Orchids: Enchantingly Beautiful… Beautifully Easy Selecting and caring for these different, but not difficult houseplants

Orchids: Enchantingly Beautiful… Beautifully Easy
  • Posted October 24, 2013
orchid nature Many plant lovers find Orchids to be beautiful and exotic, but assume them to be too difficult to grow. In the past this was true, but much research into their native growing conditions and advances in propagation in the last few decades has changed that. High quality Orchids, from several of the easier to grow genera, are now available at many mass merchandisers. Their bountiful blooms send out a Siren’s call as you wheel past with your shopping cart. This does not, however, mean you should just grab and go - blinded by an abundance of blooms!
orchid selection Selection
That multitude of blooms can signal a healthy Orchid or one that is distressed. The most important thing to check is that the plant is very solid in the pot, with its roots tightly (yes, tightly) packed in bark and perhaps a bit of sphagnum moss. About 90% of Orchids cling to tree bark in their native habitat. The genera being offered for retail are in this very broad group and should NOT be growing in soil. You may see roots peeking out, as they seek a bit of air, which is fine if they look plump and healthy. Do give a once over for insect pests as well before heading to the register with your adoptee.
orchid living room Placement & Care
Light, water, and a bit of fertilizing will be the keys to helping an Orchid thrive in your home. Orchids being offered in general retail are fairly light adaptable. Those in the low to medium light category do well with filtered or indirect light of medium intensity, avoiding windows of southern exposure. These include; Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis) and Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum). Those in the medium to high light categories will do well with indirect light from a southern or western exposure: Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia), Christmas Orchid (Cattleya), and Dancing Doll/Girls/Ladies Orchid (Oncidium) are among these.
Overwatering (in frequency) is the most common cause of demise for Orchids. Allow the Orchid’s bark mix to completely dry between watering sessions. Water, approximately every 7 to 10 days, thoroughly drenching the bark. An effective method is to place the pot, sans saucer, in a sink to gently flush water through the bark for a minute or two. This is best followed by a drenching of ¼ strength liquid fertilizer. Then leave the pot sitting in water for about 20 minutes to be sure the bark has pulled in, via the submerged drainage holes, all that it can hold. Once the pot is returned to its saucer, give it a double check in about 10 minutes and remove any excess water that has collected. Do not use softened water.
potting orchid Repotting
If you wish your Orchid to be a long term member of you household and not a toss away plant, repotting should be done yearly. Even if the root system has not increased enough to need a larger pot, the bark will certainly have deteriorated. You may see a need to replace the bark sooner if it had already been supporting the plant for a good length of time before you acquired it. Repotting is easy enough, just different from soil-bound plants. If you get the pot right and pack the bark tight you will have a very happy plant.

Orchids like their roots fairly snug to the pot edge, so if you do chose to go with a larger pot only go up one size. Clear plastic or ceramic Orchid pots with vent holes in the side are preferred, as this allows the roots increased air exposure. The next best choice is unglazed terra cotta. Do not use glazed ceramic or plastic pots with solid walls. Both Orchid pots and bags of ‘Orchid Bark’ can generally be found anywhere that sells Orchids.

Remove your Orchid from the old bark, tapping the pot if needed. This old bark makes a nice donation to the compost pile, as do any dead or dried up roots you may snip off.  Create a mound of fresh bark, in the center of your chosen pot, to drape the Orchid’s roots over. Make it right up to the top, as you will be compressing things quite a bit by the end. 

Gently hold onto the foliage portion and drape the roots evenly over the bark. Add more bark, a little at a time; tightly packing each addition into the pot, under and around the roots. The tight packing of the bark is aiming to mimic those fairly solid, stable tree crevices in the Orchid’s native domain. We do not want the bark to be loose and floating away, like landscape mulch in a flood, whenever you water. Be sure to thoroughly soak the new bark after repotting, then sit back and soak up another year of enchanting orchid beauty! 
Dawn Sherwood
About the Author

Dawn Ochsner is a landscape designer and garden writer.

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Orchids: Enchantingly Beautiful… Beautifully Easy
Photo Gallery

Easy care Orchids for:

Low  to Medium Light Levels
Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis)
Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum)

Medium to High Light Levels
Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia)
Christmas Orchid (Cattleya)
Dancing Doll/Girls/Ladies Orchid (Oncidium)