Orchids for Beginners

Orchids are a wonderful flowering houseplant, even for a beginner! Do not be intimidated by their exotic beauty - anyone can grow them if they know these few basic tips. There are many different kinds of orchids which all need slightly different care. The best orchid to start with for a beginner is the Phalaenopsis, also known as the moth orchid because the flower looks like a wide-winged moth in flight. This gorgeous variety's bright colors run the full range of yellows, pinks, reds, green and white that include both solid colored flowers as well as variations of striped and dotted petals.

Basic Growing Tips:

What is an orchid? - Orchids look exotic but have the same structure as more familiar houseplants. They have roots, stems, leaves and flowers; it is just that these parts are adapted a little differently in an orchid. Most plants in your yard or home are anchored to the ground by their central root system, which expands out into finer and finer roots that grow down into the soil to absorb water and nutrients. Orchids, on the other hand, use their roots to attach themselves to trees or rocks, positioning themselves to take advantage of the light in their native habitat. The central core of the root is where the moisture and nutrients are absorbed. Covering the core is a spongy material, called velamen, which stores the water for the plant. The velamen needs to have a balance of air and moisture to keep the plant growing happily. This is why an open potting media with good drainage is critical. If the velamen stays too wet, the core rots and the orchid is unable to utilize water and nutrients. Open potting medium allows drainage and airflow to the velamen, yet holds enough moisture to support the needs of your orchid.

Light - Do not believe the outdated myth that orchids grow in dark jungles! They like light, just not direct sunlight.

  • A bright window with no direct sunlight is best. Direct sunlight can burn leaves.
  • An east window is ideal, but you can use a south or west facing windows if you protect your plant with a sheer curtain.
  • Leaves should be medium green if they are receiving the correct amount of light. Darker leaves mean the plant is not getting enough light, while red tinged leaves indicate too much light.

Soil - A porous mix is ideal.

  • The potting medium will start to decompose after about two years and should be replaced to retain plant health.
  • Commercial orchid mixes, consisting of a variety of materials, are excellent.

Fertilizing - A simple process.

  • Fertilize twice per month using a standard balanced orchid fertilizer (20-20-20) mixed at half strength. Apply fertilizer to the potting mix, not the leaves or the crown.

Temperature - Consistent temperatures are best.

  • A 60 F temperature at night is ideal.
  • Daytime temperatures should be 70 - 80 F or slightly warmer.
  • Avoid fluctuating temperatures as that can cause bud drop, especially if buds are at the delicate stage of almost ready to open.

Watering - This is the trickiest part of orchid care!

  • Interesting orchid fact - these plants do not have a major water-storage organ other than their leaves. Therefore it is critical that the plant never completely dries out!
  • When watering it is best to use room temperature water so you do not shock the roots with water that is too cold or too hot. The roots are very sensitive!
  • Ideally you should water your orchid over a sink or outside, somewhere where you can pour the water copiously over your orchid for about a minute or until it runs freely from the pot's drainage holes. Then let it drain completely.
  • Watering in this manner also flushes salts that may build up on the soil surface.
  • Be careful that water does not collect and remain in the crown (where the leaves join in the center). Blot out water if needed. A wet crown is the ideal environment for nasty bacteria and fungus to grow.
  • Water only in the morning so wet leaves will have time to dry before nightfall.
  • You should water your orchid thoroughly and then wait for it to be almost dry before watering again. A simple test to see if your plant needs water is to gently poke a wooden skewer into the soil. When you pull the skewer out if it feels damp your plant does not need water. When you pick up your potted plant to go water it, notice the weight when it is almost dry. After a few waterings you will be able to tell by the weight of the pot when it is time to water again.

Airflow - Air needs to be able to circulate around your plant, including the roots.

  • Open potting medium needs to allow drainage and airflow to roots, yet hold enough moisture to support the needs of your orchid.
  • A ceiling fan or portable oscillating fan, directed away from your orchid, will keep air moving gently around your plant for optimum success.

For more information about this beautiful plant contact the American Orchid Society (www.aos.org/)

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