In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
February, 2005
Regional Report

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Don't be daunted by the beauty of this phalaenopsis orchid; they are very easy to grow.

Tips for Easy Orchid Growing

Have you ever marveled at the beauty of a Cattleya orchid and wished that you could grow one in your home? Do you think orchids are too exotic and difficult to grow? Fear not, for there are many orchids on the market today that are low-maintenance houseplants. It's all in choosing the right orchid for your particular home environment.

You can be almost guaranteed success with growing orchids and getting them to bloom in your home by following some basic guidelines. Before you know it, you will be hooked on growing these fascinating and long-blooming plants.

Matching a Plant to Your Home Environment
So how do you know which orchid is best suited to your particular environment? First, evaluate the available light in your home. If you have a bright, north-facing window, a good choice would be a slipper orchid (Paphiopedilum). In their natural environment, these terrestrial orchids grow on the rainforest floor, so they will adapt well to indirect light.

If you have windows that face west or south with very bright light, try growing a dancing-doll orchid (Oncidium), Dendrobium, or Cattleya hybrid. My favorite, and the one I find most reliable, is the moth orchid (Phalaenopsis). It blooms several times a year, and prefers an east or southeast exposure.

Most orchids you buy are grown in a orchid potting mixture that is a combination of bark, peat, charcoal, and perlite. This is designed for quick drainage, and yet is porous so the orchid roots have good contact with the surrounding air. Since many orchids are epiphytes (growing in nature above ground, attached to a branch or stem or another plant for support), their roots are exposed to the air and grow best when allowed to dry out between waterings.

Letting the Roots Breathe
If you buy or receive an orchid in a plastic pot, it is best to transplant it to clay pot because it's porous. While it is true that plastic containers require less watering, they also can lead to overwatering, and when the potting mixture stays too wet, the roots can rot. Orchids growing in clay pots dry out better between waterings, reducing the risk of overwatering. If your new plant is blooming, wait until it's finished before transplanting it.

Watering orchids does take some attention. Many orchids have thickened leaves or swollen stem bases (pseudobulbs). These adaptations indicate the plant is drought resistant and able to store water. Water the orchid potting mix until water runs through the container, and then pour out the excess water from the drainage saucer. Once a month, give the plant a deep soaking by placing the entire orchid pot up to the rim in a basin of tepid water for 10 to 15 minutes.

Fertilize orchids during the growing season when the days are longer. Use a basic orchid fertilizer applied according to the manufacturer's recommendations. I like to add the fertilizer to a spray bottle and spray the foliage as well as the potting mixture.

Moth orchids (Phalaenopsis hybrids) are inexpensive and widely available. They bloom for two to six months, so you'll be well rewarded for your care. I recommend that you start with one of these, and then expand your collection into other types.


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