Growing orchids can be challenging, yet rewarding, to even the most seasoned gardener. Maintaining and caring for orchids can become a terrific year round hobby, regardless of the region you live in, or space you have. With multiple varieties, each having their own signature bloom, you might start with one, or one of each and see where you end up. There are some basic steps which may help you get started in the right direction, as well as some care tips for those who have already begun. As like previously stated, orchids can be challenging, but with time and effort you will have a show stopping cycle of beauty!
One of the most popular varieties, and thought to be the easiest to grow, is the Moth Orchid or Phalaenopsis. This variety would be a good starting orchid for beginners. The Moth Orchid has a compact growth habit and is great for this time of year, it can tolerate a warmer, dryer heat indoors, so with its long lasting blooms it can brighten up a home nicely in the winter. With proper care this orchid may bloom as much as every 1-2 weeks!
A few key points you need to know when growing orchids include:
Water sparingly from the top, let the pot fully drain allowing the bark to dry out completely before watering again. Do Not Over Water or allow water to collect in the center of the plant.
Keep temperatures between 65 degrees at night and 85 degrees during the day.
Keep plants shaded from bright direct light. Provide as much defused light as possible during the winter and keep orchids out of direct sun in the summer, as the leaves can be scorched easily.
Once buds have formed along the main stem, the plant will start to bloom, gradually, opening in succession. Before all of the flowers have died and dropped, while the sap is still flowing, cut the stem, using clean and sharp floral sheers, right above the highest node. A side branch with soon start to grow from the node around where you made the cut. The process of budding, blooming, and cutting will then continue on this stem and ideally you will enjoy an almost continuous flower show!
You may choose to fertilize your orchid. If so, it is suggested to use an old rule of thumb, fertilize “weekly, weakly”. Unless a professional grower it is safe to use a well-rounded 20-20-20 solution, remember a formula higher in Nitrogen will promote plant growth, while more Phospherous will help in bloom production. Each variety of orchid is different, however you will want to feed them more in their growing season and less while they are dormant. It is also important to not over feed your orchids. This will cause deposits to collect in the pot and around the roots leading to problems. A good flush with fresh water every 4-6 week will keep the plants healthy and happy.
Another popular variety is the Cymbidium Orchid. This type of orchid may not flower as often as the Phalaenopsis (only every winter and spring), but will display its colorful and delicate blooms for 6-8 weeks! In regards to environment, Cymbidiums prefer a cooler climate with a bit more light. With the proper elements this plant can grow fairly large holding larger flowers each year, which may require staking. Like most orchids they can be moved outdoors in the summer, as long as the water, light and temperatures do not change in extremes. Warmer temperatures may inhibit the plant from re-flowering, so a thermostat inside and outside is helpful to prevent this from happening. When the final blooms have died, this variety prefers the entire stalk to be cut back, a new one will be produced when the plant is ready to set new buds and bloom again.
One of the most exotic, yet possibly most difficult to grow, of all orchids is the Oncidium variety. This variety will definitely require patience it only blooms once a year! After the anticipated wait you will enjoy the blooms for 4-6 weeks on average. There are many variations of flowers on this orchid variety, including small and large blooms, wide range of colors and patterns and delicate shapes on each plant. Unlike the others mentioned, this orchid should stay indoors year round. Oncidiums have a more compact growth habit so it is common to see them growing on windowsills. Another characteristic of this variety is that it must get a minimum of 50 degrees in the winter and maximum of 85 degree conditions in the summer to trigger it to re-bloom.
It is important to remember a few common guidelines for the orchids mentioned, as well as others you may find. In nature orchids grow attached to other plants, they are not designed to grow in potting soil! There are specific barks and orchid mixes designed for these plants to grow successfully indoors. They also do like indirect bright light, which can be a challenge for some homes and offices. Try placing the orchids on top or in front of a mirror to safely reflect and maximize the light available. Most varieties require to also be replanted about every 2-3 years. Most orchids may not be content in just any clay pot, however there are specially designed orchid pots available to meet the needs of all varieties.
Regardless of if you are new to gardening or a seasoned professional, take on a new challenge and reap the rewards of raising your own orchids. They put on an impressive show and make a great gift. Any Valentine would love to receive one of these show stoppers that you can care for together for years to come. Good luck and keep gardening!