What plants easily grow indoors, require minimal care, and produce
beautiful exotic flowers? The answer is orchids.
Orchids have been characterized as finicky plants that need greenhouses
or other specialized care, but many orchids grow very successfully
alongside other houseplants.
Many orchids require the same temperature range as houseplants.
Daytime highs in the 70s and nighttime lows of 55-65ºF will
keep orchids and houseplants growing happily. Orchids (and other
houseplants) next to windows on extremely cold nights may be cold
damaged and should be moved away from windows.
A bright window with indirect sunlight all day is ideal. Generally
12 to 36 inches away from a south window is best. Many orchid hobbyists
move their plants to shade locations outdoors for the summer. Orchids
also grow and bloom well under artificial fluorescent lighting.
Minimum light requirements, without supplementary daylight, are
two 36-48 inch shoplights with regular forty-watt fluorescent bulbs
hung six inches above the plants. Lights should be on at least 12
hours per day. However, flowering will be improved in plants receiving
natural and artificial light versus artificial light alone.
Proper watering is critical to successful orchid culture. Overwatering
will quickly kill most orchids. The thick fleshy roots of orchids
require the good drainage provided by special soilless potting mixtures
containing either fir bark or osmunda fern fibers. In general, water
once a week. Orchids growing in clay pots may need more frequent
watering. The potting mix should dry slightly between waterings.
Add enough water each time to run out of the drainage holes in the
bottom of the pot.
Orchids respond well to regular fertilization but are damaged or
killed by too much fertilizer. Once a month, a water-soluble fertilizer
should be applied as part of normal watering. Universities recommend
either a complete 20-20-20 fertilizer or specialty 30-10-10 orchid
After blooming stops, watering and fertilizing should be reduced
until new leaves appear.
Most homes, especially in winter, are too dry for orchids. The
easiest way to increase humidity around the plants is to set the
pots on pebbles with water in a tray or saucer. The evaporating
water makes the air around the plants more humid. The pot should
not sit in the water but be raised above the water level by the
stones. Decorative rocks may be used for a more pleasing appearance.
Orchids may also be misted with distilled water to raise humidity
Beyond the basic cultural suggestions, the key to successfully
growing orchids is matching the type of orchid to the conditions
in the home. Beginners should buy flowering or mature sized plants
because orchids take five to seven years to reach to bloom size.
Most orchid enthusiasts agree that the best orchid for novices
is Phalaenopsis. Commonly called moth orchids for their lovely flowers,
Phalaenopsis produce long sprays of flowers lasting at least six
weeks. They adapt well to the typical temperature in homes (65ºF
nights and 75ºF days) and the bright light near an east window.
Phalaenopsis may be grown exclusively under artificial light.
Cattleyas are the quintessential corsage orchid. Often large and
showy, the individual flowers last two to six weeks. Cattleya plants
need twice as much light as Phalaenopsis. Indirect light in a south
window and/or supplemental lighting is recommended. They also perform
better in slightly lower temperatures of 60ºF at night and 70-75ºF
during the day.
Dendrobium orchids are white, lavender, or a combination of the
two colors. The long lasting flowers are borne in lengthy sprays.
They grow best in conditions similar to cattleyas.
Epidendrums produce an abundance of small (1inch) flowers. Like
Phalaenopsis, they are considered very easy to grow.
Oncidium orchids are called dancing girls because of their dainty
yellow and brown or white and brown blooms. These tough plants flower
reliably under most conditions.
The huge family of orchids contains 880 genera, 28,000 species,
and over 300,000 registered cultivars worldwide. With so many choices,
most people will be able to find an orchid that will thrive in their
More information on orchids is available from the American Orchid
Society, Membership Services Dept., 6000 South Olive Ave., West
Palm Beach, FL 33405-9974 or on the web at www.orchidweb.org.
April - May 2002: Viburnums:
Shrubs with Four Season Interest | Discouraging
Canada Geese | Yellowjacket ControlNow
is the Best Time to Do It | Growing Orchids