Orchids are easily distinguished from other plants!
One the most diverse in interesting flowers in all of nature with over 20,000 species, the exotic looking orchid has fascinated collectors and hobbyists for literally millennia since the plant was first named around 300 B.C. Orchid flowers are so unique in fact that certain species even trick wasps and bees into “mating” with the flower in order to spread pollen. The name orchid is derived from a Greek word describing the resemblance its pair of tuberous roots has to a part of the male anatomy I need not describe. Orchids began to be successfully grown in greenhouses in the 1800’s and since then practices and methods have been perfected to allow the average person to grow these exotic flowers in their homes.
Tips for Success
The following is a list of practices that have been pretty successful over the years to help promote good growth and flower production in orchids. If how you are growing your orchids now is working do not change anything. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Only consider a change if you are not happy with current results. Most orchids grow and flower no matter what you do.So remember these ideas are only for those plants that prove stubborn to do so.
Before watering lift the pot to judge weight to see if the media is dry. Use a balanced fertilizer such as a 20-20-20. Water and fertilize less often in the winter or periods of cloudy weather. At least once a month use pure water with nothing added to rinse out salts. Many growers use a high nitrogen fertilizer such as a 30-10-10 in early spring to promote growth. About once per month try using a bloom booster fertilizer such as a 6-30-30 to promote flowering. This can be done throughout most of the year. During the winter months when plants are not in active growth withhold fertilizer completely or at least cut back on the amount. Orchids do not need as much at this time of year and you may burn roots.
If a plant is not blooming as it should the first thing is to try to give the plant more light. Give most orchids as much light as possible just short of burning leaves. Yellow coloring or spots of sunburn indicate too much or possibly too intense a light. Give your plants good quality and quantity of light all day long not just in the morning or afternoon for an hour or two. Remember leaves should always feel cool to the touch. If this doesn't help the plant bloom try using a bloom booster fertilizer available at Nick’s Garden Center along with magnesium sulfate (epson salt) at least 2 people spoons per gallon.
Most orchids can develop several types of bacteria and fungus problems. Air movement is the best solution place a small fan near your plants. This should help prevent any of these problems. If you do notice is what appears as a soft area on the leaves try using Neem oil to reduce the spread of infection or bug problems. First try an insecticidal soap or ultrafine horticultural oil. Follow the instructions carefully. Any bug problem will take at least 4 applications over a 1 month period to do any good.
Specific Care for Orchid Species Cattleya Orchids
Temperature: The ideal temperature for Cattleya orchids is 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit at night and a day temperature of 10 to 15 degrees higher. Without the night day fluctuation, orchids may grow lots of healthy foliage but stubbornly refuse to flower.
Light and Shade: Proper light is an important factor in growing Cattleya. These orchids require bright light with some direct sun. When Cattleya receives the correct amount of light, the leaves will display a light green color. If the plants are grown in your window, especially southern exposure, they may need protection from direct sun light as it may heat up and damage leaves and flowers. It is important that Cattleya receive no additional light past the normal day length.
Watering: Basically Cattleya orchids should be watered as they approach dryness. Watering needs will vary during sunny warm weather and dark and humid weather. It is important to thoroughly drench the plant when watering and do not, at any time, let the plant stand in water. The Catlleya orchids generally put on most of its growth during the spring and summer months. At this time, watering should be increased. During winter months only enough water should be given to keep the pseudobulbs (water storage structures) filled.
Feeding: Since most Cattleya are grown in fir bark mixtures, fertilizing is a must. We recommend a high nitrogen fertilizer 30-10-10 for best results. Nick’s Garden Center carries fertilizers specifically designed for different orchid needs. Because the orchid does not get any nutrients from the bark, we recommend using a half strength solution every time you water.
Humidity: 60-80 percent humidity is ideal for the Cattleya. However, a Cattleya orchid in nature has dry periods; therefore they can be grown where humidity is lower. A humidifier or humidity tray will help provide the extra humidity a Cattleya orchid needs.
Potting: We recommend repotting mature Cattleya orchids once every two years. The best time to repot is after flowering, which is when most orchids begin a cycle of root growth and are quick to re-establish.
Outdoor Growing: When Cattleya are growing in the home under artificial lights or by a window sill, it is recommended that they are summered outdoors. Care must be taken to protect plants from direct sun during the midday hours when sunlight is most intense. Filtered sun under a loose or small leaved tree will usually provide the correct amount of light.
Light: Oncidium prefer fairly bright light, especially during the winter months when a southern exposure would be ideal. Shading of our bright Colorado sun will be required throughout most of the year for all Orchids. A shear curtain or opaque window would be ideal.
Temperature: The majority of Onicidium orchids will grow well with intermediate temperatures ranging from around 60 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 70-85 degrees during the day. As with all plants, lower night temperatures are always beneficial.
Water: Water needs depend upon the stage of your orchid’s growth. When in full growth or flowering, water should be applied as soon as the planting media begins to dry out. This is easily determined by weight. Some Oncydium orchids rest for a time after flowering and should be watered sparingly until new growth appears. Watch your plans for signs of its needs. If the bulb begins to shrivel, apply more water.
Humidity: Around 50 to 60 percent relative humidity is ideal. Group orchids together or place them on a tray filled with gravel and partially filled with water to increase humidity levels. If you humidity in your home is below 50 percent, you will benefit from raising the level as well as your plants.
Air Movement: Air movement is helpful for all plants, but never use hot, dry air. A small fan in the same room with your plans may prove to be beneficial.
Fertilizer: Oncydium orchids are not heavy feeders and foliar feeding has giving excellent results. Use a balanced 20-20-20 solution during the spring and summer months of active growth. Fertilization should be withheld during periods of slow growth, usually during the winter months.
Potting: Repotting your orchid is usually best done in the early spring as new growth begins to emerge. Use as small a pot as will hold the plant. Repot at least every 2 years. Ensure that your pot and planting media have excellent drainage, as Oncidium roots do not like to stay wet.
Dendrobium Orchid and Its Hybrids
Dendrobium orchids are very easy to grow and flower! Their care is similar to the care of a Cattleya orchid. They grow very rapidly an often bloom from both old growth as well as new growth producing several flower sprays each containing up to 20 blooms.
Light: Dendrobium orchids require bright light needing little, if any , shade except when the sun is especially intense and temperature is hot. The atmosphere should be buoyant meaning these plants need good air circulation at all times.
Water: Dendrobium, as with all orchids, should never be over watered. Allow Dendrobium orchids to become almost dry before watering. Humidity levels should be between 50 to 70 percent. Dendrobiums will actually benefit from a drying off period prior to setting buds or the plant may continue to grow without producing flowers. Never allow any orchid to sit in the water as this will rot the roots. Roots require air as well as water to remain healthy. Water temperature should feel tepid to the touch.
Temperature: The Dendrobium orchid and it's hybrids require warm days and night temperatures above 60 degrees. The deciduous type shed most or all leaves every year and prefer cooler temperatures down around 55 degrees at night.
Fertilizer: Evergreen Dendrobium orchids are heavy deeders. When buds appear, or if it is necessary to stimulate a plant that seems reluctant to set flower buds, a fertilizer high in phosphorus should be used such as 10-20-20. During the growing season a balanced 20-20-20 is best. Try foliar feeding by mixing a fertilizer in spring it on to the leaves rather than pouring fertilizer into the pot
Potting: The smallest pot that will hold your orchid is the best size to use. Dendrobiums should never be over potted. They prefer to be pot bound in order to flower well. As many Dendrobiums grow fairly tall with any flowers they have a tendency to become top heavy and unstable. An easy solution is to place the entire plant, pot and all, in a larger pot to prevent the plant from tipping.
Growing Orchids for Beginners
There are many types of orchids, they actually grow on every continent except Antarctica! So, there is almost certainly an orchid that likes the conditions you are able to provide. The most commonly available orchids, such as the Phalaenopsis a.k.a Moth Orchid, are so popular because they do well in typical homes. Regardless of which orchid you grow, a few tips will help keep them happy. Here are a few basics:
There are three rough categories of lighting needs in orchids:
- High lighting is typical for south-facing windows in the northern hemisphere. Direct sunlight should usually be avoided, particularly at hotter times of the day. Some common types of orchids that like high light are Cattleya and Vanda orchids.
- Medium lighting
- Low lighting is common for shaded windows, or east-facing windows. Low lighting is preferred by Phalaenopsis and Pahiopedilum orchids, among others.
As a general guideline, orchids should be given as much light as they can happily tolerate. Leaves will tend to become greener when lighting is low, and yellower (occasionally with red spotting) when there is a lot of light. If sunburned black or brown patches appear on the leaves, reduce the lighting.
Orchids with thicker and/or more erect leaves tend to be able to tolerate more light than those with thinner or more horizontal leaves.
Too little lighting is one of the more common mistakes in growing orchids for beginners.
Orchids are often divided into three general temperature categories:
- Warm-growing orchids like day temperatures between 70°F (21C) and 85°F (29C). This includes most Phalaenopsis orchids.
- Intermediate orchids like day temperatures between 65°F and 75°. This is typical of Cattleya orchids.
- Cool-growing orchids like temperatures to stay below 70°F (21C), say from 60°F (15C)-70°F (21C) during the day. This includes most Masdevallia orchid species, for example. Because this temperature range is difficult for most people to provide, these plants are not very widely marketed, except at places that mostly cater to orchid hobbyists.
Most orchids like humidity to be about 70%. This is considerably more humid than most homes, so you'll want to make some effort to provide your plants with extra humidity.
Orchids usually appreciate misting with a spray bottle. If the plant has aerial roots growing up out of the pot, those roots will especially appreciate getting some moisture.
You can also set up a humidity tray: put water in the bottom of a tray, with enough gravel that a plant set on top does not sit in the water. As the water evaporates, it will provide some extra humidity for the plant. These are a great help to growing orchids for beginners, or anyone else keeping tropical plants on a windowsill.
Overwatering kills far more orchids than under watering; it's the most common cause of orchid disease!
The media an orchid is planted in has a lot to do with how often an orchid needs watering. Most orchids are sold in mixes that roughly allow for weekly watering. Check by poking a finger a couple inches into substrate, and if it is dry, it's time to water. When in doubt, don't water!
To water an orchid, take it to the sink and run water through the pot until it flows out the bottom, trying to get as much of the potting mix wet as possible. Alternatively, submerge the plant's pot in a bucket for a few seconds, then lift it out and let it drain off excess water.
Symptoms of overwatering are similar to symptoms of under watering: the plant appears to shrivel and dry out. In the case of overwatering, this is because most of the roots have died and rotted. If in doubt whether you're overwatering or under watering, lift the plant out of the pot and see whether the roots are firm and white (healthy) or soft and mushy (dead). In the latter case, the plant should also be repotted.
Orchids often grow aerial roots up and out of the pot; try to get these wet when you water.
It's best to repot orchids every couple of years as the mix (usually bark) that they're potted in starts to break down. Most orchids are epiphytes (they grow on trees as air plants, rather than in the ground) so if the potting mix is starting to decompose, compress, and become denser, orchids get unhappy because their roots expect greater access to air. Do not repot while your orchid is in bloom.
Many people growing orchids as beginners wonder about pruning orchids. Trimming old flower stems that have turned brown is a good idea. If it's still green, it may re-bloom, either from the tip or by branching further back on the stem. So don't cut back green flower stems.
Pruning orchids to keep them small is a bad idea, because it is very stressful to the plant. If you cut a leaf, often the whole leaf will die back. Cutting stems is also usually bad. The only stems to cut on orchids are rhizomes (when dividing a plant; leave at least three or four growths per division) and flower stems (when they're done blooming and have turned brown, or if you want to put cut flowers in a vase.) Trimming orchids should really only be done to remove leaves, roots, or flower stems that have already died and turned brown.
Also, sterilize your cutting tools (or use disposable razors) so that you don't spread orchid diseases between your plants.
If you already have an orchid here are specific orchid care instructions for some of the most common first orchids, so they are useful additions to the general orchid care instructions above.
Cattleyas were discovered in 1824 when William Cattley received a sickly plant of Cattleya labiata used as packing material in a shipment of orchids and nursed it back to health. When it bloomed, it created quite a stir! Cattleyas are still among the most popular types of orchids today.
Dendrobium is a large genus, with about 1200 species. They come from many different habitats, so it's necessary to read up on the particular type you intend to grow. They tend to like bright light, but most other care requirements have exceptions. They are one of the most popular types of orchids, and many are quite beautiful.
Many Oncidiums produce long, branching sprays of hundreds of flowers. They appreciate lots of water, and lots of air to the roots, a somewhat tricky combination! The flowers of some species and hybrids are so numerous that blooming plants are sometimes mistaken for swarms of bees.
Paphiopedilums are slipper orchids that come from southeast Asia. Many have attractive, mottled leaves, too! They grow well in relatively low light, which can be convenient for indoor orchid care. They are quite easy to grow, and are among my favorites; my first orchid was a Paphiopedilum.
Phalaenopsis, the Moth Orchid, is one of the most commonly available and easiest to grow orchid genera. It is often the best choice for orchid growing beginners. They have large, showy flowers that come in a wide variety of colors. Most species have several flowers per stem, but some have more, and others have as few as one or two. There are a great many hybrid varieties on the market.
Articles From Nick's Blog
How To Grow Orchids Part One: Easy Orchids For Beginners
How To Grow Orchids Part Two: Caring For Orchids In Our Dry Climatess of which orchid you grow, a few tips will help keep them happy.