In this article, I will try to give an outline of the process of growing orchids for beginners. It is split into seven sections, each highlighting an important part of caring for orchids. They are; choosing your orchid, potting media, light, water, temperature, humidity and fertilizer.
Choosing your orchid
With over 20’000 species of orchid (not including hybrids and cultivars), choosing one for your home can seem quite daunting.
Some can be quite difficult to grow whilst others (despite popular misconception) are relatively easy. Phalaenopsis and paphiopedilums are good recommendations for beginners as they are suited to survive in the home environment.
Whichever species of orchid you decide to buy, it is important to check out a few things before handing over your money. Firstly make sure that the plant is in proportion to the pot and the roots are in the potting media. Check that the leaves are light green and unblemished and that there are some unopened buds. Also, ensure that it is free of pests and fungal spotting.
Orchids do not grow in regular potting soil – in fact planting your orchid in soil is a great way of killing it. In the wild, orchids attach themselves to other structures such as trees or rocks. In the home, the potting media should allow water to drain quite quickly and give the orchid’s roots pace to breathe. Good examples are tree bark, wood chips, fern, charcoal and moss.
Giving your orchid too much or too little light is one of the easiest ways to damage and one of the most common causes of unhealthy orchids.
You can tell if your orchid is receiving the right amount of light by looking at it’s leaves. Healthy orchid leaves will have a light green colouration whereas an orchid that has been getting too little light will have dark green leaves and an orchid that has been getting too much light will have yellow/red/brown/ leaf colourations.
Generally orchids should be watered around once a week or every 5 days if it is particularly warm. Never over-water your orchid as this can lead the roots to rot – when in doubt, under-water rather than over-water.
A temperature of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal as the daytime temperature for most orchids and around 60 degrees F at night. Despite this, orchids are quite tough and can withstand moderate variations from this. It is important to make sure that there is a nocturnal drop in temperature of around 10 degrees F to ensure that your orchids bloom.
Orchids require at least a 50% level of humidity to remain healthy. In areas of low humidity, humidity trays can be used to ensure there is enough water in the air for your orchid. These trays sit under your orchid and contain water which will evaporate and rise increasing the humidity level around your orchid.
It is important to regularly feed your orchid with fertilizer to ensure that it is getting enough nutrients. A 20-20-20 fertilizer is best (the numbers refer to 20% nitrogen, 20% phosphorous and 20% potassium respectively). If you have potted your orchid in tree bark, a fertilizer with a higher nitrogen content is preferable because bacteria in the bark will also use it, potentially starving the plant.
By reading this article, you will have gained a foundation of knowledge in caring for orchids. I hope you go on to find success in this rewarding hobby and develop from beginner to expert quickly.