Grow Orchids Easily

Growing Orchids Is So Easy! 

Growing Orchids
Growing Orchids

I had always believed that to grow orchids would be exceedingly difficult… tender, delicate and temperamental… and so expensive as to be entirely out of reach of the average person. But I have learned that none of these things are true. Orchids are within the means of any of us. There are reasonably priced plants as well as expensive ones, and because the plants remain handsome and increase in size from year to year they are an investment that brings thrilling dividends. This article is about orchid flower gardening made easy.

As for their reputed delicacy, the fact is orchids are remarkably tough and hardy. Indeed. they are freer from disease than any other plant I can think of. The chief requirement to grow orchids is to learn the conditions under which they thrive in their native haunts and to approach those conditions as closely as possible in the home or greenhouse.

Perhaps the most important condition is proper light. Orchids, like African violets, want light but not glaring sun, in other words, filtered sunlight. Keep in mind that their native habitat is jungle "rain forests," where dense tropical vegetation allows only filtered sunlight to penetrate. Try growing an orchid plant next to your African violet in a window with a north or east exposure and watch it grow! But if you must use a window where the sunlight is too strong filter the sun with Venetian blinds or place the plant so that it receives maximum light but not direct sun.

In the greenhouse, the glare of full sun can be cut by the use of roller blinds or by painting shading on the outside of the glass, especially on south and west sides. I simply use a light coat of white enamel paint, then stipple it with a sponge.

Second only in importance to light is humidity. In tropical jungles, the air is very humid, so it follows that moisture in the air is a necessity. The why of this is readily seen. Orchids are epiphytes, usually growing upon logs or stumps (epi means above or on, phite means plant). Their roots are mostly aerial, and they take their nourishment mainly from the moisture in the air (possibly also from minerals in the decaying humus with which their roots come in contact, although they are not parasites, as is often thought).

In the greenhouse, humidity is achieved by hosing the floor and benches in the morning, at noon and in midafternoon. As this moisture evaporates into the air, it creates the needed humidity. In my own greenhouse, I have a small automatic humidity system, geared to an adjustable temperature dial, which throws a fine mist spray under the benches when the temperature reaches a certain point. This is a tremendous help, because I am away all day and can’t do the sprinkling needed in hot dry weather. More sprinkling, of course, is needed on hot, dry days than on dull, cloudy ones.

Another humidity aid in the greenhouse is to place pans of water on the floor, particularly in front of or on top of the heater. I keep a pan of water directly in front of my electric heater, and the amount of evaporation from this pan is surprising.

If you grow orchids in the home, you can achieve humidity by placing the orchid pot in a saucer of gravel and keeping the gravel moist. But do not allow the water to touch the pot, for orchids must not be set in water or allowed to become soggy. Good drainage is essential. Pot watering of orchid plants is needed only about once a week.

Doesn’t orchid growing sound unbelievably simple? It is! If you have windows in your home that afford good light and the night temperature doesn’t fall below 58 degrees, you can grow orchids just as easily as you can grow African violets.

Having been an iris grower for several years, I’m interested to note the similarity in structure between orchids and iris. Like iris, orchids have rhizomes, and the buds come up through the stems in similar manner. An interesting feature about orchids, however is that they have thickened stems called pseudo-bulbs, which are storage places for food and moisture for use during dry seasons in the Jungle.

Another surprise to those unfamiliar with orchids is the fact that they are not grown in soil. Remember that in the jungles they grow on trees or stumps, not on the ground. The potting medium for most orchids is osmunda fiber (roots of tropical ferns). This is a coarse material and very porous, so that water drains right through it. From this osmunda fiber and from the air, the roots of orchids derive the nourishment they need.

Some orchid families, however, require compost with the osmunda. These are called terrestrial or semi-terrestrial orchids. The compost is usually a mixture of sphagnum moss and a form of leaf mold. A well-known terrestrial orchid is the cypripedium or lady-slipper. Many of you are undoubtedly familiar with the hardy form of lady-slipper which grows wild in the woods of many regions.

In selecting your first orchid plants we need to follow some flower gardening basics, choose species whose requirements of light, heat, etc., are similar so that they will do well together. Some orchids require cooler conditions than others, some more shade, etc. So unless you have facilities ‘to suit varying types, it’s best to choose orchids requiring similar conditions, In my greenhouse are cattleyas, epidendrums and oncidiums, all of which have like tastes. My greenhouse is an intermediate house with the night temperature ranging from 58 to 63 degrees, the daytime temperature from 60 up into the 70’s. A small Humidial indicates both temperature and relative humidity. To grow orchids, the humidity should be about 80 per cent of the temperature, and a dial of this sort makes it easy to keep check on this.

The cattleya is generally looked upon as the monarch of orchids. Its bloom is the most gorgeous extravagantly beautiful achievement of the flower world. In color, cattleya blooms range from pure white through lavender shades to deep old rose. There’s also a golden species with velvety red lip known as C. dowiana aurea, from which many gorgeous yellow hybrids have been produced.

My first cattleya to bloom was Cattleya mossiae, an exquisite, ruffled flower of opalescent lavender blotched on the lip with magenta. It came into bloom in April and stayed perfect for more than a month. Cattleya labiata is now in bloom in my greenhouse, and it is said that it often blooms in both spring and fall. It is a luminous rose with Violet lip and orange spots in a yellow throat. In growth, this plant is outdistancing everything else in my greenhouse!

Cattleya gaskelliana, purple violet touched with white, is another popular species that usually blooms in early June. There are many more Cattleya species as well as countless striking hybrids in all colors.

Closely related to the cattleyas are the laelias, gorgeous in color and native to Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil. They have been crossed with cattleyas to produce the brilliant hybrids known as laelio-cattleyas. I have Laelia anceps, a winter-blooming species shaded purple, pink, white and yellow.

The epidendrum is another popular orchid which does well under the same conditions as laelias and cattleyas. The color range is wide, and many have a delightful fragrance. However, the blooms are smaller than those of cattleyas.

I have several species: Epidendrum atropurpureum, mahogany and green, which is spring and summer blooming; E. aurantiacum, red-orange and winter-blooming; E. cochleatum triandrum, the black orchid, a Florida native and near year-round bloomer; and E. fragrans, creamy white and summer and fall blooming. These are just a few, but they give a glimpse of the diversity of this charming family.

The oncidium is another orchid that does well with the above-mentioned types. In describing it, I couldn’t do better than to quote from Rebecca Northern’s book "Home Orchid Growing": ". . . Nature seems to have caught dancing rays of light, flickering patterns of sun and shadow, little fairy forms not seen by man, and made them into friendly, whimsical, thoroughly delightful little flowers."

There are some 300 species of oncidiums, and their native habitat ranges from Florida and the West Indies down to Brazil. I have four species: Oncidium cavendishianum, yellow red-spotted flowers, spring blooming; O. bicallosum, yellow shaded brown-green, winter blooming; 0, leucochilum, yellow-green marked with dark brown, blooming variably; and 0. varicosum rogersi, yellow marked with red-brown, winter-blooming.

This has been but a bird’s eye glimpse into an orchid world of vast diversity and endless beauty, a world inhabited by some 15,000 known species and probably vast numbers still undiscovered in jungles. But I hope this glimpse has opened your eyes to the tremendous adventure that can be yours if you will but give a try to grow orchids.

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