Orchids grown in osmunda require little or no feeding, while those grown in fir bark need additional nitrogen. It is crucial to fertilize orchids only when they are actively growing. Basic orchid care involves maintaining good light and humidity levels, repotting every two years, and pinching off faded blossoms. Orchids are susceptible to indoor pests and diseases, but regular cleaning and careful monitoring can help prevent them. Orchids may not bloom if they do not get enough light or proper rest, and air pollution can also affect them. Good air circulation, proper watering, and isolation of diseased plants can help avoid the spread of disease. If problems persist, it may be necessary to discard the plant, pot, and mix. Happy and healthy orchids will thrive with proper care.

The article provides information on gardening and house plants. It also discusses the process of propagating orchids and the challenges that come with it, such as the tiny size of the seeds and the need for sterile conditions. For most orchid growers, propagation is limited to the division of existing plants. However, orchids can be grown from seed or multiplied vegetatively from the culture of meristem tissue by professionals. The article then introduces various types of orchids and their characteristics. Readers are encouraged to explore more resources to learn about growing and caring for orchids.

This article provides information about various orchid species, including their origin, appearance, and growing habits. The Ascocentrum curvifolium orchid comes from Thailand and has bright orange-red blooms. The Brassavola orchid, named after a Venetian botanist, is easy to grow indoors and has hardy plants. The Bulbophyllum lobbii orchid has thick leaves and beige flowers with a yellow lip. The Cattleya orchid is a common orchid family with traditional orchid-shaped flowers and countless hybrid varieties. The Chysis laevis orchid prefers not to be repotted and blooms in yellow and violet. The Cycnoches loddigesii orchid, also known as the swan orchid, can bloom with male, female, or both genders. The Cymbidium orchid is often used and can range in size. The Dendrobium orchid family has 1600 species with flowers in every color and are named for their tree-dwelling tendencies. The Doritis orchid has leathery leaves and long-lasting flowers on tall spikes. The Epidendrum orchid family has over 1000 species, many with fragrant flowers. The Laelia orchid family ranges in size from 8-10 foot sprays to smaller cocktail varieties. The Lockhartia oerstedii orchid blooms almost constantly with earrings-like flowers. The Lycaste orchid family blooms in a variety of colors and is the national flower of Guatemala. The Maxillaria houtteana orchid is easy to grow indoors and has cinnamon-brown flowers. The Miltonia orchid, also known as pansy orchids, has flat, open flowers. The Odontoglossum orchid has teeth and tongue-like flowers. The Oncidium orchid has large sprays of yellow-brown flowers. The Paphiopedilum orchid, also known as lady slipper orchids, is related to North American lady slippers. The Phalaenopsis orchid, or moth orchid, is ideal for indoor growing. The Pleurothallis orchid family has small and miniature species. The Renanthera Brookie Chandler orchid likes household temperatures and appears to have antlers. The Rhynchostylis coelestis orchid has upright sprays of white and lavender-blue flowers. The Rodriguezia secunda orchid blooms in a rosy hue and grows nicely under artificial light. The Sophronitella violacea orchid is a tiny Brazilian orchid with one-inch lavender-rose flowers. The Stanhopea orchid should be grown in wire-mesh baskets to showcase their large, waxy flowers.

The Vanda orchid is a type of orchid that originates from India and the Far East. These orchids can grow quite tall and require support. If you’re interested in growing orchids, there are many different types to choose from and you can find all the information you need right here. Don’t let anything stop you from adding the beauty and elegance of these flowers to your home. Additionally, if you want more ideas and information on placing plants around your house, check out these resources on gardening and house plants. Whether you’re considering vegetables, flowers, or foliage, you’ll find all the basics of successful gardening and discover which plants are happiest inside the house.

FAQ

1. What are orchids?

Orchids are a diverse and widespread family of flowering plants that are prized for their beautiful and often fragrant blooms. They are found in almost every habitat, from tropical rainforests to deserts, and come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.

2. How do you grow orchids?

Orchids can be grown in a variety of ways, depending on the type of orchid and the growing conditions available. Some orchids can be grown in soil, while others do better in a bark or moss mixture. They also require specific amounts of light, humidity, and temperature, so it’s important to research the specific needs of your orchid before planting.

3. What are the most common types of orchids?

There are over 25,000 different species of orchids, but some of the most common types include Phalaenopsis (or “moth orchids”), Cattleya, Dendrobium, Oncidium, and Paphiopedilum. Each type has its own unique characteristics and growing requirements.

4. How often should you water orchids?

The frequency of watering orchids depends on the type of orchid, the growing medium, and the environmental conditions. In general, orchids should be watered once a week, or when the potting medium feels dry to the touch. It’s important not to overwater orchids, as this can lead to root rot.

5. What kind of fertilizer do orchids need?

Orchids require a special fertilizer that is high in nitrogen during the growing season, and low in nitrogen during the dormant season. A balanced fertilizer, such as 20-20-20, can be used year-round, but should be applied at half strength. It’s important not to over-fertilize orchids, as this can damage the roots.

6. How do you repot orchids?

Orchids should be repotted every 1-2 years, or when the potting medium breaks down and becomes waterlogged. To repot an orchid, gently remove it from its current pot, remove any dead roots, and place it in a new pot with fresh potting medium. It’s important not to damage the roots during the repotting process.

7. How do you propagate orchids?

Orchids can be propagated in a variety of ways, including by division, stem cuttings, or seed. Division involves separating the plant into smaller sections, each with its own roots and foliage. Stem cuttings can be taken from the parent plant and rooted in water or soil. Propagating orchids from seed is a more complex process that requires special equipment and expertise.

8. How do you care for orchids in the winter?

During the winter months, orchids may require less water and fertilizer, as they enter a period of dormancy. It’s important to maintain a consistent temperature and humidity level, and to avoid exposing the plant to cold drafts or extreme temperature fluctuations. Some orchids may also require supplemental lighting during the winter months.

9. How do you prevent orchid pests and diseases?

Orchids are susceptible to a variety of pests and diseases, including spider mites, scale insects, and fungal infections. To prevent these problems, it’s important to maintain a clean growing environment, avoid over-watering, and inspect plants regularly for signs of damage or disease. Pests can be treated with insecticidal soap or neem oil, while fungal infections may require antifungal treatment.

10. How do you display orchids?

Orchids can be displayed in a variety of ways, depending on personal preference and the growing conditions available. They can be grown in pots, mounted on cork or other materials, or displayed in a terrarium. Some people also like to create arrangements or bouquets using cut orchid blooms.

11. What are some common myths about orchids?

There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding orchids, including the belief that they are difficult to grow or require special treatment. In reality, many orchids are relatively easy to care for, and can thrive in a variety of growing conditions. Additionally, not all orchids are expensive or rare, and many can be found at local nurseries or online retailers.

12. What are some tips for beginners growing orchids?

For beginners, it’s important to start with an easy-to-grow orchid, such as a Phalaenopsis or Paphiopedilum. It’s also important to research the specific needs of your orchid, including its light, humidity, and temperature requirements. Finally, it’s important not to overwater or over-fertilize your orchid, and to be patient as it grows and develops.

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