With their remarkable array of colors and exotic appearance, the spectacular beauty of orchids has been appreciated through many generations. The mid 19th century in particular saw the orchid elevated in status as the wealthy looked to acquire increasingly unusual hybrid species.
Although there are over 20,000 separate species of orchids and well over 100,000 hybrid varieties, all orchids fall into four basic categories. Terrestrial orchids grow on the ground as well as in rocks and trees. Epiphytes orchids are distinguished by a root system that grows above the ground. Further, orchids are categorized as monopodial with a single stem that continuously grows in the same direction, and sympodial where the plant sends out new shoots that create divergent lateral branches.
Growing Orchids Indoors
Successfully growing an orchid indoors requires the following elements:
- Growing Environment: Most orchids grown indoors are epiphytes. As tropical plants, they gain nutrients from a mixture of fungus and other debris found in tree or rock crevices. Orchids require a special formulation of potting mix with a high bark content and sphagnum moss to support proper growth. Since orchids enjoy a moist environment, a clay vessel with good drainage is best suited for repotting. It is also important to never cut an orchid’s roots when transferring the plant.
- Temperature: The ideal temperature for warm climate orchid growth ranges from 68 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. In colder climates where indoor temperatures drop to 60-65 degrees at night, it is important to select an orchid variety that thrives in native intermediate climates.
- Sunlight: Orchids grow best in bright, filtered light with an eastern exposure. In situations where direct sunlight is unavoidable, a curtain or shade to diffuse the light is recommended to protect the orchid against the damaging effects of the sun’s rays.
- Watering: Properly watering an orchid is extremely critical for successful growing. In fact, orchids should never be allowed to become too dry as they will die very quickly. It is important that water reaches and nourishes the entire root system. Unfortunately, overwatering can be just as damaging to the plant. It is vital to develop a balance where the soil remains moist, but is never saturated. A watering schedule of once a week in winter and twice a week in warmer summer months should prove sufficient.
Water quality is also critical to the orchid growing process. Soft water generated with salt should never be used on an orchid, and chlorinated water should be avoided if possible. Distilled and filtered water works best for healthy, robust plants.
Providing humidity for an orchid can be helpful as well. Using a humidifier to balance the environment is ideal, while even tray of moist gravel underneath the pot can help duplicate the orchid’s natural growing conditions.
A fertilizer specifically made for orchids can be applied every three weeks to a month in 1/2 or 1/4 strength. Fertilizer is a requirement if the orchid’s leaves show any signs of yellowing. It will also help to produce full-bodied flowers as well.
The care of outdoor orchids is similar to their indoor counterparts with some notable exceptions. Orchids should only be grown outdoors in temperatures above 40 degrees. Therefore, only potted orchids should be left outside in these climates. The ideal time to plant orchids in a garden is from early to mid May
Outdoor orchids need alternating periods of shade and sunlight. If the plant appears stressed or wilting, it probably needs relocation to a shadier spot. Misting an orchid is very beneficial, and the soil should be kept moist and properly fertilized.
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