Orchids are gorgeous, beautiful, intricate, spectacular, and a number of other superlatives. They also have a reputation as being hard to grow, but that “ain’t necessarily so,” to quote the old song.
The Orchid family is divided into four tribes, 800 genera, well over 20,000 different species with numerous varieties, and more being discovered every year. There are also an estimated 500 commercial hybrids entering the trade per year, for an estimated 3 million hybrids currently known. BUT! Don’t get overwhelmed by orchid numbers. I told you that just to let you know that there are so many to choose from that – if first you don’t succeed – try a different species!
Most likely you have seen orchids at the grocery store or the nursery, and those are some of the easier ones to grow. Just remember that most cultivated orchids are genetically programmed to perch on tree branches in the rainforest, where they get little water or soil. Bear this in mind as we go through care tips.
Water. Never over water. It is a quick way to kill an orchid. These perching orchids get rain, but then they dry out. Likewise, make sure the media your plants are in dries between watering. A 6-inch pot should get around 1/3 a cup of water per week, a 4-inch pot only 1/4 cup. This may be in three smaller doses, or all at once, depending on the potting media.
Potting Media. Notice I didn’t say soil. Most orchids are sold in either moss or lava rock. This is fine for them, and you shouldn’t need to repot it for years — if ever.
Container. It can be a tiny container for a large plant. This is fine. It may actually be better, to help avoid excessive moisture around the roots. If it is tippy, put the entire orchid pot in a larger pot filled with decorative rock to keep it from tipping over.
Light. Don’t overdo it. In the wild, orchids perch on branches in filtered light. Thus indoors in a sunny room is good, but not on the windowsill. Regular indoor lighting is also fine for orchids, so you could take them to the office.
Humidity. This is the kicker. Our indoor environments are generally too dry for orchids. They do well if misted at least once per day. In winter, make sure they are not in getting blown on by heated air.
Temperature. Most orchids need to stay between 50 and 80 degrees. This includes during transport. Orchids are not outdoor plants in Tucson.
Fertilizer. Fertilize with care. Do not fertilize at all when the orchid is in bloom, since it may cause it to drop flowers. Orchid fertilizer as per label direction is better than a general purpose plant food for these specialty plants.
Flowers. Depending on the species, flowers may last for months. Most orchids flower February through May. You can often get them to flower again the following year if you follow the care tips above.
Orchids are beautiful. They can be fun to grow. They are low care, needing little water, occasional fertilizer, and not much else. They reward you with spectacular, long lasting flowers. If you buy an orchid and it doesn’t survive, remember it fondly as a very nice bouquet of flowers — a bouquet that had roots.
Want to learn more? Look for my free lectures at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including Month-by-Month Garden Guide for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $26).
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