A number of orchid varieties can be grown at home

January 22, 2004
AMY GILNER
Victoria County
Master Gardener

I am quite fond of the orchid, a flowering plant that I think everyone should own. Its flowers come in many colors. Some of my favorites are red, bright yellow, orange, and deep purple. The size of the flowers can vary from barely visible to the naked eye to four or five inches across. The larger flowers make a huge impact, but the tiny ones are quite fascinating.

Orchid blooms can last only a day or two, or as long as six months depending on the variety selected. Some blooms resemble insects. The phalaenopsis is often called the "moth orchid" because of the flower's resemblance to a moth. The blooms of the oncidium are often called "dancing ladies" because the bloom is smaller at the top resembling a woman's body, and the bottom portion looks like a woman's skirt. When your plant is not in bloom you can group it with others and continue caring for it as usual until it blooms again. I have seen some people put silk orchid flowers in the pot when the plant is not in bloom, but this is something I would not do.

There are a number of varieties that are easy to grow in the home and can be purchased locally for about $20.00. Some of the names you will see are phalaenopsis, cattleya, oncidium, paphiopedilum, and epidendrum. The first thing they need is a lot of light, but not direct sun. I grow mine in the house, in a shaded greenhouse, and under a bald cypress tree. They will do well in rooms with east, west, and southern exposures. If you have plantation shutters or blinds on your windows you can grow them on the windowsill. Filtered light is just what they like. Don't let them get direct sun or the leaves will burn and the plant can be damaged. Outside the home they can be grown almost anywhere you want as long as the leaves do not get direct sunlight. If you are growing them outside you will need to protect them from freezing temperatures. My orchids have done quite well in temperatures from 38 to 100 degrees.

Next let's discuss water and fertilizer. Something I was told by another orchid grower is "water weekly, weakly," meaning water every week with a weak solution of fertilizer. This is an easy thing to remember. Most orchids do not die from under-watering, but from over-watering. Orchids are epiphytes, meaning they grow on things such as trees and rocks. They use what they grow on for support only, not as a food source. The roots are exposed to light, water, and air.

When growing orchids in the home, they are being grown out of their natural habitat in a pot with either bark or rock. It is important to wet your orchid medium well, meaning really let the water run through, and then let it dry out before watering again. I water my orchids in clay pots one to two times a week in the winter, and two to three times a week in the summer. Orchids in plastic pots I water once a week in the winter and twice a week in the summer.

Fertilizer will keep your orchid healthy and give it the energy it needs to bloom. Fertilizer should be used once a week. The best fertilizer is water-soluble and it should be balanced, meaning all three numbers should be the same (e.g. 10-10-10 or 20-20-20.) You will need to use less fertilizer than directed; I use about 1/4 to 1/2 of what is recommended on the package.

Now for a little bit of information about repotting, always wait until your orchid is finished blooming before you repot. It is also best to repot in the peak of its growing season, usually June through September. Orchids need to be repotted every two to three years because the bark breaks down and will not dry out as quickly. Remember that orchids do not like wet soggy roots. Also, just because you are re-potting, it doesn't mean you have to put your orchid in a larger pot. You are really just replacing the bark. If your orchid is top-heavy, then a larger pot may be needed. Gently pull the orchid out of the pot and remove as much of the old bark as you can. I recommend buying a bag of orchid bark or orchid mix at one of our local garden centers. Orchid bark is bark only; orchid mix might contain perlite, sphagnum moss, and coal as well as bark. Put a little bark in the bottom of the pot and then hold the orchid at the rim of the pot letting the roots dangle into the pot. Add bark until the pot is full and the orchid is supported. You can gently shake the pot to get the bark to move down around the roots.

After repotting, you may need to water your orchid a little more often for the next month or so. Then you should begin to notice nice white roots growing with a bit of green at the tip. This is a good sign that your orchid is doing well.

So, there you have it. An orchid needs light, water, and fertilizer, and can grow in a variety of environments and climates. This is a great plant for Victoria, and I encourage you to give one or several a try.