Growing Orchids

Mary Ann Ryan
Adams County Master Gardener

Once  upon a time, before kids, I grew orchids. Not in a big way Ė I didnít have a greenhouse or anything like that Ė but I had a huge window, ceiling to floor, that the orchids just loved. Ladyís Slippers, Moth orchids, Dendrobiums, Cymbidiums all seemed to love my window and the environment in which they lived. The greenhouse that I worked in at the time had a huge orchid collection. We divided, cared and sold beautiful orchids throughout the year, but the winter was absolutely the peak for flowering as well as interest in the orchids. Everything I learned about these incredibly cool plants was from those I worked with and the work I did with the orchids. Growing orchids became a fun winter gardening project for me as it did for many of our customers.

Then my husband and I had a baby. As they say, life changes once a little one comes into it, and my orchid collection certainly was one of those things that changed. One by one, my orchids either dried up or fell down and broke. We moved to a new home, had a second child, and I got a new job. As a result of all this change, I neglected the orchids to the point of death. As a result, no more orchids for me.

Now that one of our daughters is in college, and the other halfway through high school, my interest in tropical plants, specifically orchids, is starting to grow again. Not that I have lots of free time; Iím just ready to allocate it differently. I blame this renewed interest on my friend who has two huge hibiscus -- tropical plants that do fine in the house with great care. After admiring hers, and three years of trying to grow hibiscus in my house and quickly giving up, Iím ready to tackle the commitment again. Along with the hibiscus, I have a Moth orchid that I am having great success with. I think I have found the right lighting for the plants and a room that I can keep the kittens out of! But hereís the thing, I need to relearn the trade of growing orchids again.

In my search, I am reminded how easy it can be with a bit of effort. Some generalizations can be made when it comes to orchid growing. Generally speaking, east facing windows are best. Direct sun is less tolerated by most orchids. Watering once per week, generally, is acceptable. And placing the orchid on a tray of pebbles allows for higher humidity around the plant.

The potting medium depends on the type of orchid. Some orchids, like Cymbidiums and Paphiopedilums (considered terrestrial or semi-terrestrial ), like a more traditional potting mix of fir bark, peat moss and perlite, while other orchids, like Phalaenopsis, Cattleya and Oncidium (considered epiphytes) prefer a mix of fir bark, charcoal and perlite.

Fertilization is a requirement for growing orchids. Depending on the genus, some may require more than others. But generally, an orchid food mixed at half the recommended rate and applied weekly is probably a good overall feeding schedule.

Repotting of most orchids can and probably should be done yearly. The potting medium of the epiphytes tends to break down, and as the media breaks down, roots tend to rot. Be sure youíre using the correct potting medium for the type of orchid youíre working with.

So after trying your hand at orchid growing, youíll learn more and more about specific types and what can be tweaked to make them grow better or bloom better. Some may need more or less watering at different growing stages, others may need the fertilizer rate changed. But whatever the needs are of the plants, you are always learning and growing!

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