Courtesy of Dave Taft and the Long Island Orchid Society.
10. Light: Orchids are flowering plants, and flowers demand energy, which – like all plants – orchids produce through photosynthesis. You will hear experts stating that Phalaenopsis orchids are shade growing. Consider though that “shade” in a commercial greenhouse is different than in a home. Growing an orchid on your dining room table, fifteen feet from the nearest window is darkness, not shade. A beginner to orchids with his or her first “Phal” would do well to put the plant on an east facing windowsill. Cattleyas, or Dendrobiums will do well on an unblocked east, west, or if acclimated, even a south facing window. Place your plants in a prominent spot when you want to show off, but put them back on the windowsill when it’s time for them to grow.
9. Humidity: One of the greatest differences between growing plants in a home and in a greenhouse (or outdoors) is the utter lack of humidity. Humidity in an average home can be as low as 10 – 15% in winter. To give you an idea of what that means, the Sahara desert is said to have average an humidity of about 25%. Humidities of 40 – 50% are recommended for many orchids, more for some specialty species you may occasionally find for sale. Fortunately, orchids are forgiving. Grouping houseplants near your orchids can increase humidity levels, and though not a cure-all, pebble trays can also help. Yes, you can mist your plants, but doing so only improves humidity for a minute or two, and water collecting in the axils of leaves can lead to rot if temperatures cool. Do not mist your plants on winter evenings when they are less likely to dry off.
8. Temperatures: Orchids grow in a wide range of temperatures. Most hybrids sold these days prefer the temperatures we prefer. Many orchids will grow slightly warmer than their preference if you can be sure that a temperature drop of 10 – 15 degrees occurs at night. Generally, this is not hard to reproduce on a windowsill, even in summer. Make friends with a thermometer; find out just what the temperatures are in your growing area.
7. Pots – clay vs. plastic: If you received your orchid as a gift – quickly remove it from any decorative pot or wrapping it may have arrived in, some would even recommend repotting the entire plant immediately. Though pretty, a pot with no drainage holes or a foil wrapper blocks drainage, and water collecting at the roots for too long is a sure death sentence for your plant. You needn’t throw the decorative pots and wraps away, when you display your blooming orchid on the dining room table or your entry area, you can place the pot back into the decorations to show off, but when the plant is growing on your windowsill, a pot with good drainage is best.
6. Potting Medium – “It’s not about soil!” Most orchids are epiphytic, which means they grow on tree branches, trunks, or in the junctions where they meet. Houseplant orchids are not parasites, but they are not growing in soil. There are many commercially available orchid media on the market, most are not ideal in that they are too coarse for effective orchid growing. This said, they are infinitely better than potting soil. A consistently popular subject among participants at an orchid society meeting is choosing the best potting “medium” for the wide variety of orchids grown by society members. The culture corner of the Long Island Orchid Society is a good place to learn where to find the best media.
5. Species vs. Hybrids: Species orchids are orchids which are genetically identical to those found growing in the wild. Generally speaking, these orchids are less flexible in their growing requirements than hybrid plants. If you recall your high school biology class – a plant will have a binomial “name”…Genus and species. Species plants will have a lower case second name. For example: Brassavola nodosa is a species orchid native to Central America.
Hybrid orchids are those which have been interbred from species plants to produce desirable traits such as longer flower life, larger flowers, tighter, more compact growth, or warmth tolerance, just for example. A hybrid plant will have capital letters in both its genus and species names. You are also far more likely to understand “plain English” (rather than Latin) in the name of a hybrid. For example: Brassavola “Little Stars” is a hybrid.
4. Watering – The light touch: Nothing is more discussed than proper watering among orchid growers. As a general rule, it is far better to underwater – especially in winter – than to overwater. When new growths are emerging on your orchid, the plant is in active growth, and requires water. If the plant is not in growth, slow your watering down. There are several general recommendations for plants in the orchid marketplace – these recommendations should be seen as recommendations, not hard and fast rules. It will generally take more than three ice cubes a week to keep a plant alive, likewise, watering your plant strictly “2x per week” can be deadly. Instead, learn to judge the weight of the orchid in its pot. An adequately watered plant will feel considerably heavier than a plant which has not been watered for days. Generally, for most commonly purchased orchids, allowing the plant to thoroughly dry between watering’s is desirable. When you water, bring the plantto a sink and let water flow through the pot completely for about a minute or so. What results is a happy, well watered plant.
3. Fertilizing: A good rule of thumb for fertilizing orchids during the plants’ actively growing period (do not fertilize plants that do not show signs of growth) is “weakly, weekly” each week provide some fertilizer at no more than a quarter of the amount generally recommended on the fertilizer package. So if the box says, 1 teaspoon in a gallon of water, you would fertilize at ¼ teaspoon in a gallon of water.
2. Record Keeping: Though orchid blooms are memorable, it is interesting that after a year, it is hard to recall when the orchid bloomed. It is even harder to recall when it was that the plant was last repotted. The white tag in your orchid can be used as a simple record keeping tool. In my own records, an (R) next to a date means I repotted on that date (for example “2/13/16- R” means I last repotted the plant on February 13, 2016. “2/13/16 – F” means that the plant last flowered on this date. Write in pencil on your tags, even permanent markers fade over time, not so with lead.
1. And the final NUMBER ONE recommendation – Join an Orchid Society to learn more. Members of the Long Island Orchid Society (LIOS) come from all walks of life, and range from beginners growing one or two plants on a windowsill, to the seriously addicted greenhouse grower with thousands of plants under his or her care. The Long Island Orchid Society (LIOS) meets the second Thursday of each month at 7:30 pm at the Knights of Columbus, Joseph Barry Council 2520, 45 Heitz Place, in Hicksville, NY.
Highlights of the monthly meetings include:
* “Culture Corner” – Beginners and experts alike meet before the featured speaker to discuss specific aspects of orchid growing. Learn in person in a small group setting with dedicated club experts, and with actual plants to examine (past subjects have included repotting, mounting orchids, orchid ailments, growing specific species and many other subjects.)
* Show table – Members of all levels whether growing on windowsills, under lights, or in greenhouses, are encouraged to bring their plants to the meetings to share their experiences. A fun and interactive activity, the show table is an opportunity for questions and answers. It is also an opportunity to recognize fine growing. You’re guaranteed to pick up new tips and tricks for growing – or simply discover a plant you may wish to try growing.
* Speakers – The main attraction of the evening is an hour long presentation from any one of hundreds of internationally recognized orchid growers about a wide range of orchid topics. Speakers often bring plants for sale to society members.