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.
So Many Orchids to Choose From
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.
Don’t get overwhelmed by orchid numbers. I only told you that so I could tell you this – there are so many to choose from! If at first you don’t succeed – try a different species!
You Can Grow Orchids
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 rain forest, where they get little water or soil. Bear this in mind as we go through care tips.
Never over water orchids. It is a quick way to kill them! These perching orchids get rain, but then they dry out. Likewise, make sure the potting media your plants are growing in dries between watering.
For plants grown in bark or lava, water once per week at most, and only if potting medium is dry. Submerge entire pot in water for 5 minutes and allow to drain OR place 2 to 3 ice cubes on top of potting medium.
For the orchids (generally Phalaenopsis) grown in sphagnum moss – water even less frequently! Once every two weeks should be sufficient. Be sure to water moss thoroughly, since moss that is very dry may not immediately absorb water.
Notice I didn’t say potting soil. Most orchids are sold in either moss, chunks of bark, or possibly porous lava rock. This is fine for them, and you shouldn’t need to repot it for years — if ever.
It may seem to be a tiny container for a large plant. Not for these perchers! Tiny is fine. It may actually be better, to help avoid excessive moisture around the roots. If the container is tippy, put the entire orchid pot in a larger pot filled with decorative rock to keep it from tipping over.
Don’t overdo it. In the wild, orchids perch on branches in filtered light. Thus indoors in a sunny room is good, just not on the windowsill. Regular indoor lighting is also fine for orchids, so you could take them to the office. (Whenever we get to go back to offices that is.)
This is the kicker. Our indoor environments in the Southwest are generally too dry for orchids. They survive but wouldn’t mind if misted once per day. Use clean distilled water, not tap water, full of calcium and chlorine. In winter, make sure your orchids are not in getting blown on by heated air from the furnace.
Store-bought orchids need to stay between 65 and 80 degrees. Orchids are not outdoor plants in the Southwest.
Fertilize with care! I know orchid experts say differently, but for newbies it is best not to fertilize at all when the orchid is in bloom, since it may cause plants to drop flowers. (Been there and done that!) Orchid fertilizer as per label directions is better than a general purpose plant fertilizer for these specialty plants.
Depending on the species, flowers may last for months. After the last flower is done and dried out, cut the stem just above the node (nodes are those bumps on the stem) from which the first flower appeared. A new spike may branch off within weeks. Alternatively, remove the flower spike entirely to allow the plant to recover and form a new spike in 3 to 4 months.
You Can Grow Orchids!
Orchids are beautiful. They can be fun to grow. These charmers 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.
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More about growing colorful flowers (outdoors) every month of the year in this book: Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.
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