How to Choose and Grow Orchids

Having fresh flowers adds beauty and tranquility to a living or work space. Some plants seem to require so much maintenance that it can discourage a beginner from wanting to get started, but all it takes is a little self education. Contrary to myth, a very simple flower to grow and take care of is the orchid. Even someone with no “green thumb” can enjoy the fresh scents and beautiful blossoms of these sturdy flowers.

The two types of orchids are terrestrials, which are grown from the ground, and epiphytes, which come from trees. Epiphytes are not only orchid trees, but any plant who has a root system above the ground. Terrestrial orchids are what many people are looking for in starting a garden or flowerbox for their home, and there are many species and hybrids. Most orchids do best in moderate temperatures of 50-75 degrees. Humidity is another important factor, especially when growing the orchids indoors. Check the humidity of the room, and if it isn’t at least 40% on average, then use a misting bottle regularly on the plant or consider getting a humidity tray.

Watering needs are fairly minimal, although it is important to check the specifics of the particular orchid being grown. Most are an average of once or twice weekly, with some only needing it every other week. Their root systems are extremely proficient in storing water, and some orchids even do a bit better if the medium has a chance to dry out a bit.

Lighting and temperature are also important in making the most of the orchid’s beauty and durability. Many do well in medium to bright lighting, although there are some that grow adequately even when the light is dimmer. Temperatures should remain in the 50-75 degree range. Lower temperatures in the evenings will not harm the plants at all, and growth is often stimulated by making sure there is at least a ten degree temperature change between day and night.

Cymbidium Orchid

Cymbidium Orchid

The most popular orchid plant for the beginner is the *Cymbidium*. They are extremely sturdy and grow very well with just a bit of tending. They are ideal for indoors and do best when given bright lighting and watered once weekly, as well as a nutrient fertilizer designed specifically for orchids applied once a month during the spring and summer. These plants will grow well indoors during the winter and early spring months, which make it very popular for those who live in climates that require plants to be brought inside due to colder temperatures.

Another type that is easy to grow is *Paphiopedilium* (also known as Lady’s Slipper). These grow well in most lighting and as with Cymbidium orchids, they need watered once a week and fed fertilizer once during each of the warmer months. The foliage from these orchids are nearly as beautiful as the flowers themselves, so they will be attractive even when not blooming. Jewel orchids (*Lucicia discolor) *grow attractive blossoms, but is is their lush, vibrant leaves that are the real focal point of this particular plant. The foliage is a deep purple with stripes of pink throughout. Bright light is not needed as it does well in medium to lower lighting and should be watered twice weekly with basic fertilizer needs in warmer months. This plant is most productive in a humid environment, so always make sure the humidity in the room is above 40% or that the plant is regularly misted.

Oncidium orchids bloom in small flowering clusters with blossoms in red, yellow, pink, and purple often enhanced with contrasting shades. They do need the brighter light, and watering every other week is often sufficient, along with monthly spring and summer fertilizer boosts. A very similar type to these are Odontoglossoms, which may be a bit harder to grow, depending on the variety. They are often referred to as “odunts”, and sprout brightly colored blossoms that can last for many weeks if tended to. Watering should be done on an average of once a week, however skipping a week in between will not harm these orchids. Temperatures are best in 50-70 degrees.

Cattleya orchids are the ones most often used in corsages, however they also make a beautiful every day plant for the home. The colors range in bright hues of orange, red, pink, and yellow, among others. They thrive best in bright or medium lighting, and need watered once or twice a week with the standard fertilizer needs during the warmer months. If properly cared for, the flowers will bloom twice a year and will last for several weeks.

*Encyclia cochleata,*or cockleshell orchids grow beautiful tentacle-like strands around the enclosed clam-shaped flowers. If these are well cared for, they can bloom all year, and do best in warmer room temperatures of 60-80 degrees. Lighting can be either low or bright, and watering should be done once or twice a week. Fertilizer should be given once monthly, as the warmer temperatures should be constant. *Phaius tankervilleae* (also known as the nun orchid) are of the epiphytes type, which sometimes require a bit more maintenance, but are is not difficult to grow. They stand tall and majestic, with flowers of brown, purple, and white, accompanied by large, brightly colored leaves. Watering should be done weekly with the exception of the winter months, when it is only needed every other week. This plant requires a bit more fertilizer, and should be fed once weekly. Temperatures are best in the 60-80 degree range with the environment remaining humid.

Two other species of the epiphytes type are Phalaenopsis and the Dendrobium*. Phalaenopsis*, or Moth orchids cost very little and are extremely easy to grow. Watering and fertilizing needs are the same, and the flowers themselves appear in many bright colors. A forced, temporary drop in temperature will help them bloom faster. These orchids are often used for occasions such as weddings and graduation ceremonies. *Dendrobium* orchids bloom beautifully with flowers of white, green, or purple as well as some with pink or pink tinges. They require weekly watering and monthly fertilizing with temperatures at a comfortable 50-70 degrees for optimum conditions.

It is plain to see that there are many options to choose from when deciding which orchids to purchase. Most are very moderately priced, and will serve a home or office space for a long time to come. The little bit of time and maintenance required to grow these beautiful and majestic flowers will be worth it when the blossoms and foliage offer such a pleasing effect. Shop around, look for what orchids will look best for the area being considered, and enjoy the results!

Written by Angela Sangster, Copyright 2011

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