WHAT ARE ORCHIDS?
Orchids are actually the most numberous flowering plants on Earth. They occupy every niche and climate except the oceans and the poles. There are some here in North America that you can find while hiking in the spring and summer months. Most, however, are from the tropics and subtropics. This means that the ones most commonly available like to have the same temperatures we all feel comfortable in our homes: 65 degrees at night, and certainly no hotter than 85 degrees during the day in the summer. This means most of the very showy orchids make wonderful houseplants. For most any room in your home, there is a orchid that would thrive.
WHY ARE ORCHIDS SO POPULAR?
It started in the Victorian Era when wealthy collectors in Europe sent explorers to the tropics to find the most desirable orchid for just them. At this time, that meant several week's travel on a ship, and most arrived dead or at least rootless. Nonetheless, these wealthly British (mostly) built glass houses heated with coal furnaces (no air circulation) to basically torture the humidity-loving plant with no roots. Occasionally one would flowers and cause hysterical madness, furthering the collectors to send more explorers out to collect exotic plants. The madness resulted in the instructions to the explorer to collect everything in sight, stripping the area of orchids, and then, set the place on fire, so no one else could possibly have the absolutely most beatiful orchid that the first collector has. Not exactly conservation.
Nowadays, orchid species have been able to be cloned, with the exception of the lady slipper orchids. This allowed the price overall to come down. Also, man has actually been able to breed different genus' with each other if they are in the same alliance, or if they are closely related. These are called intergenerics, and are some of the most tolerant to variable growing conditions, so they are easy to grow. This means that hot or cold, humid or not, wet or dry, they have an easier time adapting to the grower's habitat.
HOW DO I CARE FOR MY ORCHID?
This depends on which plant has won your heart over. Certain orchids don't need much light: Phaleanopsis, Paphiopedilums, Miltoniopsis and Masdevallias. Certian others require much more light: Vandas, Dendrobiums and Cattleyas come to mind. There is most likely a spot in your home, which can suit the need of any of these, so choose according to what your heart tells you, and we will tell you where and how to grow it.
WHAT IF SOMETHING IS MAKING MY ORCHID SICK?
A number of pests consider orchids caviar and would preferentially choose to dine on your orchid than the fern nearby. However, there are some tried and true remedies to eradicate these monsters from the orchids as well as any houseplant you have. For each orchid, and houseplant, for that, matter, learn how to water properly, which will cut way down on any disease or fungus problems. Should these occur, there are steps to tkae to heal them.
WHY SHOULD I REPOT MY ORCHID?
Your orchid has lived 4 to 7 years before appearing before in full bloom. This means it has been optimally humid and perfectly lit conditions at the optium temperatures for day and night to be sent to the place where you could but them in their perfection. This means that the potting media did great in their growing area but likely won't do as well in the home. Also, the growers have the watering down to a science, and to fit their greenhouse condition, and now the plant is coming into entirely different envirnoment than it grew up in. In general, it will do fine in the home while it is still flowering, but should be repotted to see how the roots are doing once the flowers have faded. This allows the potting media to be changed into something, like a bark mix, that does better in the typical home than plain sphagnum moss or a mostly moss mix. Also, sphagnum moss tends to compress after 8 months and the bark is broken down within 1.5 years, so potting mixes need to be changed out or the roots can't breathe.
WHAT ARE THE THINGS TO REMEMBER FOR EACH TYPE OF ORCHID?
Water early in the day (don't let them go to bed wet). Use room temperature water. Use urea-free nitrogen for fertilizer. Mist the plant, not the flowers. Keep in a tray or saucer filled with rocks or gravel so water can be in this tray/saucer to just below the level of the orchid pot to make a humid microclimate around the orchid. Ferns, African Violets, and other tropical plants in the area of the orchid/s make the area more humid and makes the display more beautiful, though do avoid begonias, as there is a possibility of bugs causing problems. ALWAYS sterilize your cutting instruments with a FLAME between plants, as you will transmit viruses from one plant to another if you don't. Neither alcohol nor bleach will protect against virus. Wash your fingernails thoroughly, but since you can't flame these, use an alcohol-based "hand sterilizer" or wear and switch gloves. These measures are usually only necessary when repotting more than one orchid.
PHALEANOPSIS or The Moth Orchid
These flowers easily last 3 months or more; and when finished, if the stem is cut just above a node, it often re-branches and blooms some more. Avoid getting water in the crown, or at least dab it off before the afternoon if you are foliar feeding. Repot when the main blooms have finished, and replace moss with a mostly bark media and then adjust watering to ensure the plant never completely dries out. Lift the pot to determine if its weight indicates it has enough water to go another day.
PAPHIOPEDILUM or The Slipper Orchid
This is the easiest orchid for the first time orchid grower. Just never ever let it dry out completely. In fact, if in a plastic pot, let it sit in its own water for until it is dry 2 days, and then re-water it. Keep it in an East window and it will rebloom within 6 months to a year, and it's blossom lasts 5 to 8 weeks. If the leaves turn a little yellow, use the grow formula and switch to purified, rain, or distilled water.
These are happiest when left in a basket with no potting media and watered daily. This way they have no disease and usually no bug problems. They never really go dormant and so require lots of light, water, fertilizer, and would like lots of humidity but if watered daily can forgive this requirement. If you can provide the western window, it will bloom typically twice a year with flowers so beautiful you can't help but stare. These flowers easily last 6 weeks or more!
These are typically found all over for even really inexpensive prices. However, they are not the easiest. The trick is to keenly observe the plant you have: If it is producing new growth (and not a keiki), then it needs water and fertilizer. It ALWAYS needs high light. The easiest way to grow them is to summer them outside, then bring them in for the winter when the temps get into the 40's. At this point, study what the plant is doing. If it not doing anything, don't water it nor fertilize until it does send out a new growth. If it is in flower, water and fertilize. Let it tell you what it wants. Growing? Water. Not doing anything? Ignore. Always, though, high light. If you summer it outside, consider applying a drench to remove planting media bugs, and most certainly check the stems for scale. (A trick to summering orchids outside to avoid slugs and earwigs: Hang them from trees! Apple trees are preferred!)
In California, they can remain outside all year round. Here, they need to be out from the middle of March until late November to experience the day/night differential in temperature as well as an actual chill to set the buds. There is an exact fertilizer schedule for these orchids. Bloom fertilizer from the end of August until Feb, then switch to high Nitrogen grow fertilizer. These are semi-terrestrials that do well in a mix of bark and potting soil. The Whitney Farms Orchid potting Mix is ideal, though you may choose to add a little more big bark to it to ensure drainage. If you get a plant in bloom past Mother's day, forget about the chill factor until next year. Repot these beauties around Mother's day as long as they are finished blooming. Divide as necessary, but remember you need at least 4 psuedobulbs per division to have a blooming size plant.
These are also slipper orchids but they need high light instead of a lower light. They are almost a bog orchid and need constant moisture. In the home, a mix of bark with some chopped sphagnum moss in a plastic pot in a saucer will work, but use rain or distilled water. Let the saucer be dry 2 days before you water it again.
High light and let it dry out just barely between waterings.
The Queen of the Orchids! (the corsage orchid) Though the blooms last 3 to 6 weeks, the magnificence is unequalled. These plants have storage organs called pseudobulbs which hold water, so they need to dry slightly between waterings. They require a South or West window to have enough light to re-bloom. Re-pot after blooming and mist for 2 weeks in lieu of watering until it becomes re-established.
The pansy orchids: They like it cool and humid, and will show accordion-pleated foliage if this isn't met. The/are the fastest growing orchid and can bloom with only one pseudobulb, but you must mist them daily and keep in an East window. Since they row so fast, do re-pot after each bloom cycle. If the tips of the leaves turn color, use only rain or distilled water. The incredible bloom is well worth the effort!
"Dancing Ladies": These are often incorporated into the INTERGENERICS, and so the culture is similar: These last 6 to 9 weeks and resemble a maiden at a Ball, like in Cinderella. A famous hybrid called Sharry Baby is so heavily scented with chocolate that it has become known as the "Chocolate Orchid". Basically they prefer the night temperatures to drop into the low 60'S so next to a bright window makes theri1happy. Let them dry slightly between waterings.
ODNTOGLOSSUMS These are often bred with the Conidium's which makes their cool requirements not so picky. They want it very cool, almost like Cymbidiums, so summer them outside on the East side of the house and let them get down low to the mid 40's. In the house during the winter, keep them near a window and maybe plug in a humidifier near them. The flowers are to die for so the cost of the humidifier is quickly forgotten. They like a lot of light, perhaps the south window.