An introduction to Orchids, including the items to consider when selecting an Orchid, is necessary before going into the basics of an Orchid’s care. While Orchids are beautiful and popular flowering plants, I would not recommend them as a plant for someone just learning to care for plants. See The Best Indoor Plants for Beginners and start with something more basic such as Spider Plants or Cyclamen before you move on to these slightly more challenging plants.
Introduction to Orchids
Currently there are approximately 25,000 – 30,000 species of Orchids with new ones being discovered on every continent but Antarctica. Orchids are not considered to be poisonous plants, but because there are so many species it’s best to be safe and call poison control if a person or animal ingests one.
In addition, Orchid breeders have produced approximately 30,000 hybrids. Orchids are one of the most popular types of houseplants; specifically the Phalaenopsis (Fail-uh-NOP-sis), Cymbidium (sim-bid-ee-uhm), and Dendrobium (den-droh-bee-uhm) types of orchids. [Here is a helpful pronunciation page for common orchid names]
The Vanilla Orchid (Figure 2) is the most highly produced, giving us the vanilla bean commonly used to flavor our drinks and desserts.
Often erroneously considered tropical plants, Orchids grow naturally in most climates. Contrary to most of our thinking, Hawaii only has three native orchids whereas Maine has 48! African Violets and Palm Plants are actually more tropical than most Orchids.
Orchids do not grow in soil. [Most wild orchids attach themselves by roots to the sides of trees and branches absorbing water and nutrients from the air and rain; the plants hoard water in thick leaves, stems and roots.] Some flower pots are made specifically for orchids that accommodate their special growth needs.
Thousands of varieties of Orchids produce pure white blossoms or white with another color.
Some of the White Orchid class most commonly available include:
- Phalaenopsis (so-called moth orchids)
- Paphiopedilum (Paff-ee-oh-ped-di-lum)
- Cattleyas (Kat-lee-ya)
Choosing an Orchid
Do your own research making notes on an Orchid’s care before you buy, keeping in mind mature size, temperatures required, amount of sunlight, dormancy periods (if any), when the Orchid blooms, plant health care, and watering, to help find the correct plant for your environment. Bear specific things in mind such as:
- The majority of best-known Orchids are hybrids created by breeders. These hybrids were created to accentuate the beauty of the blossoms and make them more adaptable to homes
- Will the Orchid have enough space in my designated spot at maturity
- Can I provide the correct temperatures
- Can I make a greenhouse atmosphere if necessary
- Buy a mature, flowering plant; a seedling might take as long as five years to bloom.
- Choose a plant with buds that have not yet opened because that will give you more time to enjoy the flowers before they drop
Basic Orchid Care
Orchids need to have their natural conditions replicated closely. They generally grow on other objects such as bark or stone. The phalaenopsis hybrids or dendrobium hybrids are usually the choice of orchids grown indoors. They can thrive under correct conditions of strong, indirect late-afternoon lighting (dendrobiums will take more sun than the Phalaenopsis); high humidity; strong air flow around the roots; regular periods of drying out then being drenched; and temperatures in the range of 50-85 degrees. Store-bought orchids usually cause root rot as they are potted in wet moss inside of cheap plastic pots with no air flow and no chance of drying out. Do not repot a blooming Orchid; later, cut off the dead blossom and spike with sterile clippers. Take it out of the plastic pot; gently remove the moss—the roots should be firm and white with a speck of green apparent; trim off any black or obviously rotted roots. Set it into a sterile plant pot and fill it with orchid potting mixture. The new roots will soon grow and anchor the orchid to the pot.
- Water your orchid about once a week and let it dry out somewhat before re-watering.
- Concerning temperature – Lower the thermostat at night by about ten degrees – this causes the orchid to set flower buds. Although Orchids are classified in 3 (three) groups: warm-, intermediate-, and cool-growing, many of them can tolerate exposure to slightly warmer/cooler temperatures without suffering.
- Most orchids require at least six (6) hours of light each day. If you do not have the proper natural lighting, consider artificial lighting.
- Humidity of 50% or more is required – consider using a humidifier or misting daily at least six inches above the top of the Orchid.
- Fertilization needs are small but to keep your plants healthy and blooming, apply a weak solution of 20-10-20 fertilizer once a week. Fertilize to encourage the plant to bloom again after the blossoms have dropped.
Amazon.com offers many informative books on how to care for Orchids.
Sources and Citations
http://www.wikihow.com/Care-for-Orchids – research source
http://houseplants.about.com/od/growingorchidsinside/a/Orchidshouse.htm – research source