Caring for Orchids - Care Advice
about Phalaenopsis, Cambrian and Cymbidiums
At this time of year,
many people start hungering for the fresh colours and
scents of the great outdoors. If you’re tired of the usual
narcissus that you’ve had blooming since Christmas, it may
be time to try your hand at growing orchids indoors.
Follow our advice for successful orchid growing.
Orchids have a reputation
for being difficult to cultivate, but with a little
knowledge and by following our caring for orchids advice
tips, you’ll find you can keep one alive fairly easily, as
long as you give the plant what it wants and needs. And
you don’t need a privately-endowed trust fund for the
plants, either. Today, you can buy orchids at many
discount home or gardening stores for not much more than
other flowering houseplants.
Left - Cambrian Orchid
Not only are these flowers beautiful, coming in a
great variety of colours, shapes and scents, but the
plants themselves seem otherworldly. Most people
wonder, “How can I possibly care and grow this plant
in a pot, when in nature it grows hanging off a tree
The reason you can, is that most popular cultivated orchids are epiphytes, or
air plants, which most often grow on trees or the surfaces of rocks. Their roots
are usually exposed to air and get nutrients chiefly when it rains. As a result,
these varieties are not grown in soil: they should be grown in pots full of tree
bark, with some crumbled charcoal. (If you have a humid greenhouse, you can grow
them attached to wood or cork plaques, but don’t try this in your windowsill
Caring for Orchids
There are many popular types of orchid, including
vandas. Phalaenopsis, which are popularly known as the
“moth orchids,” are commonly recommended for most beginners. As testament to the
great variety of orchids, there are over 70 species in the genus, and there are
probably several thousand named hybrids. Currently this is the easiest one to
find at the florist shop, the greenhouse, or the plant fair, and the one that
most people immediately recognize as an orchid. Surprisingly, there is not much
advice about caring for orchids.
First, when choosing an individual plant, look for clean, shiny leaves, and
don’t worry if you see some roots out of the mix; the roots like being exposed
to the air, and should look healthy and plump, not broken-up and spindly. Next,
it is always best to buy a plant already in flower so you see what you are
getting — this way you’ll see the colour and you’ll verify that you have a
healthy, mature plant capable of having flowers.
Once you get the plant home, you need to make sure your phalaenopsis is happy
with the amount of light it’s getting. Too much light, and the leaves will turn
yellow; too little, and the leaves will be dark green, and the plant itself will
start looking scrawny and won’t flower. Phalaenopsis prefer medium amounts of
not-too-bright sunshine, as found in most east- or west-facing windows.
When Europeans first began cultivating orchids, they thought that because
orchids were native to hot, humid climates, they had to have round-the-clock
heat and humidity. In reality, like many other popular orchids, phalaenopsis are
rather ideally suited to a bright window in a home in a temperate climate; they
like daytime temperatures of about 80 degrees F, and night time temperatures of
about 60 degrees. It’s the change in temperature that’s crucial for successfully
growing most orchids; if there isn’t enough of a temperature drop at night, the
orchids may not bloom.
Phalaenopsis Orchids Advice
While phalaenopsis don’t need lots of heat, they do need a level of humidity
that isn’t found in most homes outside of a rainforest. To supplement the
humidity in your home, you can use a room humidifier, or a smaller humidifier
that will just keep the area around the plants moist. Also, many indoor growers
keep their orchids above a “humidity tray” instead of using saucers under the
pots. The runoff from watering your plants goes into the tray and evaporates,
providing extra humidity.
Try to keep your phalaenopsis watered. Don’t let the potting medium dry out
completely, but water the plant whenever the medium gets to the point of being
only slightly damp. That said, one of the most common ways of killing an orchid
is by overwatering. To prevent this, check the weight of the pot every day.
Right after you water, the pot should be heavy; when dry, the pot will be light.
Note how long it takes for the pot to become dry and then water every few days
as necessary. Small pots will dry out faster than larger ones. Since most home
windowsills are not very humid, you should use plastic pots, which help retain
Most commercial orchid potting medium is made of tree bark mixed with charcoal
and perlite chunks. If it turns out you suffer from the common inclination to
overwater, you should use a coarser grade of mix when you re-pot. Overwatering
will eventually kill your plant, since the roots will be robbed of the air they
Use houseplant food with a “balanced” ratio of 18 nitrogen, 18 phosphorous and
18 potassium, or any similar formula. Only use about ½ to ¼ the amount per
gallon that is recommended on the package, since orchids don’t need as much of
this food as other plants who are fed with this 18-18-18 mix.
If just a lone orchid sitting in the window isn’t decorative enough for you, put
the pot in a pretty cachepot or jardinière to add visual interest. Always use a
waterproof container! And make sure to put at least an inch of pebbles in the
bottom so the plant won’t sit in water. (Better yet, take the plant and pot out
of the decorative container when you water, and put it back after it has
Orchids grow well with other houseplants. Also, grouping plants attractively in
the window has an unexpected benefit: extra humidity for the orchids!
Since orchids flower in a variety of colours, you’re sure to find a variety you
can grow with a bloom that can complement the other accessories in your home.
Not only are orchids a lovely way to add colour to your home, but they also have
a fascinating history. Starting about 4,000 years ago, the Chinese word for
orchids--“lan”-- appeared in written texts about herbal medicine. Confucius
wrote about orchids, comparing the pleasure of seeing good friends to entering a
room full of fragrant orchids. Meanwhile, in Europe native terrestrial orchids
were used as aphrodisiacs.
The 19th century European frenzy of exploration, combined with the growing
Western interest in tropical orchids, drove orchid prices up and drove many
people to explore the tropics to collect more of the exotic plants.
Unfortunately, this collecting spree led to considerable orchid habitat
destruction, and many species were probably lost forever as a result. Today,
many orchidists - including the American Orchid Society - advocate the purchase
of artificially propagated orchids, either meristem clones or seedlings, which
will help discourage the collecting of orchid species at home and abroad.
The family of orchids is the largest plant family, with a great deal of variety
as well, from miniatures such as Mystacidium caffrum to the 20-foot-tall
Renanthera storei. Some orchids have tiny blooms smaller than a pinhead; others
are bigger than an Easter lily. Some orchids bloom continuously, others bloom
just once a year. Orchids are beautiful, interesting plants that are sure to
enrich your life and bring a little tropical warmth into your winter home.
Below are some other page links for caring for
: x Ascocenda Orchids :
Dendrobium Orchids :
By David Hughes -