There was a time when orchid plants were expensive to buy. The main reason was how difficult it was to propagate orchids. This limited their availability and made them expensive.
Orchid plants are extremely difficult to grow from seed. Fortunately, techniques have been developed to reliably germinate seeds on sterile growth media in the laboratory. Today, seedling orchids are readily available and inexpensive.
However, growing orchids from seed means accepting a great deal of variation among the offspring. A few offspring will be outstanding, some not worth keeping and the majority will be mediocre.
In the late 20th century, micropropagation (tissue culture) techniques were developed for a variety of orchids. Micropropagation has enabled breeders to quickly produce large numbers of identical copies of superior orchid varieties.
Today, efficient micropropagation techniques, mass production, and commercialization have made orchids incredibly accessible to anyone who wants to grow them. Flowering orchid plants can be found everywhere from the supermarket to the florist to local nurseries and nurseries.
Orchids have a reputation for being exotic plants that are difficult to grow. But that’s not true. While you need to ensure proper care and growing conditions, popular orchid species are no more difficult to grow than other flowering houseplants.
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 require warm to mild temperatures all year round. Almost all of these tropical species are epiphytes, growing on the branches or trunks of trees.
Although rainfall is plentiful in most habitats where tropical orchids grow, the water doesn’t get stuck 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 parchment that protects them and absorbs and holds water.
know what you have
The adaptation of most cultivated orchids to arboreal life makes them relatively easy to keep alive. However, there are many types of orchids and you need to know what type of orchid you have in order to know how to care for it.
For example, if you don’t give your orchid enough light, it won’t bloom well. You also need to know what type of orchid you have to determine how to water it and what temperatures it needs.
When buying an orchid, always check that there is a name tag in the pot. If there is no name tag, contact the staff at the nursery or florist where it is sold.
Once you know what type of orchid you have and what growing conditions it requires, they are not particularly difficult to grow. Indoors, they thrive by a brightly lit window that faces east, south, or west. A shady, north-facing window may not provide enough light to encourage flowering.
Out of time
Orchids love spending time outdoors in the warmer seasons. After nighttime temperatures reliably remain above 60 degrees, place them in an outdoor spot that receives the appropriate light.
No more than a few hours of morning sun or dappled light (too much direct sun will burn the foliage) is required for shade-loving orchids like Phalaenopsis and Paphiopedilum, while sun-loving orchids like most of the day prefer direct sun for most of the day like Vandas.
Epiphytic orchids require special orchid mix, not potting soil, when grown in containers. Orchid mixes are usually based on chopped fir bark.
Many orchids should be potted in medium bark mix or medium bark mix (medium bark with perlite and chopped peat moss). Others need a coarser bark mix, and some grow on cork or wood trays, or in wooden baskets without any mix at all. Again, it depends on the type of orchid you are growing.
Watering orchids indoors is best done indoors at the sink. Run lukewarm water through the mixture for about a minute until completely moistened. Just use a hose or watering can outdoors.
Beginner orchid growers unfamiliar with growing plants in these mixes tend to over-dry their orchids. Sometimes an orchid in a plastic pot is placed in a decorative ceramic outer pot with no drainage holes. In this situation, remove the orchid from the outer pot to water it so the mixture can drain properly.
Fertilize your orchids once or twice a month from spring to early fall. Use a soluble fertilizer (e.g. 20-20-20) according to label directions. Outside, you can apply the fertilizer solution with a watering can or a hose-ended fertilizer applicator.
I have a small collection of indoor orchids and often fertilize them by mixing up a fertilizer solution in a bucket. I simply dip each plant individually into the solution for a minute and drain them back into the bucket. I can then use the leftover fertilizer solution to water other plants that I want to fertilize that are growing in containers or beds.
To learn more about orchids and see some lovely exhibits, plan to visit the New Orleans Orchid Society’s annual spring exhibit and sale at the Lakeside Shopping Center June 3-5. It is free and open to the public.
Alongside the show, there are numerous vendors selling a wide range of orchid plants and orchid growing products, and many experts to answer questions. For more information, visit www.neworleansorchidsociety.org.
70th New Orleans Orchid Society Exhibition
WHAT: The largest orchid exhibition in the deep south with traders Sale of orchid plants and accessories.
WHERE: Lakeside shopping mall
IF: Friday, June 3, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; June 4, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; June 5, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m
MORE INFO: neworleansorchidsociety.org. Orchid Society meetings are held monthly; Fees are $20.
Gardening columnist Dan Gill answers readers’ questions each week. To submit a question, email Gill at email@example.com.
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