Growing and Caring for Orchids

Marc Montefusco
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

Despite their reputation as delicate and difficult plants, most Orchids are surprisingly tough. Normally it is fairly easy to keep them alive, even under less-than perfect conditions, but the real trick is to get them to bloom again.

The first thing we need to know, however, is the kind of orchid your have. Some Orchards grow in the ground like garden plants. These terrestrial orchids include native and garden species, but they also Tropicals like the Paphiopedilulns - a generic name which means, roughly translated, Venus' footwear, or if you like "lady’s Slipper"

Related to the native lady Slippers (who’s generic name, Cyprl pedium, means exactly the same things as Paphiopedilulns) these terrestrial orchids feature distinctive, boldly-patterned flowers with a bulbous lip and an arum-like sepal. They require moderately high light levels but will usually do well in, a bright window.

Some have beautiful foliage an gorgeous flowers, so even if they do not bloom, they still make attractive houseplants. Paphs are comfortable in about the same range of temperature and humidity ranges you are.

Some "corsage orchards" are also terrestrial. Cymbidiums, whose individual flowers often wind up on the wrist of female prom goers, are not usually offered for sale as plants in this area and are in fact very demanding to grow.

They need a combination of high light levels and relatively temperatures. Without a special greenhouse set-up, it is difficult to grow and bloom Cymbidiums in Maryland with our dark winters and muggy summers.

Other familiar orchids are epiphytic, that is, they grow on other plants. This includes Cattleyas, whose large, ruffled lip and bright colors make them a popular corsage orchid, and Dendrobiurns, which are often found in garden centers.

In their native habitat these orchids live high in the rainforest canopy, enjoying bright filtered light, constant air movement, fairly high humidity, and frequent quick drenchings. You might be able to Provide similar conditions in your home if you can place them in bright window and mist them frequently

The white Styrofoam-like roots of these epiphytes are a good clue to their health -- when these roots become gray and stringy, the plant is probably suffering.

The most rewarding houseplant orchids are generally considered to be the genus Phalaenopsis and its hybrids. The generic name means "Moth-like," and the common name for these spectacular flowers is moth orchid. Phals are epiphytic, requiring high humidity but relatively low light levels.

If you place them in a north or slightly shaded window over a pebble tray, keep them warm and give them frequent mistings, they should flower annually with a display that can last for months.

Whites and Pinks are the most common colors but you can also find boldly patterned yellows, candy stripes and some color combinations that defy description

If your orchid thrives, it Will eventually have to be repotted. While terrestrials can be potted in ordinary potting soil, epiphytes require special bark or tree fern media. This can sometimes be found at the same garden centers

I must give you fair warning, however - if you think love hurts now, wait until you fall in with orchids. Much like marriage, the pain - and pleasure - never stop.

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