Growing Orchids Isn't As Hard As You Think - A Primer For Beginners
By Carolyn McFann
Many people want to grow orchids but don't try, due to fear that they are too difficult to take care of. The truth is, many orchids aren't hard at all to grow. It only takes patience and basic information on their care. Most people who dare to try growing orchids quickly become hooked and eventually end up with a collection of them. Visit an orchid show and talk to people who sell them. They are valuable in helping you choose the right orchid for you to start with. There are orchid societies all over the world so check around. They all have annual shows, where you can find some great bargains on very beautiful orchid species. Here are some key things to remember when venturing into the colorful world of orchids.
Use the correct growing medium for the orchid type you choose
There are different kinds of orchid mediums, as orchids don't grow in dirt like regular plants do. Most of the home hardware super-stores nowadays sell orchids and the bark mix that they grow in. The mix generally sold has charcoal, sphagnum moss, bark, and other ingredients in it. Orchid roots need to have exposure to the air, or the plant will die. This is why you need a mix that has a chunky texture, to give the roots the air they need.
Buy the correct pot to grow the orchid in
There are wooden baskets sold in the hardware stores, for growing orchids that are wonderful. Line the basket with sphagnum moss at the bottom (so the growing medium doesn't fall out the bottom), then use the bark mix inside it. When you buy an orchid plant, take it out of the mixture it is currently growing in, because usually they are packed into pots temporarily, with no air for their roots. Or, their substrate has become stale and soft. You want fresh, new bark mix to surround the roots loosely, so that they are anchored yet still breathe.
There are ceramic orchid pots available, with holes on the sides of them, as well as at the bottom. The more holes in each pot, the better it is for your orchid. Whichever kind of pot or basket you use, either hang it or put it in a place where the roots do not stand in water. When living in a dry climate, I put my orchids on a tray of pebbles, filled with water, so the orchid could absorb the water but not be waterlogged. The roots should not touch the water, so if you want, put a saucer underneath the pot to separate it from getting wet. When you water, make sure to drain the saucer underneath afterwards.
Feed the orchid a weak orchid food, every other week. Do not feed strong amounts of plant food, or the leaves can 'burn." Orchids are slow to react to the chemicals, and anything else. Don't expect instant reaction from them, most of the time there isn't any. They do everything on their own time (bloom, look perky, look wilted, etc.) If your climate is dry, mist or spray your orchid frequently. They love moisture, but don't let pools of water sit on their leaves, just spray them lightly. They will reward you for it with flowers, later.
When the flower stalk dies, the plant goes into "rest" mode, so don't think that it is dead. Some people throw it out, thinking it's given up. It's actually taking a break and regenerating itself. Usually, leaf production increases for awhile, then another stalk appears on its own time schedule. Depending on the type of orchid you choose, they may flower off and on, or infrequently. A good starter orchid is called Phalaenopsis, or the "moth orchid." You will see them all over the place in stores, their round flowers grow on long, thin stalks. They come in colors like pink, white, or yellow. If the flowers aren't touched or bothered, they can last for months. A few of my Phals have had the same flowers for 6 months each! They do well in lower light situation than many other kinds of orchid. Speaking of light, don't put an orchid in full-sun or most likely it will get sunburn (big brown spots may appear on its leaves.) Filtered light is best, most of the time. When you choose a place for the plant, and it is happy, don't move it. Orchids hate being moved. It can affect their flowering if you do, so make them happy and leave them where they are.
With a little time and love, your orchids will thrive. Give them time, and read up on them. Many good basic books on orchid growing are available. In time, you will be going back for another plant, and then another. My orchids live on my balcony, and grow like weeds. They don't need much care, since it is humid where I live, and I live on a lake. Go ahead, give orchids a try. Have fun, and enjoy their exotic beauty.
Carolyn McFann is a scientific and nature illustrator, who owns Two Purring Cats Design Studio, which can be seen at: http://www.cafepress.com/twopurringcats Educated at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, Carolyn is a seasoned, well-traveled artist, writer and photographer. She has lived and worked in Cancun, Mexico, among other interesting professional assignments in other countries. Clients include nature parks, museums, scientists, corporations and private owners. She has been the subject of tv interviews, articles for newspapers and other popular media venues.