Posted on Dec 31, 2015 | by S Mason
If you’ve been given an orchid as a gift only to have it drop all its leaves and blooms then you might think orchids are temperamental and difficult to grow. In actuality, cultivating orchids can be easy if you match the orchid with the correct environment. There are approximately 27,000 different species of orchids and they grow upon every continent except for Antarctica. In addition, there are about 100,000 hybrids and cultivars. The numbers are dizzying, but if you are able to mimic an orchid’s natural habitat then you have a great chance of having a lovely plant that blooms once or twice a year for years to come.
The majority of orchids are epiphytes or air plants. In their natural habitat they will grow on trees attaching to the bark and reaching for the light. Their roots don’t want to be immersed in dirt or water. In your home this means that you should keep your orchid in a pot with a loose bark mixture that will allow for easy drainage and good air circulation. You can purchase specially made growing medium or you can make it yourself with bark chips, sphagnum moss, peat moss, perlite, rock, and/or coconut fiber.
There are several variables that need to be considered when caring for orchids. The first is lighting. Most orchids want and can tolerate a good bit of light. This can be achieved in a South or East facing window with a sheer curtain to filter the light. If your orchid’s leaves are a dark green, normally a sign of a healthy houseplant, then it is not getting enough light. An orchid that receives the appropriate amount of light will have lighter greenish yellow colored leaves. If your orchid has black or darkish sunburned looking spots then it is receiving too much light. Orchids with thicker leaves can tolerate more light than those with thinner leaves. Most people tend to not provide enough light for proper growth.
The second factor is water. Many people overwater orchids. They typically need watering about once a week or just as the “soil” appears to be drying out. You should take care to moisten all the growing medium but only water until it starts running out the bottom. If you have overwatered the orchid will begin to shrivel and dry out. This is because the roots have rotted due to overwatering and are no longer able to take up moisture and nutrients. Another test to determine if it’s time to water is simply to insert your finger about two inches into the pot. If dry, then it is time to water. As for fertilizer, there are varying recommendations ,but once a month at half the recommended strength should work well. Be sure to use a fertilizer formulated just for orchids such as AlgoFlash. It comes highly recommended from orchid growers.
The third factor is temperature. Orchids are classified as either cool, intermediate, or warm growing. The Moth Orchid, “Phalaenopsis”, is a warm growing orchid that prefers daytime temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees. This orchid is the most widely sold orchid and will grow well in most indoor settings. Intermediate orchids like a temperature between 65 and 75 degrees. Cattleya orchids, another beginner’s favorite, fall into this group. Cold growing orchids prefer temps between 60 and 70 degrees. Since it is much harder to replicate the cold growing orchids’ environment so they are not widely sold or grown.
Given that most orchids hail from the tropics, it’s important to remember that orchids like humidity. To accommodate them try misting your plants or installing a humidifier to make them happy. Air circulation is also important for your orchids so some indirect air from a fan will help them too.
While the above tips will get you started, this is only the beginning. If you think this may be a hobby for you, be sure to search out local Orchid Growers groups. Also be sure to reach out to the American Orchid Society and read its publication, Orchids.