Growing Orchids In Your Home

Growing Phalaenopsis and Dendrobium orchids in your home is easy and rewarding. It is only necessary to meet three simple environmental requirements.

Despite their exotic looks and unfair reputation for being difficult and temperamental, orchids are actually very easy to grow in the house. Almost everyone has a place where a few orchid plants can be made happy, without a major refit of existing facilities.

THE THREE BASIC REQUIREMENTS

Orchids have three requirements to thrive and bloom in your home. If you can meet at least two of these requirements perfectly the third can fall a bit short and your plants will still flourish. All orchids have very specific ranges of temperature, humidity, and light, within which they will thrive. If you carefully select your plants with this in mind you should be easily able to find ones appropriate for growing in the conditions you can provide.

TWO PRIME CANDIDATES

Two of the easiest types of orchid for the beginner are Dendrobium hybrids and Phalaenopsis hybrids. While there are some finicky members in both families, you will have no trouble finding easy ones almost anywhere. "Almost anywhere" now includes supermarkets, mega-stores (like Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target), and monster home-owner supply stores (Home Depot and Lowes). Many florists now sell orchid plants in elaborate living arrangements. These plants will usually do well if they are taken good care of as soon as they enter your home.

Both of these orchids come in a wide variety of colors, but you will be most likely to find purple, pink, lavender, and white. Some Phalaenopsis (sometimes called "moth orchid" because of the flower shape) are striped or spotted as well. Phals and Dendrobiums also come in yellow and orange, but you are unlikely to find these easily or cheaply. As a novice orchid fancier, you should stick to the inexpensive plants that are commonly found.

HOW MUCH TO PAY

Blooming Dendrobiums in 2-inch pots can usually be found for around four to five dollars. Larger plants will cost more, naturally. Phals in bloom usually start around eight dollars. Novices should avoid spending more than twelve dollars for single plants. With orchids, it is better to have more smaller plants than only one or two large ones. It will be easier to maintain their humidity requirements if you have four pots or more.

As you become more experienced at growing orchids and learn how to meet their needs in your home, you may want to branch out into named varieties and rare species types. This is part of the fun of orchid culture and judicious selection will guarantee something in bloom all year long. Serious growers buy their plants from professional orchid breeders and there are many. Their plants are offered online, by mail order, and directly from the nursery if close enough to visit. You will be surprised at the large range of price, from a few dollars for common, easily propagated types to many hundreds of dollars for rare show plants.



KEEPING YOUR PLANTS HAPPY AND BLOOMING

Before you bring any plants home, decide where they will live. Phals and Dendrobiums have pretty similar growing requirements. Both are happy in medium light (Dendrobiums will take bright light) and thrive at human-comfort temperatures. Phals can go as cool as 55 F (13 C) but Dendrobiums prefer it a bit warmer, around 65 F (18 C). Most bathrooms with a window can supply both light and heat requirements for these plants. Humidity is actually easier than you might think. Bathrooms tend to be humid places anyway, but by keeping your plants in a tray full of wet gravel you will ensure a mini-environment for their special enjoyment. Most homes are too dry in winter, anyway, so if you want to go to the added trouble of getting a humidifier, your plants and sinuses will thank you many times over.

WATERING AND FERTILIZING - Keep your Phalaenopsis orchids moist but not sopping wet. They have large attractive leaves, usually dark green with some purple tinges. If the leaves start to wrinkle your plants are way too dry. Dendrobiums prefer to dry out between waterings. Don't let them get so dry they go dormant and lose their leaves. Fertilize with water-soluble 20-20-20 or special orchid fertilizer. Peters makes a fine orchid fertilizer but their 20-20-20 is equally good. If you mix up a weak solution, about ¼ strength, you can feed every time you water.

BLOOMS AND BLOOM SPIKES - Your plants will come home in full bloom. Phal flowers last for months. When the last bloom finally fades and falls off, DO NOT cut that long bloom spike. These plants frequently will send up more bloom from nodes along the spike. Only remove the spike when it turns brown and woody. New spikes will arise from the base of the plant and will sometimes look like new roots at first. Unless you have lots of space for the spikes to droop naturally, be sure to keep them securely staked. It is heartbreaking to have a bloom-laden spike accidentally broken by careless watering or playfull pets.

Dendrobiums send their spikes from the tips of the new-growth canes. New canes will emerge from the base of the plant and the older ones will die back. Often the older canes will produce new plantlets, called "kikkys." When these bonus babies have good root growth they can be potted up for gifts or to add to your collection. Some types of Dendrobium will kikky all over and each one will bloom. If you find yourself with one of these, leave them on the momma plant to create a real conversation piece.

REPOTTING, A WAY TO INCREASE NUMBERS - Phals just get bigger and bigger with time. These plants are long-lived and the larger they get the more bloom spikes they will send up. When your plants out-grow their pots, gently remove them and pick away as much of the old potting medium as possible (only repot when not in bloom) and, working carefully, place the plant in a larger pot, inserting new potting medium in and around the roots. If you find any dead or broken roots, snip them off. Sometimes Phals will kiky from the bloom spike or base. These plants can be potted separately or keep on the momma plant.

Dendrobiums keep sending up new shoots from the base. Some vigorous plants will produce many new shoots from all sides. When the pot is full to over-flowing, you can divide the plant, keeping at least one or two good shoots per new plant, or just move the whole thing into a larger pot. With Dendrobiums, you will want to remove old dead canes to keep the plant attractive.

Orchid potting medium is sold in better garden centers. Select small-sized material for Phals and Dendrobiums, fir bark the size of small lima beans is good. A product called Servoâ-¢ is wonderful for potting most types of orchids. It is very easy to work with, much like soil. If you see it offered for sale, by all means buy some.

PESTS - Nothing is perfect, and orchids do get pests. If your house is too dry you might find spider mites infesting not only your orchids but other house plants, as well. Mealy bugs are always a potential threat to house plants. They usually come home from the garden center with you. Scale insects are especially insidious. They look like tiny bumps one the leaves and canes of your orchids and you might notice a stickiness. All of these pests suck the life out of your plants, like wee vampires, feeding on the plant's juices. The easiest way to rid your home and plants of pests is to spray they with light-weight horticultural oil mixed with water. This stuff is non-poisonous and kills by smothering the bugs. Eco-oilâ-¢ and Sunoilâ-¢ are brand names you can look for. However you should not have any trouble finding a light oil in your garden center. CAUTION, do not use dormant oil spray. Dormant oil spray is very heavy and is intended for use on dormant fruit and nut trees. It can kill your house plants.

TO SUM UP, THEN

Orchids are easy! Really! And there is no reason why you can't enjoy them in your home for many years. If you provide them with adequate warmth, light, and moisture they will reward you with beautiful, long-lasting flowers. So, next time you are cruising the aisles of Wal-Mart and see all those lovely Phals being unloaded in the garden center, treat yourself to a few, you won't regret it.

© High Speed Ventures 2011