Orchid-growing has gotten easier. Dan Gill explains why, and how to help them flourish at home | Home/Garden

There was a time when orchid plants were expensive to purchase. The main reason was how difficult it was to propagate orchids. This limited their availability and made them costly.

Orchid plants are extremely difficult to grow from seeds. Fortunately, techniques have been developed to reliably germinate seeds on sterile nutrient media in labs. These days, seedling orchids are readily available and inexpensive.

Growing orchids from seeds, however, means accepting a wide variation among the offspring. A few offspring will be outstanding, some not worth keeping and the majority will be mediocre.

Phalaenopsis I-HSIN Mirage AM/AOS 

In the late 20th century, micropropagation (tissue culture) techniques were developed for a wide variety of orchids. Micropropagation has allowed growers to rapidly produce large numbers of identical copies of superior orchid cultivars.

Today, efficient micropropagation techniques, mass production and marketing have made orchids incredibly accessible to everyone who cares to grow them. You can find blooming orchid plants everywhere, from the supermarket to the florist to local nurseries and garden centers.

Orchids have a reputation as exotic plants that are difficult to grow. But that is not true. While you do need to provide proper care and growing conditions, popular types of orchids are no more difficult to grow than other flowering houseplants.

Orchid 5 May 20,2022

Orchid- ORG XMIT: No.Orchid.io.052822

To understand how we grow them, it’s important to look at where they come from in their natural habitats. Most of the orchids we grow are native to the tropics and need year-round warm to mild temperatures. Virtually all these tropical species are epiphytes that grow on the branches or trunks of trees.

Although rainfall is plentiful in most habitats where tropical orchids grow, water does not linger up in the trees. Plants must be able to survive until the next rain. For this reason, many orchids have tough, leathery leaves to reduce water loss and water storage organs called “pseudobulbs” to store water.

The roots, which naturally grow in the air, are covered with a special tissue called vellum that protects them and absorbs and holds water.

Know what you have

The adaptation of most cultivated orchids to life in the trees makes them relatively easy to keep alive. There are many kinds of orchids, however, and you must know what kind of orchid you have in order to know how to take care of it.

If you don’t provide your orchid with enough light, for instance, it will not bloom well. You must also know what kind of orchid you have to determine how to water it and what temperatures it needs.

Always check to see if there is a name tag in the pot when purchasing an orchid. If there isn’t a name tag, check with the staff at the nursery or florist where it is for sale.

Once you know what kind of orchid you have and the growing conditions it needs, they are not terribly hard to grow. Indoors, they will thrive in a brightly lit window facing east, south or west. A shady north-facing window may not provide enough light to encourage blooming.

Outside time

Orchids love to spend time outside during warmer times of the year. After nighttime temperatures reliably stay above 60 degrees, move them to a spot outside that receives the appropriate light.

No more than a couple of hours of morning sun or dappled light (too much direct sun will burn the foliage) is needed for shade-loving orchids such as phalaenopsis and paphiopedilum, while direct sun for most of the day is preferred by sun-loving orchids such as vandas.

Epiphytic orchids require a special orchid mix, not potting soil, when grown in containers. Orchid mixes are generally based on chopped fir bark.

Many orchids should be potted in a medium grade bark or medium-fine bark mix (medium bark with perlite and chopped sphagnum moss added). Others need a coarser bark mix, and some are grown on slabs of cork or wood or in wooden baskets with no mix at all. Again, it depends on the type of orchid you are growing.

Watering correctly

Watering orchids indoors is best done indoors at the sink. Allow tepid water to flow through the mix for about a minute until it is thoroughly moistened. Outside, just use a hose or watering can.

Beginner orchid growers, unfamiliar with growing plants in these mixes, tend to keep their orchids too dry. Sometimes an orchid in a plastic pot is placed into a decorative ceramic outer pot without drainage holes. In this situation, take the orchid out of the outer pot to water it so the mix can properly drain.

Fertilize your orchids once or twice a month from spring to early fall. Use a soluble fertilizer (such as 20-20-20) according to label directions. Outdoors, you can apply the fertilizer solution with a watering can or a hose-end fertilizer applicator.

I have a small indoor orchid collection, and I often fertilize them by mixing up a fertilizer solution in a bucket. I simply dip each plant individually in the solution for a minute and allow it to drain back into the bucket. I can then use the leftover fertilizer solution to water other plants I want to fertilize that are growing in containers or beds.

If you would like to learn more about orchids and see some beautiful displays, plan to visit the New Orleans Orchid Society’s annual spring show and sale at Lakeside Shopping Center June 3- 5. It is free and open to the public.

In addition to the show, there will be numerous vendors selling a wide variety of orchid plants, orchid-growing products and lots of experts to answer questions. More information is available at www.neworleansorchidsociety.org.

70th New Orleans Orchid Society Show

WHAT: The largest orchid show in the Deep South, with vendors selling orchid plants and supplies.

WHERE: Lakeside Shopping Center

WHEN: Friday, June 3, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; June 4, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; June 5, noon to 4 p.m.

MORE INFO: neworleansorchidsociety.org. Orchid Society meetings are held monthly; dues are $20.

Garden columnist Dan Gill answers readers’ questions each week. To send a question, email Gill at [email protected] 

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