August 24, 2009

Care of Orchids - The Container Gardening Guide to Growing Exotic Orchids

By Eric Samms

Orchids add a touch of class to your container gardening collection, but many container gardeners avoid them like nobody's business. These beautiful plants have a reputation for being demanding and difficult specimens to manage.

However I'm hear to tell you that you are missing out on some amazing plants if you haven't explored orchids. Although it is best to make a note of the specific requirements of each variety, Just keeping a few tips in mind will help you avoid the pain and heartache.

1. Start with Easy Care Varieties and Look for good quality plants

There are many popular types of orchid, including cymbidium hybrids, cattleyas, dendrobiums, oncidiums and vandas. For the beginners out there, I recommend staring with an easy care variety such as cymbidium hybrids.


This variety is readily available, easy to grow and easy on the pocket. Phalaenopsis (which are popularly known as the moth orchids) and Cypripediums (also known as slipper orchids) are also an easy variety to manage. are also commonly recommended for most beginners. The draw back of growing some orchids is that the they can grow a lot of foliage. As the flowers may only emerge for one - two months you could spend most of the year with a lot of unsightly leaves. If you prefer a more compact, but still manageable variety, consider the Miltonias.

First, when choosing an individual plant don't worry if you see some roots out of the mix. Orchids are epiphtes i.e. therefore the roots like being exposed to the air, and should look healthy and solid, not broken-up and spindly. It is best to choose plants with firm and shiny leaves and already in flower. Buying orchids in flower allows you to see the color and assess the plant for it's ability to produce healthy flowers.

2. Orchids need sunlight

however I recommend avoiding direct sunlight. If you have any dark areas at home, consider some artificial lighting for a few hours in the day.

Light is the key factor to successfully raise and bloom orchids. It is often possible to determine much light an orchid needs by looking over it's the leaves. The ideal leaf color is a light grass green. If your orchid is receiving too much light, the leaves become very yellow; therefore you will need to move the plant to more shade. If the leaves turn a very deep and dark green the orchid may not be receiving enough light. .
3. Orchids need plenty of humidity.

Place the containers in a gravel tray containing some water (making sure that the water does not reach the top of the pebbles) , or mist at regular intervals. If you keep in mind that humidity is affected by temperature and light, it is better to mist during the day time. Adding humidity late in the day or in the evening may contribute to excessive condensation which could result in leaf and root rot.

4. Orchids are sensitive to draughts and cold temperatures.

Keep them away from draughty windows especially at night.

Cymbidium hybrids like cool rooms with very good light and a minimum temperature of 11?C is ideal between October and May. Phalaenopsis / Doritaenopsis hybrids & Paphiopedilum hybrids
Keep this orchid in a centrally heated room with a minimum temperature of 15?C. Vuylstekeara, Odontocidium, Miltonia, Odontoglossum, Oerstedella, Masdevallia & Epidendrum hybrids
A cool, well-lit position out of direct sunlight with a minimum temperature of 11?C is suitable all year round.

5. Orchids require regular feeding in the summer.

orchids are very adaptable plants, grabbing nutrients from whatever happens to be nearby - leaves, droppings, or minerals in rainwater. Give your orchids a little help by feeding it the right fertilizers. Look for products that contain nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), along with trace elements such as iron.

6. Repot your orchid only when the roots have filled the container, and make sure to use specialist potting mixture from your garden centre.

Different potting mixtures are required for each orchid genus, depending on whether it is land growing or epiphytic (tree growing and obtaining nutrients from the air). Fir bark, coconut husk, tree fern fibers, sphagnum moss usually make up the potting media. Re-potting at regular intervals helps re-fresh the potting media.

Orchids may be potted in a variety of containers, however the container material may influence the watering frequency. Because clay pots dry out faster than other pots, plants in clay pots will need more frequent watering. Do make sure that your pots have good drainage, as orchids and their roots are not designed to stand in water.

7. Over watering is not a good idea.

It is best to water when the compost is almost dry. Most orchids are epiphytes, they are air plants and won't grow in soil. The roots need to dry slightly between watering.

I recommend watering your orchids just once a week in the winter and twice a week in the summer. Of course climatic conditions and potting mixture will affect the amount of moisture retained, so it is always a good idea to test your moisture levels if you are unsure whether to water. Poke your finger in to one inch, and if it feels damp (but not soggy) you don't need to water. Make sure that do not let the potting mixture completely dry either,

As most orchids in the wild grow on trees or other plants, they get moisture from the air. An Allow water run to or be sprayed over the roots and surrounding moss, but do not let them stand in water. Over watering your orchids usually results in mushy, brown, dead roots.

Remember less is more!

I don't recommend watering with tap water, as this is chemically treated. Go for rainwater and preferably at room temperature. The shock of cold water is a contributing factor towards early orchid death,

8. Room temperate in most homes will be acceptable for growing orchids, anywhere between 55F at night and 80F during the day is best.

Another thing to remember is that in their native environment nearly all plants are exposed to constant breezes. Orchids are no exceptions. Moving air will help them and cut down on disease problems. A small fan will quickly pay for itself by giving you better growing conditions.

In the wild, gentle continual breezes along the leafy canopy of the rain forest are vital for the survival of orchids and other air plants. Air movement acts as preventive medicine for orchids. It helps evaporate stagnant water, trapped during watering, where fungi and bacteria breed. Without ventilation or fresh circulating air, orchids eventually die from rot, lack of a continual carbon dioxide source, or infection. Ventilation also helps orchids tolerate intense light without getting burnt leaves.

You can easily improve air movement in your home so orchids grow happily. During the summer, when temperatures are high, open windows to allow fresh air to come inside. And when wintertime comes, you can use an ordinary oscillating fan to mimic the gentle breezes in the leafy canopy of a tropical forest. It is important to occasionally change the direction of the airflow so the area does not dry out.
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